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Eagles hurting, Packers excited as camps heat up

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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It's difficult to be everywhere, but in the NFL stories spread quickly, whether you are Twittering or not. In the middle of my training camp rounds, there have been dozens of great topics. These are some of the more intriguing ones, although not all of them have definitive answers. 1. Did Eagles president Joe Banner jinx his team? Before camp began, Banner said that Philadelphia had the best personnel in the NFL. Since then, the Eagles have had a rash of injuries, losing starting MLB Stewart Bradley and promising rookie TE Cornelius Ingram for the season. Plus WR DeSean Jackson went down when I was in Bethlehem, Pa., last Saturday, though word is the playmaker will be OK. But Andy Reid's best offensive lineman, Shawn Andrews, continues to miss practices with a bad back and the coach is so concerned that he admitted some interest in former starter Jon Runyan, 35, who is still recovering from microfracture knee surgery. "Even with everything that has happened, I agree with what (Banner) said," Quintin Mickell told me. "I know our veteran guys think the same way. We still have a lot of talent here." 2. Will the Cowboys be all right without T.O.? The addition-by-subtraction theory definitely comes up in conversation with the Cowboys, a team that seems to have moved on without Owens, who recently said owner Jerry Jones "ran for the woods." T.O. expected Jones to allow him his singular pursuit of being the focus in Dallas. But the Cowboys, especially the offensive stars, told me the focus should be the team. Yes, there is tremendous pressure now on QB Tony Romo and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to win (especially a playoff game) without Owens, and they can do it if the complimentary receivers support Roy Williams and Jason Witten. "Everyone wants to knock Tony," Garrett told me, "but I love his competitive nature and spirit. Maybe he doesn't fit the image of what some fans want the Cowboys quarterback to be, but I know the guy wants to win." 3. Will the Arizona Cardinals bust out as playoff contenders? They will if something bad happens to Kurt Warner. The veteran quarterback drives the bus in Arizona and there isn't much confidence that Matt Leinart could pick up the offensive slack. Every personnel man I trust says Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in the league and he and Warner have developed a very accurate relationship. Warner may not have the arm he had in St. Louis, but arm strength doesn't matter one bit as long as he's accurate. 4. Did Brian Urlacher really call Jay Cutler a nasty name? More than half the league thinks he did; but that is said without the benefit of any scientific polling. The two players have spun their way past the subject. Still, you have to bet this comment has a chance of resurfacing during the season. On a side note, Urlacher looks a lot better on the field this season than he did a year ago when he was worried about a serious neck injury. 5. What will Tony Gonzalez mean to Matt Ryan? Well, Cowboys TE Jason Witten told me that the ex-Chiefs tight end will "make Ryan a Pro Bowl quarterback." Typically, Ryan laughed at the comment without seconding the prediction. "There is no doubt that I will help Matt in the red zone," said Gonzalez, who wants to play two more seasons. "How many touchdowns did Matt throw last season?" Sixteen. Gonzalez figures the second year pro will throw a lot more than that this season. "I've been around Peyton Manning and Tom Brady at the Pro Bowl and what sets them apart is their hard work," Gonzalez said. "Those two guys just love working and playing. I think if Peyton and Tom only made $100,000 a season, they'd be exactly the same players they are today. Matt is like them. He is working all the time to get better, studying and lifting. He sets the tone for us and that's what a quarterback has to be. Think about it, being a quarterback is the toughest position in all of sports." 6. OK, why are Buffalo fans so in love with Terrell Owens? They are starved for stars in western New York. They are looking at T.O.'s positive numbers like his 139 career touchdown receptions, 38 in the last three seasons. Candidly, Coach Dick Jauron and his staff are giving T.O. the benefit of the doubt right now and so is quarterback Trent Edwards, who knows all too well that talented Lee Evans needed someone to relieve the pressure of his constant double coverage. New Hall of Famer and Bills owner Ralph Wilson pushed the Owens' signing, believing the good outweighs any bad. 7. If Brett Favre wants to play in September, will the Vikings sign him? There are some within the organization who believe that Brad Childress will say yes to Favre and that owner Zygi Wilf will go along. Everyone knows that Favre wasn't excited about sleeping in a dorm while knowing there was no way for him to hide from the fans in Mankato. The whole pursuit has damaged Childress in the locker room, but the coach also knows that Sage Rosenfels hasn't absorbed his offense while Tarvaris Jackson remains injury-prone. 8. What NFL defense is excited about its offseason changes? The Green Bay Packers. Two of my favorite locker-room talkers are cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson because they never shy away from any subject and they genuinely love being in the same secondary. "We have a real chance to lead the league in interceptions this year," Woodson said. "I'm loving the pressure we're going to bring to offenses." Said Harris: "I agree. I think we are all going to get tons of chances to make plays and I mean Nick Collins, too." The Packers are switching to the 3-4 defense and they hired Dom Capers, who is from that same zone blitzing scheme as Pittsburgh's Dick LeBeau. They also have a bunch of dependable defensive linemen and more than enough linebackers. "They may also have the best defensive line coach in the league in Mike Trgovac," said Falcons head coach Mike Smith. 9. Will Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez start this season? Without playing one preseason game, and barring some unforeseen disaster, the answer is yes. The intention right now is not to open the season, but the Lions and Jets may have no other options. Both quarterbacks have displayed real-deal leadership skills and have been outdueling their veteran counterparts. However, fans should realize the biggest difference between this year's two rookies and last year's sensational rookies, Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco, is that they both left college before their senior seasons. Ryan and Flacco entered the NFL as fifth-year seniors, definitely more experienced and more mature. 10. Where will Michael Vick end up? Washington, Green Bay or Baltimore.
Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Bengals, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Colts, Vikings, Patriots, Jets, Eagles, Ravens, Cardinals, Michael Vick, Brian Urlacher, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tony Gonzalez, Charles Woodson, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Al Harris, Jon Runyan, Sage Rosenfels, Roy Williams, Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Larry Fitzgerald, Lee Evans, Shawn Andrews, Nick Collins, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, Stewart Bradley, Trent Edwards, Joe Flacco, DeSean Jackson, Matt Ryan, Cornelius Ingram, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez

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