INSIDER: Top NFL Training Camp stories to watch

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Well-Known Member
Jul 5, 2006
Quarterbacks on the mend
By Gary Horton
Scouts Inc.

NFL coaches and players are now in the midst of well-deserved vacations, but teams start reporting to training camp in less than two weeks. Let's look at 10 intriguing story lines for the upcoming season.

1. Super Bowl rematch?
The Steelers and Seahawks were clearly the top two teams in the NFL at the end of the 2005 season, and both expect the same kind of success in 2006. Pittsburgh is an organization that hates distractions, and it has had more than its share this offseason.

The motorcycle accident involving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in June could have been a lot worse, but it threw a huge scare into everybody in the organization. Roethlisberger still could have an uneven preseason with some lingering effects from the crash.

The Steelers lost three significant players -- wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, safety Chris Hope and defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen -- to free agency, along with the retirement of running back Jerome Bettis. In addition, the Steelers' first-round draft pick, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, has endured some off-the-field problems in the last two months. The Steelers have more question marks than they would like, especially in what is shaping up to be a very competitive division.

Seattle had its own free-agency defections, losing wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, free safety Marquand Manuel and most importantly, left guard Steve Hutchinson. However, the Seahawks did avoid disaster by re-signing running back Shaun Alexander to a new long-term contract, and they added solid free agents in wide receiver Nate Burleson and outside linebacker Julian Peterson.

If Alexander doesn't turn into a soft player, now that he has his big payday, and if the new pieces of the puzzle jell quickly, this is a team that expects to get back to the Super Bowl. Seattle's road to Miami may be less bumpy than Pittsburgh's. A rematch is a definite possibility.

2. Will ailing quarterbacks be ready?
An astounding number of teams have placed their hopes in 2006 on the recovery of their starting quarterbacks. Roethlisberger, Daunte Culpepper (Miami), Carson Palmer (Cincinnati), Drew Brees (New Orleans), Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia) and Chad Pennington (New York Jets) all are question marks for the start of the season.

The most important news in July and August may be the daily medical reports that come out of training camp. With depth at the QB position in the NFL at an all-time low and an alarming lack of quality backups, these players need to be ready.

3. Keyshawn and T.O. intertwined?
Two of the most prolific receivers in the NFL, who also can make headlines with their outlandish behavior, will be in the spotlight in 2006. Keyshawn Johnson was quietly run out of Dallas and replaced by the volatile Terrell Owens. Johnson will now try to prove in Carolina that the Cowboys made a mistake.

Both are big, physical receivers. The one huge difference is that Owens still has some deep speed and a big-play element, while Johnson is now strictly a possession receiver. This is probably the last stop for both of these players, and watching them accept their roles this fall will be interesting, to say the least.

Carolina has a big-play deep threat in Steve Smith, and the Panthers will expect Johnson to take away double teams and do the dirty work over the middle. Will he become frustrated if Jake Delhomme continues to force the ball to Smith, or will Delhomme realize Johnson is a big target who can make this pass offense more consistent?

In Dallas, Owens should really help Terry Glenn get less double coverage, but the Cowboys want to utilize tight end Jason Witten and rookie TE Anthony Fasano, who both catch the ball well over the middle. When you factor in that Dallas ran the ball 521 times in 2005, it is fair to wonder where the catches for Owens will come from. With marginal offensive line protection, Drew Bledsoe was sacked 49 times a year ago, so how long will it take for Owens to implode if he is not getting the ball?

4. Is Atlanta heading in the right direction?
The success of this franchise continues to fall on the shoulders and feet of the talented, but inconsistent Michael Vick. The coaching staff says he wants to return to his scrambling style of play and it is fair to wonder whether he will ever be a dependable QB. When Vick struggles, he tends to question the offensive philosophy and the coaching staff, making it a tough situation for head coach Jim Mora.

Owner Arthur Blank has given this organization everything it needs to be successful, and his patience may be running thin. With all the questions on offense, this is also a Falcons defense that went from elite status in 2004 to the bottom third in the league in 2005, and the unit seemed to be playing with no confidence. This team needs to get off to a quick start in September, or the players might tune out Mora.

5. How big is the Edge factor in Arizona?
One of the biggest moves this offseason was running back Edgerrin James' leaving Indianapolis to join perennial loser Arizona. The Cardinals are hoping James will revitalize a running game that finished dead last in the NFL a year ago, and an offense that produced only two rushing TDs in 2005. Head coach Dennis Green will utilize a lot of three-receiver sets, designed to spread the field and soften up defenses against the run, but James' success will depend on how the offensive line plays.

