The sound of the whistle reverberates across the wide-open field. You hear the grunts, the crashing of pads, the unmistakable sound of a blocking sled and, depending on where you travel, some music.
NFL training camps opened across college campuses (and now a number of team facilities) this week. The countdown until your league’s fantasy draft day is winding down and you’ve rescued those outdated replica jerseys from the back of the closet.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be dialing up a number of fantasy opinion pieces, offering analysis on several hundred players with team-by-team profiles and enough statistical nuggets to dominate your competition. For now, I’m offering a 10-pack of stories to get things rolling into the weekend. Yes, there are another 1,000 stories on my brain. I have to get started somewhere.
I think I’m going to do some wind sprints.
1. Brady, Belichick and …. ?
The first whistle of camp couldn’t come fast enough for the Patriots following a tumultuous final month of the offseason. The Patriots held their press conference and Bill Belichick earned rave reviews for his candor and emotion while addressing the Aaron Hernandez trial. The next court date is August 22nd, and we’ll certainly continue to monitor the proceedings.
In the interim, we turn back to the field. Much will be made about the myriad changes in the New England receiving corps. The Patriots shuffled the members of the wide receiver corps and Rob Gronkowski’s availability remains a huge question. They’ve won with similar personnel in the past with No. 12 under center. The Patriots have a strong running game in place with Stevan Ridley and a possible 60-reception option in Shane Vereen.
*** I would be remiss if I failed ring the bell on rookie Aaron Dobson. I will bring back my interview from the NFL Rookie Premiere next week (it was done pre-Hernandez), but this is a rookie with crazy hands, body control and the willingness to go and get it. You can check out his highlight-reel catch below.
Finally, there’s hype about the Dolphins, and I’m intrigued, but did they do enough to catch the Patriots for the division? The Bills have a lot of speed and youth, while the Jets are … the Jets.
Do the Patriots have enough to charge toward New York?
2. Chip Kelly Opens Eagles Camp. Will Speed Be The Key In A Wide-Open Division?
On paper, it’s a perfect fit. Chip Kelly makes the leap to the NFL and commands an offense replete with speed options. LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown will have ample opportunity to demonstrate their breakaway speed if Kelly’s fast-paced, quick-snap attack translates to the pros.
Of course, the question being asked around camp and across the league pertains to the quarterback position. Michael Vick appears to be the right fit, but will Nick Foles pull an upset in camp?
The Twitterverse was buzzing as I wrote this about the Eagles closing camp to the media. We’ll be watching how that unfolds.
3. Forget Your BBQ Jokes: What Does Andy Reid Have In KC?
With rumor, conjecture and speculation running amuck about Peyton Manning’s health and return to the field in Denver, the Chiefs became a trendy playoff pick.
And there were parts that worked fairly well. Jamaal Charles amassed over 1,700 total yards in his return to the field, but the quarterback position was dismal and Dwayne Bowe had zero support in the receiving corps.
The Chiefs brought Alex Smith aboard to eradicate the mistakes of 2012 and play more efficient football. Smith plays with the “chip on his shoulder” after being passed by Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. He completed 70.2 of his pass attempts with 13 touchdowns against six turnovers.
I’m interested to see whether a player will emerge as a true complement to Bowe in the receiving corps, be it Jonathan Baldwin, Donnie Avery or tight ends Tony Moeaki/Anthony Fasano.
4. AFC Darlings: New York Or Bust For Peyton?
Let’s call it what it is. The Broncos stand atop the predictions and Vegas odds to charge to the Super Bowl in New York and represent the AFC. Denver added Wes Welker to an already-loaded offense while securing a red zone monster and between the tackles runner in Montee Ball.
We await the NFL’s ruling on Von Miller’s rumored four-game suspension. Even if Miller’s unavailable for the first four games of the season, a healthy Peyton Manning all but ensures a playoff berth.
I’ll toss out the water cooler/talk radio question of the day. Is the season that defines Peyton Manning?
5. Bourbon Street Is Open All Night: Will They Be Partying In New Orleans?
You can bet that the Saints are excited to turn the page and start this 2013 campaign. Sure, fantasy owners were thrilled by Drew Brees cranking up huge numbers, but the team was terrible defensively (31st in scoring defense at 28.4 points allowed per game) and lacked consistency.
Sean Payton returns from his suspension, and Rob Ryan takes the reins of the defense.
The NFC South is a compelling division.
– Matt Ryan just received a massive pile of cash and leads a stacked Atlanta offense that replaced Michael Turner with Steven Jackson.
– The Panthers came to life as the season progressed, but will Steve Smith and Greg Olsen get consistent help in the passing game and the Stewart (PUP list to start)/Williams backfield.
– Finally, Josh Freeman commands an offense with two highly-paid, productive receivers and an outstanding young running back. The offensive line comes back healthy and ready to get the Buccaneers back in the mix for a playoff berth.
