NFL Nation: 2012 camp watch

Bengals Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
1:15
PM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The Bengals are a much better team than the one that surprisingly made the playoffs last season. Whether this translates into more wins is uncertain. The Bengals haven't put together back-to-back winning seasons since 1981-82. But you have to be impressed with what the Bengals accomplished this offseason. Few teams had a better draft and free-agency period.

Cincinnati has more dependability and a bigger red zone punch with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Bengals addressed the guard position, which was their weakest spot, by drafting Kevin Zeitler in the first round and signing Panthers free agent Travelle Wharton. Cincinnati added defensive depth by signing five former first-round picks in free agency: Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Jason Allen, Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson. The big question is whether the Bengals have done enough to close the gap between them and the Ravens and Steelers.

One thing that might happen: Leon Hall suits up for camp and Dre Kirkpatrick sits for most of it. This isn't how most envisioned the Bengals' cornerback situation. Kirkpatrick was the one who was supposed to step up in the starting lineup if Hall hadn't recovered from an Achilles injury. The roles are apparently reversed. Kirkpatrick, the 17th overall pick of the 2012 draft, reportedly injured his leg and could miss most of training camp.

The Bengals remain hopeful that Hall will be able to take the field Friday, the first practice of training camp. Hall, who was held out of spring workouts, has yet to be cleared to play. If Hall and Kirkpatrick are both sidelined, Cincinnati will lean heavily on Jones, Newman, Allen and Brandon Ghee.

One thing we won't see: A major veteran free-agent addition to the wide receiver group. The Bengals took some heat for not addressing the loss of two of their top three wide receivers when Jerome Simpson (Vikings) and Andre Caldwell (Broncos) left in free agency. Cincinnati didn't sign a wide receiver in free agency and didn't draft one in the first two rounds. Head coach Marvin Lewis came away very impressed with his wide receivers this spring, which is a good indication that the Bengals won't be making any moves for someone like Braylon Edwards, barring injury or a meltdown by this group.

Heading into camp, Brandon Tate, Mohamed Sanu and Armon Binns are battling to start opposite A.J. Green. Tate is the early favorite after an impressive spring. He didn't catch a pass last season, when he signed a week before the season opener, but he has picked up the Bengals' offense in his first full offseason with the team. The Bengals are equally as high on Sanu, a third-round pick who has drawn comparisons to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Quarterback Andy Dalton said his receivers are "going to surprise a lot of people."

Browns Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:30
PM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Brandon Weeden will come out of camp as the starting quarterback. In fact, he could have the job won earlier than that. The Browns quarterback competition is viewed as a charade because hardly anyone believes Colt McCoy will beat out Weeden. It doesn't make any sense for the Browns to make Weeden wait. A team doesn't draft a 28-year-old quarterback to bring him along slowly.

Besides his age, Weeden stands out because of his arm strength and maturity. He throws a better deep ball than McCoy and he's more accurate. Weeden simply gives the Browns a better chance to win now and in the future. Teams are less scared to throw rookie quarterbacks into games after the recent success of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Pressure doesn't seem to faze a quarterback like Weeden, who has already said he wants to win a Super Bowl before he's done playing.

One thing that might happen: Wide receiver Josh Gordon gets a crack at starting. It doesn't matter that Gordon wasn't on the team until 13 days ago, when Cleveland selected him in the second round of the supplemental draft. He instantly improves a Browns wide receiver group that ranks among the worst in the NFL and was virtually ignored in free agency and the draft. In the perfect scenario, Gordon would be brought along slowly because he hasn't played a game since 2010. This is far from a perfect scenario with receivers like Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Travis Benjamin and Carlton Mitchell.

One NFL executive told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Gordon has "Randy Moss-like" talents. The problem is, Gordon has Moss-like problems off the field. He was kicked off the Baylor football team after testing positive twice for marijuana. The Browns, though, had to take this risk if they wanted an immediate improvement in their passing game. Pairing Gordon with Greg Little would give the Browns a young and promising wide receiver duo.

