One Reason Each Minicamp Should Have Fans Excited for 2012
Ah, the offseason.
For NFL fans, the offseason is the time of eternal optimism, of excitement and of hope. Minicamps are ongoing and feel-good stories are coming from every direction.
Ignoring all the fluff, why should fans feel good right now? Every team, even the likely bottom-feeders, has reason for excitement.
What's your NFL team's reason for optimism as the 2012 NFL season draws closer?
Cincinnati Bengals: A Young Team Getting Better
Ignore the loose ball. A.J. Green is incredible.
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The Bengals made the playoffs in 2011, despite a rookie quarterback and No. 1 wide receiver. If Cincinnati was that good with inexperienced players at key positions, how good will the team be a year later?
That remains to be seen, but with player development and two first-round draft picks, Bengals fans have tons of reason for optimism.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Finally Have an Offensive Line
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For years, Ben Roethlisberger has been running from pass-rushers on seemingly every play. For the first time in a while, the Steelers are putting together a legitimate offensive line.
First-round guard David DeCastro was considered a steal, and second-round tackle Mike Adams is an incredible talent. Add these two in with Marcus Gilbert and Maurkice Pouncey, and the Pittsburgh offensive line has some potential.
Roethlisberger has played at an elite level behind a sieve for a line. Imagine what he can do with some actual time to throw the ball.
The Cleveland Browns Have a New Quarterback. . . and Running Back
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What's more exciting than adding an entirely new backfield in the first round? The Browns may not be a perfect team, but they made drastic changes at two important, high-profile positions.
Colt McCoy will leave Cleveland fans with nothing but a bad taste in their mouths, and the team is witnessing a changing of the guard. Can Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson immediately turn the team around?
No one knows, but the team has certainly added talent.
Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens Offense Is Poised for a Big Year
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Joe Flacco has always been one of the more talented passers in the NFL, but he only recently started putting all his tools together. The Ravens added talent and speed at wide receiver, and that talent is in the process of developing.
Baltimore had a solid offense in 2011, but the continued progression of Flacco and other players like Torrey Smith should lead to a huge offensive jump.
The Green Bay Packers Have the NFL's Best Offense and an Improving Defense
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Even if the Packers hadn't made any changes, fans would have reason to be really excited entering 2012. After all, the team has Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
However, Green Bay devoted its first two draft picks to defensive players, both of whom look to start early. The team is throwing the rookies into the front line, so they should offer upgrades.
The Stafford and Megatron Combo Is Only Going to Improve for the Detroit Lions
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In their first full season together, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson turned heads. The big-armed quarterback and freakish wideout were a deadly combination.
And that was just their first full year together! Both players have yet to reach their primes, and they have the talent and time to dominate at unheard of levels.
Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears Are Free of Mike Martz
He's smiling because Martz is gone
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Gone are the seven-step drops. Gone is the unbalanced offense. Gone is the 1990s offense. Welcome back to the 21st century, Chicago.
In 2011, the Mike Martz refused to adjust his offense despite Chicago's terrible offensive line, and Jay Cuttler suffered for it. Bears fans have seen what Cutler can do, and he just might do it without Martz holding him back.
Christian Ponder Is Already the Minnesota Vikings' Starter. . . and He's Better
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Well he should be better, at least. Last year the Vikings had to endure several games of Donovan McNabb before seeing Christian Ponder. In 2012, Ponder is the guy.
The second-year quarterback remains unproven, but he has potential and should be capable of leading a successful NFL offense. More importantly, Ponder is the young first-round pick, and fans love first-round quarterbacks.
The Indianapolis Colts Have a New Head Coach, Quarterback and General Manager
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Colts fans no longer have to sit through Jim Caldwell's incompetence, Bill and Chris Polian's egos and terrible drafting or Curtis Painter. Instead, they have Chuck Pagano, Ryan Grigson, and the chosen one, Andrew Luck.
That's an organizational revamp if there ever was one. Sure, it may take time for the change to show on the field, but at least Indy fans don't have to sit through the same atrocious performances once again.
Blaine Gabbert and the Jacksonville Jaguars Actually Have Some Wide Receivers
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No, Blaine Gabbert did not look good in 2011. In his defense though, he had zero starting-caliber wide receivers. Now, in theory, he has at least two.
Justin Blackmon has had his off-the-field issues, but he was still the No. 5 overall pick for a reason. The newly acquired Laurent Robinson is also very talented, but is also very injury-prone.
Even with those issues, the Jaguars' new wideouts are huge upgrades over the old ones.
