Which NFL OTA Storylines Should Have Us Most Excited for 2012 Season?

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIJune 13, 2012

Which NFL OTA Storylines Should Have Us Most Excited for 2012 Season?

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    Around the NFL, teams are building up excitement for the upcoming 2012 season based on the influx of new talent they signed, new draft picks that are joining the team, and the "hope springs eternal attitude" of the loyal fanbase.

    A year from now, every other NFL team would like to envision that they can be the team to take the place of the New York Giants and be welcomed at the White House as the new Super Bowl champions.

    The 2012 NFL season promises to be another exciting year of professional football. As exciting as the passing games were for so many NFL teams last year, just imagine what they can do with a full offseason of OTA's, mini-camps and full training camp to further develop their plays, schemes and team chemistry.

    Today we are going to highlight 24 specific storylines as a cross-section of some of the developments in OTA's that are getting people excited about the upcoming season.

Rams Want to Lock Up Long and Laurinaitis to New Deals

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    The St. Louis Rams have been down for some time, so their fans are hoping that the hiring of Jeff Fisher will go a long way towards turning around the franchise.

    Fisher came up with a solid 2012 draft class loaded with potential talent that the Rams can look forward to developing over the next few years.

    Another positive development is the recent headline that the Rams are now taking steps to lock up Chris Long and James Laurinaitis to new deals. Both players are going to be free agents in 2013, so eliminating either key player from even getting a sniff of free agency makes sense to tie them up to long-term deals.

    Mike Sando of ESPN.com wrote in his story that the negotiations should be a snap for Chris Long. Marvin Demoff is the agent for Long, as well as the agent for St. Louis coach Fisher.

    Demoff's son, Kevin, just so happens to be the Rams' vice president of football operations and chief operating officer. If only all free-agent negotiations could be that easy.

    It looks like the Rams are turning a corner and looking to develop something that they can continue to build on.

Isaac Redman Ready to Step in for Rashard Mendenhall

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    A story from Ralph N. Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.com shares that Isaac Redman is champing at the bit to have his first real shot in the regular season at being the workhorse running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Redman has not had many opportunities to shine in Pittsburgh, as the main ball carrier has always been Mendenhall. But, when Mendenhall went down with an injury, it was Redman that stepped up in the 2011 playoff game against Denver by gaining 121 yards on just 17 carries.

    That performance against the Broncos is what convinced the Steelers that they already had a solid backup in Redman. As a result, the Steelers passed on drafting a key running back in the 2012 draft.

    Nobody knows yet how long it will take Mendenhall to be back in top football shape, but Redman is focused on making the most of his upcoming opportunity, for as long as it lasts.

Chiefs Will Be More Aggressive in Red Zone in 2012

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    One thing that Kansas City Chiefs fans can get excited about is that the Chiefs plan to correct the issues they had in the red zone last year.

    Josh Looney, analyst for Kansas City Chiefs.com, says that the Chiefs have been focusing on their red-zone offense in OTA's, which makes sense since the Chiefs were dead last in the NFL in 2011 in red-zone efficiency.

    Wrote Looney: "The Chiefs have spent a significant amount of time on Red Zone snaps this offseason and it’s no secret as to why. Kansas City finished 2011 ranked No. 32, dead last, in Red Zone scoring at just 3.58 points per Red Zone trip."

    As close as so many NFL games are, there is a fine line between winning and losing. If the Chiefs can turn two or three of those red-zone drives that result in seven points instead of three points, that can be the difference between making the playoffs or being on the outside looking in.

Tennessee Titans Raving About Rookie Receiver Kendall Wright

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    According to this tweet from Jim Wyatt, the Tennessee Titans are very excited about the progress of their first-round draft pick, wide receiver Kendall Wright. Titans quarterback Jake Locker was raving about Wright's ability to be explosive, get downfield and make plays.

    The Titans will need to rely on Wright to deliver since star receiver Kenny Britt is still not medically cleared to play due to his ACL and MCL injuries from 2011.

    If Wright continues to shine as a rookie, and Britt can come back in reasonable health in 2012, they would be paired with Nate Washington and Jared Cook to give the Titans one of their most formidable receiving corps in years.

