Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Updated: July 22, 10:29 AM ET
How will Pats handle coaching departures?
By John Clayton
With the start of 2005 training camps around the corner, let's take a look at a big question mark facing each of the NFC teams:
Buffalo Bills | Camp preview
Are the Bills really going into the season with Mike Gandy starting at left tackle? The Bills face a major dilemma trying to put Gandy, a career guard, at left tackle. The Bears tried it with disastrous results a couple of years ago. If Gandy fails, the only option is to move Trey Teague from center to left tackle to protect the blind side of young quarterback J.P. Losman. You have to wonder whether the Bills will pursue other options -- perhaps targeting Ross Verba -- now that cap room has been made available by trading Travis Henry.
Miami Dolphins | Camp preview
Can Nick Saban have first-year success with what he has at the quarterback position? While everyone seems enamored by the return of running back Ricky Williams -- who will only be a backup at best this season -- the real story is what the Dolphins have at quarterback. Poor quarterback play can put you near the top of any draft, and poor quarterback play in 2004 is the reason Dave Wannstedt lost his job and the Dolphins drafted second. Gus Frerotte may beat out A.J. Feeley as the starter because of his experience, but if the quarterback play is as bad as last year, it will be a long season for the Dolphins.
New England Patriots | Camp preview
What will life be like without Romeo Crennel on defense and Charlie Weis on offense? No coaching staff took bigger hits than the Patriots' staff. Head coach Bill Belichick has to become more involved with the offense now that Weis is gone. Eric Mangini is ready to be the defensive coordinator, but he doesn't have that long history of game plans in big games to reference. Belichick has done miracles in New England but can he pull out another without two of his most valuable aides?
New York Jets | Camp preview
Can Chad Pennington bounce back from shoulder surgery and last 16 games? Pennington is 20-14 as a starting quarterback and he has appeared in four playoff games in his brief stint in charge of the offense. But he's looking for the first 16-start season of his career. He's coming off shoulder surgery, and that's a concern. He's been throwing for the past month and is on schedule to be ready for training camp. Still, you've got to wonder about durability coming off such a serious injury.
Baltimore Ravens | Camp preview
Will this be the breakout season for quarterback Kyle Boller? In terms of surrounding talent, Boller was starved last season. His receiving corps was so thin he often dropped back into formations in which only one wide receiver ran routes. The Ravens ran a lot of two- and three-tight end packages, and most didn't include Todd Heap because of injuries. The Ravens have surrounded Boller with better receivers (Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton) and good coaches (Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel). Will it be enough?
Cincinnati Bengals | Camp preview
Is this the year Marvin Lewis takes the Bengals into the playoffs? No Bengals team in the past decade has generated this much excitement. Carson Palmer looks like the real deal at quarterback. Rudi Johnson is back after a 1,454-yard season. Chad Johnson is one of the most exciting receivers in the game. Drafting linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman added speed and energy to the defense. Finally, the Bengals have a chance.
Cleveland Browns | Camp preview
How long will it take Crennel to make Browns fans and players forget the Butch Davis years? Davis made too many wrong decisions running the personnel office, and players ended up losing faith in his decisions as a head coach. Crennel and new general manager Phil Savage did their best to gut the team, rebuilding the defense with a 3-4 and patching the offense. This could be a long rebuilding process.
Pittsburgh Steelers | Camp preview
What will Year 2 be like in the Ben Roethlisberger era?
It can't be as magical as Year 1. Roethlisberger wasn't scheduled to play as a rookie. Instead, he won 13 regular-season starts, earned Rookie of the Year honors and completed 66.4 percent of his passes. A simple 10-6 or 11-5 season would be satisfactory because no one expects Roethlisberger and the Steelers to go 15-1 again. Will he have a sophomore jinx? How will teams defend him differently? Roethlisberger has lost the surprise factor after his great rookie season.
Houston Texans | Camp preview
Have the Texans made the right moves in improving their defense? The Texans finishing 23rd defensively was one of the more surprising and disappointing statistics from last season. The Texans, on paper, looked much better than that. They finished 13th in stopping the run and to be a good 3-4 defense, you should rank in the top 10 against the run. The Texans got younger on defense, bringing in Morlon Greenwood at linebacker and Phillip Buchanon at cornerback. Gone are veterans such as Aaron Glenn, Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman.
Indianapolis Colts | Camp preview
Is the whole season focused around the Nov. 7 Monday night game against the New England Patriots? The answer is yes. The Colts are good enough on offense to expect another 12-win season. They have the best talent in the AFC South and should make the playoffs. But if Peyton Manning can't beat the Patriots on Nov. 7, they face the unpleasant possibility of playing on the road against the Patriots in the playoffs. Most people think if the Colts can win this road game against the Patriots, they can get over the top and go to the Super Bowl.
Jacksonville Jaguars | Camp preview
Can Fred Taylor make it through the season after suffering what was a more serious knee injury than the Jaguars wanted to reveal? Taylor admitted he is recovering from a repair of two knee ligaments in January. At a workout Monday, Taylor showed promise by running without trouble, but he's clearly behind in conditioning. Taylor had shaken the tag of being an injury risk the past two years, but the Jaguars are in big trouble if Taylor can't be a top back because of the knee injury.
Tennessee Titans | Camp preview
How quickly can Jeff Fisher mold one of the league's youngest defenses? This could be a tough year for the Titans. They cut defensive leaders such as Kevin Carter and Lance Schulters and are now stocked with a defense full of players mostly drafted in the past three years. The team will miss that veteran leadership. Athletically, though, it could be pretty good. Fisher is one of the best coaches in developing young talent, but this is his biggest challenge in years because the team is so young.
Denver Broncos | Camp preview
What was Mike Shanahan thinking in bringing over the Cleveland defensive line? The Broncos finished fourth in the league on defense last year. They brought back Ian Gold to complete one of the league's best linebacking corps. They have Champ Bailey and John Lynch in the secondary. But the moves to bring in Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, Michael Myers and Ebenezer Ekuban -- four members of a Browns line that underachieved last year -- generated a lot of discussion this offseason. Shanahan preferred those additions rather than paying $5 million a year to keep defensive end Reggie Hayward.
Kansas City Chiefs | Camp preview
Did the Chiefs do enough to fix their defense? It appears they did. Derrick Johnson and Kendrell Bell are impact linebackers with speed and big-play ability. The trade for Patrick Surtain gives the Chiefs a coverage cornerback. Sammy Knight is a ballhawk and playmaker at safety. Carlos Hall should help add a little pass rush at defensive end, even if he's just a role player. If the Chiefs go from 31st to the middle of the pack on defense, they should get back in the playoff hunt.
Oakland Raiders | Camp preview
How will Kerry Collins hit it off with Randy Moss as his main receiving threat? All signs point to a great union. Collins has one of the league's best deep arms. Moss is the game's best big-play receiver. With the addition of LaMont Jordan at halfback, the Raiders should have enough of a running threat to prevent teams from keeping safeties back all the time to wait for Moss in double coverage.
San Diego Chargers | Camp preview
Can Drew Brees repeat his Pro Bowl season of 2004? Brees was given up for extinction when the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers. He took the Chargers to a 12-4 season and stunned those in the organization ready to replace him. He could put the organization in a very awkward position next offseason if he repeats his showing from last year. The Chargers kept him on a one-year basis by giving him the franchise tag. Back-to-back playoff seasons could force the Chargers to start thinking about giving him the long-term deal and trading Rivers after the season.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.