The Weakest Link on Every NFL Team Heading into Training Camps
As NFL teams have now completed their organized team activities and minicamps, the coaching staffs will be meeting behind the scenes during the upcoming break over the next month to address whatever they perceive their weakest link(s) to be.
The coaches will address their respective general managers to determine who is still available in free agency and to see if anybody has recently been waived that might offer some competition to the weak link in question.
With less than a month before training camps open, there isn't much time for this analysis. Coaches can review the film sessions if they want another set of eyes or opinion on if a certain player is going to be holding the team back. In other cases, teams are still waiting for stars to sign their tender offers, or haven't finished their rehab from 2011 injuries and are being nursed along slowly.
Let's look at all 32 teams and determine what their current weakest link is coming into training camp.
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The Arizona Cardinals' weakest link right now has to be their offensive line. The Cardinals allowed a whopping 54 sacks in 2011, which was the second-highest total of all NFL teams. Arizona was only one shy of St. Louis' NFL-leading total of 55.
In the 2012 NFL draft, the Cardinals selected tackle Bobby Massie from Mississippi in the fourth round and guard Senio Kelemete in the fifth round from Washington. Because they were third-day draft picks it is hard to believe that either one will be the definitive answer to the Cardinals' problems in protecting the quarterback.
Speaking of quarterback, Kevin Kolb isn't exactly the Rock of Gibraltar based on how he performed in 2011. While the training camp battle rages on with John Skelton for the starting job, both of these candidates have to be hopeful the offensive line will get its act together. The sooner the better.
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The weakest link for the Atlanta Falcons coming into training camp is at middle linebacker. When free agency rolled around, the Falcons took a blow when their former middle linebacker, Curtis Lofton, decided to take his talents to the New Orleans Saints.
So, who is going to be taking Lofton's place in Atlanta? The options right now appear to be Lofa Tatupu, who sat out the entire 2011 season, and Akeem Dent, who is entering his second year.
Tatupu is dealing with the rust issue, in addition to getting his body back in shape to withstand the rigors of playing in the NFL. For Dent, it is more of a lack of experience issue that should concern Falcons fans.
It is possible their starter at middle linebacker isn't even on the roster currently, but right now that appears to be the Falcons' weakest link.
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The weakest link for the Baltimore Ravens coming into training camp will be at outside linebacker. It started when Jarret Johnson signed in free agency to join the San Diego Chargers and was compounded when NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs was lost due to a Achilles' injury and subsequent surgery.
Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw appear to be edging towards a starting role, but to assume a rookie can replace either Suggs or Johnson is a reach. Nobody will be able to replace the effectiveness of Suggs because he played at such a high level in 2011. There will be a noticeable drop-off in the defense as a result.
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The weakest link for the Buffalo Bills coming into training camp will be at left tackle. The job right now could go to either rookie Cordy Glenn or to Chris Hairston, who is only entering his second year in the NFL.
Glenn has been taking the first-team snaps so far at left tackle, and while he looks good to date, he won't be asked to block anybody in pads until training camp starts, which is when we will start having a better idea if he is truly up for the job or not.
Whoever gets the job—Glenn or Hairston—will be inexperienced and prone to making some youthful mistakes in 2012.
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The weakest link for the Carolina Panthers coming into training camp is their secondary. In 2011, the Panthers defense was ranked No. 30 overall and the pass defense was ranked No. 24.
The Panthers drafted Josh Norman in the fifth round and signed free agent Haruki Nakamura from Baltimore, but that doesn't seem like any kind of a major upgrade at all for a unit that was not very good.
It is possible the Panthers might find some help on the waiver wire when final cuts come later, but for right now, the secondary looks to be the weakest link.
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The weakest link for the Chicago Bears coming into training camp is their offensive line. The Bears offensive line has allowed 105 total sacks over the last two years. It is a wonder Jay Cutler can still walk since he has been allowed to stand back there and be physically abused by the rest of the league.
It is great the Bears have added some better wide receivers for Cutler to throw to, but until we know how much time the offensive line is prepared to give him to throw the ball, the offensive line is going to remain the weakest link on the Bears team.
According to this tweet from FOX Sports NFL writer Alex Marvez:
RT Gabe Carimi says 7-step QB drops are out in new Mike Tice offense. Should help the o-line protect & Jay Cutler from getting hit
That type of a concession pretty much tells you what you need to do. The Bears' offensive line is the weak link of this team.