The Tennessee Titans' Offense Looks Fast and Explosive
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If Jake Locker starts, this will be even more true. Either way, Chris Johnson at running back, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington at wide receiver, and Jared Cook at tight end is explosive.
That offense has some serious speed and playmaking ability. Locker's big arm and speed in his own right could give the Titans some huge firepower. Tennessee could be building its own version of the Green Bay Packers.
That is a reason to be excited.
The Houston Texans Had Their Best Season Ever. . . Partially Without Matt Schaub
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The Texans actually won a playoff game without Matt Schaub at quarterback. That's how good Houston actually is. T.J. Yates, a fifth-round rookie quarterback, led the team to a playoff victory.
With Schaub healthy, the Texans are capable of incredible play. If Andre Johnson is also healthy, the team could be even more dominant.
Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Roddy White Make the Atlanta Falcons' Offense Scary
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Julio Jones was arguably the Falcons' best wideout, as a rookie. In his second season, Jones should really dominate opposing secondaries.
It's not like Jones is the Falcons' only offensive threat, either. The team also has Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Michael Turner. They're not exactly a bunch of scrubs.
The New Orleans Saints. . . the New Linebackers and Defensive Tackles?
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It's been a rough offseason for Saints fans. First "Bountygate," then the Drew Brees contract issues. Well, at least you signed Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Chris Chamberlain and Brodrick Bunkley.
Seriously, all four of them should significantly help out New Orleans' run defense. At least three of them will start, and all four might.
Sorry, Saints fans, but it's the best I can do.
Carolina Panthers: If Cam Newton Was That Good as a Rookie. . .
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Think about what Cam Newton might do in his second season. The most dynamic dual-threat quarterback in the NFL, Newton is capable of unimaginable feats.
No other player in the NFL has more upside, and though Newton has already put together an impressive season, he has merely scratched the surface of his potential. The Panthers should be excited, and the rest of the NFL should be very scared.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Have a Head Coach with Some Actual Discipline
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Players have even admitted that Greg Schiano is more disciplined than Raheem Morris was. The Buccaneers are a young team, and they need a head coach who can keep the youth in line.
Morris couldn't do this, but it appears Schiano can. Tampa Bay fans already had reason to be excited about the team's talent, and now they have reason to be excited about the guy coaching it.
The New England Patriots Actually Drafted Pass-Rushers
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With their first first-round pick, the Patriots drafted a defensive end. With their second, they drafted a linebacker capable of rushing the passer. They even drafted another end in the third round.
New England had become infamous for ignoring their pass rush, but they certainly didn't do this in the 2012 NFL draft. Who knows if these players will turn out, but fans should be excited about their talent and potential.
The Patriots went to the Super Bowl in 2011 without a competent pass rush. If the team can actually pressure the quarterback, it could truly be terrifying.
Tony Sparano Is No Longer the Miami Dolphins' Head Coach
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Everyone knows it: Tony Sparano was a massive failure as a head coach. Sparano couldn't manage the team, he couldn't run the offense and it showed.
From the beginning, Sparano was clearly a Bill Parcells croney, and he lacked the credentials for the job. Joe Philbin, on the other hand, has all the credentials, and he deserves a chance.
Mario Williams Is Now a Buffalo Bill
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He may not be Peyton Manning, but Mario Williams is one of the game's premier defensive ends. Super Mario is capable of absolute dominance, and Buffalo has a potentially elite defensive line.
For now, Williams' contract isn't important. His potential impact on the Bills' defense and record is. Last year, opposing offenses had nothing to fear in Buffalo's defense.
Now, they should be terrified.
Well, the New York Jets Were Pretty Good a Couple Years Ago, and They Are Young
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Say what you want about Mark Sanchez, he is still young. The Jets still have potential on both sides of the ball. Santonio Holmes, Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller, Stephen Hill and of course Sanchez are on offense.
On defense there is David Harris, Antonio Cromartie, Darrelle Revis and Quinton Coples. There is tons of upside on both units, and the Jets are a legitimate contender, just as they have been the past few seasons.
Washington Redskins: There's This Guy Named Robert Griffin
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A quarterback can change everything.
Redskins fans are hoping this is the case with their team, and it easily could be. Robert Griffin was the No. 2 overall pick and trade target for a reason. He's special.
Even if Griffin doesn't immediately turn things around in Washington, fans are excited to see what he can do, just like Carolina fans and Cam Newton a year ago.
