OPEN CAMP: July 30, Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Renton, Washington.
LAST YEAR: Won NFC West for fourth time under Pete Carroll and reached playoffs for fifth straight season, winning at least one game in each of those seasons. Quarterback Russell Wilson played through injuries, while key injuries to Earl Thomas and Tyler Lockett were critical in postseason. Seattle’s playoff run ended with 36-20 loss to Atlanta in divisional round that highlighted issues with offensive line running ball and protecting Wilson, and depth on defense.
Article continues below ...
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: OL Luke Joeckel, RB Eddie Lacy, LB Michael Wilhoite, K Blair Walsh, OL Oday Aboushi, DB Bradley McDougald, rookies DL Malik McDowell, OL Ethan Pocic, CB Shaquill Griffin.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: K Steven Hauschka, LB Mike Morgan, OL Garry Gilliam, LB Brock Coyle.
CAMP NEEDS: CB Deshawn Shead suffered major knee injury in playoff loss to Atlanta, so Seattle needs to settle on starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman, likely to be either Jeremy Lane or rookie Shaquill Griffin. How far along FS Thomas and WR Lockett are in recoveries from leg injuries will be closely watched early in camp. There’s also question of how carries will break down in backfield between Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise.
EXPECTATIONS: Anything less than playoff spot and being in Super Bowl conversation is now considered disappointment. Offseason was filled with drama surrounding CB Richard Sherman and whether it was time to rebuild elite defense that is getting older. But with standouts Sherman, Bobby Wagner and Wilson at quarterback, no reason to view Seattle as anything but favorite in NFC West.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-8-1)
OPENED CAMP: July 21, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona.
LAST YEAR: A major disappointment after returning with essentially same squad that went 13-3 and made NFC championship game in 2015. Cardinals opened with home loss to Jimmy Garoppolo-led New England Patriots, started season 1-3 and didn’t really hit stride until it was too late. Arizona lost close ones it won previous year – five games by seven points or less plus 6-6 tie with Seattle. Brightest spot was second-year running back David Johnson, who led NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,118: 1,239 yards rushing, 879 yards receiving. He tied Barry Sanders’ NFL record by topping 100 yards from scrimmage in 15 consecutive games in same season, streak ended only when Johnson hurt knee in finale against Rams. It was first losing season in Bruce Arians’ four years as head coach.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: ILB Karlos Dansby, S Antoine Bethea, K PhiI Dawson, rookie LB Haason Reddick, QB Blaine Gabbert.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Calais Campbell, S Tony Jefferson, CB Marcus Cooper, S D.J. Swearinger, K Chandler Catanzaro.
CAMP NEEDS: As always, CB opposite Patrick Peterson is issue. Justin Bethel, finally healthy from foot injury, holds spot as camp begins. Reshuffled offensive line needs to jell, with D.J. Humphries switching to LT, Jared Veldheer to RT and former C Evan Boehm moving in at RG. Team will need to reconfigure secondary with last year’s leading tackler, S Jefferson, gone in free agency. Veteran S Bethea should help make up for that absence. S Tyrann Mathieu returns needing to make it through full season healthy, something he has yet to do. Robert Nkemdiche, 2016 first-round draft pick, will be under scrutiny as he tries to replace departed DT Campbell. Order of receivers behind Larry Fitzgerald is undetermined, but John Brown says he is his old speedy self after being slowed by illness last season. With QB Carson Palmer limited to preserve arm strength, expect to see more of Drew Stanton and lots of Blaine Gabbert in preseason.
