During the summer, offseason arrests dominated the NFL’s headlines. Now it’s time to trade in probations for pro football. Training camps kick off this week, meaning NFL players finally have something productive to do. Trades, the draft and free agency sparked questions over the last six months, but over the next seven weeks, the preseason and training camps will provide the answers. Here’s your guide for the top storylines to watch for.
1) The Eagles QB Battle
Donovan McNabb should end his retirement and suit up for Eagles camp. Every week it appears the Eagles have a new front runner in their quarterback competition. That’s not good news for Mike Vick, considering the two quarterbacks surrounding him are inexperienced neophytes whom Chip Kelly used to obliterate during his reign over the Pac-12.
2) How Will the Cowboy's Adjust To Monte Kiffin’s A 4-3 Defense?
In case you weren’t paying attention, the Cowboys replaced the less accomplished son of Buddy Ryan with the respected father of Lane Kiffin. The switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 is often a rough transition, but Kiffin is one of the great defensive minds of the past quarter-century. He was never a good fit for college football. On the other hand, zone-read spread offenses seemed to perplex him at USC. Don’t look now, but RGIII and Oregon’s Chip Kelly are just over the Cowboys’ horizon.
3) Can Carson Palmer Rescue Larry Fitzgerald From His Desert Hell?
The Oakland Raiders were sold a bill of goods when they banked their future on Carson Palmer’s right shoulder in 2010. In Palmer’s defense, his top targets in Oakland were on par with the low-quality quarterback talent Fitzgerald has had to endure since Kurt Warner’s retirement. With any luck, the duo of Fitzgerald and Palmer could be the answer for one another with the aid of offensive guru Bruce Arians.
4) Geno Smith, EJ Manuel And The AFC East’s Youth Movement
The AFC East is a conference in the midst of a transition. Ryan Tannehill’s beginning his sophomore campaign with high expectations, and Tom Brady is entering the final stretch of his pro career. However, the Bills and Jets also have a pair of rookie quarterbacks in EJ Manuel and Geno Smith who are pushing to start from day one. Mark Sanchez and Kevin Kolb could be making their last stands in August.
5) The Purge of NE's WR Talent
Tom Brady’s backfield is the best it’s been since the Pats won their last Super Bowl in 2004, but
Brady’s targets are terrible. The offseason for Brady’s targets was like a six-month horror flick. Slowly, but surely, the entire cast of wideouts was cut down. Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker are gone.
Nobody knows when Rob Gronkowski will be healthy enough to return, while Julian Edelman and Jake Ballard are beside him on the PUP list. At least they can count on new acquisition Danny Amendola. Oh wait, he’s missed 20 games in two seasons.
6) Who Will Peyton Manning Hand The Ball Off To?
Manning’s problem is the polar opposite of Brady’s. Manning’s receiving corps may be the league’s best after the Broncos plucked Wes Welker out of New England, but Willis McGahee’s retirement creates a chasm in the backfield. Defensive coordinators spend all week prepping to face Manning, and over the years, competent running backs have taken advantage. Dynamic second-year back Ronnie Hillman, rookie touchdown machine Montee Ball and fallen first-round pick Knowshon Moreno will be platooning in the preseason for the chance to receive the majority of Manning’s handoffs.
7) Can Steven Jackson Help Atlanta Rediscover Their Rushing Attack?
The Atlanta Falcons’ passing attack rose up in 2012, but it was reliable workhorse back Michael Turner who broke down last season. Steven Jackson has spent the first decade of his pro career mired in a losing situation. Atlanta is in win-now mode. However, Atlanta could find itself in a similar situation. The Falcons new 30-year-old back is only a year younger than Turner and may have lost a step two years ago.
8) What Effect Will Rob Ryan Have On the Saints D?
Sean Payton’s return to the Saints sideline is being ballyhooed from Bourbon Street to the Bayou. The offense kept ticking in his absence, but the defense was more porous than a New Orleans levee last season. Last season, opposing offenses placed a bounty on the Saints end zone. Rob Ryan’s got quite the task ahead of him by transforming a defense, which allowed the most yardage in NFL history, into a dependable unit. Expect to see a lot less blitzing this season in the French Quarter.
9) First Look At Chip Kelly's Offense
Almost 60 years ago, Roger Bannister shattered track and field’s four-minute mile mark. Chip Kelly’s Oregon offenses were built around world class sprinters, but it was the Roger Bannister of collegiate offenses running a play every 15 seconds. That’s about 10 seconds quicker than most no-huddles. The pace at which they were able to run plays, combined with their endurance levels, typically wore opposing defenses out in the second half. Bill Belichick picked Kelly’s brain and the Patriots nearly ran the most plays in a single season in league history. It’s time to see what the real thing looks like with pro athletes at the helm.
10) RG Knee's Rehab
The YOLO offense should get shelved this season. Drake’s motto is the equivalent to Mike Shanahan’s careless handling of his new offensive gadget. Before RGIII can return to the field, though, he’s got to finish his rehab. It’s doubtful he’ll do so during the preseason, but who knows? His recovery has been superhuman, so far.