And like Newton and the Panthers, the results might be pretty fun.
The Dallas Cowboys' No. 1 Cornerback Has Been Pushed Way Down the Depth Chart
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In 2011, Dallas's biggest problem was its secondary, and Mike Jenkins, instead of being team's No. 1 cornerback, is now, at best, its No. 3 option.
The additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have completely transformed the Dallas secondary. The unit has a proven player and tons of potential.
With DeMarcus Ware rushing the passer and Rob Ryan calling blitzes, the Cowboys' pass defense could be elite.
The Philadelphia Eagles Actually Addressed the Defense. . . Through the Draft!
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Well, and trade. DeMeco Ryans was a huge addition from the Houston Texans, but the Eagles really made their mark in the draft with the additions of Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks.
Cox and Kendricks should both start, and Curry will see time as a pass-rusher. Essentially, Philadelphia added three new starters in its front seven, and all three should be at least above-average.
In comparison to last year's defense, above-average is a huge upgrade.
New York Giants: You're the Defending Super Bowl Champs and You Didn't Lose Much
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How many pieces did the Giants actually lose over the offseason? Kareem McKenzie and Mario Manningham are the only ones that stand out. Not exactly devastating blows.
McKenzie wasn't good in the first place, as his lack of free agent interest shows, and Manningham has been replaced by Rueben Randle.
The Super Bowl champs have improved their team through the draft, and there is no reason they shouldn't compete to repeat.
Philip Rivers Has to Be Better Than He Was Last Year, Right Chargers Fans?
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San Diego wasn't too bad with Rivers' disappointing play, so if he plays well, the team could really rebound. Ryan Matthews' continued development doesn't hurt Rivers' chances of bouncing back, either.
The Denver Broncos Have Peyton Manning, Not Tim Tebow, at Quarterback
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Broncos fans, let me remind you. You have Peyton Manning at quarterback! The Peyton Manning.
If that isn't enough to make you smile, you must be clinically dead. Manning is among the all-time greats, and even with his medical issues, he should be a huge upgrade over Tim Tebow.
For years, Manning made talent appear where there was none. The Broncos actually have some talent, so the result could be fun indeed.
The Kansas City Chiefs' Stars Are Actually Healthy
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By the time week two had ended in 2011, the Chiefs had already lost two of their best players—Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry—for the season. Matt Cassel also missed much of the season.
It's safe to say that losing two Pro-Bowl-caliber players and their starting quarterback was enough to derail the Chiefs' season. With all three of these players healthy, things could go quite differently in 2012.
Carson Palmer Is Entering the Season as the Oakland Raiders' Starter
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In 2011, Carson Palmer was traded to Oakland mid-season. In 2012, Palmer will have a full offseason to learn the offense and gel with his teammates. That difference has the potential to be astronomical.
The former Bengal should be relaxed, whereas before he was uptight. Preparation is everything, and Palmer will have much more time to prepare this year.
The Seattle Seahawks Are No Longer Starting Tarvaris Jackson
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No matter where he's been, Tarvaris Jackson has not been a competent starting quarterback. He wasn't with the Vikings, and he wasn't with Seattle.
Granted, Matt Flynn is still unproven, but at least he hasn't proven he can't start, unlike Jackson. If Seahawks fans don't have reason for optimism, at least they don't have reason for pessimism yet either.
All 11 Starters on the San Francisco 49ers Defense Are Returning
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It's hard to believe that such a dominant defense didn't lose a single starter. The 49ers' defense was truly great in 2011, and star pass-rusher Aldon Smith was just getting started.
Now that the defense has spent more time together, it should be even more dominant. That's not even taking into account Aldon Smith's assumed progression, the thought of which should be terrifying for opposing quarterbacks.
Kevin Kolb/John Skelton Have Two Wide Receivers to Throw to
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Kevin Kolb and John Skelton switched back and forth quite a bit in 2011, but no matter who was playing quarterback, he had only one legitimate wide receiver.
Michael Floyd offers the two a legitimate threat opposite Larry Fitzgerald. In addition, Floyd bumps Andre Roberts and Early Doucet down to secondary options, where they can be much more effective.
Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams Are Far, Far Away from Josh McDaniels
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In his second season—his first under Josh McDaniels—Sam Bradford regressed. He went from playing excellently as a rookie to horribly as a sophomore.
McDaniels' presence seemed to hurt not only Bradford but also the rest of the offense. Brian Schottenheimer may not be a genius, but he can't be as devastating to the St. Louis offense as McDaniels was.