|ESPN.com: NFL Training Camp 2012||[Print without images]|
1. Being world champions has its advantages: When Justin Tuck was appearing this offseason on "Live! with Kelly," he got word that another guest on the show wanted to meet him. Tuck obliged, and it turned out to be one of his idols, actor Denzel Washington. When the two met, Washington startled Tuck, expressing his admiration and respect for the Pro Bowl defensive end. The scene was surreal and difficult to process for Tuck, who felt the same way about Washington, someone he always wanted to meet. This is what comes with being a champion. But the title also means that every other team's game against New York has more meaning. Even in a season in which they won the Super Bowl, the Giants still finished the regular season only 9-7, and lost two games to the team that finished last in the tough NFC East, the Washington Redskins. This season, the Dallas Cowboys look to be improved. The Philadelphia Eagles look to be improved. And the Redskins look to be improved. It will be even tougher for the Giants to repeat and return to football's holy land and the Kelly Ripa show.
|Fred Jackson is just one of the players the Bills expect back full strength from injury this season.|
2. Optimism in Buffalo: Buffalo signed free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, drafted Stephon Gilmore and Cordy Glenn, and yet there's an even bigger reason the Bills could be playoff contenders. The Bills get back seven starters from season-ending injuries: running back Fred Jackson (leg), wide receiver Donald Jones (ankle), center Eric Wood (ACL), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (foot), linebacker Shawne Merriman (Achilles), cornerback Terrence McGee (knee) and kicker Rian Lindell (shoulder). Last season, the Bills had 17 players on injured reserve. Buffalo believes each player is sufficiently healed and ready to contribute. If they are, then Buffalo should be improved, and there's no reason the Bills can't make both the AFC East and wild-card races a little more interesting.
3. Change in Dallas: Dallas signed cornerback Brandon Carr and drafted cornerback Morris Claiborne, but its biggest offseason acquisition might turn out to be offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan. One of his first changes was switching Dallas' 2011 first-round pick, Tyron Smith, from right to left tackle and moving Doug Free from left back to right tackle. Callahan also brought in guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings, providing some of the bulk the Cowboys lacked in recent seasons. Callahan has reworked the offensive line and will be a voice of reason for Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who is under as much pressure as any coach in the NFL. The last time Garrett had an offensive line coach as trusted as Callahan, with as many responsibilities as he will have this season, was as offensive coordinator in 2007, when he leaned on Dallas assistant Tony Sparano. Dallas had its best season in recent memory, finishing 13-3 as the NFC East champion.
4. What next for McCoy? If first-round pick Brandon Weeden starts Cleveland's regular-season opener on Sept. 9 against Philadelphia, he will become the 11th different quarterback in 14 seasons to start the Browns' opener. The job is set up for Weeden to win. Thus, one of the NFL's most interesting training camp storylines will be what the Browns decide to do with quarterback Colt McCoy. Two playoff contending teams, Green Bay and Philadelphia, could use McCoy's talents. The Packers' backup quarterbacks are undrafted free agent Graham Harrell and seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman. The Eagles' backup quarterbacks are Trent Edwards, Mike Kafka and rookie third-round pick Nick Foles. Is any one of the Packers' or Eagles' backups capable of leading his team where many believe it can go? Adding McCoy, a natural for the Packers' or Eagles' offense, would give either team the type of insurance that the Bears added with Jason Campbell and the Cowboys did with Kyle Orton. Despite what it says, Cleveland is likely to be open to a deal.
5. The wrong kind of headlines: This offseason, Detroit signed four significant free agents and had seven arrests -- not the stats Lions coach Jim Schwartz wanted.
Starting cornerback Aaron Berry was arrested in late June and charged with driving under the influence, causing damage to an unattended vehicle and failing to give information to the police. A second arrest, in July, prompted the Lions to cut him.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley was charged with marijuana possession and DUI in separate incidents April 3 and May 27 in Mobile, Ala., and has a court date July 31.
Running back Mikel Leshoure was cited for marijuana possession Feb. 18 and March 12 in southwestern Michigan and later suspended for the first two games of the season.
