Questions That Still Must Be Answered in NFL Training Camps
During organized team activities and minicamps, very few questions are answered about incoming rookies and free-agent signees. Any questions that go unanswered will remain unanswered until training camp rolls around at the end of July.
Only training camp offers true insight into the general direction of all 32 teams before the start of the season that lies ahead. Furthermore, training camp often resolves any position battle or schematic problem that one team may have.
Let’s take a look around the league and examine 10 questions that still must be answered in NFL training camps.
Who Is the New York Jets' Starting Quarterback?
When the New York Jets drafted Geno Smith in the second round of this year’s draft, everyone knew Mark Sanchez’s days as the team's starting quarterback were numbered. Sanchez has failed to impress the masses over the course of his four-year career in New York.
For his career, he’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, his career quarterback rating is an abysmal 71.7 and his completion percentage in 2012 was the third-lowest total in the league. Those totals indicate that the Jets are in dire need of new blood at the quarterback position.
Head coach Rex Ryan called Sanchez’s recent OTA performances “unacceptable,” according to Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. Ryan’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise, so it appears to only be a matter of time before Smith is named New York’s opening-day starter for the 2013 season.
Can the Steelers Successfully Switch to a Zone-Blocking Scheme?
When the Steelers hired Jack Bicknell Jr., it was a foregone conclusion that Pittsburgh’s offensive line would switch to a zone-blocking scheme.
In years past, the Steelers have used an inside blocking and power scheme, so the implementation of the zone-blocking scheme is a complete 180-degree change.
Based on the makeup of Pittsburgh’s offensive line, there will be a few players who aren’t in favor of the change. But that doesn’t mean every offensive lineman won’t welcome the new blocking scheme. Just ask center Maurkice Pouncey.
According to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pouncey is a firm believer in the new scheme. Additionally, he wouldn’t mind if the Steelers threw out all of their old blocking schemes in favor of Bicknell's new schemes.
Obviously, it will take some time to learn the new scheme in its entirety, but offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert told Kaboly that the new concepts looked good so far.
Who Will Emerge as the San Francisco 49ers' No. 2 Wide Receiver?
After wide receiver Michael Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles tendon, fans and media members alike were quick to name his immediate replacement. Unfortunately, Crabtree’s production cannot be replaced at the drop of a hat. Only time and practice reps will help San Francisco’s coaching staff find his eventual replacement.
Second-year wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and fourth-round rookie WR Quinton Patton have been noted as likely fill-ins for Crabtree. But there is one player everyone has seemingly forgotten about: Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.
Davis has been an integral part of San Francisco’s offensive success for some time now, so it would be silly to count him out. Before Crabtree lived up to his lofty draft status in 2011 and 2012, No. 85 led the 49ers in receiving yards in 2009 and 2010.
Furthermore, head coach Jim Harbaugh firmly believes Davis can be that guy. Grant Cohn of The Press-Democrat noted on June 17 that the 49ers used Davis exclusively at wide receiver during San Francisco’s most recent minicamp.
Was this merely an experiment, or does Harbaugh plan on using Davis at wide receiver during the regular season? Right now, it appears to be the latter.
Will Chip Kelly Hand Matt Barkley the Keys to His Offense?
Prior to this year’s draft, there were more than a few analysts who had USC quarterback Matt Barkley pegged as the draft's most pro-ready quarterback. This designation isn’t always viewed as a ringing endorsement, but after a mediocre senior season, Barkley was just happy to be drafted at the top of the fourth round.
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has declared that he will hold an open quarterback competition until someone runs away with the job. Right now, it doesn’t appear as if Michael Vick or Nick Foles is running away with the job. That ultimately spells good news for Barkley.
Vick, Foles and Barkley do not have experience in Kelly’s offense, putting all three players on an even playing field heading into training camp. Moreover, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur told Jordan Raanan of NJ.com that Kelly’s offense isn’t going to be all that different from the West Coast offense.
If Shurmur’s comment has any truth to it, Barkley may have the inside track on being the team’s starting quarterback. Remember, he directed the Trojans’ West Coast offense under head coach Lane Kiffin.
Can Carson Palmer Revive Arizona's Lackluster Passing Attack?
Ever since Kurt Warner decided to hang up his cleats after the 2009 season, the Arizona Cardinals have been in complete disarray at the quarterback position. Players like Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer were all given opportunities to be Warner’s replacement, yet they failed miserably.
This, in turn, forced head coach Bruce Arians to totally revamp the position when he took over in January. During the 2013 offseason, Arians introduced three new quarterbacks to the roster: Caleb TerBush, Drew Stanton and Carson Palmer.
Palmer is obviously the most celebrated of the three, so it will be up to him to improve Arizona’s lackluster passing attack. It won't be easy, though. No. 3 needs to maximize his efforts during training camp to build rapport with his receivers, because it didn’t happen during organized team activities.
Here’s what Arians told Bob Baum of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports): “We’re just not picking (the offense) up fast enough. We're still not picking it up the way I'd like to - at all positions.”
Will Minnesota's Passing Game Complement Running Back Adrian Peterson?
Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season was one for the record books. Peterson not only piled up 2,097 yards on the ground, but he did it with very little offensive help elsewhere.
Quarterback Christian Ponder came under fire when he failed to convert in key situations, and Minnesota’s wide receiving corps appeared to be inept after Percy Harvin’s ankle injury. General manager Rick Spielman took notice of these problems and spent the entire offseason upgrading the offensive side of the ball.
Even though Spielman enjoys watching Peterson run wild on a weekly basis, he would prefer to have options outside of No. 28. Spielman seemingly felt Ponder’s inconsistencies were directly tied to an underperforming group of wideouts. This notion meant Minnesota needed new blood at both left wide receiver and right wide receiver.
In free agency, the Vikings signed longtime Green Bay Packer wide receiver Greg Jennings. But Spielman didn’t stop there; he traded back into the first round after he'd already made two selections and drafted Tennessee standout wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Based on OurLads.com, both Jennings and Patterson have been penciled in as Minnesota’s starters at wide receiver. The jury is still out on whether Spielman added enough talent in the passing game to effectively complement Peterson, but fans hope that question can be put to bed by the end of training camp.
Who Will Be the Opening Day Starter at Tight End for the New England Patriots?
A few days ago, the New England Patriots' biggest dilemma was figuring out how they would handle the Tim Tebow media situation. Now, Tebow seems to be the least of their worries.
Since Tebow signed with the organization, Rob Gronkowski has gone under the knife for a bad back, and Aaron Hernandez has been linked to an ongoing murder investigation, per ESPN.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Gronkowski will begin the preseason on the PUP list. This isn’t shocking information by any means, but it’s important to know where a player stands just five weeks before training camp begins.
As for Hernandez, there hasn’t been any word on his training camp availability because law enforcement officials are still trying to sort the whole situation out.
If both players miss extended periods of time based on their situations, it’s safe to assume neither player will be ready for the Patriots’ Week 1 contest against the Buffalo Bills.
Former New York Giants tight end Jake Ballard may be given the opportunity to step in and contribute in Gronkowski and Hernandez’s absence. Moreover, Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells may also find their way on the field during New England’s turbulent times at tight end.
Will RGIII's Knee Be 100 Percent by the End of Training Camp?
In Washington, there is no bigger subject right now than the health of Robert Griffin III’s surgically repaired knee. Since he injured the knee during the playoffs, fans have wondered whether he would be back at full strength by the time training camp started on July 25.
With five weeks to go, it appears as if Griffin’s comeback is on track to be as miraculous as Adrian Peterson’s was last year. RGIII told Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan in DC that he is pretty confident he will be ready for the start of training camp.
Even though Griffin's knee is nowhere near 100 percent, Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk writes that he has been cleared for almost everything except for “explosive sprinting and cutting.”
Washington won’t push No. 10 to do more than he is ready to do, but the team will do enough to ensure he’s ready for the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Who Will Win the Starting Tailback Job in Green Bay?
The Green Bay Packers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2009, so general manager Ted Thompson decided to get serious and address the running back position in this year’s draft by selecting two highly touted ball-carriers.
Prior to the draft, analysts viewed Alabama running back Eddie Lacy as college football’s most complete back. However, a lengthy injury report from his time with the Crimson Tide scared more than a few organizations away on draft day.
This allowed Thompson to swoop in and snatch Lacy up at No. 61 overall.
With three fourth-round selections, the Packers found the perfect complement back to Lacy with the 125th pick. UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin didn’t carry the same prestige as the team’s second-round running back, but he offered a unique skill set in his own right.
Franklin is viewed as an elusive runner who shows great open-field speed, which undoubtedly makes him the perfect situational back for Mike McCarthy’s offense. Yet one has to think he will want to prove his worth and push Lacy for the No. 1 spot atop the Packers depth chart.
If we know anything about McCarthy, it's that he will give both running backs a fair shot to win the starting job during training camp.
Will Jimmy Haslam Remain the Cleveland Browns Owner?
If you have been out of the NFL news cycle this past offseason, you probably missed the news about Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. Haslam has made headlines over the past few months because his family business (Pilot Flying J) is under federal investigation for engaging in a scheme to reduce rebates to trucking firms across the nation.
At this time, there has been no official statement made by the NFL in regards to Haslam’s recent league troubles. However, Jarrett Bell of USA Today said the Cleveland Browns owner offered up an apology to the league and the rest of the owners for any damage he may have done to the NFL’s image.
It’s hard to predict when the issue will be resolved, but if Haslam is indeed found guilty of federal crimes, there could easily be reorganization amongst Cleveland’s ownership group. This, in turn, could spell trouble for the newly appointed coaching staff and the rest of the front office.
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