As Alice Cooper famously exclaimed, school’s out for summer. So are NFL teams. The league’s offseason programs ended last Thursday after a 10-week period. Unlike before the 2011 collective bargaining agreement was signed, clubs are now prohibited from conducting any further hands-on work with players until the start of training camp in late July.This doesn’t mean general managers and coaches will be heading to the beach for a five-week break. Though on-field contact is prohibited during offseason drills -- which greatly hampers evaluation of offensive and defensive linemen – there is plenty of evaluation that can be done from the OTAs (organized team activities) and mandatory three-day minicamp. FOX Sports 1 NFL insider Alex Marvez takes a 32-team look at what we learned this offseason and what questions remain unanswered when teams head into training camp.
David Banks-USA TODAY SportsDavid Banks
Arizona Cardinals: What we learned
Despite being undersized compared to the average NFL running back, 2013 sixth-round pick Andre Ellington will be Arizona’s featured rusher after a surprisingly strong rookie season. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said he plans for the 5-foot-9, 199 pound Ellington to receive “25 to 30” touches per game. That will leave fellow 2013 draft pick Stepfan Taylor and former Pittsburgh Steelers bruiser Jonathan Dwyer competing for backup snaps.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY SportsMatt Kartozian
Arizona Cardinals: What remains unanswered
How will the defense compensate for the loss of standout Daryl Washington to a year-long drug suspension? His absence is compounded by the free-agent departure of fellow inside linebacker Karlos Dansby to Cleveland. The duo produced 9.5 sacks, six interceptions and almost 200 tackles combined last season. The Cardinals hope 2013 second-round pick Kevin Minter can effectively pair with one of two 30-something veterans (Lorenzo Alexander or Larry Foote) as replacements.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY SportsCasey Sapio
Atlanta Falcons: What we learned
The tight end will no longer serve as an integral part of the aerial game with future Hall of Fame selection Tony Gonzalez having retired. Atlanta is expected to feature three- and four-receiver sets with Levine Toilolo and Bear Pascoe acting more as blockers than pass catchers. Gonzalez scored a team-high eight touchdowns as part of his 83-catch 2013 season.
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Atlanta Falcons: What remains unanswered
How effective will Atlanta’s new 3-4 defensive scheme prove without inside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon or a blue-chip pass rusher? There is a significant drop-off from Weatherspoon -- who was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered during a trainer-supervised workout -- to either of his projected replacements battling for the starting spot (Joplo Bartu and Tim Dobbins). The Falcons expect coordinator Mike Nolan to generate more quarterback heat by switching from a 4-3 system that produced the NFL’s second-lowest sacks total (32) in 2013.
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Baltimore Ravens: What we learned
Even on a new team after 13 seasons with Carolina, wide receiver Steve Smith hasn’t become a wallflower. Smith and cornerback Lardarius Webb engaged in a shoving match last week during one of Baltimore’s minicamp practices. Smith brought doughnuts to Webb the next day as a peace offering, but he doesn’t have to apologize for having spunk. Smith not only adds some much-needed fire to Baltimore’s offense; he is also surrounded by the best supporting cast of his NFL career.
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Baltimore Ravens: What remains unanswered
How long will running back Ray Rice have to be out as part of a pending suspension related to a domestic violence incident earlier this year? Rice and his now-wife met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week as a precursor to what will likely be a multigame ban. Bernard Pierce will have to pick up most of the slack left behind during Rice’s absence.
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY SportsEvan Habeeb
Buffalo Bills: What we learned
Having a fourth different defensive coordinator (Jim Schwartz) in as many seasons means another round of changes. The Bills are shifting to a 4-3 system from the 3-4 scheme used by the departed Mike Pettine, who was hired as Cleveland’s head coach after Buffalo led the AFC in sacks (57) and interceptions (23). The Bills may not be as blitz-heavy under Schwartz but hope to show improvement against the run, especially with the signing of hard-hitting linebacker Brandon Spikes away from New England in the offseason.
