10 NFL Teams Already Starting to Show Cracks in Minicamp
Although Week 1 of the NFL season is over two-and-a-half months away, if you're a fan of a particular team, it's never too early to start worrying about your club's chances.
With the draft long since over and virtually all the productive available free agents locked up, plenty of teams missed out on the opportunity to upgrade at key spots on the field.
If that is the case, and that team also has injuries, aging players, contract disputes or other question marks at those same positions, then it could make for a difficult situation during 2012.
Certainly, some of those issues can and will be resolved as minicamp and training camp give way to the regular season, but for now, they loom, leading to some serious concern.
Admittedly, it will take a lot to derail the Houston Texans' train at this point. They seem to be so deep at so many positions and remain Super Bowl threats.
But things will be a bit more difficult if they cannot adequately replace the right side of their offensive line; obviously, a key part of protecting Matt Schaub and letting Arian Foster and Ben Tate run free.
Both right tackle Eric Winston and right guard Mike Brisiel left as free agents, but they are fortunate to have a few promising young names waiting to take on those roles.
Derek Newton and Rashad Butler both turned in good OTA efforts in their attempt to take over at tackle.
But the guard position is a bit trickier. Antoine Caldwell has recovered from his high ankle sprain, but he only has a handful of starts in his three-year career. And the other name in the running, Brandon Brooks, came into training camp overweight, drawing the ire of head coach Gary Kubiak.
Imagine how desperate the Dolphins had to be to sign Chad Ochocinco, and do so just a few days after the Patriots cut him. Either they were terribly worried someone else might actually sign him first (an absurd notion) or they needed receiving help that badly.
We all knew that the Dolphins were going to be fairly depleted at wide receiver when they shipped Brandon Marshall away for very little in return. But who knew it was this bad?
Ochocinco may have been a great, even borderline Hall of Fame receiver for years in Cincinnati, but he barely could get on the field in New England. Worse than that, according to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, there were reports out of OTAs that he had significant trouble with New England's playbook and didn't even know where to line up in formations at times.
Sure, the Pats are overloaded with pass-catchers and they didn't need him, but that doesn't excuse his numbers: just five catches in the Patriots' final 10 games (playoff and regular) last year.
The fact that the Dolphins actually took a chance on Ochocinco suggests they don't have anything better than him on the roster. And that is bad news for Matt Moore, David Garrard and Ryan Tannehill.
New York Jets
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I think the Jets are starting to finally understand why the Steelers gave away a (very recent) Super Bowl MVP and one of the game's most explosive players for almost nothing.
Santonio Holmes can be a great, great player, but—on the heels of his "troubled relationship" last year with Sanchez—he's again causing a stir. According to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, he essentially quit in the middle of practice, then quarreled with his new receivers coach, Sanjay Lal, before explaining that he thought he was being overworked.
Maybe this isn't an on-the-field crack, such as a lineman's poor play or a running back returning from injury, but no matter if it's Tebow or Sanchez, the Jets desperately need Holmes to be giving his all just to have a shot at a playoff berth.
And if he can't do that in June, how is he going to do it in December?
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With Peyton Manning, the franchise's centerpiece for more than a decade, departing this spring, the Colts had an enormous void to fill. Clearly, they did that with Andrew Luck.
And truth be told, they also filled a few other key spots, including tight end (Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen), center (Samson Satele) and defensive tackle (Cory Redding).
But at cornerback—a major need considering this team's 25th-place total defensive ranking—they are still woefully thin. They have almost no experience at the position.
Justin King, Jerraud Powers and Kevin Thomas have each struggled to stay healthy, and Cassius Vaughn has yet to prove he can be an every-down corner. After those (relatively young) vets, they mostly have just rookies and second-year players on their roster.
Prying Mike Jenkins out of Dallas (or maybe even Asante Samuel out of Philadelphia, before he was dealt to Atlanta) would have been a huge boost, but that hasn't happened yet.
The good news if those DBs fail to show considerable growth during camp? Andrew Luck will have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball during the 2012 season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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If it could only stay healthy, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive line might be considered one of the best in the NFL. At the very least, one of the best young defensive lines in the league.
They seemingly have former first-round picks everywhere: Amobi Okoye, Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, with Bowers at one point in the spring of 2011 considered the top prospect in the NFL draft.
But each of those potential stars has had to deal with health issues.
There has been good news. McCoy is reportedly fully recovered from his biceps injury, and Clayborn's Erb's Palsy (which many scouts worried about) did not prevent him from missing a single start in 2011.
Still, Bowers and Okoye have not been so fortunate.