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The weakest link for the Cincinnati Bengals coming into training camp is at wide receiver. Outside of A.J. Green, the Bengals have surprisingly little depth or experience.
The Bengals lost Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell from the 2011 team, which means they had more than a combined 1,000-plus yards in receptions between the two veterans walk away in free agency.
Cincinnati does have some youth it can plug in to the offense, but there is no substitute for experience and to know how to beat NFL secondaries. Even Green could use some mentoring, but for whatever reason the Bengals didn't feel the need to bring in some true NFL veteran types that could assist their youngsters.
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The weakest link for the Cleveland Browns coming into training camp is their wide receivers.
The lack of talent among the Cleveland Browns' wide receiver corps is well documented. Yet, general manager Tom Heckert refrained from adding a free agent or a top draft pick to the position. The lone addition was former University of Miami wide receiver Travis Benjamin -- a fourth round draft pick.
From this article on ESPN Insider by Brent Sobleski, regarding the Browns wide receivers:
Benjamin is a speed demon with legit 4.3 forty-yard dash quickness. His speed and slight stature invoke comparisons to another Heckert draftee, DeSean Jackson.
"So far, in essentially helmets and shorts, Benjamin looks good," Don Delco of the Orange & Brown Report wrote. "Is he the Browns' version of DeSean Jackson? The stars are lining up to answer, yes, he can, but there is still a long way to go before Sept. 9."
Mohamed Massaquoi is expected to start opposite the Browns' top target, Greg Little. Benjamin should push Massaquoi throughout camp to start. Despite the former Hurricane's slight stature (5-10, 175 pounds), the Browns see him playing predominantly outside receiver due to his speed and ability outside the hashes.
Benjamin simply adds a dynamic to the Browns' offense it has lacked for some time -- a wide receiver with the ability to take the top off opposing defenses.
The Browns offense will be better in 2012, but they still have a long way to go to have a truly outstanding group of wide receivers.
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The weakest link for the Dallas Cowboys coming into training camp is at right guard.
The Cowboys are evaluating David Arkin and Mackenzy Bernadeau to determine which one will be the starter. According to Josh Ellis of DallasCowboys.com, the right guard position is wide open right now.
Arkin was basically inactive in 2011, and Bernadeau is coming off a hip injury. There is a third player involved, but he is undrafted rookie Ronald Leary, and he is playing on a knee that could require him to have surgery. So, when you consider what the Cowboys are looking at plugging in to this role, this is the weakest link right now in Dallas.
Brock Osweiler at Broncos practice
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The weakest link for the Denver Broncos coming into training camp is at backup quarterback.
In 2011, the Broncos had Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn. All three are now gone. In their place you have Peyton Manning as the starter, and for his backup role you have a combination of Adam Weber, Caleb Hanie and rookie Brock Osweiler battling for the right to be next in line if Manning goes down.
If that group isn't striking fear in you, you are not alone.
With Manning still not all of the way out of the woods yet, you would have thought the Broncos would have brought in some veteran just to have a fallback option in case Manning has any issues with his neck. The time period to land somebody has come and gone, so the Broncos are hoping they don't have to go there.
Mikel Leshoure gets some snaps in practice
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The weakest link for the Detroit Lions coming into training camp has to be running back, as they haven't seen a running back do much of anything in two years.
Kevin Smith did rush for 747 yards in 2009 and rushed for 976 yards in 2008, but the last time the Lions had a 1,000-yard plus rusher was Kevin Jones, who rushed for 1,133 yards in 2004. That is a long time to go without a 1,000-yard running back.
In 2012, we are expecting a running back-by-committee approach due to injuries, suspensions and inexperience. Candidates range from Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, Kevin Smith, Joique Bell and Keiland Williams.
Green Bay Packers
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The weakest link for the Green Bay Packers coming into training camp is at cornerback, where Tramon Williams right now looks like he will be the starter.
Williams unfortunately has a bad shoulder that is far from healthy, so it would not be surprising at all to see teams trying to test him in the preseason, as well as early in the 2012 season.
The Packers secondary was not very good in 2011 as it was, but not having a healthy Williams back is another issue they weren't counting on. As things stand now, Williams guesses his shoulder is only about 50 percent healed.
