Questions That Will Linger After NFL OTAs
An NFL offseason can bring about a lot of change to an organization. Organized team activities (OTAs) provide us with our first glimpse at exciting new additions and entice a fan's undying loyalty with hope for a better tomorrow.
Players running around in shorts without contact can be misleading to fans looking to know what to expect for the upcoming season. Most of the time, OTAs leave us with more questions than answers, especially since unexpected events can alter the landscape of a once promising season.
As the offseason edges closer towards June minicamps, putting OTAs in the rear-view mirror, we take a look at some key questions that will remain to be answered after OTAs are finally in the books.
Who Will Start at QB for the Jets?
The Jets’ new offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, isn't stuck on the idea that the quarterback battle will linger into August, although he hopes an early favorite will emerge as soon as possible.
Smith was not drafted in the second round as a guy primed and ready to take over a franchise immediately. Though talented, he’s better served taking things slow in 2013 by learning how to play in the NFL behind a seasoned veteran. Unfortunately, this luxury doesn’t appear to be a reality in New York.
First of all, Sanchez is hardly the ideal mentor for Smith to learn how to play quarterback. Second, Rex Ryan doesn’t have the job security to suffer through another turnover-laden year and incompetent play at the most important position in football.
It seems optimistic to expect Sanchez to hold firm to his role as a starter for an entire season. Too much must go right and stay right for a guy whose biggest connection of the season was the rear end of his own lineman.
History and common sense point to an early Smith appearance at some point before Week 8—but it remains unknown who will be throwing Darrelle Revis the ball in the season opener against the Buccaneers.
Can Sam Bradford Play at a Pro Bowl Level?
If you ask Bleacher Report’s Scott Kacsmar whether he thinks Sam Bradford can be a Pro Bowl QB and live up to expectations, he will likely tell you “no,” complete with a pretty convincing argument why not.
The former No. 1 overall pick enters his fourth season newly equipped with some intriguing young targets to throw to in first-round pick Tavon Austin and third-rounder Stedman Bailey. The Rams also brought in tight end Jared Cook via free agency.
Obviously St. Louis has a lot of faith in his potential considering it was willing to pass on Robert Griffin III last year. Bradford responded positively by passing for over 3,700 yards, tossing 21 touchdowns and finishing with a passer rating of 82.6—all career highs.
Handling defenders in his face was never the strength of this oft-injured signal caller. Much of his success will depend on how well this reinforced offensive line can keep him on his feet and free from panic.
Bradford should also be aided by the signing of Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long and the addition of rookie lineman Barrett Jones.
With exciting new weapons and an upgraded OL, this could be the year Bradford finally emerges as one of the most promising young QBs in the league—but will he overcome the toughest division in football?
Will the Cardinals’ OL Protect Carson Palmer?
Last year, the Arizona Cardinals gave up a league-leading 58 sacks, which happens to be seven more than the next-worse team (Packers) and 38 more than the league-best New York Giants, who allowed only 20. Basically, Arizona’s offense was a quarterback’s worst nightmare.
So what was Carson Palmer thinking coming to Arizona? Here's a guy who would rather retire than play another down in Cincinnati, yet somehow he actually seems content with the idea of playing behind this worrisome offensive line.
If things don’t improve up front in a hurry, this could very well be Palmer’s last year in the NFL.
New head coach Bruce Arians seems to have already won over Palmer’s confidence so far. But does Palmer share those same feelings about the offensive line?
Returning to the lineup from injury will be left tackle Levi Brown, who missed all of last season with a torn triceps. However, Brown has never protected the QB very well and has been more of a bust so far than a savior.
Second-year pro Bobby Massie should start opposite Brown at right tackle, while a pair of promising rookies in Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford should start inside at right and left guard, respectively.
There’s no telling how this injury-plagued group of underachievers, rookies and developing youngsters will mesh, but it should be interesting watching Palmer try to convince himself that he made a good decision forcing his way out of Cincinnati.