    Now if they can only determine who the starting quarterback will be, the Titans will be all set.

Bruce Carter Ready for Breakout Year in 2012

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    The Dallas Cowboys drafted linebacker Bruce Carter in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. Carter was limited last year due to his knee injury from college, but at least he got his feet wet last year and is now poised to take on a bigger role.

    Carter's challenge to become a starter this year comes in the form of veteran free agent Dan Connor. Connor is also rehabbing from his own surgery, so for now Carter is getting the first-team reps and the chance to prove that he belongs with the starters.

    There was a story out of ESPN Dallas.com by Jean-Jacques Taylor that Carter looks to be more comfortable with every passing day. Taylor wrote that Carter saw less than 50 snaps on defense in 2011.

    Carter's comfort level in 2012 has been noticed by head coach Jason Garrett as well. The Cowboys are expecting Carter to be a starter in 2012, and anything less than that would be a disappointment.

Panthers Star Linebacker Jon Beason Gets Medical Clearance

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    An article that appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal.com, claimed that Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason has received medical clearance to start joining the team in training camp drills.

    Beason was coming off of Achilles' surgery so nobody knew for sure how long it would take before Beason would get the medical okay. Beason is one of the leaders of the Panthers team, and he is an important player to the overall defense in Carolina.

    His return means that the Panthers now have some time to sort out where is the best place for Beason and first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly to play. If the Panthers can maximize the assets of both linebackers in 2012, that will be a great help in improving the Panthers record of 6-10.

Atlanta Falcons Offense Getting Fine-Tuned?

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    Chris Viviamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.com conducted an interview with Atlanta Falcons center Todd McClure. In the interview, McClure shared some observations about the potential changes in the Falcons offense in 2012 under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

    Koetter wants to utilize the screen game more. It will keep the defensive pass rush more honest, and the screen game is a friend of the offensive linemen. Using the screen game effectively can open up some explosive plays for the offense, while keeping the defense off balance.

    While the offense could use some fine-tuning compared to the way that the Falcons' 2011 season ended (the offense was shut out by the Giants defense, and Atlanta was outgained by a wide margin, 442 to 247 yards).

    So, change was inevitable, and if the tinkering can lead to the Falcons going further in the playoffs, their fans will be more than happy to embrace anything that makes the team better.

Green Bay Packers and Donald Driver Work out a New Deal

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    Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.com wrote that the Green Bay Packers and wide receiver Donald Driver were able to come to terms on a one-year contract for $2.3 million in 2012.

    The popular wide receiver was confident that the Packers would be able to work out a deal, in what may prove to be Driver's last year in the NFL. Driver recently came away as the latest champion on the ABC show Dancing With the Stars, which adds even more fuel to the level of his popularity.

    Driver first played in Green Bay in the 1999 season, and has been a fixture there ever since. But, his 2011 season took a dive in production with only 37 receptions for 445 yards.

    Those figures ranked him fifth on the team in both categories, but they were his lowest totals in Green Bay in the last 10 years, signaling that the end could be coming very quickly.

    We don't know if 2012 will prove to be the swan song for Driver. But, Packer fans can still watch him perform this year and have the chance to thank him for all the years of exceptional performance.

Warren Sapp Is Going to Be Mentor to Gerald McCoy

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Warren Sapp conducted an interview with radio station 620 WDAE in Tampa, and promised that he was going to be spending time with Gerald McCoy in the offseason, with the promise that McCoy will be a much more improved and complete player in 2012.

    The Bucs run defense needs to improve, so if Sapp can do anything to light a fire under McCoy, that has to be considered a positive development for Bucs fans.

    Sapp knows how to play defensive tackle as well as anyone, so assuming that he can get through to McCoy, it should result in the young defensive lineman taking a jump up in his play this season.

    Head coach Greg Schiano might have some involvement with a light being lit under McCoy this year as well.

Michael Vick Is Sparring with Eagles Defensive Line in Practice

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    According to this story by Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, Michael Vick is able to work on his mobility at practice as a result of the Eagles' ferocious pass rush that the defensive line demonstrates every day.