That should be a concern for the Packers, coaches and fans.
Antoine Caldwell is battling Brandon Brooks for starting guard
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The weakest link for the Houston Texans coming into training camp would be the offensive line. The Texans took a big hit there when they lost two quality veteran starters when Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel left in free agency.
One of the potential replacements for the veterans on the offensive line was rookie Brandon Brooks, who was drafted in the third round, but not all is apparently well with Brooks.
According to this tweet from sports talk show host Lance Zierlein:
Gary Kubiak said he was not happy with Brandon Brooks after his weigh-in and that Brooks needed to lose weight.
Brooks was listed at 6'4.63" and weighed 353 pounds before the weigh-in. Where he is now is unknown, but for Kubiak to be upset at him means Brooks is now viewed as the weakest link. Brooks will be battling with Antoine Caldwell for the starting guard job.
Kevin Thomas will be starting at corner this year
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The weakest link for the Indianapolis Colts coming into training camp would be their cornerbacks.
In a story by Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star, the Colt's starting cornerbacks, Kevin Thomas and Jerraud Powers, have been complaining already about being singled out as the weakest link on the team. Complaints aside, they would become the right choices for this particular assignment.
Until they get more experience and begin making plays when it counts, they will probably be thought of as an untested tandem. When the season is a month or two old, we will have enough results to determine if the complaints about scrutiny were justified or not.
Russell Allen is challenging to be a starter
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The weakest link for the Jacksonville Jaguars coming into training camp is at the weakside linebacker.
According to Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union, the top two candidates for the job are Russell Allen and Clint Session. The issue with Session is that he has a fairly big contract but suffered three concussions in the 2011 season, so counting on him to make it through the 2012 season might not be very practical.
Allen has started no more than six games in any of his three seasons in Jacksonville, so he is looking to prove he can take the next step up and become a regular starter.
As such, there are question marks regarding how strong this position is for the Jaguars.
Kansas City Chiefs
Rodney Hudson will be Chiefs' starting center in 2012
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The weakest link for the Kansas City Chiefs coming into training camp is their center.
For the 2012 season the Chiefs are going to go with youth, as Rodney Hudson, who was a second-round draft pick in 2011, is going to be the starter. Hudson only has started one game in his rookie year, so he is coming in 2012 without much playing experience.
Hudson will evolve as the year unfolds, but there could be some growing pains early in the year as he gains some much-needed starting experience. Hudson, by the way, is taking over for Casey Wiegmann, who is looking to retire after a long NFL career.
In this story by Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star, Hudson appears to be ready for the job.
Brian Hartline recovering from appendix surgery
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The weakest link for the Miami Dolphins coming into training camp is their wide receiver corps.
The Dolphins traded away Brandon Marshall, and then returning veteran Brian Hartline missed a number of practices with the new coaching staff due to needing to have his appendix removed.
Somehow the signing of Chad Ochocinco in the twilight of his career doesn't look like it will have a major impact, so the Dolphins receivers could be among the worst units in the league.
We will see if there are any signs of improvement once Hard Knocks episodes start airing on HBO. It could be that they are exposed and guys keep being brought in for tryouts or in off of the waiver wire.
Harrison Smith will be one of two starting safety rookies
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The weakest link for the Minnesota Vikings coming into training camp are the safeties.
It is not that they don't have any talent at safety, but they are just extremely green and raw from an experience standpoint. Minnesota appears to be ready to start rookie Harrison Smith and second-year man Mistral Raymond, who has only 10 NFL games under his belt.
Your safeties are your last line of defense, and they are going to look to be aggressive and make plays. Sometimes all you need is one or two false steps, and the play is behind you. It would not be a major surprise to see the young safeties beaten early and often in 2012.
However, with each new learning experience, they will hopefully learn not to make the same mistake twice.
New England Patriots
Will Andre Carter come back in 2012 to help Patriots pass rush?
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The weakest link for the New England Patriots coming into training camp is a proven pass-rusher.
While the Patriots' AFC East rival Buffalo Bills have done an excellent job of rebuilding their defensive line to be able to apply pressure on the quarterback, the Patriots have gone in the opposite direction. Not only did they lose one of the players that was tied for the team lead in sacks with 10 (Mark Anderson) to the Bills, but the other player that was tied for the team lead, Andre Carter, remains unsigned.
While Carter is getting over a torn quad from 2011, the Patriots are hoping their 2012 draft class will be able to produce similar results from what they got out of Carter and Anderson. The draft that resulted in the Patriots opting for Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower could bring about some positive results, but nobody knows what the rookies will do until we are into the regular season when it will be sink or swim.
It is still possible Carter could return to New England, but for now there doesn't seem to be any rush to have him signed to a new deal.
New England needs to shore up that pass rush in light of all of the issues the secondary had in 2011. If the pass rush isn't adequate, expect the secondary to get lit up again in 2012.
New Orleans Saints
Suspension of Will Smith hurts Saints defensive end depth
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The weakest link for the New Orleans Saints coming into training camp is at defensive end.
Let's make a calculated guess that quarterback Drew Brees will sign his tender offer before training camp opens, so that much will be looking good for the Saints.
As for the defensive ends, things started out OK but got progressively worse. Roger Goodell's suspension of starter Will Smith was upheld, and then after that Greg Romeus tore his ACL and the Saints waived him on an injury release.
The Saints have a number of problems, but in light of the suspensions from the bounty scandal, they really don't need other players to get hurt and miss the year. That is really piling on the situation.
New York Giants
Giants are hurting at tight end
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The weakest link for the New York Giants coming into training camp is at tight end.
In a surprising move, the Giants were going to place Jake Ballard on the PUP list, but once they put him on waivers, the New England Patriots claimed him. Just like that, the Giants lost their starting tight end from the Super Bowl.
During the offseason, the Giants signed free agent Martellus Bennett from the Dallas Cowboys, and he promptly gained 26 pounds during the offseason. In the 2012 draft, the Giants did draft one tight end, picking up Adrien Robinson in the fourth round.
In addition to Ballard, the Giants also had another injured tight end in Travis Beckum. He is going through a rehab of his torn ACL and also gained a bunch of new weight (20 pounds this offseason). You have to wonder how the joints and tendons will be groaning or straining to support all this new weight and if they will be setting themselves up to get injured again.
There is no real word yet on how well the Giants tight ends are running, but for now it is safe to conclude this position looks to be the weak link on the Giants in 2012.
New York Jets
Can Wayne Hunter rebound in 2012?
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The weakest link for the New York Jets coming into training camp is right tackle.
Rich Cimini of ESPN New York wrote a piece where he listed the five Jets players that "were on the hottest seats." Those five players included right tackle Wayne Hunter, quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, wide receiver Santonio Holmes and safety LaRon Landry.
With respect to Hunter, he didn't have a great 2011 season, so that brings attention to the position this year. Then you compound that due to a fairly expensive contract of $2.45 million guaranteed, and you realize the heat is on for him to improve in 2012.
If the Jets want to hold off the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East, Hunter will be required to step up his game. If not, the Bills might have a field day on whoever is playing quarterback.
Can Jack Crawford supply QB pressure in 2012?
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The weakest link for the Oakland Raiders coming into training camp is rushing the passer.
When the Raiders lost linebacker Kamerion Wimbley in free agency, they lost a key player that was capable of putting pressure on the passer. That is not always easy to replace, and right now it is one of the question marks surrounding the Raiders coming into training camp.
Although the Raiders are hopeful that rookie Jack Crawford can take on some of that pressure, it is quite a tall task to expect a fifth-round rookie to emerge as the answer. It is very likely the Raiders secondary will be asked to try to maintain coverage for a second or two longer this year, and that is where some other problems could surface.
The secondary has been taking hits in free agency. First, the Raiders lost Nnamdi Asomugha in 2011 and then Stanford Routt in 2012. The Raiders are trying to rebuild the secondary with younger players but that inexperience will also result in youthful mistakes that can only be corrected by playing in games.
Combine those losses with the loss of Wimbley, and the Raiders defense could struggle again in 2012.
King Dunlap and Demetress Bell are fighting to be starter
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The weakest link for the Philadelphia Eagles coming into training camp will be the left tackle.
Things didn't begin well in 2012 for the Eagles' left tackle slot when they lost Jason Peters due to a torn Achilles' tendon. The Eagles didn't have many options in free agency to plug in, so they settled for Demetress Bell after the best free agents had signed elsewhere.
Bell has his own history of injuries and has trouble making it through an entire season. The other candidate for the job is King Dunlap, but whoever winds up winning the job will not compare to what Peters would have been able to do.