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Buffalo Bills: What remains unanswered
Offensive coordinator Nate Hackett told co-host Gil Brandt and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio that quarterback E.J. Manuel now has a firm grasp of Buffalo’s entire playbook after an injury-plagued rookie season. The Bills also hired a quarterbacks coach (Todd Downing) to handle Manuel because his desire for additional coaching was putting too much on Hackett’s plate. However, it’s way too early to tell whether these are signs Manuel is ready to lead Buffalo to the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY SportsKevin Hoffman
Carolina Panthers: What we learned
General manager Dave Gettleman has stones. He released Steve Smith -- the most iconic player in franchise history and the team’s only major threat at wide receiver -- without having a comparable replacement waiting in the wings. Gettleman also didn’t sign or draft a left tackle to replace the retiring Jordan Gross, instead projecting that converted right tackle Byron Bell could man the spot. Gettleman helped build a roster that went 12-4 during his first year with the Panthers in 2013, but Carolina fans will have a short memory if the franchise takes a major step backward this season.
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Carolina Panthers: What remains unanswered
Besides the glaring questions at left tackle and wide receiver, no contract extension has been reached with defensive end Greg Hardy. He seemed in line for a monster deal, but that was before Hardy got arrested on a suspicion-of-domestic-violence charge that also resulted in police taking possession of 10 of his firearms. Hardy is one of the NFL’s top young pass rushers, but the Panthers may be content to let him play out this season under the franchise tag if Gettleman believes 2014 second-round pick Kony Ealy is a better and more stable long-term solution.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsBob Donnan
Chicago Bears: What we learned
Just how important upgrading the defensive line was to general manager Phil Emery. The Bears jettisoned Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, spent second-day draft picks on defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton and signed three veteran ends (Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young) to a combined $76 million worth of free-agent contracts. Along with end Shea McClellin moving to pass-rushing outside linebacker, the Bears are intent on improving a unit that produced an NFL-low 31 sacks in 2013.
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Chicago Bears: What remains unanswered
Did the Bears do enough to better the NFL’s worst run defense? Emery is gambling on oft-injured D.J. Williams to stay healthy enough to handle the middle linebacker spot. Both safety positions are also up for grabs between 2014 fourth-round pick Brock Vereen and three low-cost veterans (Chris Conte, Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings). All four players have taken turns with the first-team defense during offseason practices.
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Cincinnati Bengals: What we learned
Cincinnati’s commitment to running the football better and more consistently under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is legitimate. The Bengals spent a second-round draft choice on Louisiana State running back Jeremy Hill to pair with 2013 rookie sensation Gio Bernard. Another pick – fourth-rounder Russell Bodine – also is making a strong push to start at center after the Bengals released Ryan Cook early in the offseason.
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Cincinnati Bengals: What remains unanswered
Whether the Bengals are ready to commit to Andy Dalton long-term at quarterback following three up-and-down seasons. The market for passers of Dalton’s standing is in the range of $18 million annually. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the team wants to re-sign Dalton, but a deal doesn’t appear imminent. The Bengals could potentially let Dalton play out the final year of his rookie contract and prepare to place a franchise tag on him in 2015 if he becomes more consistent and leads Cincinnati to a playoff victory after three horrendous postseason performances. But going that rout would have a trickle-down effect on offseason personnel moves under the 2015 salary cap and could serve as a season-long distraction to a player who is already under enough pressure to produce.
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Cleveland Browns: What we learned
Despite all the pre-draft scrutiny questioning his maturity, entering the NFL hasn’t changed the way rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel rolls off the field. Manziel’s social life is more TMZ-friendly than ever after he became a recluse before the draft while trying to persuade teams he was more into football than the trappings of celebrity. Manziel is doing nothing illegal by living the highlife like some other 21-year-olds. But if he struggles early in his NFL career, Manziel has now opened himself up for intense public scrutiny and questions about his commitment to the game before even entering his first training camp.