    Rosenthal refers to this ongoing exercise as sparring, in that Vick will find a way to scramble away from them, but sometimes he isn't as fortunate.

    Either way, this has to be good news for Eagles fans. The defensive line appears to be formidable again this year, and if Vick is still nimble and mobile, that bodes well for his ability to make plays on the run and turn broken plays into something much bigger.

    But the hidden gem out of all this is that the offensive line will hopefully get better as a result of practicing against superior competition day in and day out.

    The Eagles are already without Jason Peters, so any improvement from the Eagles offensive line would have to be something the team was grateful for.

Gary Horton Thinks Demaryius Thomas Will Be Special in 2012

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    Former NFL scout and current ESPN.com analyst Gary Horton thinks that Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas could be a special player if he stays healthy in 2012. Horton lists Thomas as one of his 10 breakout players in the AFC for 2012.

    Over his NFL career, Thomas has suffered from a wide array of injuries, which has limited his production. Thomas has the size to become a difficult receiver to stop, and once he catches the ball in full stride, he can go the distance, as he proved to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs last year.

    It also helps that the Broncos have made a serious upgrade at the quarterback position, which goes a long way in elevating Thomas' stock.

    Peyton Manning will be able to connect with Thomas on a wide variety of throws, and with his ability to run with the ball after the catch, they should be connecting for a big jump in production in 2012.

Miami Dolphins Agree to Appear on HBO's Hard Knocks

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    When the Miami Dolphins agreed to appear on the HBO show Hard Knocks, some people might have found it difficult to believe, but Sports Illustrated's Peter King wrote that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross left the decision up to coach Joe Philbin and GM Jeff Ireland on whether to accept the invitation.

    Ross was in favor of the Dolphins appearing, but he wanted the decision to come from the coach and the GM. Whatever they decided, he would be okay with how they felt about the idea.

    To be sure, having all of the cameras around can be a distraction. But King wrote that coach Philbin told Ireland that he thought the show would help his players focus more on their work. Philbin thinks the Dolphins are ready for prime-time exposure, and the Hard Knocks show definitely will give them plenty of that.

    Will the Dolphins come out in 2012 and have success like other teams have done that appeared in prior seasons? That remains to be seen. But at least Dolphins fans can now have more access to following the team and see how the three-headed quarterback battle is progressing.



Jay Cutler Says Matt Forte Is Totally Ripped and Ready to Play

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    Jay Cutler decided to pay a visit to free agent Matt Forte recently, and Cutler came away impressed with what he saw. Apparently, Forte has been taking advantage of his time away from the Chicago Bears to spend a lot of time in the gym.

    According to this story from ESPN Chicago.com, Cutler said that Forte was huge and he was totally ripped. Cutler went on and added that he would be shocked if Forte hadn't decided to report to training camp on time.

    The Bears have clearly improved their wide receivers, but if Forte held out for any reason, it would be a tremendous setback for the Bears offense.

    Chicago needs Forte and the wide receivers to have a big year if they are to have any chance at bypassing Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North.

Chris Johnson Has Rededicated Himself to Football

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    Dan Pompei of the National Football Post wrote that running back Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans has rededicated himself to football in 2012.

    Johnson has been working out in the offseason, and has been investing time at the Titans facilities, which are things he hasn't done in the past.

    His contract has already been worked out, so the only thing that was going to prevent Johnson from having a great year was Johnson himself. 

    This could be a big year for both Johnson and the Titans, so it will be interesting to see what kind of numbers he puts up in 2012. It could be a big bounce-back year for him.

NFL Teams Giving Tryouts to Brian Banks

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    In one of the best "feel good" stories of the 2012 NFL offseason, Brian Banks has received a tryout from multiple teams around the NFL.

    In case you missed the story, Banks was falsely accused of sexual assault and spent over five years in prison until the female recanted her story. He was 16 when the charges were initially made, and now he is 26 years old. His prime athletic years are mostly wiped away.

    He had received a verbal commitment for a scholarship at USC when Pete Carroll still coached the Trojans, so it was Carroll that offered Banks his first NFL tryout in Seattle, after Banks was released from prison. Ten years away from football is a long time, but Banks had dreamed about playing in the NFL.