6. Have We Officially Moved From The “Please Stay Healthy”/Legal Season to the “Please Stay Healthy” Preseason?
I don’t want to rehash the litany of issues that plagued “The Shield” during this offseason. We’re all well aware of the negative publicity received on account of the thirty-something arrests.
This entry serves to recognize my excitement about players and fans returning to training camp. Players dole out autographs and chat up the fans. The Broncos nabbed a boy out of the stands and had Peyton Manning dial up a couple pass attempts.
We turn our attention from the legal blurbs to the practice field and cringe at Twitter reports about injuries. Percy Harvin’s hip injury and A.J. Green’s knee injury commanded our mid-week attention. The Jets lost cornerback Aaron Berry for the season because of a knee injury.
Welcome back, football.
7. Will The Redskins Resist The Urge To Push RGIII?
Fantasy owners celebrated Mike Shanahan’s evolution in 2012. He didn’t shuffle running backs and made Alfred Morris a household name and fantasy hero.
But, Morris’ production and the tales about his car take a second chair to Robert Griffin III’s return to the field. Coach Shanahan and RGIII are saying all of the right things about “taking it slowly” and so on, but we’ll be monitoring his progress as the Redskins ramp up toward the opener against the Eagles.
Pierre Garcon made some noise this week when talking about the potential dominance of the Washington offense. I have some reservations about Garcon in the fantasy realm as he opted not to have surgery on his injured foot this offseason.
The second-best receiving option for RGIII, Fred Davis, is also coming back off of a torn Achilles.
Patience. The return of Adrian Peterson in 2012 raised the bar on rehabilitation efforts. I would rather see the Redskins open the season with Kirk Cousins and be sure that Griffin III is ready when he makes his return.
8. It Looks Good On Paper. Are The Bengals Ready To Seize Control Of The AFC North?
Mention the Bengals and the conversation immediately shifts to Andy Dalton and the aforementioned A.J. Green. That attention is certainly warranted, but this is a well-rounded squad. Tyler Eifert was drafted to be paired with Jermaine Gresham in two-tight end sets. Giovanni Bernard (rookie) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis will split the load and move the chains. I’ll bang the drum for Mohamed Sanu as a second wide receiver.
But, lest we forget, the Cincinnati defense ranked eighth (20 points per game) last season.
For the investing public out there … the Bengals were 33/1 to win the Super Bowl as of two weeks ago.
9. On paper, the 49ers are stacked. Does Colin Kaepernick have enough options?
Like everyone, I question the catch-up factor from defenses and the ability of Kaepernick to stay healthy while running to the edge as often as he did in 2012. The running game will continue to churn along in the same vein (will Frank Gore cede more carries to backups James/Hunter in ’13?), but the good feelings of Anquan Boldin’s arrival were muted when Michael Crabtree sustained a torn ACL. As such, there is some question about which of the other receivers (Manningham, Jenkins or Patton) will rise to the second slot.
For fantasy purposes, I have Vernon Davis rolling up at the No. 2 tight end position. He wins out over Jason Witten because of his red zone proficiency. There has also been some speculation about Davis playing more of a pure WR role at times. Get those emails ready to flood the support staffs at your league’s servicer.
10. I Finish In My Hometown Of Chicago. Lovie And Urlacher Are Gone. How Will Camp Trestman Play?
The dismissal of Lovie Smith from his head coaching position in Chicago following the 2012 season divisive, to say the least. “How could the Bears dismiss a 10-win coach who was so beloved by his players?” were the cries. I wrote an extensive article about the move here on the Dome.
Chicago responded with the curious, albeit intriguing, signing of Marc Trestman as Phil Emery’s new coach. Trestman’s reputation as an aggressive offensive mind is mighty intriguing for a Chicago fan base that has been clamoring for an offensive mind and some semblance of consistency from that side of the ball for some time. Trestman wants to push the tempo and get the ball out. After watching Jay Cutler absorb hit after hit during his tenure, it’s certainly an intriguing development.
I put two additional bits from the press conference on the board.
Phil Emery spoke of the fact that the team will not be working on contract extensions, thereby putting the aforementioned Cutler and several other key members (Henry Melton, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, among them) of this squad on a “show me” blast.
Trestman said there will be no tackling during his morning practices, a practice schedule designed to get “body functions moving in the right direction” for early game times. The lack of contact is something that will be watched and scrutinized closely as the regular season commences.
I don’t suspect that the “leadership void” following Brian Urlacher’s departure will be an issue, as there are plenty of veteran leaders (Briggs, Tillman, etc.) on the board..
* Finally, the defensive line came to came with questions about depth. Former New Orleans DT Sedrick Ellis decided to retire than report to camp. Jamaal Anderson, former No. 1 pick of the Falcons, was signed to bolster the rotation.