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Cleveland Browns: What remains unanswered
Regardless of whether Manziel or incumbent Brian Hoyer opens the season under center, neither seems to have much wide receiver talent to throw at with Josh Gordon reportedly facing a season-long suspension for another violation under the NFL’s substance-abuse program. Davone Bess and Greg Little – Cleveland’s third- and fourth-leading receivers behind Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron last season – were released during the offseason. One potential replacement receiver (Earl Bennett) was already cut last week while another (Miles Austin) is a hamstring pull waiting to happen. A third free-agent signing (Nate Burleson) will turn 33 in August and is on the downside of his career.
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Dallas Cowboys: What we learned
The Cowboys are truly committed to Tony Romo as their starting quarterback for at least the 2014 season. Otherwise, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wouldn’t have resisted the temptation of selecting Johnny Manziel when he was still available with the No. 16 overall pick. Dallas instead chose Notre Dame guard/tackle Zack Martin, giving the Cowboys three first-round picks under the age of 24 along their offensive line to help protect Romo and ideally improve the NFL’s 24th-ranked rushing attack.
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Dallas Cowboys: What remains unanswered
How much the NFL’s worst defense can improve under new coordinator Rod Marinelli, especially with stud middle linebacker Sean Lee likely lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last month during an OTA practice. Dallas has two other defensive linemen (Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer) coming off serious knee injuries and released top pass rusher DeMarcus Ware without adding anything close to a comparable replacement.
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Denver Broncos: What we learned
Even after a horrible Super Bowl 48 performance by the offensive line, Denver’s front office believed the defense was what needed the most offseason upgrading. The Broncos made three bold moves by signing high-priced free agents at cornerback (Aqib Talib), strong safety (T.J. Ward) and defensive end (DeMarcus Ware). Denver expects Ware and Von Miller, who missed nine games last season because of a drug suspension and knee injury from which he is still recovering, will provide the pass rush Denver sorely lacked in 2013.
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Denver Broncos: What remains unanswered
Can the Broncos follow in the footsteps of the 2013 San Francisco 49ers and avoid the hangover that has affected many of the Super Bowl losers the following season? Running back Montee Ball and middle linebacker Nate Irving also must prove they can handle starting roles after Knowshon Moreno and Wesley Woodyard left elsewhere in free agency.
Detroit Lions: What we learned
New head coach Jim Caldwell doesn’t expect wide receiver Calvin Johnson to single-handedly carry the offense. The Lions made significant personnel upgrades with the free-agent signing of Seattle wideout Golden Tate and first-round selection of tight end Eric Ebron, who new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi envisions having a Jimmy Graham-type role in his system. The new targets should help quarterback Matthew Stafford rebound from a disappointing 2013 season.
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Detroit Lions: What remains unanswered
Does All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh have a future in Detroit beyond 2014? Contract negotiations reportedly went poorly enough that the Lions dangled Suh to other teams before the draft. Such a deal was unrealistic considering Suh’s short- and long-term contract situation and may have been done more as a trial balloon to determine Suh’s trade value. Regardless, Suh holds all the leverage for what will ultimately prove a record-breaking contract for a defensive tackle. Without an extension, the Lions face the very real possibility of losing Suh in free agency next offseason or having to use a cost-prohibitive franchise tag of $27 million to retain his services for 2015.