    Since the Seattle tryout, San Diego and Kansas City have given Banks a tryout. As of Wednesday, according to this story from Seattle PI.com, Banks is going to be attending the Seattle Seahawks minicamp, and then we will see what the next step is after that. How can you not root for him to reach his dreams after what has happened to him.



    Photo courtesy of Fox Sports

Robert Griffin III Passes Leaves Receivers Gloves in Tatters

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    According to this story by Marc Sessler of the NFL Network, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has such zip on his passes that it caused wide receiver Leonard Hankerson's gloves to rip apart at the seams. The tattered gloves can be seen in the photo for this slide, evidence of how much zip Griffin has on the football.

    We doubt that there were ever any real doubters about the strength of Griffin's throwing arm. He can put some definite pace on the ball when he needs to, but he can also throw the ball with some solid touch.

    In case you were wondering, the article didn't state how long Hankerson was wearing the gloves and what percentage of the passes he caught came from Griffin and what percentage came from Kirk Cousins.


    Photo courtesy of NFL.com

The Return of 'Lights Out' Back to Health?

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    Buffalo Bills defensive end Shawne Merriman went down to visit famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews last week. Usually, that is the last thing an athlete wants to do, because some kind of an operation is going to be soon following the visit.

    But in this case, it was Andrews that gave Merriman the medical clearance he needed to return to practice and join his teammates for OTAs.

    As Chris Brown of Buffalo Bills.com reported in this story, Merriman is rejuvenated about being able to run around pain-free as the surgery that Dr. Andrews performed on his Achilles' tendon is allowing Merriman to run around like he did in 2005-2007. 

    Brown wrote that "Merriman is confident he's put his injury troubles behind, the NFL's 2005 defensive rookie of the year believes he's finally in a position to regain the form that earned him three Pro Bowl selections and the nickname ''Lights Out'' as having been one of the league's most dominating pass rushers. ''I feel young,'' Merriman said. ''Anybody that will get a chance to watch me this year will see I'm moving around as I did when I came into the league.''

    Not only is Merriman healthy, but so is All-Pro defensive tackle Kyle Williams. When you add in their return along with the offseason free agent signings of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Buffalo Bills are very excited about the prospects of what their new defensive line can do in 2012.

    Bills fans are getting pumped up as well, as they have already sold out the first two games of the 2012 season against New England and Kansas City.

Chiefs Injured Stars Making Progress to Return for 2012 Season

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    The Kansas City Chiefs suffered injuries to four key players during the 2011 season. The good news coming out of Kansas City is that all four (Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki, Matt Cassel and Eric Berry) have made steady progress and are getting closer to returning to action.

    Cassel had the least severe injury of the group, so he is already participating. The other three all suffered torn knee ligaments, so they will be taking longer to heal.

    They will miss the OTAs and the mini-camp. According to this article by Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star.com, all three are scheduled to see the doctor on June 18, when they find out if they are going to be medically cleared.

    If they don't get clearance then that still gives them about five to six weeks to get ready for the start of training camp in late July. There is still hope that all three will be cleared by the start of training camp.

    If they get clearance next week, that just puts them that much further ahead towards being solid contributors in 2012.

Broncos Coach John Fox Says Peyton Manning Looking Like Old Peyton

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    Writer Mike Klis of the Denver Post tweeted that if the NFL season started tomorrow, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning would be ready to play.

    It may not be 100 percentage vintage Manning, but he would be good enough to lead the Broncos, but probably not throwing as many deep passes as usual.

    In this story from Pro Football Talk.com, John Fox thinks that Manning is looking as good as ever has.

    There is still plenty of time for Manning to work out any final issues in his comeback, which could range from physical, to timing issues with his receivers, to communication and getting over those first few licks he takes in preseason games.

    The Broncos like what they see from Manning and he has been a solid leader for the offense. The attention to detail and the solid work ethic are still very much a part of Manning's game.