One thing we won't see: Defensive tackle Phil Taylor lining up this summer. Taylor, a 2011 first-round pick, is expected to miss the start of the season after having surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. The Browns have expressed confidence that Taylor will return this season. Recovery can take four to six months, depending on the severity of the tear, so Taylor could return sometime in the first half of the regular season.

The Browns went with Scott Paxson in Taylor's spot during spring workouts, but don't be surprised if John Hughes ends up with the job coming out of camp. Hughes, a third-round pick in this year's draft, is 320 pounds and can take up a lot of space inside. But losing Taylor hurts the Browns' chances of improving the NFL's 30th-ranked run defense from a year ago.

Titans Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:30
PM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Though their personnel is not dramatically different, the Titans should look a lot different than last year. A new staff came out of the lockout in hurry-up mode, and didn’t overhaul things to the degree it wanted to because it didn’t want to overload players.

Now, with a full offseason, position coaches have been able to pick apart film with guys and instill additional technique and habits. While Mike Munchak’s overriding philosophy -- know what to do and do it -- is significant, all those other specifics are important, too. We’ll see more of the mindset of coordinators Chris Palmer and Jerry Gray as they install throughout camp. That should mean a more wide-open offense from Palmer and a defense from Gray with more variations in scheme, alignments and pressure.

One thing that might happen: If he does what the Titans expect him to do, first-round pick Kendall Wright could work his way into the starting lineup for opening day against New England. It would be best if he didn’t rank higher than third in the receiving corps. But Kenny Britt is recovering from reconstructive surgery on his right knee after three games last season and scopes on each knee during the offseason. He could also be suspended as a result of a recent DUI charge, as commissioner Roger Goodell put him on notice following the lockout when his interactions with police continued to mount.

Wright gives the Titans an explosive, outside option who can also threaten from the slot. It would be ideal if he was third and drew the corresponding coverage. But if he ranks higher among the receivers earlier in the season, he can still help Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker as well as take some attention away from guy like Chris Johnson and Jared Cook.

One thing we won't see: A rout in the quarterback competition. I’ll be hugely surprised if both Hasselbeck and Locker don’t put together good bodies of work in camp and the preseason. Don’t buy that there isn’t a real competition here. While the veteran incumbent certainly has at least a slight advantage at the start based on experience, Munchak wouldn’t be advertising a QB competition strictly for show.

Ultimately, they’ve said they’ll make the call on gut feeling. I know a lot of people don’t want to believe that will be the case. I do. Hasselbeck will likely be more consistent while Locker’s peaks may be higher. No matter the winner, odds are they’ll need them both at some point this season. If you don’t have an absolute star at the spot, having a capable veteran and an up-and-comer is the next best thing.

Texans Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:00
PM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Gary Kubiak’s not going to hammer his guys even in one-a-day practice situations. Hardcore two-a-days are a thing of the past in the year-old CBA, but it’s not like the Texans were getting ground down during Kubiak’s camps in the past. Houston’s summer heat is brutal. The Texans will get what Kubiak considers sufficient work in an early morning practice, then pack the practice bubble for their afternoon walk-throughs.

They’ll be in pads enough to get the work they need, but Kubiak isn’t a coach who will prove a point by loading up on the hitting. He treats his guys like men and expects they will do what’s necessary to be mentally ready while heading into the season fresh. It’s part of what’s made him a players’ coach. And as of last year, it worked.

One thing that might happen: Because he’s not well-rounded, Kareem Jackson could prove to be the weak link on defense. The left cornerback has been talked up and talked up by the Texans since they drafted him 20th overall in 2010, and he has made progress. But he doesn’t head into this camp with nearly the stature of the other recent No. 1 picks in Houston -- end J.J. Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing or left tackle Duane Brown.

According to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, though Jackson has gotten better playing press/man-to-man, he’s a better zone defender. Jason Allen often took Jackson’s place when the Texans were playing more man coverage. Now, with Allen gone, Alan Ball is the extra veteran cornerback who could be platooning with Jackson. But if a first-round pick cannot earn a full-time spot in his third year, that will qualify as a disappointment. I see Jackson as a guy under pressure to graduate to a higher level of play in all situations.