EXPECTATIONS: High expectations of last season have evaporated and team seemed in offseason workouts to be relieved to no longer have that burden. This might be final go-round for trio of Arians, Palmer and Fitzgerald. At least one may retire after season. And there’s a feeling from within that Cardinals have talent to contend. Offense will revolve around dynamic Johnson, but Palmer will be center of attention in his 15th NFL season. Blitz-happy defense should have one of best past rushing groups, led by OLBs Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Special teams, awful last year, could be big issue again. Offensive line and secondary are question marks.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 29, UC Irvine, Irvine, California
LAST YEAR: Move to West Coast did nothing to end streaks of 13 consecutive non-winning seasons and 12 straight non-playoff seasons. Los Angeles lost 11 of last 12, leading to Jeff Fisher’s departure and hiring of 31-year-old Sean McVay as youngest head coach in NFL history. Had NFL’s worst offense for second consecutive year, managing 262.7 yards per game, nearly 46 yards fewer than 31st-place San Francisco. No. 1 pick QB Jared Goff went 0-7 as starter after taking over, looking unsurprisingly shaky behind subpar offensive line. RB Todd Gurley had disappointing sophomore season, managing meager 3.2 yards per carry. Big-money WR Tavon Austin also didn’t produce, getting only 509 yards on 58 catches. All-Pro DL Aaron Donald had another standout year leading solid group, but defense faded late in games due to offense’s ineptitude. Fans kept filling Coliseum, but all that losing cost Rams some momentum in nation’s second-largest market.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: McVay, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, WR Robert Woods, LT Andrew Whitworth, LB Connor Barwin, C John Sullivan, CB Kayvon Webster.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Kenny Britt, TE Lance Kendricks, OL Greg Robinson, WR Brian Quick, S T.J. McDonald, DL William Hayes, QB Case Keenum, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
CAMP NEEDS: McVay and Phillips face ample work across roster to transform Rams into winner. Goff’s development into top-flight starter must be offense’s top priority, but returning Gurley to elite form is key as well. Both depend on Whitworth, Sullivan leading offensive line’s revival after miserable 2016. Phillips is moving Rams to 3-4 scheme that should suit Donald and NT Michael Brockers while moving Robert Quinn to OLB. Donald under contract for two more years, but could be unhappy with deal after sitting out OTAs during negotiations for huge extension, which still aren’t completed. Must sort out playing time in secondary, where CB Trumaine Johnson is getting huge payday under franchise tender again this year. Every other job could be up for grabs, with Lamarcus Joyner, Maurice Alexander expected to step up at safety.
EXPECTATIONS: Rams seem almost certain to improve after last year’s freefall, but roster hasn’t improved noticeably with no first-round pick or major free-agent signing. Counting on new coaching staff, fresh mentality to lay groundwork for winner. Quick results would be huge with Chargers crashing LA party this fall. Legit playoff hopes have receded and are still years away, just like opening date of Rams’ new stadium.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-14)
OPEN CAMP: July 28, SAP Performance Facility, Santa Clara, California
LAST YEAR: Matched franchise record for losses and fired coach Chip Kelly and GM Trent Baalke. Marked second straight year Niners fired coach after one season following Jim Tomsula’s 5-11 tenure. Lost 13 straight games at one point in 2016 season and only wins came against Rams. Set franchise worsts for points, total yards and yards rushing allowed in season and blew four double-digit leads in eight home games. Biggest story around team was QB Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for national anthem in protest of police brutality and mistreatment of minorities.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Kyle Shanahan, QB Brian Hoyer, WR Pierre Garcon, DE Elvis Dumervil, DT Earl Mitchell, LB Malcolm Smith, RB Kyle Juszczyk, DC Robert Saleh, rookies DL Solomon Thomas, LB Reuben Foster.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Kaepernick, QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Torrey Smith, WR Quinton Patton, S Antoine Bethea, CB Tramaine Brock, LB Gerald Hodges.
CAMP NEEDS: Shanahan’s main goal is implementing system and culture to team with overhauled roster. Hoyer gets shot to be starting QB but has little to work with outside of Garcon. Figuring out starters on offensive line, finding receiver to complement Garcon and determining if Carlos Hyde is suited to outside zone running scheme are major tasks on offense. Defense gets first look at first-round picks Thomas and Foster. Thomas missed offseason program because Stanford was still in session. Foster sat out recovering from shoulder surgery.
EXPECTATIONS: Team that made three straight trips to NFC title games from 2011-13 under coach Jim Harbaugh enters season with few expectations. Keeping coach for more than one season and improving on last year’s meager win total would be start in first season under Shanahan and GM John Lynch. Defensive front seven should be upgraded with Thomas and Foster joining previous two first-round picks DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, and healthy LB NaVorro Bowman. Niners are counting on Shanahan to boost offense behind journeyman Hoyer.
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL