The Biggest Storyline in Every NFL Team's OTAs so Far
As the calendar turns to June, NFL teams are in the thick of organized player activities (OTAs). Both mandatory minicamps and training camps are just around the corner, which means that we are moving rapidly toward the start of the 2013 season.
It's in OTAs that teams begin to take shape, and one begins to get a sense for what the overall outlook of the franchise might be.
Here are the biggest storylines for every NFL team thus far in team OTAs.
Arizona Cardinals: QB Carson Palmer Gets Seal of Approval
Last year, the Cardinals had the worst quarterback situation in the history of organized football, as a pu-pu platter of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley bumbled and stumbled in a manner that helped former coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves lose their jobs.
The team's new head coach is Bruce Arians, and he believes the Cardinals have answered their problems at quarterback with the addition of Carson Palmer.
While Palmer put up decent numbers last season in Oakland, it remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank. Arians is banking that there's still some juice left in Palmer's right arm.
Atlanta Falcons: DE Osi Umenyiora Looking Like a Steal
This offseason, the Falcons signed defensive end Osi Umenyiora away from the Giants to help improve their pass rush, and thus far, the team is very pleased with what it has seen.
The Falcons defense managed only 29 sacks in 2012, a total it'll need to improve upon if Atlanta is to get over the hump and advance to the Super Bowl.
The Falcons are hoping Umenyiora can provide production and leadership to make that happen.
Baltimore Ravens: TE Ed Dickson Looks to Break Out
Last week, Ravens tight end Ed Dickson, an unrestricted free agent, signed his one-year tender worth $1.323 million. And now, he's looking for a breakout season.
Earlier in the offseason, the team traded receiver Anquan Boldin, one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite weapons, to the 49ers. Now, it'll be up to Dickson, fellow tight end Dennis Pitta and receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones to pick up the slack.
There's no question that an improved showing by Dickson would be huge for Baltimore's passing attack.
Buffalo Bills: Rookie QB EJ Manuel's Development
When the Bills made Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel their first-round pick in April, it represented the dawn of a new era in Buffalo.
As of right now, Manuel is third on the Bills depth chart, behind veterans Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. But don't let that bit of news fool you, as Buffalo is certainly hoping that its young signal-caller will emerge as "the guy."
Coach Doug Marrone has been pleased with Manuel's development thus far, and if Manuel can continue learning the playbook and progressing, he'll be given every opportunity to win the starting job.
Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton Looking to Take on Leadership Role
While few have questioned the on-field ability of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, it's his demeanor and lack of emotional control that have often been criticized, including by his head coach, Ron Rivera.
That's why it can be viewed as a positive that Newton wants to be a team captain.
Now, it's one thing for Newton to say it, and it's another for him to exhibit the kind of attributes that earmark a player for a leadership role.
Still, this is a big storyline out of Panthers OTAs, and one that Carolina fans and front office types should be pleased with.
Chicago Bears: HC Marc Trestman Looks to Win Over Team, Fans
Recently, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was effusive in praise of new Bears coach Marc Trestman, saying that Trestman "taught me everything" during their time together in Oakland.
If that's true, the NFC should look out, as Harbaugh has already proven to be one of the league's finest coaches.
This OTA storyline should put a smile on the faces of Bears fans.
Cincinnati Bengals: Rookie TE Tyler Eifert Looks Like the Real Deal
When the Bengals used their first-round selection on Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, people became legitimately excited for what the Cincinnati offense could look like come September.
Through OTAs, it looks like the Bengals came up aces, as the early returns on Eifert have been positive.
Ultimately, it was the failures of quarterback Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati offense that cost the team in their 19-13, wild-card loss at Houston this past January.
Now, with Eifert joining a suddenly stacked offense with running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard, receivers A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu, and tight end Jermaine Gresham, the sky appears to be the limit for the unit.
Cleveland Browns: Need RB Trent Richardson to Stay Healthy
While Browns running back Trent Richardson only missed one game his rookie year (the finale in Pittsburgh), he was plagued by injuries all season. That makes his recent ailment, a strain in his lower-right leg that's forced him to miss two weeks of OTAs, a disconcerting situation for the team.
For his part, Richardson is looking to avoid the "injury-prone" moniker that some players wear like a scarlet letter.
It's critical for the Browns that Richardson avoids just that. With a new coaching staff in place and a second-year quarterback in Brandon Weeden, Cleveland needs Richardson to be the kind of workhorse it thought it was getting when it drafted him third overall in 2012.
Dallas Cowboys: RB DeMarco Murray's Injury Concerns
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray will miss more of the team's OTAs with his hamstring injury, not something Dallas wants or needs as it looks to return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Murray is expected to be the bell cow for the Cowboys offense to help take the pressure off quarterback Tony Romo.
A nagging hamstring injury could definitely get in the way of those plans. Dallas would be best served to apply extreme caution with Murray's injury.