One thing we won't see: Core guys on this team panicking in the face of being the division favorite and a team expected to advance in the playoffs. An injured team broke through last season but it wasn’t carrying big expectations and benefitted from Peyton Manning’s injury and the Colts’ collapse. The time around, the Texans aren’t a team people think might break through.

This time around, a great deal of people expect the Texans to win the division -- perhaps by a wide margin. Even a best-case scenario for the Titans or Jaguars may not be enough for one of them to make up the talent gap. I expect Cushing, Connor Barwin, Watt, Antonio Smith, Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Chris Myers to set a tone early on and pull people along through camp and into the season.

Patriots Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:00
PM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The New England Patriots will have a younger, more athletic defense in training camp. The Patriots were 31st last year in total defense. It’s questionable how much this group improved, but the Patriots certainly will be faster. Additions in the draft such as first-rounders Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower help.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick needs to find the right balance for his defense right now. This is a team that did not cover well and had issues at times rushing the passer. The combination made it rough for the Patriots to keep opponents from racking up yards. They did several things in minicamp to mix it up defensively and find the right combination. That will continue in training camp.

One thing that might happen: New England could see major changes at both guard positions. The training camp status of Patriots Pro Bowlers Brian Waters and Logan Mankins are both up in the air. Waters is contemplating retirement, while Makins is recovering from ACL surgery.

Waters’ absence has been a mystery. He has not participated in any offseason workouts, but also has not officially made a decision on his playing career. Mankins was put on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

One thing we won't see: I’m sure we will not see any distractions. That simply is not the “Patriot Way.” New England is a veteran team with great leadership. It is the consummate football culture that has kept this team focused on winning, and away from outside distractions.

The reigning AFC champs have most of their roster spots filled. So there won’t be many position battles drawing attention. The one potential controversy could be Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker. He expected a long-term extension this offseason but got the one-year franchise tag for $9.5 million. Welker certainly will be asked about his feelings on this. But an educated guess is Welker will say he is happy to be a Patriot for at least one more year and he’s ready to concentrate on football.

Chargers Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:00
PM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The San Diego Chargers will be under the radar and they will love it. The nation has become tired of the Chargers. For years, San Diego has been a preseason darling. It has been a perennial popular early Super Bowl pick but has fallen short of the playoffs the past two seasons.

As a result, not much attention is being paid to the team anymore. I expect this team to welcome the lack of attention and use it as a motivational tool. The Chargers, who must win this season to save the job of coach Norv Turner, know the only way they will become relevant again is if they win. I expect this to be a focused group and one that will relish the idea of being the chaser and not the team being chased.

One thing that might happen: We may see how talented first-round pick Melvin Ingram is, and how important he will be to the San Diego defense. The Chargers received a gift when Ingram fell to the No. 18 spot in the draft. Many NFL scouts think he was the value of the draft.

The Chargers expect to use Ingram in several roles in training camp and in the preseason. He will likely be a pass-rushing linebacker. But he can also play in the defensive line. Because he has a lot to learn and grasp, Ingram may look lost at times, but it will pay off soon in the form of dynamic defensive play, which the Chargers desperately need.

One thing we won't see: The Chargers' kicking competition will likely not be settled in training camp. I think it will continue through the preseason.

Both Nate Kaeding and Nick Novak will be given a chance to win the job. Novak had a nice season in 2011 after Kaeding, a longtime standout, suffered a torn ACL in Week 1. Kickers win their jobs because of their performances in games, so preseason performances will likely go a long way in determining this battle.

Ravens Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:45
AM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The Ravens run defense will miss veteran outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson. Suggs was a very underrated run defender, and Johnson did the thankless job of setting the edge. Now, Baltimore has to figure out how to maintain its dominance against running backs after Johnson left for San Diego in free agency and Suggs injured his Achilles tendon (he's hoping to return in the second half of the season). It would be tough to replace one. It's a major challenge to fill the void at both outside spots.

Baltimore's plan is for underachieving second-round pick Paul Kruger to replace Suggs and for Courtney Upshaw, the team's top pick in the 2012 draft, to take over for Johnson. There's a legitimate concern about if Kruger is strong enough to hold up for an entire game and an entire season. He showed that he can rush the passer (a career-high 5.5 sacks last season), but he has never been known as a physical run-stopper. Unlike past seasons, teams will test the Ravens run defense in the fourth quarter.

One thing that might happen: Torrey Smith assumes the role of the Ravens' No. 1 wide receiver. The Ravens had repeatedly failed in developing a drafted wide receiver from Travis Taylor to Mark Clayton. That drought appears to be over after Torrey Smith made a splash after being selected in the second round in 2011. He finished only behind the Bengals' A.J. Green and the Falcons' Julio Jones in receiving yards by a rookie last season.

If Smith continues to grow, he has a chance to become the Ravens' top wide receiver this season. He clicked with Joe Flacco downfield, covering at least 25 yards on five of his seven touchdowns. There were times when it looked like Smith had more chemistry with Flacco than Anquan Boldin. Flacco's strong arm meshes better with speed receivers. And there's no receiver faster on the Ravens than Smith.

One thing we won't see: Players talking about how a trip to the Super Bowl slipped through their grasp. Six months removed from that nightmarish AFC championship game, the Ravens believe they have moved past Lee Evans' failed catch in the end zone and Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in the final minute. This is probably true because Baltimore has had enough recent distractions (Suggs' injury in addition to the absences of Ray Rice and Ed Reed this spring) to take the organization's mind off that loss in New England.

If there is a lingering effect, it will be seen in Cundiff. He insists that he hasn't lost any confidence, but he will have to prove that by making kicks. Scott Norwood and Gary Anderson struggled mightily after critical misses in the postseason. The Ravens didn't bring in any veteran competition for Cundiff in camp, but they might have to do so if Cundiff is off the mark this summer.

Raiders Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:40
AM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL

One thing I'm certain of: The Raiders will be careful with running back Darren McFadden. He is the team’s best player and he is the key to the team’s success in 2012. The problem with McFadden, one of the best running backs in the NFL, has been his health. He has had durability issues since coming into the NFL in 2008. He missed the final nine games of the 2011 season with a serious foot injury.

McFadden is 100 percent healthy and the Raiders want him to stay that way. Yes, McFadden needs to reacquaint himself with the zone-blocking approach and the West Coast offense, but he will not be overworked. McFadden, who missed some time in camp last year with an eye injury, must be ready for the regular season, especially since the Raiders don’t have any experienced backups as of now. Punishing him in camp doesn’t make any sense.

One thing that might happen: We could see clarity at the receiver position pretty early in camp. The situation opened up earlier this week when Oakland traded Louis Murphy to Carolina for a conditional seventh-round pick. Murphy is a solid possession receiver, but his role in Oakland was up in the air because there is so much potential talent at the position.

I believe Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey will remain the starters with Jacoby Ford being the No. 3 receiver. The receivers to watch are rookies Juron Criner, a fifth-round pick, and Rod Streater, an undrafted receiver. Both players were terrific in the OTA season. If they continue to impress in training camp, they should both put themselves in position to be part of the rotation once the season starts.

One thing we won't see: The coaching staff will not be looking over their shoulders during camp. The coaches will be allowed to coach their way without any chance of being overruled.

That is new in Oakland. The Raiders are about to start their first training camp since the death of owner Al Davis. Davis made several decisions and often overruled coaches on schemes. Oakland safety Michael Huff addressed it earlier in the offseason. New general manager Reggie McKenzie will let new coach Dennis Allen and his staff do it their way. It should help set the tone for the new era in Oakland.

Jaguars Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:30
AM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Mike Mularkey and his staff will provide more consistent leadership than Jack Del Rio and his staff did -- especially at the end. While Del Rio liked to ride waves, Mularkey will be level and measured in a way that lines up with general manager Gene Smith better. Del Rio had people who everyone regarded as his guys -- in the locker room and even in the staff.

Mularkey is far more likely to not play favorites, to reward production and to privately reprimand guys who may not be doing things the way he wants them done. I think players will be more likely to rally around this coach as they see him avoiding the types of things that were sometimes interpreted as JDR throwing people under the bus.

One thing that might happen: Maurice Jones-Drew could be ready for a prolonged holdout. That’s what his old backfield mate, Fred Taylor, has predicted. Mularkey said this week he doesn’t know whether the Jaguars’ star player and the NFL’s leading rusher from 2011 will show up for camp.

Though he has two years left on his current deal, he feels his production last season warrants more. I can understand his position, because when he finishes this contract the team will be much more wary of his age and wear and tear. But the team is not unreasonable to steer clear of setting such a precedent, and running backs aren’t so valuable these days. Jacksonville was 5-11 with him, and I’d expect it could do the same without him. Hopefully things are resolved quickly. In the meantime we’ll get a better sense of backup Rashad Jennings, who missed last year due to injuries. I think he can run effectively.

One thing we won't see: Chad Henne in line to start at quarterback. Maybe they end up there at some point. But the Jaguars are taking the long view with Blaine Gabbert, and one season in which the team was sold, the coach was fired, the receivers were terrible and the protection was sometimes shaky was hardly enough to make a judgment on the No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft.

The Jaguars feel Henne gives them a better backup situation. But they don’t head into camp with a sense that Henne will wind up running the huddle. It’s Gabbert’s job. Mularkey, coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterback coach Greg Olson were hired to effectively build Gabbert into the quarterback the team envisioned when it drafted him. Their offense and teaching methods will be geared at maximizing his chances at success.

Chiefs Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:20
AM ET
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL

One thing I'm certain of: The pressure is on Matt Cassel. The Chiefs enter training camp feeling highly confident after a strong offseason. Kansas City added several key pieces, and even though it has the youngest roster in the NFL, it has one of the best rosters in the AFC.

Yet, they aren’t getting much national attention and it’s because of Cassel. Few folks believe in him. Fortunately for Cassel, some of the people who believe in him are the Kansas City brass. Instead of replacing Cassel, the Chiefs built around him. And the Chiefs expect Cassel to respond with a strong season. It begins in training camp. All eyes will be on Cassel as we wait to see if he will hold Kansas City back or if he will push them forward.

One thing that might happen: We could see major strides made by Jonathan Baldwin. If so, it will erase memories of a horrible first NFL summer for the 2011 first-round pick. Baldwin’s rookie season was defined (and soiled) by a reported late-training camp fight with then teammate Thomas Jones. Baldwin broke his thumb in the reported incident.

Baldwin, who entered the NFL with some red flags, missed the first five games of the season. He ended up with 21 catches and he flashed some of the superior athleticism that got him drafted in the first round. Baldwin had a good offseason and the Chiefs want him to take a major step in training camp. Let’s see if Baldwin is ready to make training camp positive experience this year.

One thing we won't see: The Big Three will not be overworked in training camp. The Chiefs’ 2011 season was ruined by torn ACL injuries suffered by tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles within a two week period last September.

The Chiefs expect all three standouts to be ready to play this season, but the team will be cautious. So, don’t expect Moeaki, Berry and Charles to practice full go every day in camp. The team will play it smart and have all three players ready for Week 1 of the regular season.

Steelers Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:00
AM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The Steelers offense is in much better hands with new coordinator Todd Haley. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger might not have been a fan of getting rid of Bruce Arians, but he will be happier with the results under Haley. There was really no excuse for the Steelers to rank 21st last season with a top-notch quarterback like Roethlisberger (albeit injured) and receivers like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

Haley has shown the ability to adapt his offense to the personnel, whether it was throwing the ball over the field in Arizona or running it down a defense's throat in Kansas City. Haley's biggest contribution will be protecting Roethlisberger. In Haley's two seasons as offensive coordinator in Arizona (2007-08), the Cardinals ranked in the top 11 in fewest sacks allowed. They gave up a total of 52 sacks in those two years, which is 12 more than Roethlisberger got sacked all of last season. A healthier Roethlisberger will lead to a healthier Steelers offense.

One thing that might happen: A new long-term deal for Wallace. Of course, a holdout by Wallace could come before the Steelers and their speedy wide receiver reach an agreement. There has been speculation that Wallace, who has yet to sign his $2.7 million restricted free-agent tender, will not report to training camp until he gets his multi-year deal. Roethlisberger, however, has said that he expects Wallace to show up on time.

