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Lunchbreak: ESPN Names 'Surprise Offseason Standout' Players

#33 LB Brian Asamoah
#33 LB Brian Asamoah

There's plenty of practicing to be done between now and the start of the regular season, but some young players turned heads early during teams' offseason programs.

ESPN asked its beat reporters to tab their respective team's "surprise offseason standout" based on performance in voluntary Organized Team Activities and minicamp.

Kevin Seifert highlighted rookie linebacker Brian Asamoah, whom the Vikings drafted 66th overall. Seifert wrote:

Asamoah's sideline-to-sideline speed was plainly evident in non-contact practices, as was his confidence. He joked with an assistant coach that he wanted $5 every time he ran past someone. "I'm a rich man now," he said, "because I keep passing them."

Asamoah is part of a Minnesota linebackers group led by Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks, both of whom he'll be able to learn under.

Let's take a look at the rest of the NFC North's surprise standouts, shall we?

Courtney Cronin tabbed Bears tackle Braxton Jones, saying the fifth-round pick "quickly emerged with the first-team offensive line at left tackle during spring practices and supplanted Teven Jenkins, who moved to right tackle with the second-team unit.

Jones admitted he was "a little bit surprised" he was competing with the 1s this early but understands the importance of the reps he has gotten, which have helped him create a pre-snap process, learn different cadences and move faster.

In Detroit, Eric Woodyard spotlighted wide receiver Trinity Benson.

After last season, Benson approached [Head Coach] Dan Campbell directly during his exit meeting to ask for advice on how to come back better. So far, he has taken all of that advice as Campbell praised him during minicamp as one of the guys who is "having a hell of a spring." Benson has learned the playbook and elevated his confidence by adding speed to his skill set. He'll still have fight for a spot among a competitive receiving corps that has added talent.

And finally, Packers beat reporter Rob Demovsky said outside linebacker Rashan Gary has garnered lots of well-deserved attention.

In an offseason in which the Packers did almost no full-speed 11-on-11 work, no one was given much of an opportunity to stand out. Gary, however, had as good a spring as anyone. He looked lean and muscular coming off a career-best season with 9.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits. And he was one of the few starters who stuck around through the end of OTAs, saying, "I'm just here trying to get better."

O'Connell falls middle of the pack in 'best situation' rankings for new head coaches

With 10 new head coaches around the league, which are best set up for success?

NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks posed this question recently and ranked the new coaches accordingly. He placed Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell in the middle of the pack, slating him at No. 6 (with 1 being the best situation). Brooks wrote:

View photos of new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell during his first day at the TCO Performance Center on Feb. 17.

The reunion of Kirk Cousins and O'Connell – the latter served as the former's QB coach in Washington back in 2017 – should enable the Vikings to hit the ground running under the rookie head coach. The veteran quarterback knows the system, which should help the offense carry the water until the defense catches up. That said, the first-time head coach and offensive play-caller will have to master the art of managing the entire team while navigating the call sheet and game situations. In addition, O'Connell must oversee the rebuild of a defense that is adjusting to a new scheme while blending in a handful of new players. Given the playoff expectations that come with a big-money quarterback in his prime, the pressure is on O'Connell to figure things out in a hurry in Minneapolis.

Brooks topped his list with Todd Bowles, who stepped in as Tampa Bay's head coach after Bruce Arians retired. Bowles previously served as the Bucs defensive coordinator.

Bowles was dealt a tough hand in his first head-coaching opportunity, going 24-40 with the New York Jets from 2015 through 2018. It's a lot easier building a champion when you have a seven-time Super Bowl winner at quarterback. With Tom Brady electing to end his brief retirement, Bowles inherits a title contender with a three-time MVP teaching a daily master class in winning football. Although the team will undergo a bit of a learning curve with Bowles taking over for Bruce Arians, the continuity within the coaching staff should ensure stability that allows the Buccaneers to race out of the gate when the regular season starts. If Bowles can get the defense to play at a top-five level, he might help the team add another Lombardi to the trophy case.