What Will the Eagles Offense Look Like?
From the moment the news broke that Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly was stolen away by the Philadelphia Eagles, we've been dying to know what to expect from Philadelphia's new-look offense.
Naturally we assumed it would be some modified version of the zone-read option Kelly ran in Oregon, designed to spread defenses out while exploiting the open space with speed at every position.
Then the Eagles drafted QB Matt Barkley in the fourth round and threw everybody off. Barkley would seem to be the last person who could fit in a Chip Kelly-led attack. Adding the non-mobile QB with an average arm to the mix has forced us to re-imagine just what exactly Kelly has in mind for this offense.
According to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, the Eagles’ offensive system will be highly customizable depending on personnel and what their players do best.
At this point in the offseason, there’s no telling just how much Kelly‘s famous Oregon offense will be featured in Philadelphia, but one thing is safe to assume: It’s sure to be a high-tempo offense that won’t see many delay-of-game violations.
Is DeAndre Hopkins the Missing Piece to the Texans Offense?
If the Houston Texans are going to advance in the playoffs and emerge as a true contender, they must find a receiver to get the ball to other than Andre Johnson. Johnson is now 31 years old and has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons.
Besides, it takes more than just one reliable target to establish an efficient passing game in the NFL.
Last season, Kevin Walter was Houston's second-most productive WR with only 518 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He is out of the equation after signing with the Tennessee Titans this offseason.
After Walter's production, only one other WR (Lestar Jean) accumulated over 100 yards receiving for the season. This is absolutely unacceptable for a team supposedly competing for a Super Bowl in 2013.
Enter DeAndre Hopkins, who was the second of only three wide receivers drafted in the first round last April.
Clearly, the expectations are high for Hopkins this season, as he’s already taking reps with the first-team offense.
So far Hopkins has impressed early, though receivers coach Larry Kirksey is reluctant to crown him a starter. According to Kirksey, the second-year guys are ahead of Hopkins at this stage in the process, and “they’re not just going to let him have the (starting) job.”
With few options available at receiver, Hopkins must have a productive rookie year if the Texans hope to exceed last year’s success. This is probably the reason they decided to pick the most polished receiver prospect available—he definitely was not the most physically gifted.
Who Will Start at WR for the 49ers?
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With the news of Michael Crabtree’s Achilles tear, the 49ers were suddenly left with some big questions at the receiver position, considering the expectation he will miss most if not all of the 2013 season.
Adding veteran Anquan Boldin via trade should provide a little insurance, but he’s already 32 years old and likely the slowest skill-position player on the entire team. With that said, he looks to have a starting position already locked up with so many question marks looming around the receiving corps.
Last year’s first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins has yet to catch a single pass in the NFL and has underwhelmed thus far in his brief career. Apparently he’s still learning how to be a professional. According to 49ers.com, he had this to say:
It was very humbling, being the top dog on the campus to coming to the league and not really playing at all, it was kind of humbling and it teaches you a lot about the game. I'm watching the game from the sideline, trying to learn things from different players.
In addition to Jenkins, returning veterans Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are both still recovering from injuries suffered last season. There’s no telling when or to what level these guys will return; had Crabtree not gotten hurt, Williams would likely have been a long shot to make the final roster.
Fourth-round selection Quinton Patton could factor into the starting rotation as well. He’s in a heated competition with Jenkins for the spot opposite Boldin.
Ricardo Lockette is also in the running for not only a roster spot but also a starting position at receiver. He was signed last year off waivers after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks. Lockette has the added advantage of being the roommate of Colin Kaepernick, who has been a valuable resource for learning the playbook.
At 6’2” and 211 pounds, Lockette ran an impressive 4.37 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL combine, which tied for the fastest time among wide receivers.
Whoever wins the job in Crabtree’s absence will likely be pushed back to a supportive role once the unit returns to full strength. If Jenkins fails to capitalize on this opportunity, it’s safe to say he’s on a one-way train to “bustville.”