<
>

NFC East training camp preview

7/22/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Dallas Cowboys
Training camp site: San Antonio

Campfires: The one legitimate camp battle that will take place features second-year cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins. Terence Newman's the obvious starter, but Scandrick, a fifth-round choice, will challenge Jenkins, a first-round pick. Scandrick was the more complete player his rookie season, but Jenkins has vowed to win the job -- via his blog.

It might be interesting to keep your eye on the situation at left guard, where Kyle Kosier will try to hold off Montrae Holland and last year's fill-in, Cory Procter. Kosier has more experience, but Holland might have more athletic ability.

The running back rotation also will be intriguing to watch. The Cowboys have hinted about starting Felix Jones and returning Marion Barber to his cleanup role. I'm not sure it's the right way to go, but the Cowboys will certainly take a long look at it. Also take a look at the competition for the No. 2 receiver spot. Miles Austin appears to have the inside track, but Patrick Crayton's not ready to concede.

Camp will be a downer if ... Tony Romo and Roy Williams can't get on the same page. They had their moments during offseason workouts, but they didn't wow anyone. Perhaps Williams' dedication to weightlifting and conditioning will pay off.

I think the Cowboys also need Anthony Spencer to make a strong move at outside linebacker. If he doesn't take the next step or he ends up with another injury, it would certainly be a downer.

Camp will be a success if ... Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's able to implement a more balanced offense that utilizes the Cowboys' depth at running back. Garrett's under a lot of pressure to live up to his immense paycheck.

Success also means strong performances from free-agent additions Igor Olshansky and Keith Brooking. The Cowboys need Brooking to be an upgrade over Zach Thomas, who never looked totally comfortable at his inside linebacker spot in the vaunted Wade Phillips 3-4. One more thing: The Cowboys need to agree to an extension with DeMarcus Ware. That would help alleviate any potential tension with the team's best player.

Surprise, surprise: I think Sam Hurd will have an outstanding camp and could actually challenge for the No. 2 receiver role. He really impressed me during OTAs -- when he wasn't working with the trainers.


New York Giants
Training camp site: Albany, N.Y. (University at Albany)

Campfires: I'll have my eye on the running back competition from the start. Danny Ware wants to battle Ahmad Bradshaw for the right to replace Derrick Ward. But he has a long way to go to win the trust of the Giants' coaches. Rookie Andre Brown could emerge during camp as a key contributor. The rookie running back has won universal praise early in his time in the Meadowlands.

At linebacker, free agent Michael Boley was supposed to shore up some of the deficiencies in coverage. Now he's banged up and will serve a one-game suspension. The Giants will have some strong competition at linebacker with players such as Chase Blackburn, Bryan Kehl, Danny Clark and the talented but oft-injured Gerris Wilkinson.

Of course, we'll all be watching the competition at receiver. Can Hakeem Nicks break into the starting lineup in training camp? We're about to find out.

Camp will be a downer if ... The Giants don't see some of their young receivers take the next step. Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith should be serviceable as the starting duo. But the team would love for either Sinorice Moss or Mario Manningham (or both) to emerge as a viable threat. That would free up Nicks and Ramses Barden to sort of ease their way into the regular season.

Oh, and we can't forget Super Bowl hero David Tyree. He's looking for another book deal.

Camp will be a success if ... All of the new additions on defense (Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, Boley, etc.) mesh early. I think Canty will flourish from the defensive tackle spot and he'll still be able to slip outside and rush in some situations. Those players should make Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora even more effective.

I also think it's time for Kenny Phillips to have a breakthrough season. If he has a strong camp, I think he'll be headed for Pro Bowl consideration.

Surprise, surprise: Give me Brown at running back. The Giants were thrilled to land him in the fourth round and Jerry Reese thinks he'll be in the mix for the No. 2 role behind Brandon Jacobs.


 

Philadelphia Eagles
Training camp site: Bethlehem, Pa. (Lehigh University)

Campfires: It will be interesting to see how starting cornerback Sheldon Brown conducts himself after expressing his desire to be traded this offseason. The Eagles brought in Ellis Hobbs to compete with Brown, so things could get a little awkward.

I also think we've been pretty quick to hand Quintin Demps the starting safety spot next to Quintin Mikell. I'm anxious to see if former Brown Sean Jones poses a challenge to Demps during training camp.

Camp will be a downer if ... Brian Westbrook doesn't look completely healthy. He's had a couple of surgeries this offseason and he wasn't exactly a picture of health in '08. If he gets banged up again, that would obviously be a huge downer for the Eagles.

I also think everyone should keep a close eye on Shawn Andrews. Everyone assumes he can return to his '07 form, but it's not a lock.

Camp will be a success if ... rookies LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin make immediate impacts. I think McCoy could be one of the best picks in the draft. And I'm anxious to see if Maclin can quickly make the transition from the Missouri spread offense to Andy Reid's West Coast system.

And if Jason Peters looks like the Peters of '07, the Eagles will be feeling good heading into the season. I think Peters will be ready to go.

Surprise, surprise: Don't be shocked if Nick Cole pushes starting center Jamaal Jackson during training camp. I don't think Reid was overly pleased with Jackson's work last season, and Cole's a player who has shown impressive versatility. Just something to keep your eye on.


Washington Redskins
Training camp site: Ashburn, Va.

Campfires: Let's see if anyone challenges Stephon Heyer for the starting job at right tackle. I like the Mike Williams reclamation project, but it would scare me to begin the season with someone that rusty. Jeremy Bridges is another possibility
.

Here's some right tackle analysis from Jim Zorn from earlier this offseason. The Skins definitely need to create more depth along the offensive line in case things break down like they did last season. I'm also interested in the competition for the No. 2 receiver role opposite Santana Moss. If Devin Thomas can push Antwaan Randle El for the backup spot, it would be great sign for the team. Also pay close attention to the competition between Todd Collins and Colt Brennan for the backup quarterback spot.

Camp will be a downer if ... the Skins don't see some major signs of progress from second-year players such as Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis. I don't expect a whole lot from Kelly early in the season, but Thomas needs to be a difference-maker for quarterback Jason Campbell.

I also think it's time for LaRon Landry to become the elite player we're told he's capable of being. If he has a lackluster camp, it would really put a damper on the '09 campaign.

Camp will be a success if ... Albert Haynesworth looks comfortable in Greg Blache's defense from the start. If you commit this much money ($40 million guaranteed) to a player, he better make an immediate impact. Early in camp, we need to see whether Haynesworth's making people around him better.

And I think rookie Brian Orakpo's transition to SAM linebacker will be something to follow closely. I'd rather see him rushing the passer all the time, but maybe he can do some damage as a stand-up guy.

Surprise, surprise: Keep your eye on a free-agent receiver named Trent Shelton who has bounced around the league on a couple of practice squads. If Thomas and Kelly are slow out of the gate, Shelton has the type of heart and determination to make them pay. Remember you heard it here first.


Trey Wingo, Darren Woodson and Tim Hasselbeck preview the NFC East.