Ten NFL Training Camp Stories That Matter
Hallelujah! NFL football is back. In just a few short weeks the games that count will kick off and Sundays will once again become relevant (sorry, God). As the last of the 32 training camps open their gates, the pro pigskin pundits and talking heads have begun the annoying process of overanalyzing in exhausting detail the position battles and developing situations they deem important.
Ya know, stuff like the Tebow/Sanchez soap opera, and the Dolphins quarterback quandary, and Adrian Peterson’s rehab, and Maurice Jones-Drew’s contract dispute. Blah, blah, blah and blah. None of these angles are worth playing. The Jets are a grenade without a pin, the Dolphins will struggle regardless who’s under center, the Vikings are rebuilding, and Jacksonville is a laughing-stock franchise with or without MJD.
Hell, even Peyton Manning’s climb from the abyss is a yawner. I’m sure he’ll look fine in August, but what about outdoors in December after throwing 500 regular season passes? Skelton versus Kolb? Snooze. The Raiders new coach? Nah. The post-bounty Saints? Whatever.
Here are ten NFL training camp stories that will have an impact on this season’s crop of contenders.
- Texans Receivers Not Named Andre
The Texans certainly showed moxie earning their first ever postseason berth in 2011 without the services of starting signal-caller Matt Schaub and freak of nature wideout Andre Johnson. Could lightning strike twice? Considering how weak the AFC South appears, yes. It's possible Houston can win another division crown leaning on Arian Foster and a young, aggressive defense. However, it's not likely. Some other pass catcher besides Andre needs to start balling. Kevin Walter and Bryant Johnson are old, slow and non-threatening. Maybe rookies DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin are the answers? Maybe not.
- Vick’s Valet
Baby Jesus himself could float down from on high and tell Michael Vick to slide, but once gameday arrives, the instinct to tuck it and run head first into traffic and trouble will be too powerful to overcome. Oh sure, Mike will take a dive now and again, but to presume he's going to suddenly morph into a play-it-safe quarterback is insane. Which means anointed backup Mike Kafka better be ready to start a few games after #7 gets steamrolled sprinting for a big gainer. Andy Reid has had success with backups in the past, but the sand in his coaching hourglass is fading fast.
- Ground and Pound?
The Steelers are facing a pair of offensive hurdles this summer: 1) Mike Wallace is sitting out for more cash, and 2) Rashard Mendenhall is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in January. The former will eventually resolve itself when Wallace drags his disgruntled ass back to the field. However, the latter is a bit more problematic. Will new playcaller Todd Haley hand the reins to Big Ben, or will he call upon the firm of Redman-Dwyer-Rainey to spearhead the black and gold attack? Time will tell.
- Nicks on the Mend
Hakeem Nicks wants to be at full speed in two weeks, but his busted foot may have something to say about that. The worst thing the talented receiver could do is rush back before he's fully healed. Any sort of setback will cost him a chunk of the season, which leaves Victor Cruz as the only proven pass catcher in Big Blue's arsenal. That would be bad for the defending champs, who draw a slew of potent scoring machines in 2012.
- Buffalo Soldiers
While the Jets, Pats and Fins steal all the AFC East headlines, the little team that could from Western New York lies in wait with a revamped roster poised to make some noise. The defense added edge rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and potential stud cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the first-round of April's draft. If Shawne Merriman can resurrect his floundering career and Marcell Dareus continues to develop into an All-Pro caliber defensive tackle, the Bills will be more than an afterthought in the AFC.
- Is Moss Boss?
Randy Moss's year away from the game seems to have calmed his worried mind and body. By all accounts, he looks as fresh and fast as ever in San Francisco. Well, he better be, because the one thing preventing the Niners from seizing a sixth Lombardi Trophy is their inability to score. Alex Smith needs a legit vertical weapon other than tight end Vernon Davis. Okay, he also needs a stronger, more accurate arm, but beggars can't be choosers. If Moss can cause secondaries to lose sleep, Smitty just might Brad Johnson his way into a ring.
- Ryan’s Hope
Bye, bye Vinnie Jackson and Mike Tolbert, hello Bob Meachem and Jackie Battle. It's unclear whether San Diego improved themselves on offense, but one thing remains absolutely certain: running back Ryan Mathews has to stop imitating Darren McFadden or the Bolts are fried. The talent and vision and speed are all there. Sadly, so are the injuries, fumbles and head-scratching disappearing acts. A questionable corps of wide receivers and an aging Antonio Gates won't do Philip Rivers any favors, so Mathews needs to trade in the baby teeth for tusks, pronto.
- The Marshall Plan
Reunited and it feels so good. In 2007 and 2008, quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall played pass and catch 206 times and found the end zone 13 times as members of the Denver Broncos. To put that in perspective, the last Bears wide receiver to catch more than 90 balls in a season was Marty Booker way back in 2003. Any questions as to why Chicago traded for a juvenile headcase like Marshall? Similar to San Fran, the Bears have no shot of winning the NFC unless they scrap the dink and dunk approach. Air superiority is what separates the big boys from the also-rans in today's NFL.
- Life Without Suggs
The Ravens are running out of time to reach the mountain top in the AFC. Woulda-coulda-shoulda means very little in the grand scheme of things. As good as Baltimore may be in 2012, the simple fact remains that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are one step closer to retirement, and top pass rusher Terrell Suggs is crossing fingers and toes his shredded Achilles tendon heals at a miraculous rate. Don't count him out, but don't bet on him either. Rookie Courtney Upshaw better be the real deal, because relying on Joe Flacco to steer this team to greatness is the equivalent of flicking lit matches in a fireworks factory.
- Rookie Island
Dallas traded up for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne to help remedy their biggest weakness on defense. The NFC is loaded with dangerous wideouts at every turn and the 'Boys' attempts to cover these scary monsters has been a veritable house of horrors over the last two seasons. The hope is Claiborne can settle into being a shutdown corner sooner rather than later. His recovery from wrist surgery already has him playing catch-up, so the pressure to learn Rob Ryan's scheme is mounting, along with Jerry Jones' blood pressure.