Bowers tore his Achilles in an offseason workout and will probably miss all of 2012. Okoye just underwent (albeit minor) knee surgery and will miss minicamp. Okoye should return in time for training camp and the regular season, but who knows if it will become a chronic situation?
In NFC South, loaded with so much quarterback and running back talent, the Bucs could be at a huge disadvantage without both Bowers and Okoye.
New Orleans Saints
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I suppose this entry goes without saying.
He wouldn't have been able to offset all the problems Bountygate created, but Drew Brees would at least give the Saints the poster boy and leader they so desperately need right now.
But he's not under contract and, despite reports of new negotiations, still isn't signed.
And as if that weren't enough, Brees' stand-in, Chase Daniel, suffered an injury to his throwing thumb during minicamp. Most likely, that won't affect him in September (assuming Brees doesn't return, which he will), but without their two top quarterbacks, just how productive can the offensive practices really be?
Remember, that passing game is already going to have to integrate new players into the spots left vacant by Carl Nicks' and Robert Meachem's departures. Oh, and no matter how impressive Pete Carmichael Jr. is, Sean Payton was still the mind behind that offense. That's another setback that they are unable to fully address without Brees in camp.
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I've purposefully left the Chicago Bears off this list. Yes, they have a pretty big problem on the horizon if they cannot get Matt Forte in camp soon. But at least they have a viable replacement now in Michael Bush. Maybe he's not as versatile as Forte, but he can be a 20-carry-per-game back.
The Jaguars (as well as the next entry on this list) don't have the luxury of a proven replacement waiting to pick up the slack if their unhappy superstar running back misses more time.
Maurice Jones-Drew has vowed to skip minicamp, and even the regular season, in a contract dispute. A long battle between management and MJD and his representatives may ensue, much like the one that kept Chris Johnson out last summer in Tennessee.
Jones-Drew is clearly the most important member of the Jags offense. They had almost no passing attack last season, and he still rushed for an average of 100 yards per game. Without Jones-Drew, it's almost a given that the Jags' revamped offense (Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon) will struggle to get off the ground, literally.
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Let's assume that one of the Ravens' young linebackers, Paul Kruger or Courtney Upshaw, is capable of filling in for Terrell Suggs while the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year recovers from his Achilles injury.
And let's assume that Sergio Kindle or some other young player can fill the role left by Jarret Johnson's departure for San Diego.
Even if those two enormous assumptions prove true, the Ravens still have a potential disaster on their hands if Ray Rice puts the team through a prolonged holdout.
This team is clearly a Super Bowl contender with Rice, but it doesn't have a sure-thing replacement ready to stand in for Rice. Worse yet, they've lost starting left guard Ben Grubbs to free agency.
Now that Ricky Williams has retired, the Ravens' collection of RBs reads like a rookie minicamp. Without Rice, they have one player* with NFL carries under his belt. And since that one player, Anthony Allen, has three career rushes, Baltimore will have a serious chink in the armor if Rice is unavailable.
None of those newbies wowed anyone during minicamp, at least not enough to make the front office ignore Rice's demands.
*Not counting Vonta Leach, who is a fullback.
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While I do not think Mike Wallace's contract issues and possible holdout would be nearly as crippling as Rice's in Baltimore, Jones-Drew's in Jacksonville or Brees' in New Orleans, it's not insignificant.
Sure, the Steelers have replaced receivers in the past, but Wallace stretches the field unlike any other wideout in the AFC.
Still, they have Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, so their receiving corps isn't necessarily bare.
But you couple that question mark with Rashard Mendenhall's absence and an entirely new scheme being installed by Todd Haley, and the Steelers do have some issues to worry about going forward.
And if you believe at all in the value of veteran leadership and experience, then the retirements (or, potential retirements) of Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke should have an impact on this upcoming season.
Individually, those might not be enough to suggest a crack in the Steelers. Collectively, however, that may be another story.
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I suppose there are two ways to look at a three-way quarterback duel.
First, you can be thrilled to have three viable candidates for the job. It means your roster has three men capable of executing the offense.
But the other half of the coin is this: None of those three quarterbacks have been able to convincingly separate themselves and really blow away the competition as the clear-cut No. 1 starter.
Now, it remains to be seen which of those two scenarios ultimately plays out in the Pacific Northwest, but since neither Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson nor Russell Wilson has been able to grab the lead in their quarterback derby, it should be something of a red flag for Pete Carroll and the front office.
On a similar note, it should be even more frustrating that Wilson is even a part of the debate. Sure, he had an outstanding season last year at Wisconsin, but this is an undersized third-round pick going against two veterans that the team gave reasonably high contracts to in the last two offseasons.
Just the fact that Wilson is in the hunt suggests that Flynn and Jackson have not been stellar in the early going.