With most NFL training camps grinding to a close this week, many players who have made the biggest impression are beginning to reap the rewards. Others are simply asserting their known dominance.
And that was the mix of results received when The Sports Xchange asked NFC correspondents to select the most impressive players over the last week on each team -- the Campers of the Week (COW).
One new player reaping big rewards for his great play in training camp is Arizona Cardinals rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. To validate his nomination as COW by the TSX correspondent, after an injury to the player ahead of him, Mathieu was promoted to a starting role for this Saturday's game against Dallas.
And in that same game, he may find himself covering another COW, veteran wide receiver Dez Bryant, whose well-known and ample talents earned COW honors for the, well, Cowboys.
Here is a review of each NFC team's COW over that last week (teams listed alphabetically):
ARIZONA CARDINALS -- Safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu is small, only 180 pounds, but displayed a knack for forcing fumbles on numerous plays per practice and generally was around the ball all the time. When starter Rashad Johnson injured his knee in Tuesday's practice, there was no question or concern about moving Mathieu into the No. 1 spot. Mathieu, the third-round draft pick whose college career at LSU ended under a haze of personal issues, has impressed as both a nickel cornerback and safety in camp. Said coach Bruce Arian: "He can cover sideline to sideline. He's shown the range, he's shown the speed to fill the alley, and I know he can tackle."
ATLANTA FALCONS -- Linebacker Paul Worrilow.
Worrilow, who signed as a free agent rookie out of Delaware, didn't get in last Thursday's game against Cincinnati until the end of the first quarter. But by halftime, he recorded nine tackles despite playing only three defensive series. For good measure, Worrilow made the tackle on the opening kickoff of the second half. The impressive debut for Worrilow ended with a team-high 11 tackles and he played on all four special-teams units.
CAROLINA PANTHERS -- Cornerback Josh Norman.
After starting the first 12 games of his rookie season, cornerback Josh Norman finished 2012 in coach Ron Rivera's doghouse. But Norman's performance in the preseason opener not only put him back in the coach's good graces, but it may have also catapulted him back into the conversation for a starting spot. He snagged a pair of interceptions, turning the second pick into a 60-yard touchdown.
CHICAGO BEARS -- Wide receiver Marquess Wilson.
The seventh-round draft pick had occasionally flashed with catches in scrimmages, but in Friday's preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers, he had a game-high four catches for 82 yards and a 58-yarder to set up a touchdown. Bears GM Phil Emery felt on draft day that he had a steal in Wilson, who was dropped in the mind of because he ripped Washington State coach Mike Leach.
DALLAS COWBOYS -- Wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Bryant, considered by some as the most physically gifted receiver in the NFL, returned to practice after missing a few days before the preseason opener with the Dolphins because of a quad/hip strain. He was dominant in practice throughout camp and in only two series at Oakland caught three passes for 55 yards. He probably lost fans of Texas A&M for opining that Johnny Manziel should be incur consequences for his actions, but that is not a consideration here.
DETROIT LIONS -- Punter Sam Martin.
The Lions took some flak for drafting a punter in the fifth round, but he made that choice look wise Friday against the New York Jets. He averaged 43.7 yards on his three punts and none was returned. His first punt went 54 yards and pinned the Jets at the 10. He also handled the kickoffs in the first half.
GREEN BAY PACKERS -- Offensive tackle David Bakhtiari.
In a matter of days, Bakhtiari went from being thrown in the mix for contending for the starting job at right tackle to all but being handed the starting job at left tackle as a rookie. A season-ending torn ACL sustained by Bryan Bulaga in the intrasquad scrimmage at Lambeau Field on Aug. 3 opened an even bigger door for Bakhtiari, a fourth-round draft pick out of Colorado. He took advantage of the challenge by playing almost flawlessly with the first string in the preseason game against Arizona, probably locking up a starting job.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS -- Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Patterson, the Vikings' first round draft pick out of Tennessee (29th overall), debuted with a 50-yard return on the opening kickoff and a team-high four catches for 54 yards in Friday's 27-13 preseason opening loss to Houston at Mall of America Field. Patterson, a big-bodied receiver with small-body speed and quickness, good hands and an even better ability to run after the catch.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS -- Wide receiver Preston Parker.
Parker is making the most of his opportunity with the Saints after being dumped by the Tampa Bay Bucs last September. Parker is in the mix to earn a roster spot after making several impressive catches early in training camp. He continued to do that last week after Joe Morgan was injured and then caught four passes for 43 yards and two TDs in the exhibition opener.
NEW YORK GIANTS -- Wide receiver Rueben Randle.
With No. 1 receiver Hakeem Nicks not being on the field very much, Randle has stepped into that spot and has continued to show that he has made outstanding progress from last year. In particular, Randle, who has mostly gone up against cornerback Prince Amukamara, shows that he is willing to fight for the ball in traffic and has also fought off any attempts by defensive backs to jam him as he gets off the line of scrimmage.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES -- Linebacker Chris McCoy.
McCoy, a 2010 seventh-round pick of the Dolphins, spent the last two years in the Canadian Football League. He's had a pretty good camp with the Eagles and had an excellent game against the New England Patriots on Friday. He recorded 1.5 sacks and two hurries and had a tackle for a loss.
ST. LOUIS RAMS -- Wide receiver Chris Givens.
Givens picked up where he left off during a 2012 rookie season in which he had five consecutive games with receptions of at least 50 yards. He had one for 59 yards against Cleveland and added 23 yards on two other catches. Said quarterback Sam Bradford, "He looked good. One of his strengths is speed and it allows him to stretch the field. He did a great job beating the corner and tracking the ball to make a big catch."
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS -- Quarterback Colin Kaeperenick.
Hardly a surprise name, but nonetheless worthy, especially considering that on Friday the 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs, who are led by Alex Smith, whose job Kaepernick grabbed late last season. In his lone drive in the team's first preseason game, Kaepernick was sharp, connecting on 4-of-4 passes for 38 yards and carrying once for six to pick up a first down.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -- Running back Derrick Coleman.
While rookies Christine Michael and Spencer Ware have garnered most of the attention in training camp, second-year pro Coleman has been a solid contributor through the first two weeks of camp. At 6-0 and 233 pounds, Coleman plays fullback and tailback and has been impressive on special teams.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS -- Cornerback Johnthan Banks.
The Bucs' second-round pick from Mississippi State had a great preseason debut against the Baltimore Ravens. He led the team with five tackles and had a pass defensed. He was physical in the run game and locked down Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS -- Quarterback Kirk Cousins.
With RG3 begging for playing time, might as well give Cousins a shout out now. Cousins, a second-year pro like RG3, was sharp against the Tennessee Titans, hitting six of seven throws (to five different targets) for 52 yards and a touchdown.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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