Recent reports indicate the sides have made progress in talks, which has triggered optimism that a deal will be struck before the regular season. It's in everyone's best interest to get Wallace into camp as soon as possible. He has received Haley's new playbook, but he still would benefit by suiting up and running the routes. Based on what the top receivers have received this season, Wallace should sign a deal that will pay him around $20 million in the first two years.

One thing we won't see: The annual teeth-gnashing over a marginal offensive line. The rest of the league gave the Steelers a big draft-day gift when David DeCastro fell to the Steelers at the 24th overall pick. DeCastro, who is considered one of the top guard prospects over the past decade, is a major upgrade over Ramon Foster. He's a Steve Hutchinson-plow guard who fits the Steelers' system perfectly.

There's a chance that another rookie could be starting on the offensive line. Second-round pick Mike Adams has to prove he's strong enough to hold down the left tackle job. If he struggles, recently re-signed Max Starks remains a trusted insurance policy there. Pittsburgh's line will also be improved because Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is healthier and right tackle Marcus Gilbert is entering his second season.

Colts Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:00
AM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Andrew Luck is going to draw huge interest. After the big 2011 rookie season for Cam Newton in Carolina and a solid showing by Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, expectations for highly regarded, first-year quarterback are likely to soar. And Luck wasn’t just the No. 1 pick in the draft, he was the guy who made the Colts move forward with a divorce from Peyton Manning and an organizational reset.

Luck is a smart, athletic quarterback who will be working under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the same coach who was in Indianapolis at the start of Manning’s career. The organization has done a lot of work trying to ensure Luck has the best possible chance at early success. Newcomers should fill at least three of the starting offensive line spots. Veteran receiver Reggie Wayne was re-signed and should be available to Luck on a lot of third downs while two new tight ends, second- and third-round picks Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, will give Luck prime options and assist in protection. Those relationships will have to develop quickly.

One thing that might happen: Special teams could make a big improvement. While kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee are good at their jobs, the previous regime didn’t put much emphasis on special teams beyond those two legs. The top-heavy salary structure of the team didn’t allow for many veteran backups, so the core of the special teams was not as strong as much of the Colts’ competition.

To oversee his team’s special teams, Chuck Pagano hired Marwin Maaloof, who was a special teams assistant in Baltimore where both worked last season. He replaced Ray Rychleski, who didn’t fare well as Jim Caldwell’s hand-picked guy for the Colts. Bad field position wasn’t something Manning couldn’t overcome. It would be nice if Luck doesn’t have to overcome it often in his first trip through the league. Constructing better special teams will be a big preseason project.

One thing we won't see: I’m not expecting top-flight coverage. The Colts' best cornerback, Jerraud Powers, will be supplemented by a cast of guys with minimal résumés. Kevin Thomas was the No. 2 guy during offseason work. Other holdovers as the team converts to more of a man scheme include Chris Rucker, Terrence Johnson, and Brandon King. None of them were brought in by the previous regime as Cover 2 guys, not players who’d play a lot of man.

The team’s also brought in several low-cost outsiders: Cassius Vaughn (via trade with Denver), DJ Johnson (in a trade from Philadelphia), Justin King (as a veteran free agent), Korey Lindsey (as a waiver claim) and Antonio Fenelus and Buddy Jackson (undrafted rookies).

Broncos Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:00
AM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL

One thing I'm certain of: The Peyton Manning show is about to begin. Four months after he rocked the NFL by signing with the Broncos, the legendary quarterback is now beginning his first NFL training camp without a horseshoe on his helmet.

Manning will be the story of the NFL this summer. At the age of 36, there will be daily updates as he tries to come back from a surgically repaired neck that cost him the entire 2011 season. Manning has looked good in offseason workouts and he remains on pace to be ready for the season. Still, his every training camp pass will be dissected by media and fans. If Manning throws a dart, you’ll hear about it. If Manning throws an interception, you’ll be alerted. If Manning suffers a setback, sirens will blare. The summer of Manning is about to commence.

One thing that might happen: There could be some clarity at weakside linebacker as the Broncos try to adjust to playing without starter D.J. Williams. He is facing a six-game NFL suspension for using a banned substance.

