Questions That Must Be Answered in NFL Camps This Offseason
If the NFL draft is time for optimism for fans of every team, camps are when teams have their rays of sunshine.
It's the same every year. Around the league, someone from almost every team will talk about how the Super Bowl is the goal of the season, how someone is looking way better than last year or how this team just feels different.
Everyone is 0-0 and has his sights on winning 16 of the next 16 games en route to a playoff berth, spot in history and probably a bust in Canton, just for good measure. This optimism is what fuels players through the slog of workouts in the hot sun (or in the reasonable climate of a practice bubble).
If one takes a step back from all the positive spin, it's clear that some teams have big questions to answer before the season begins. It doesn't change the fact that some of these teams could still have great seasons, but they're not ready for the season to begin...yet.
Who Is the QB of the Future for the Oakland Raiders?
Matt Flynn was brought over for a 2014 fifth-round draft pick and a 2015 conditional pick. The initial insinuation was that his former personnel boss with the Green Bay Packers, Reggie McKenzie, was bringing him over because he was familiar with and ostensibly trusted him as a starter.
Then the Raiders drafted Tyler Wilson in the fourth round. Although Wilson had a rough final year in Arkansas, his tape from the year before was some of the best in the entire draft. Sadly, with coaching, scheme and player upheaval, Wilson wasn't able to shine. He has plenty of physical tools, though—more than Flynn.
If I were to handicap this race right now, Flynn would get the nod, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him supplanted by a mid-round rookie for the second straight year. Pryor will probably steal some snaps in a special package of plays, but he doesn't have the passing ability of his two peers.
How Will the Green Bay Packers Integrate Their New Rushing Weapons?
Every year, the Green Bay Packers seemed to be just a running back away from having a great offense. Every year, Ted Thompson smiled wryly, Mike McCarthy called 40 straight passing plays and the Packers won a bunch of games anyway.
This year, they bucked their trend by drafting not one but two fantastic backs in the upper rounds of the draft—Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
Lacy is a bit of a grinder, but he has SEC speed and enough agility that his nickname was "Circle Button"—referring to the button causing players to do a spin move in EA Sports' Madden NFL video games.
Franklin's nickname in college was "Jet Ski," and he has fantastic ability in the open field.
The two complement each other perfectly, but how will they complement the rest of the offense?
Who Is the Quarterback of the New York Jets?
Notice that I cropped Tim Tebow out of this picture. It was one of the most enjoyable and cathartic actions in my entire media career. He's truly out of the picture in New York, and Mark Sanchez might be next.
Geno Smith wasn't drafted to sit on the bench. I mean, he may sit this season but not for long. If Smith ends up winning the job in his rookie year, there's little reason to keep Sanchez around just to divide the locker room.
Think someone wouldn't give up a fifth-round pick for him? Have you seen some of the quarterbacks in this league?
Really, the questions are how much Rex Ryan trusts his job security and how quickly Smith is able to pick up the playbook. If the answers are "a lot" and "really quickly," Sanchez has little chance to win this job.
How Will Andy Dalton Manage a New Up-Tempo Attack?
Sometimes, the narrative around Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is a little curious. Sure, he wasn't a highly touted first-round pick. Yet, people act as if he's just a game manager who doesn't have the physical tools to run a big-boy offense in the NFL.
Here is the "positives" section from his pre-draft profile on NFL.com:
Dalton is a well prepared player that scans the whole field and makes solid decisions. Has a quick release, a strong arm and is an accurate passer, especially on the run. Has great mobility in the pocket and shows very good instincts as a runner. Extremely productive collegiate career.
The Bengals haven't given Dalton the tools to succeed. Instead, they built a great defense, which worked out for them. This year, however, with the additions of tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard, the offense will have a lot more talent.
The pressure is officially on Dalton to become the passer that the Bengals need him to be.
Is the Tampa 2 Alive and Well in Dallas?
The Tampa 2, much like Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, has been around for a long time in the NFL. Although it started to gain popularity in the '90s as a way to counteract the West Coast offense, the core principles have been around since Tony Dungy was a player in the NFL—the 1960s.
The only thing that sets teams like the Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings apart from non-Tampa 2 teams like the New York Giants is how stridently they run the coverage systems. Kiffin is known for leaning on the base system heavily, while a coach like the Giants' Perry Fewell (who was a longtime assistant for Tampa 2-based teams) has evolved to the point where he can mix and match schemes depending on the matchup.
Every defense runs some sort of Cover 2 principles because almost every offense has some remnant of the West Coast left in it. However, the Bill Walsh-style West Coast offense is dying in the NFL, and the Tampa 2 is on life support as well.
The Cowboys are about to install it with a bunch of square pegs in round holes. This experiment will be one of the most interesting non-quarterback storylines in the NFL this season.
Does Matthew Stafford Have Any Chance Behind the Detroit Lions Offensive Line?
Last season, the Lions started Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus at the tackle positions. Although Backus was a longtime whipping boy for Lions' fan frustrations, he was dependable. Now, he's retired. Cherilus improved steadily as a pass-protector over the 2012 season, albeit with some hiccups here and there. He is now protecting Andrew Luck's front side.
So, the Lions are going into the 2013 season with potentially Riley Reiff at left tackle and either Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard at right tackle. They have flirted with a bunch of free agents along the offensive line, the latest being Winston Justice, who could win the job at right tackle.
The Lions will also be starting a rookie—Larry Warford—at right guard, and Dominic Raiola will continue his bullfighter routine (Olé!) at center.
Stafford is still a young quarterback (at 25, he's a few months younger than Colin Kaepernick), but he's entering the "put up or shut up" point of his career. No, I'm not saying he's in any danger of losing his job anytime soon, but is he going to vault himself into the Tom Bradys and Drew Breeses of the world, or is he Motown's version of Tony Romo?
His line may not let him be the former in 2013.
What Is the Seattle Seahawks' Defensive Line Rotation Going to Look Like?
One of my favorite sites on the Internet—and certainly one of the most useful—is Ourlads.com.
Dan Shonka, who runs the site, was a scout in the NFL for multiple teams for more than a decade. He's a pro at what he does, and the site maintains a constant depth chart for every team. It's so thorough that the site was adding draft picks into the depth charts almost immediately after the picks on draft weekend.
As of Saturday, Ourlads has Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Cliff Avril and Red Bryant starting along the defensive line for the Seattle Seahawks.
However, Chris Clemons is still a really good player and could regain his position in the starting lineup when he gets healthy. Michael Bennett was signed around the same time as Avril and may be the more well-rounded player. Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill could both earn heavy snaps after being drafted in April. Then there's Bruce Irvin, who was a one-dimensional pass-rusher in his first year but may see his role grow.
Having "too many" good players is a great problem to have, especially on the defensive line. Finding snaps for all of them is going to be an interesting dilemma, and it's happening on a team that has no issue with playing the best player—regardless of how much he gets paid or how high he was drafted.
Can Chip Kelly Lead NFL Players?
College coaches haven't always had the best success in the NFL.
Nick Saban couldn't make the jump. Bobby Petrino didn't even last a season. Steve Spurrier and Dennis Erickson went from offensive masterminds in college to failures in the NFL back to offensive masterminds in college.
The NFL is a different animal. Some coaches just can't handle players who make more money than they do.
Of course, Tom Coughlin and Jim Harbaugh have done just fine in the NFL, and the Philadelphia Eagles are betting on Chip Kelly having the same success as those guys.
While the focus has been on Kelly's up-tempo offense, he's also known for the ridiculous amount of structure he brought to Oregon's practices. Everything was crisp, on time and prepared players for the regimented style of his game plans.
Will Andy Reid's former players fall in so easily?
Can Ryan Tannehill Figure Out All of His New Toys?
If this looks a lot like the Andy Dalton slide, that's because it is.
Like Dalton, Ryan Tannehill acquired a bevy of offensive weapons this offseason—most notably, Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller. Unlike Dalton, his protection isn't nearly settled, and the defense is less capable of winning games by itself.
Tannehill is a bit of a forgotten man in South Beach. While the other young passers had tremendous success last season, Tannehill had some speed bumps and didn't have the help he needed with Brian Hartline as his No. 1 receiver.
If Tannehill adapts to his new toys quickly, he could put his name back up among his peers in a hurry.
Are the AFC's Superpowers Reloading or Rebuilding?
Did we really just have a NFL playoff without the Pittsburgh Steelers or New York Jets? They are stalwarts usually expected to make a deep run, not miss out entirely.
Let's add the Baltimore Ravens to that group after losing a bunch of defensive players in the offseason. Yes, they replaced them well, but with a couple of rookies and tons of moving pieces, missing the playoffs wouldn't be the craziest thing to happen.
Even San Diego—hardly a perennial playoff team—didn't have their usual success last season. Norv Turner used to at least flirt with a playoff spot before the crushing agony of disappointment set in.
These teams are typically thought of when we talk about the powers of the AFC. Yet, with the ascent of teams like the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, Andrew Luck's Indianapolis Colts and the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos, it's easy to envision Pittsburgh and New York being left out again. With the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders also improving, the Chargers could end up fourth in the AFC West.
These teams, Pittsburgh most of all, need to prove that their time spent out of the limelight wasn't the beginning of a trend.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.