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Green Bay Packers: What we learned
The Packers think the personnel rather than coaching of coordinator Dom Capers was more responsible for the team’s defensive problems in 2013. Although loathe to spend big money in free agency, general manager Ted Thompson believed bolstering the pass rush was so important that he signed ex-Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers to a three-year, $26 million contract. The Packers also re-signed three defensive starters (cornerback Sam Shields, lineman B.J. Raji and outside linebacker/end Mike Neal) and used a first-round pick on a defensive player for the third consecutive year in Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
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Green Bay Packers: What remains unanswered
Whether 2013 fourth-round pick J.C. Tretter can provide long-term stability at what has become a revolving door at center in Green Bay. Tretter is the favorite to replace free-agent departure Evan Dietrich-Smith, whose signing with Tampa Bay made him the third Packers starting center to leave since the 2012 offseason. He followed Scott Wells (St. Louis) and Jeff Saturday (retired). Tretter, who never played last season because of injury, has thus far fended off 2014 fifth-round pick Corey Linsley for the first-string spot.
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Houston Texans: What we learned
Ryan Fitzpatrick impressed new head coach Bill O’Brien enough in offseason work to quash the possibility of a quarterback competition in training camp. O’Brien named Fitzpatrick his 2014 starter last week, ending any speculation that 2014 fourth-round pick Tom Savage would have a bona fide chance to vie for a first-string spot as a rookie. Fitzpatrick, who is now on his fifth team in a nine-year career, should still be considered a placeholder until Savage is ready to get his feet wet.
Houston Texans: What remains unanswered
Will Fitzpatrick have Andre Johnson as part of his wide receiver corps? Johnson has refused to report this offseason and is believed to want a trade to a more viable Super Bowl contender rather than going through the Texans’ rebuilding process at age 33. O’Brien appears unwilling so far to trade a seven-time Pro Bowl selection who has tallied a staggering 221 catches for 3,005 yards the past two seasons. But such thinking could change if the right offer comes along and Johnson remains steadfast in his desire for a change of scenery after 11 seasons in Houston.
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Indianapolis Colts: What we learned
Indianapolis will have to play its first four games without the NFL’s reigning sack leader. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis was suspended after testing positive under the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The Colts would love for 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner to fill the void until Mathis returns. A raw prospect who played defensive end at Florida State, the German-born Werner was one of the Colts’ hardest offseason workers in the weight room after a mediocre rookie season.
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Indianapolis Colts: What remains unanswered
Can running back Trent Richardson become the workhorse rusher that Cleveland envisioned when it made him the No. 3 overall pick in 2012? It didn’t happen last season when Indianapolis acquired Richardson in September for a 2014 first-round choice from a Browns front office that considered him expendable. With a full offseason to learn a new playbook and the Colts projected to field an improved interior offensive line, Richardson has no excuses if he doesn’t produce.
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Jacksonville Jaguars: What we learned
The second year of the massive rebuilding project undertaken by general manager Dave Caldwell is in full swing. After doing little in free agency last year, the Jaguars signed six veterans – running back Toby Gerhart, left guard Zane Beadles, linebacker Dekoda Watson and defensive linemen Red Bryant, Ziggy Hood and Chris Clemons -- expected to start or serve as significant contributors. The franchise quarterback of the future also is in the fold with Jacksonville using the No. 3 overall selection on Central Florida’s Blake Bortles.
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Jacksonville Jaguars: What remains unanswered
Will wide receiver Justin Blackmon ever play another snap for the franchise that selected him fifth overall in 2012? Blackmon is suspended indefinitely because of repeated violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and there isn’t much internal optimism that he will be back any time soon. Blackmon’s nebulous future contributed to Jacksonville using second-round picks on wideouts Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson.
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Kansas City Chiefs: What we learned
The Chiefs must feel pretty darn good about their secondary given that they released Brandon Flowers so late in the offseason. Although he made the Pro Bowl last season, Flowers was carrying a high salary ($7.25 million in 2014) without showing the earmarks of being a shutdown cornerback in Kansas City’s defense. He struggled against larger wide receivers. Marcus Cooper, who slumped in the second half of his rookie season, is projected as Cooper’s starting replacement, with Ron Parker, Chris Owens and rookie Phillip Gaines competing for snaps in nickel and dime packages.