Offensive tackle Johnny Culbreath was charged Jan. 23 in Orangeburg County, S.C., with marijuana possession. He was cut on Tuesday.
It's embarrassing already, and it's enough. The Lions reported to camp July 26, and it's a good thing. When players are in camp, it's hard to get into trouble. Detroit, poised to challenge for the NFC North title this season, has too much good going on with its team to let knuckleheads ruin it.
|Draft choice Whitney Mercilus, from Illinois, may help the Texans get over the loss of Mario Williams.|
6. Houston's hopeful: Few teams lost the talent that Houston did this offseason, and few teams have the replacements the Texans do. Houston lost Mario Williams to Buffalo, offensive tackle Eric Winston to Kansas City, inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia, guard Mike Brisiel to Oakland, tight end Joel Dreessen to Denver and cornerback Jason Allen to Cincinnati. Of all the losses, none was more significant than Williams, yet the Texans had the good fortune of watching Illinois' Whitney Mercilus slide to their spot in the first round, where Houston pounced on him. In minicamps, Mercilus demonstrated great quickness off the ball, a tireless attitude and a burst to the quarterback that had some within the Texans' organization thinking they had found more than a suitable replacement for Williams. Houston already had Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin to rush the passer. And so even though there was a talent drain from the Texans, there still is more than enough for Houston to be the favorite in the AFC South and contend for the AFC championship.
7. Watch out for San Diego: For the first time in years, expectations are low for the San Diego Chargers. They should not be. San Diego is as loaded as ever and made more under-the-radar offseason moves than any team in the league. The Chargers added former Broncos wide receiver Eddie Royal, former Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem and former Bills wide receiver Roscoe Parrish. After spending some time at minicamps with Royal, Chargers head coach Norv Turner called him "one of the most impressive" players he has coached. Meachem has demonstrated more talent than the Chargers saw on tape when they studied his play in New Orleans. Parrish can help in the slot and on special teams. Many fans are not counting on the Chargers primarily because Philip Rivers is coming off a poor season and San Diego lost wide receiver Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay. But Rivers is expected to rebound, and there are capable replacements for Jackson. Look for San Diego to be one of this season's surprise teams.
8. Newton's expanding playbook: Carolina, which was fifth in the NFL last season in points scored, is attempting to add offensive power. Cam Newton had a full offseason to work, and the Panthers have increased the number of plays they are giving him. "You want to come look at my playbook?" Newton asked reporters this offseason. "I'm telling you, man, it ain't on the Atkins diet, I can tell you that." Newton also will have more help deploying what he's learned. The Panthers brought in fullback Mike Tolbert to complement what might just be the league's best running tandem: DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Panthers coaches believe wide receiver Brandon LaFell will emerge this season as the No. 2 wide receiver needed to line up opposite Steve Smith. Camp could provide the first preview.
9. Unpredictable Steelers? Typical Pittsburgh: In 2011, the Steelers had the No. 1 defense in fewest total yards, fewest passing yards and fewest points allowed. Atypical Pittsburgh: The Steelers produced only 15 turnovers, their fewest since they started keeping records of it in 1966, and they had only 35 sacks, tying a 21-year low. One coach who watched the game tape of Pittsburgh's wild-card loss to Denver said he saw Steelers defenders make the types of poor plays they rarely ever did. Usually reliable defenders repeatedly were caught out of position. This summer, it will be up to Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to get his defense back to basics, producing sacks and turnovers. Pittsburgh did not bring back linebacker James Farrior, defensive linemen Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke and cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and William Gay. But the Steelers will need young players such as defensive lineman Ziggy Hood and cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown to elevate their play and make this the type of historic season unlike last year.
10. QBs of the future? When Arizona failed to sign Peyton Manning, the Cardinals put their hopes in Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, who promise to wage one of this summer's most heated quarterback competitions. Yet two other quarterbacks should not be overlooked, especially in the long term. One Cardinals official recently commented that during the team's organized team activities, rookie sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley demonstrated some skills that might give him a chance to challenge for the starting job one day. Another Cardinals official noted that undrafted free agent Richard Bartel, who played in three games last season, impressed him throughout the summer. One of these two could wind up shining and becoming the type of sleeper who makes many of the best training camp stories.