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The weakest link for the Pittsburgh Steelers coming into training camp is at right tackle.
As of now, the Steelers are prepared to go into training camp with either rookie Mike Adams or Marcus Gilbert as the starter. If both of them bomb in camp, the Steelers might want to bring back free agent Max Starks, but it seems like he is more of an emergency plan, as per this tweet from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Mark Kaboly.
“@jigbim: room to sign Max Starks?” they won't consider Starks until/if Adams fails or an injury to Gilbert.
With the Steelers' inability to protect Ben Roethlisberger from getting hurt in 2011 and the tenuous running back situation due to the injury to Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers will really need the offensive line to step up in 2012.
San Diego Chargers
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The weakest link for the San Diego Chargers coming into training camp is the right tackle position.
The Chargers are looking at evaluating two players that they signed to one-year deals, hardly a sign of confidence that they found the right player. The two players in question are Brandyn Dombrowski and Mario Henderson.
San Diego is set at left tackle with Jared Gaither, but the right tackle is a clear drop-off in quality. For what it's worth, Marcus McNeill is still out there in free agency, but nobody knows if he would be open to playing right tackle.
San Francisco 49ers
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The weakest link for the San Francisco 49ers coming into training camp will be the right guard.
In this article by Cam Inman for the San Jose Mercury News, the 49ers lost two veteran linemen in Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal.
There are a number of candidates that will by vying for the right guard job, which will ultimately be decided in training camp, including Alex Boone, Daniel Kilgore, Derek Hall and Chase Beeler. Others could also be added to the mix based on how Boone is doing, but he has the first crack at claiming the job.
The 49ers don't have very many holes, but this is one position that could qualify as the weakest link.
Breno Giacomini may be starting right tackle come Week 1
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The weakest link for the Seattle Seahawks coming into training camp is right tackle.
The regular right tackle in Seattle is James Carpenter, but due to his surgery on a torn ACL from 2011 he doesn't expect to be ready for the start of the 2012 season.
So, whom will the Seahawks be plugging in to that position? For now it looks like it will be Breno Giacomini, who would then become the weakest link of the Seahawks offensive line.
St. Louis Rams
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The weakest link for the St. Louis Rams coming into training camp is the offensive line.
The Rams gave up an NFL-worst 55 sacks in 2011. As for improving the line for 2012, the Rams added center Scott Wells from Green Bay in free agency, but they needed to do more than just the one move. There was one draft pick for the offensive line, but picking up Rokevious Watkins in the fifth round hardly seems like a move that will make that big of an impact.
The Rams tried to fix holes all over the roster in the draft, and the offensive line will have to be improved incrementally. As for the 2012 season, we wish Sam Bradford good luck in surviving the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The weakest link for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming into training camp is tight end.
The top two tight ends in Tampa Bay are Luke Stocker and Dallas Clark. For those NFL fans that got a glimpse of Dallas Clark in 2011, his best days are in the rear-view mirror.
With regards to Stocker, this article from Tampa Bay Times suggests Stocker still needs to develop and won't be much of a factor in the passing game in 2012. And with Kellen Winslow now in Seattle, the Bucs are looking pretty thin at tight end.
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The weakest link for the Tennessee Titans coming into training camp is the offensive line.
The Titans were No. 31 in the NFL in rushing in 2011, and they were one of a handful of teams that averaged less than at least 4.0 yards per rush attempt last season.
The only change in the offensive line is bringing in free agent guard Steve Hutchinson. The Titans didn't bother with drafting anybody to assist on the offensive line or to add any more depth to the line.
Even with Chris Johnson being rededicated, he will still need a solid offensive line to open up some holes to run through or around, and that is still very much up in the air coming in to training camp.
Tanard Jackson will compete for Redskins safety job
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The weakest link for the Washington Redskins coming into training camp is free safety.
The Redskins are looking to start either Madieu Williams, Tanard Jackson or DeJon Gomes. Of the three, it appears that Williams is the early pick to be named as starter, according to this Washington Post article by Mike Jones.
In 15 games in 2011 for San Francisco, Williams was only able to contribute nine tackles for the season. Surely the Redskins could have found someone with better experience or more of a playmaker. In his last 45 games covering the past three seasons, Williams has one interception. This is whom you want to be your starting free safety?