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Kansas City Chiefs: What remains unanswered
The need to clear additional cap space to try to sign quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston to contract extensions was another reason for Flowers’ release. It’s essential that the Chiefs strike a deal with Smith or Houston so Kansas City has the option of using a franchise tag on the unsigned player to keep both from leaving in the 2015 offseason. Speaking of free-agent losses, the Chiefs also must learn whether 2014 fourth-round pick De’Anthony Thomas is ready to fill the pass-catching role out of the backfield held by the departed Dexter McCluster (Tennessee).
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Miami Dolphins: What we learned
The 2013 draft class should finally make an impact after the top three selections -- defensive end Dion Jordan (first round), cornerback Jamar Taylor (second) and guard Dallas Thomas (third) -- had their rookie seasons spoiled by injuries. Jordan, who now weighs 260 pounds after getting stronger during the offseason, will work into the pass-rush rotation with Cam Wake and Olivier Vernon. Taylor will likely serve as Miami’s nickel cornerback and could push free-agent acquisition Cortland Finnegan for a starting spot. And Thomas, a converted tackle, is now the frontrunner to start at left guard.
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Miami Dolphins: What remains unanswered
Can quarterback Ryan Tannehill effectively run the hurry-up offense that new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor wants to use after spending a season on Chip Kelly’s coaching staff in Philadelphia? And how long will it take for an offensive line with four new starters to jell?
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Minnesota Vikings: What we learned
New coach Mike Zimmer isn’t prepared to publicly name a starting quarterback quite yet. Matt Cassel is the frontrunner for the job, but rookie Teddy Bridgewater and 2011 draft bust Christian Ponder also have gotten turns orchestrating the first-team offense. Although still considered a long shot, Bridgewater may have the best chance of any of the 14 quarterbacks drafted in May of starting the regular-season opener.
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Minnesota Vikings: What remains unanswered
Did the Vikings do enough to improve the NFL’s worst third-down defense? Minnesota’s pass rush should be solid with the Vikings re-signing Everson Griffen to team with Brian Robison and rookie Anthony Barr. Ex-Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is a quality free-agent pickup who can handle slot receivers – an area of weakness for Minnesota in 2013. But the Vikings need 2013 first-round choice Xavier Rhodes to step up his game and Josh Robinson or free-agent newcomer Derek Cox to emerge in the battle for the third cornerback spot.
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New England Patriots: What we learned
The Patriots had good reason to keep Ryan Mallett as quarterback Tom Brady’s backup. Mallett was the subject of heavy in-draft trade speculation as a potential starter for the Houston Texans, especially after New England drafted Eastern Illinois passer Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. The Texans, though, instead went with the University of Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage in Round 4 as their hopeful quarterback of the future. Though a Mallett trade would have made some sense considering he’s in the final year of his rookie contract, media reports indicate Garoppolo – who is making a huge jump from the Ohio Valley Conference to the NFL – needs more time to develop on a Super Bowl-contending squad that would be wise to harbor a more experienced QB in case Brady gets injured.
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New England Patriots: What remains unanswered
Will the Patriots seek to sign a big-bodied running back before the regular season to fill the opening created by the free-agent departure of LeGarrette Blount to Pittsburgh? One option could be 245-pound veteran Michael Bush, who took a free-agent visit early this offseason. Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden – smaller backs all in the final year of their contracts – are the current leaders to head a committee approach for New England in 2014.
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New Orleans Saints: What we learned
The Saints may try to replace the pass-catching production of traded running back Darren Sproles (Philadelphia) with shifty 2014 first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks. “Even though Darren played the running back position, we were creative with him,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees told USA Today. “We did a lot of things with him out of the backfield. We’d split him out. We’d throw him screens … That role can be filled by maybe even a receiver.”
New Orleans Saints: What remains unanswered
Is tight end Jimmy Graham really a wide receiver? The distinction should be made soon by the arbitrator handling a Graham grievance based upon how he is used in New Orleans’ offense. If classified as a wideout, Graham will be due $5 million more as a franchise player from the salary cap-strapped Saints than under his current $7 million tight end designation. Regardless of the ruling, New Orleans still needs to sign Graham or risk a lengthy holdout during the regular season.