Matt Schaub Says That He Is Ready to Go

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    Houston Texans fans must have been elated to hear the recent news that quarterback Matt Schaub announced that he is ready to go for the 2012 season. Schaub of course is recovering from the Lisfranc surgery that was performed last year.

    John McClain of the Houston Chronicle wrote that Schaub now feels he is 100 percent healthy and he's ready to play, and there are still six weeks to go until the start of training camp. That is a good sign for the Texans, who could use some good news considering all of the talent that they lost in the 2012 offseason.

    Schaub sat out the Texans OTAs and will miss the Texans minicamp as well. The Texans prefer to err on the side of caution, as they don't see any need to push or rush Schaub for now.

    When training camp begins, you can be sure he will be getting plenty of reps to be ready for the 2012 season. Schaub does need to work with the offensive line as the Texans did lose several starters from the offensive line.

Mikel Leshoure Is Participating in Drills at Lions Mini-Camp

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    Running back has been a troubled position for the Detroit Lions. To illustrate how bad it was in 2011, the Lions didn't have a single rusher gain at least 400 yards in the season. That is pretty bad.

    Thanks to a tweet from Tim Twentyman, word out of Detroit this week however has to be viewed as encouraging, in that Mikel Leshoure is now participating in drills with the running backs at the Detroit Lions minicamp.

    Leshoure missed the entire 2011 season due to a torn Achilles' tendon, while Jahvid Best only played in six games. The Lions are hoping that 2012 will be a different story. We will see how well they hold up this year.

Adrian Peterson Says He Will Be Ready for Week 1

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    The headline from the Minneapolis Star Tribune must have met the approval of all Minnesota Vikings fans: 'Adrian Peterson's rehab from knee surgery on the fast track.'
    This article by Dan Wiederer claims that Peterson is focused on being ready to play Week 1.

    It has been less than nine months since Peterson underwent ACL, MCL and meniscus surgery, which means that if Peterson were to achieve his goal, he would have to be classified as "super human" for having such amazing recovery time and ability to heal.
    Peterson obviously has a high threshold for dealing with pain and must also be considered to be a fast healer.  
    To the extent that he can return to the same level of performance as exhibited pre-injury remains to be seen, but for now, Vikings fans are excited at the prospect of watching Peterson begin the season with the team in uniform, and not watching from the sidelines.

Darrelle Revis Says That He Won't Hold Out

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    New York Jets fans have to be excited to hear that the rumors regarding any kind of a holdout for Darrelle Revis aren't true, and that Revis is happy with the Jets and wants to retire with the team. That is the spirit of the latest headline from this story by Jenny Vrentas of the Newark Star Ledger.

    Revis is due to earn a base salary of $4.5 million and a $3 million roster bonus in 2012. In 2013, he gets a base of $3 million and another $3 million as a roster bonus. He would be subject to entering into a new contract in 2014, unless the Jets opt to tear up his existing deal to extend him for additional years.

    With all of the headlines surrounding the Jets such as Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow, Santonio Holmes storming off from getting too many reps, and Rex Ryan's movie debut, it is nice to see something positive for the Jets fans to get excited about.

    Personally, I will be looking forward to the Revis vs. Stevie Johnson (Buffalo Bills) match up, which I believe is turning into one of the best one-on-one confrontations in the NFL.

New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees Inching Closer to New Deal?

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    The New Orleans Saints could use some good news, as their 2012 offseason has seemed like a string of one bad-news headline after another. It looks like things are finally starting to heat up in regards to the contract negotiations between the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees.

    The Saints made a revised contract offer to Brees, according to this story at ESPN.com by Ed Werder and Chris Mortensen.

    Hopefully, Brees and his agent Tom Condon will deem this offer acceptable, which would allow Brees to re-join his Saints teammates, who have been doing their best to prepare for 2012 without their team leader.

    According to the ESPN.com story, "Differences still remain over guaranteed money, among other details. Brees has been seeking an average salary in the $20.3 million range, and has provided mechanisms for the Saints to lower his salary cap number during the contract term, sources said."

    It is bad enough that the Saints have to cope in 2012 without head coach Sean Payton, but to have to also work without your All-Pro quarterback is just one more major headache the team could do without.