The Broncos are currently considering Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving and rookie Danny Trevathan for Williams’ spot. It will be an open competition and the final decision likely will not be made until late in the preseason. But we might see someone emerge in camp. Right now, it is Woodyard’s job to lose, I believe. Yet, Irving and Trevathan will get a look. Trevathan, a sixth-round pick, had a steep hill to climb to win the temporary starting job, but he opened eyes in OTAs.

One thing we won't see: The option. The high school offensive days are over in Denver. I’m sure no one is more thrilled than Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy did one of the most impressive jobs in the NFL last season when he scrapped a traditional NFL offense during the season and tailored an offense to best utilize former quarterback Tim Tebow. But working with Manning is a much better, er, option for any offensive coordinator.

Denver leader John Elway, a legendary quarterback himself, clearly hated that approach and replaced Tebow with Manning as soon as he could. Now, the rest of the offense can rest easy and go back to a traditional passing game with perhaps the best passer in NFL history. This will be a relief to the offensive line and receivers as the Manning era buries memories of 3 yards and a cloud of Tebow in Denver.

Jets Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:00
AM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The Jets’ defense will be fast and physical. Despite a top-five rating in 2011, New York’s defense was angry this offseason. The Jets’ goal is to have the best defense in the NFL, and this group will take it out on the offense throughout training camp.

New York’s defense is well ahead of its offense. So things could get ugly. The Jets are using more 4-3 concepts to put pressure on the quarterback. The additions of first-round pick Quinton Coples and veteran safety Yeremiah Bell should add more physicality to this group.

One thing that might happen: I'm still not sure Darrelle Revis' contract saga is completely over. Yes, Revis is showing up to training camp on time. But that doesn't mean he's suddenly happy with this contract. Revis will make $13.5 million over the next two years, which is a bargain rate for the best cornerback in football.

The Jets have held firm on their stance. They've paid Revis very well over the past two years and feel their Pro Bowl corner can play at least one season at a discount. So far it looks like New York has the advantage, especially with Revis giving up his only leverage by reporting. But this could still be a story if Revis chooses to make a public display.

One thing we won't see: We will not see a quarterback competition in training camp. Despite the immense outside pressure, Tim Tebow is not competing with starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. Media and fans will be tracking their every move. Each game and week of practice will be scrutinized. But the Jets have no plans to start Tebow right away.

But it will be important for Sanchez to perform well. If Tebow is lighting up the preseason and Sanchez struggles, that leash gets even shorter during the regular season. Sanchez needs to start training camp fast and carry that momentum into the season.

Bills Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
10:00
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: We will see a big improvement in talent at Bills training camp. This is the most talented team head coach Chan Gailey has had in his three seasons in Buffalo. It’s not even close, especially after a series of solid acquisitions this offseason.

It started with the $100 million signing of former Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams. It continued with the signing of fellow defensive end Mark Anderson, the selections of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and left tackle Cordy Glenn in the draft, and the extensions given to No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson and starting tailback Fred Jackson. Expectations are running high in Buffalo. The pressure begins this week in training camp.

One thing that might happen: We might finally see a healthy Shawne Merriman in training camp. It’s been awhile since "Lights Out" has been 100 percent. But offseason Achilles surgery has Merriman feeling good about his chances to be healthy and productive again in 2012.

Merriman is a role player at this point of his career. But Buffalo can definitely use him in the rotation at defensive end in its new 4-3 defense. The Bills could have a formidable and deep pass rush at defensive end with Williams, Anderson, Chris Kelsay and a healthy Merriman. The Bills have enough depth this season that they are not relying on Merriman. But it would be a nice bonus if Merriman returns close to his old form.

One thing we won't see: We will not see a quarterback controversy at Bills camp. Some initially thought backup Vince Young, because of his big name, was signed to push starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Instead, Young will be in a battle with incumbent No. 2 quarterback Tyler Thigpen for the backup job.

The Bills are behind Fitzpatrick, especially after paying him $59 million. But they also realize the importance of quarterback depth, after Fitzpatrick played the second half of the season with injured ribs and struggled. Young has 30 career wins and can fill in for Fitzpatrick if he is injured. But Young must get by Thigpen first, and I think that’s going to be a tougher battle than people think.

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