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New York Giants: What we learned
The Giants have far more options at running back than last season, when injuries decimated the position and resulted in New York’s lowest per-game rushing average (83.2 yards) since 1945. Free-agent signing Rashad Jennings (Oakland) is the favorite to start, but competition for snaps should be fierce in training camp. The Giants used a fourth-round pick Andre Williams, a 2,177-yard rusher for Boston College in 2013 who needs work on his receiving skills. New York also has veterans Peyton Hillis and David Wilson, a 2012 first-round selection who still needs full medical clearance from a serious neck injury suffered last season.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY SportsNoah K. Murray
New York Giants: What remains unanswered
Can the Giants once again field a dominant pass rush? Initial signs are positive regarding Jason Pierre-Paul, who is finally healthy – and 15 pounds lighter – after battling injuries the past two seasons. The Giants are expecting fellow end Damontre Moore to make significant strides in his second NFL season. Plus, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell should feel more confident to blitz with New York upgrading its secondary by signing free-agent cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond.
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New York Jets: What we learned
Unlike what Michael Vick may have thought when signing with the Jets, there won’t be a true open competition at quarterback. Geno Smith has taken the majority of the snaps with New York’s first-team offense. There’s no reason to believe that will change unless Smith tanks in his second NFL training camp.
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New York Jets: What remains unanswered
How much can Smith improve from a turnover-marred rookie season, and has New York’s front office sufficiently upgraded his supporting cast? Eric Decker must prove he can be a No. 1 wide receiver after playing a complementary role in Denver. Chris Johnson must show he can still make game-breaking runs following an injury-plagued 2013 season in Tennessee. And the Jets would get a boost if second-round pick Jace Amaro could team with the returning Jeff Cumberland to boost pass-catching production at tight end.
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Oakland Raiders: What we learned
2014 second-round choice Derek Carr might not need long to push Matt Schaub for a starting spot. Carr already passed Matt McGloin for snaps with Oakland’s second-team offense at last week’s minicamp. “He’s a very mature player,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson told Raiders media. “Because of that, we felt after being around him that we should accelerate that learning curve.”
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Oakland Raiders: What remains unanswered
How many different ways can the Raiders use first-round pick Khalil Mack to bolster their pass rush? Oakland’s coaching staff is experimenting with Mack at multiple spots beyond the traditional strong-side linebacker spot he is expected to man. The scope of Mack’s role in 2014 depends upon how much of the defense he can digest. “We’ve got his head spinning right now,” head coach Dennis Allen told Raiders media. “That’s a good thing. We’re going to try to throw as much at him as we can throughout the rest of this offseason and really even into the early part of training camp. At some point, we’ll settle down to the things that we can execute as a team at a high level.”
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
Philadelphia Eagles: What we learned
The overall quality of the secondary is much improved from 2013. Ex-Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll earned praise from coach Chip Kelly last week for his play on the outside during offseason practices. Carroll could push starters Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher for snaps during training camp. At safety, Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans) is a new starter, and fellow free-agent newcomer Chris Maragos (Seattle) and fifth-round pick Ed Reynolds are providing depth and special teams help. Earl Wolff, a 2013 fifth-round pick, also is now ready to battle Nate Allen for a first-string spot.
Getty ImagesAl Messerschmidt
Philadelphia Eagles: What remains unanswered
How will the Eagles replace star wide receiver DeSean Jackson after his shocking offseason release? Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin will start, but the third receiver spot remains up for grabs with veteran Brad Smith and rookie Jordan Matthews the leading candidates. Running back Darren Sproles, acquired in a pre-draft trade with New Orelans, also will be showcased in the passing game. But while the Eagles could collectively match his production, nobody on the roster provides the same kind of deep threat Jackson posed to opposing defenses.