Denver Broncos: Counting on Rookie RB Montee Ball
When the Denver Broncos selected Wisconsin running back Montee Ball in the second round of this past April's draft, it meant the team would be counting on him in 2013.
If Ball can provide Manning and the Broncos with a consistent rushing attack, their offense will be even more dangerous this season.
Detroit Lions: Injury to RB Mikel Leshoure
In a perfect world, the other piece to that puzzle would be running back Mikel Leshoure, but he's missed two weeks of OTAs with a hamstring injury.
The Lions threw the ball way too many times in 2012, with quarterback Matthew Stafford attempting an astonishing 727 passes. The offense must be more balanced in 2013, and a healthy Leshoure will go a long way toward making that happen. He must be healthy and on the field.
Green Bay Packers: QB Aaron Rodgers Talks Up WR Randall Cobb
In fact, he's tabbed third-year receiver Randall Cobb for a breakout season, saying he could be a "100-catch guy."
That would be terrific news for the Packers offense, which will need to replace the production of Jennings and Driver.
Rodgers believes Cobb is up to the task.
Houston Texans: RB Arian Foster's Injury
Texans running back Arian Foster has been a key cog in the team's offensive machine for the past three seasons, and there's no doubt that Houston needs his production again in 2013 if the team is to return to the postseason.
The team held its breath last week when Foster was carted off the field at OTAs with a calf injury.
While it looks like the injury isn't serious, it still should make Texans fans nervous. Foster's yards per carry have dipped in each of the past three years, so an injury is the last thing he needs.
Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck Poised to Dominate
In 2012, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had a rookie season for the ages, tossing 23 touchdown passes and leading Indianapolis on an improbable postseason run.
If Luck improves and can play more consistently in 2013 (he did throw 18 interceptions in his inaugural campaign), it would certainly bode well for a return trip to the tournament for the Colts.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR/KR Denard Robinson Will Play Big Role
Former University of Michigan star Denard Robinson had a storied collegiate career, and although his skill set won't translate as a pocket-passer in the NFL, there's no questioning his potential to make an impact at the next level.
That fact was confirmed in OTAs, as the Jaguars reportedly plan to get Robinson 10-15 snaps a game.
The Jacksonville offense is in desperate need of some pop and sizzle, and Robinson could be the guy to provide just that.
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Alex Smith Looking Like 'The Guy'
Through OTAs, Reid and the team are very pleased with how Smith is coming along.
Despite finishing with a league-worst 2-14 record in 2012, the team does have talent on the roster, as evidenced by their six Pro Bowlers last year.
If Smith can bring consistency to the quarterback position, the Chiefs could be in line for a major improvement in 2013.
Miami Dolphins: Emergence of RB Lamar Miller
Last year, the Dolphins selected Lamar Miller in the fourth round of the draft, and he impressed as a rookie, rushing for nearly five yards per carry.
Now, in his second season, Miller looks ready to break out, as he's emerged as the favorite to start in Week 1.
In 2012, Miami possessed the 17th-ranked rushing offense in football. A better showing this season would greatly benefit second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and it looks like the Dolphins will be counting on Miller to provide just that.
Minnesota Vikings: QB Christian Ponder Emerging as Team Leader
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder knows he must improve in 2013 and throughout OTAs, specifically his leadership, something he discussed in a recent interview with the team's website.
Ponder played well down the stretch in 2012 before missing the team's wild-card playoff loss in Green Bay with an arm injury, but he must be more consistent this year if the team is to make forward strides.
He's hoping his on-field leadership and evolved skill set can help him accomplish that goal.
New England Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski's Medical Issues
Since coming into the league in 2010, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been a force to be reckoned with, catching 38 touchdown passes and generally looking like a man amongst boys.
In fact, it's fair to say that, on the field, Gronkowski has often looked unstoppable.
The problem? Gronkowski needs to be on the field to be unstoppable, and his availability for the start of the season looks murky at best. The talented player has already undergone surgery this offseason on his forearm and now needs to have back surgery as well.
This is sobering news for the Patriots, who would obviously love to have Gronkowski healthy for the balance of 2013. While that still may be a possibility, is it something that, at this point, you'd be comfortable betting on?
New Orleans Saints: Return of HC Sean Payton
2012 was a disappointment for the Saints, who missed the postseason and had one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL.
Some of that can surely be attributed to the absence of their head coach, Sean Payton, suspended the entire season for the BountyGate scandal.
Now, Payton is back, and he's brought the energy that made him a Super Bowl-winning head coach.
You just know that Payton will be in revenge mode all season to make up for lost time in 2013. That's the biggest storyline in Saints OTAs.
New York Giants: Absence of WR Hakeem Nicks
While most of the Giants' offseason drama has centered on the contract saga of receiver Victor Cruz, there's a new batch developing due to the actions of another Big Blue skill position player.
That would be receiver Hakeem Nicks, who has skipped the last two voluntary OTA sessions, leaving head coach Tom Coughlin nonplussed.
