Every NFL team except the Giants will be in training camp next week and besides the heat, the downsizing of full pad two-a-days and whether or not the Saints can repeat, here are John Czarnecki's top 10 training camp storylines.
The aroma of 2010 camp holdouts is strong
Football greed will be discussed daily during camp. Tennessee has resolved its financial differences with Chris Johnson, but the game’s other great running back, Adrian Peterson, also wants more money. The Chargers are again a Super Bowl favorite, but two of their very best – WR Vincent Jackson and LT Marcus McNeill – are talking about holding out until November. And imagine the Jets’ Darrelle Revis going bonkers once the Rams give Sam Bradford $50 million guaranteed. Many teams want to hold the line on salaries despite an uncapped season.
MVDQ (Most Valuable Drama Queen)
Brett Favre truly controls the destiny of the Vikings in the mighty NFC North. Yes, everyone is sick of the Favre drama – will he or won’t he report to camp? – but he is coming off his greatest statistical season (33 TDs to 7 INTs) and Minnesota is dead without him. Truth be told, he may not play if he can’t settle his philosophical differences with head coach Brad Childress. That sideline blow-up at the end of last season between the two was just the tip of the iceberg. There remains a chill in the air.
Where will T.O. go?
Publicly, most teams are saying no to Terrell Owens. It’s difficult to imagine a season without T.O., even if he is 36 and prone to dropping passes. He still has playmaker juice, so the summer will be spent watching injury reports. Should a team lose a top receiver, you can bet T.O. will come a-calling. Granted, teams like Dallas and Indianapolis shouldn’t be included in that scenario, but if Andy Reid can keep Michael Vick around he could reach out if one of his young stars goes down.
Are John Fox's days numbered in Carolina?
The Saints and Falcons are playing to win, but the other two NFC South teams have been on an austerity kick and it seems unlikely that either has the personnel to challenge for the playoffs. The Panthers have the better shot if either Jimmy Clausen or Matt Moore plays like Matt Ryan. The Bucs are in worse shape as the Glazer family financial interests seem to be focused on Manchester United. If the Panthers struggle, this won’t be bad news for John Fox. In the last year of his contract, Fox will be a hot commodity. Should the Giants stumble, Fox could be headed back to Jersey.
Ravens think their time is now
Will this be the season that Baltimore takes control of the AFC North with Big Ben sidelined into October and few really confident that the Bengals can repeat? A lot hinges on their stars, principally Anquan Boldin and Ed Reed (pictured). Boldin needs to prove that he’s really the No. 1 receiver he’s been yapping about for the past two seasons and Reed, one of the game’s all-time greatest safeties, must stay healthy and produce customary big-time plays. QB Joe Flacco is already bragging about how good they are.
Are the Jets full of hot air?
Are the Jets really the best team in New York now or will they implode from all the Super expectations and a potential work stoppage by unhappy cornerback Darrelle Revis (pictured)? There is no doubt that Rex Ryan elevated this group last season and no coach fills a notebook or snaps off a soundbite better than he does. But will this team once again rise to the occasion, knowing they are underdogs no more? Kris Jenkins’ return should supply a big boost to the defense.
Are the Bears contenders or pretenders?
For the second consecutive summer, Chicago fans will travel to Bourbannais, Ill., to check out franchise quarterback Jay Cutler’s beautiful throwing motion, but this time also to see Mad Mike Martz’s influence over him and Chicago’s young, promising receivers. Can this be a Super Bowl marriage? Can Devin Hester produce like Ike Bruce? There are a lot of plusses for the Bears with the healthy return of Brian Urlacher and the arrival of $20 million pass rusher Julius Peppers. And, yes, the NFC North looks like a three-team race.
Philly's Kolb vs. Washington's McNabb
The mighty NFC East is a quarterback heavy-division, but the arrival of Donovan McNabb in Washington coupled with the elevation of Kevin Kolb (pictured) in Philadelphia will be under a continuous microscope. Kolb says that he’s determined to prove to Philly fans and Andy Reid that he’s the right man for the Eagles job, while Mike Shanahan believes he has the veteran triggerman to alter the Redskins’ doormat status. How both adapt this summer will determine if either team is really playoff worthy.
Can Patriots hang with the top fast-break offenses?
Saints coach Sean Payton (pictured) admittedly emulates Bill Belichick’s operation in New England and before the two teams play an exhibition next month, they will hold practices for two days. All eyes will be on how Tom Brady compares to the new Super Bowl MVP, Drew Brees. Remember, the aging Pats couldn’t keep pace with the Saints in last season’s showdown game, and this early encounter may reveal where both teams are headed this season. Meanwhile, there’s still Bayou concern that another shoe could drop in the alleged non-prescription use of Vicodin by club employees.
Will Super Sunday be a Cowboys home game?
Super Bowl XLV will be played in the "House that Jerry Built." Owner Jerry Jones also has lined up a travelling camp circus with summer stops in San Antonio, Canton, Dallas and then ending with the ocean breezes of Oxnard, Calif. No rest for their equipment guys. If they do make Super Sunday, that’s 198 straight days of football for Dallas, whose big worries are kicker David Buehler and rookie Dez Bryant producing. -- John Czarnecki