The bad news is the Cardinals did not dramatically upgrade their offensive line in the offseason, but they did hire a new offensive line coach in Steve Loney. This is a franchise starved for success. With a new sold-out stadium, there may be more optimism in Arizona than in any other NFL city heading into training camp.

6. Does Carolina deserve respect?
This team always seems to sneak up on us because it is not flashy. Although the Panthers posted a solid 11-5 record last year and played in the NFC Championship Game in Seattle, the organization realized it had some work to do to reach the next level.

The success of the Panthers is based on running the ball and stopping the run. Unfortunately, the Panthers did neither effectively last season. As a result, they upgraded on both sides of the ball in free agency and will return to their formula for success in 2006.

Last year, Smith was the entire offensive show for Carolina, but now he has Johnson to take pressure and double-team coverages away from him, so this should be a much-improved passing game. A big key for Carolina will be how Johnson and Smith coexist. This is a team with great chemistry, a strong locker room and a stable coaching staff. If Johnson is not a disruption and the new players jell, this is a championship team.

7. Where are the veteran quarterbacks?
An unusual amount of teams will be pinning their hopes on young signal callers -- J.P. Losman (Buffalo), Philip Rivers (San Diego), Charlie Frye (Cleveland), Alex Smith (San Francisco), Rex Grossman (Chicago), and Billy Volek (Tennessee) are all talented guys under tremendous pressure.

Most NFL coaches will tell you the ability to be strong mentally and handle the emotional roller-coaster of the position is key to the success of NFL quarterbacks. It will be interesting to see which of these youngsters succeeds.



Well-Known Member
Jul 5, 2006
8. Can the Minnesota Vikings turn things around?
The Vikings cannot wait to start training camp and put a miserable 2005 season behind them. New head coach Brad Childress has promised to improve discipline from a year ago and get this talented roster to achieve its full potential. Owner Zygi Wilf opened up his checkbook and let the organization spend $31.5 million in free agency.

The new players -- left guard Steve Hutchinson, running back Chester Taylor, fullback Tony Richardson, linebacker Ben Leber, defensive back Tank Williams and guard Artis Hicks -- are certainly upgrades, but will they jell early? Will the players respond to Childress' philosophy? If quarterback Brad Johnson stays healthy, this could be a playoff team. They will be a very interesting team to watch in the preseason.

9. Has New England's window closed? :yes:

The Patriots might finally be losing some of their magic. Bill Belichick has done a great job in New England of keeping his roster stocked with quality role players and not allowing free agency losses to tear his team apart. However, this offseason has not been kind to the Pats and the team may have a big mountain to climb in 2006. Losing linebacker Willie McGinest, placekicker Adam Vinatieri, offensive tackle Tom Ashworth and wide receiver David Givens is bad enough, but they did nothing to replace them.

This is an aging roster with several players coming off injuries. The margin for error is less than it's been for a long time. Although the Bills and Jets still appear to be mediocre, the Dolphins have a legitimate chance to replace New England at the top of the AFC East. You can never count out Belichick and Tom Brady, but a demanding early schedule will really test their resolve.

10. Can kickers make a difference?
Typically, kickers don't receive much attention heading into training camp, but three veteran kickers have switched teams, affecting six organizations.

Vinatieri's move from New England to Indianapolis will not only strengthen the Colts, but also dramatically weaken the Pats. He will have a great year kicking indoors for the high-scoring Colts, while the Pats have no kicker on their current roster they can trust in a close game. The arrival of Mike Vanderjagt in Dallas doesn't hurt Indianapolis, but gives Dallas consistency in the kicking game. Vanderjagt could easily be the difference between an 8-8 and 10-6 record.

Also, Ryan Longwell traded the cold weather and tough kicking conditions in Green Bay for the cozy Metrodome in Minneapolis. He will not only upgrade the Vikings, he also leaves the Packers with no dependable kicker. Indianapolis, Dallas and Minnesota all expect big production from their new kickers.


Well-Known Member
Sep 1, 2005
New England 2006 is a shadow of the team just two years ago.

However, Belichick may yet have a few tricks up his sleeve.

It will definitely be Pats vs. Dolphins for the AFC East crown.