New York Jets: Rookie QB Geno Smith Receiving First-Team Reps
If Sanchez wants to be the Week 1 starter, he'll need to beat out Smith. But, as shown at OTAs, Smith will be given every opportunity to win the job.
Oakland Raiders: PR Director Zak Gilbert Fired
This weekend, the Raiders fired their PR director, Zak Gilbert, a move that shouldn't register when considering the biggest OTA storylines for a team.
But this is the Raiders, so there's always an interesting layer or two to each story. In this one, it appears that owner Mark Davis was unhappy with the way he and his late father, the great Al Davis, were portrayed in a Sports Illustrated article profiling the team.
Full disclosure: In my job working at SiriusXM, both for NFL Radio and Mad Dog Radio, I dealt with Gilbert quite a bit. He was professional, courteous and helpful. Under his watch, the Raiders PR staff actually resembled that of a normal team.
This shows that the Raiders could be plagued with the same organizational dysfunction they faced in the latter years of the elder Davis' tenure.
That is most certainly not a good thing.
Philadelphia Eagles: New HC Chip Kelly Changing the Culture
New Eagles coach Chip Kelly was considered something of a visionary during his time at the University of Oregon, using unorthodox practice methods to draw the best out of his players.
His time in the NFL has been no different, as Kelly has already made his mark on the franchise. Gone are Taco Tuesdays and Fast Food Fridays, replaced by individualized shakes and up-tempo practices.
Kelly is laying the groundwork for his future success now. If the players fully buy into his program, the Eagles could be a team to watch in 2013.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Starting LT Mike Adams Stabbed, Recovering
For the Steelers, their biggest OTA storyline didn't come on the field, but off of it, as their starting left tackle, Mike Adams, was stabbed in an attempted carjacking this past weekend.
Thankfully, Adams is expected to make a full recovery and should take part in the team's training camp in July. It's sobering news for Pittsburgh. Adams was solid as a rookie and will be expected to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side in 2013.
Still, the important news is that Adams wasn't seriously injured, or killed. Luckily, it looks like his football career will resume.
San Diego Chargers: Rookie OL D.J. Fluker Not Impressing
The Chargers offensive line was woeful in 2012, leaving quarterback Philip Rivers to run for his life and mightily contributing to the team's 7-9 record.
The team selected Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round of this past April's draft, and it appeared to be a solid pick, as Fluker would man the right tackle spot and help protect Rivers.
Early returns on Fluker, however, have been less than impressive, and there's now scuttlebutt that the team may move him to guard.
That's not exactly what new general manager Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy expected or wanted from their first-round pick.
San Francisco 49ers: Injury to WR Michael Crabtree
While new wide receiver Anquan Boldin has impressed in Crabtree's absence, the loss of Crabtree is a devastating blow for San Francisco, and it remains to be seen if it's one the 49ers can overcome as they look to return to the Super Bowl.
Seattle Seahawks: Defensive End Bruce Irvin Suspended First 4 Games of 2013
Last year, Seahawks rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin played well, accumulating eight sacks. Seattle certainly needs Irvin's production if it is to fulfill its Super Bowl aspirations in 2013.
Those hopes took a hit recently with the announcement that Irvin would miss the first four games of this upcoming season, suspended due to performance-enhancing drugs.
While this underscores a larger problem in the Emerald City (since 2011, five players have now been suspended four games for PEDs), the individual loss of Irvin is a big one. Although the team signed defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett this offseason, it was counting on Irvin to have a big year.
Now, he'll only have 12 regular-season contests to make that happen.
St. Louis Rams: QB Sam Bradford Taking on Leadership Role
Many forget that the Rams finished with a 4-1-1 record against the NFC West last year, and the team appears poised to make some noise in 2013.
For that to happen in a fashion that would make Rams fans happy, quarterback Sam Bradford must take the next step.
Bradford believes his leadership role on the team is growing, a major positive for St. Louis. His continued development is the biggest storyline of Rams OTAs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Josh Freeman Under the Microscope
This is a big year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their quarterback, Josh Freeman, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal.
Tennessee Titans: Injury to G Andy Levitre
When the Titans signed guard Andy Levitre to a big-money deal at the start of the free-agent period, it looked like the team was addressing the offensive line problems that had plagued it in recent seasons.
That means the team is likely concerned that Levitre has missed time in OTAs while he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.
While Levitre should return for the last batch of OTAs, the Titans must make sure their $48 million man is healthy. He's going to be a critical part of either the success or failure of the team's rushing attack in 2013.
Washington Redskins: Continued Recovery for QB Robert Griffin III
The Redskins received good news last week, as quarterback Robert Griffin III, coming off a torn ACL in the team's wild-card playoff loss to Seattle, was cleared for running.
Griffin, who sparkled as a rookie, needs to be healthy to give the Redskins their best opportunity to win in 2013.
Thus far, his rehabilitation appears to be ahead of schedule.