Getty ImagesRob Tringali
Pittsburgh Steelers: What we learned
Ryan Shazier may be the rare Steelers rookie who can make an immediate splash in coordinator Dick LeBeau’s complex 3-4 defense. The No. 15 overall selection in May’s draft, Shazier has already flashed so much in practice that he is projected to start alongside Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker. “He is fast (and) agile enough to assume a lot of roles in the defense,” LeBeau recently told Steelers media. “What attracted us to him when he blitzed in college (is) he got on the quarterback so fast. That is something offenses can’t acclimate to. He is going to be able to do that.”
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Pittsburgh Steelers: What remains unanswered
Wide receiver Markus Wheaton has become the favorite to win the starting spot created by the free-agent departures of Emmanuel Sanders (Denver) and Jerricho Cotchery (Carolina). But has Wheaton made enough strides after a six-catch rookie season to draw defensive attention away from Antonio Brown? If he hasn’t, free-agent addition Lance Moore (New Orleans) is waiting in the wings. Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, who generated buzz after being picked in the fourth round, is likely headed for a reserve role.
Getty ImagesGeorge Gojkovich
St. Louis Rams: What we learned
Quarterback Sam Bradford’s recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament is ahead of schedule. Injured last October in Week 7, Bradford was a full participant in back-to-back minicamp practices last week. He should start the regular-season opener against Minnesota barring an unexpected setback. “Getting back onto the field (and) seeing how my knee reacted, it’s been fantastic,” Bradford told reporters after last Thursday’s practice. “We were actually able to do a little more than we anticipated.”
Getty ImagesStreeter Lecka
St. Louis Rams: What remains unanswered
How many more home run plays can wide receiver Tavon Austin provide beyond special-teams returns in his second NFL season? Austin showed what he can do with touchdown catches of 81 and 47 yards in a Week 10 rout of Indianapolis but was relatively quiet on offense for the rest of his rookie season. Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Austin is now ready to handle a larger role. “He’s playing so much faster just because he knows what we’re doing,” Schottenheimer told reporters. “He has the system down cold.”
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
San Diego Chargers: What we learned
Malcom Floyd should be able to contribute to San Diego’s offense after all. Floyd suffered a career-threatening neck injury in Week 2 last season against Philadelphia but has made so much progress that he received full medical clearance to return in May. Floyd, 32, said he hopes to add “some more firepower” to the offense while trying to complete his first 16-game season since 2009.
Getty ImagesGeorge Gojkovich
San Diego Chargers: What remains unanswered
Will there be any hiccups with Frank Reich being promoted from quarterbacks coach to assume his first offensive coordinator role in place of Ken Whisenhunt, who was hired away as Tennessee’s head coach? The transition has gone smoothly so far with Reich earning praise from Chargers players with his approach. Reich, though, will be handling play-calling responsibilities for the first time since he was running Buffalo’s K-Gun offense as quarterback Jim Kelly’s backup in the 1980s and 1990s.
San Francisco 49ers: What we learned
Marcus Lattimore isn’t necessarily the heir apparent to Frank Gore at running back. That became clear on the draft’s second day when the 49ers selected Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde in the second round. Lattimore should contribute in 2014, but how he will fare is anyone’s guess since Lattimore hasn’t played since suffering a brutal knee injury during the 2012 college season. Hyde, who was admittedly surprised when selected by the 49ers, rushed for 1,521 yards as a senior.
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San Francisco 49ers: What remains unanswered
Aldon Smith’s availability for the 2014 season. Smith will be sentenced July 25 after pleading no contest to weapons and drunk-driving charges. Besides the legal ramifications, Smith faces NFL discipline from commissioner Roger Goodell. The 49ers don’t have anyone who can single-handedly replace Smith as one of the NFL’s top pass rushers. San Francisco hopes second-year outside linebacker Corey Lemonier can blossom to provide pressure on opposing quarterbacks; Dan Skuta is used more as a run-stuffer.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY SportsKelley L Cox
Seattle Seahawks: What we learned
Marshawn Lynch isn’t a happy camper. Even though he’s due to collect a healthy $5 million base salary in a depressed market for running backs, Lynch is angling for a pay raise that the Seahawks don’t seem inclined to give – especially with the team moving toward a committee approach that would give 2013 second-round draft pick Christine Michael more snaps.
Getty ImagesOtto Greule Jr
Seattle Seahawks: What remains unanswered
Which youngster will be starting at right tackle with Breno Giacomini leaving to the New York Jets as a free agent? Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable recently said there will be an open preseason competition between 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Bowie and rookie second-round selection Justin Britt. Either way, the Seahawks must provide better protection for Russell Wilson. According to STATS LLC, Seattle allowed the highest rate by far (52.9 percent) of quarterback sacks, knockdowns and hurries in 2013.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY SportsJoe Nicholson
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What we learned
Gerald McCoy loves the new Tampa 2 defense being installed by head coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Leslie Frazier. Entering his fifth NFL season, McCoy is considered Tampa Bay’s best defensive tackle since Warren Sapp was in his heyday. McCoy now gets to play in a Sapp-like role as a more disruptive interior presence. McCoy also should face less double-teaming if free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson delivers a much-needed boost to Tampa Bay’s anemic outside pass rush.
Getty ImagesMike Ehrmann
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What remains unanswered
How long until second-year quarterback Mike Glennon replaces 34-year-old Josh McCown with the first team offense? Buccaneers brass is admittedly far more bullish on Glennon after working with him in the offseason program than when it signed McCown away from Chicago in free agency and immediately named him the starter. McCown remains the unquestioned first-stringer entering training camp, but Glennon’s day may be coming sooner rather than later if Tampa Bay’s offense doesn’t get off to a strong start.
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Tennessee Titans: What we learned
There will be heavy preseason competition at linebacker as the Titans morph into a 3-4 defense. The inside linebacker spot next to free-agent addition Wesley Woodyard is up for grabs, and new head coach Ken Whisenhunt has made it clear that Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown aren’t guaranteed to hold on to their first-string spots after subpar 2013 seasons. The Titans also like 2014 fifth-round pick Avery Williamson, which could have Titans veterans like Colin McCarthy, Moise Fokou and 2013 third-round pick Zaviar Gooden fighting for roster spots.
Getty ImagesScott Cunningham
Tennessee Titans: What remains unanswered
Can oft-injured quarterback Jake Locker make it through his first season as a 16-game starter since being drafted No. 8 overall in 2011? And can 2014 first-round pick Taylor Lewan crack the starting lineup to help protect him? Lewan seems unlikely to topple incumbent Michael Roos at left tackle. And the Titans presumably didn’t sign right tackle Michael Oher away from Baltimore with a contract that included $9 million guaranteed to sit on the bench. That creates the very real possibility Tennessee may not receive immediate returns from the No. 11 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Getty ImagesFrederick Breedon
Washington Redskins: What we learned
The Redskins could enter the regular season with different starters at four offensive line positions around left tackle Trent Williams. We already know that free-agent pickup Shawn Lauvao (Cleveland) will start at left guard and that Kory Lichtensteiger is moving from guard to replace the departed Will Montgomery at center. Right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Tyler Polumbus remain with the first-team unit, but both could be ousted by rookie third-round draft choices Spencer Long and Morgan Moses in training camp.
Getty ImagesPatrick McDermott
Washington Redskins: What remains unanswered
Which Robert Griffin III will we see in 2014? The one who took the NFL by storm with his rushing and passing acumen to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2012? Or the one-legged version who was mercifully benched for the final three games last season by former head coach Mike Shanahan? We won't know until new head coach Jay Gruden truly unveils his offensive system during the regular season.