5 NFL Teams Already Starting to Show Cracks in Minicamp
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Not too often do the New England Patriots show up in articles like this. It could be said that they haven't been linked to the Oakland Raiders of the football world since the early 1990's. Due in large part to off-field and injury issues, New England is one of five teams that have already started to show cracks in minicamp.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are in the midst of a three-horse race for the starting quarterback position. None of the three options seem to be standing out as starter material.
While it is too early to draw a conclusion about where specific teams stand toward the end of June, it must be noted that we are about one month away from the start of training camp
Today's article will look at these two teams, who are seemingly in different spheres as it relates to the football world, as well as three others who are showing cracks at this late point in the offseason.
New York Jets
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Raise your hand if you didn't see this coming. Apparently, the New York Jets' quarterback situation isn't on solid ground after all.
Neither Mark Sanchez nor rookie Geno Smith have looked good during offseason activities, which shouldn't be too surprising. Sanchez was among the worst quarterbacks in the NFL last year, and Smith still has a lot to learn before he can become a starting-caliber quarterback at this level.
New quarterbacks coach David Lee had an ominous quote circulate around camp last week (h/t The Star-Ledger):
They’ve done it together, they haven’t made it easy... I don’t know why they’re both doing it at the same time. Maybe it’s a reflection on me. Maybe I’m screwing it up somehow, but they won’t separate right now.
If Sanchez can't separate himself from a raw rookie quarterback who was just handed the playbook a couple months ago, there's not a good chance he will rebound from a disastrous 2012 campaign.
Jets receivers have also struggled, which could be due in large part to the play of these two quarterbacks.
According to Rich Cimini at ESPN.com, both Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill were duds in minicamp. These are two players the Jets will have to rely upon a great deal at wide receiver, especially with Santonio Holmes returning from a serious injury.
As it is, the Jets are not looking much better than they did last season. In fact, they might possess the least amount of talent in the NFL.
Without a solid training camp performance, Rex Ryan and Co. could be in for a rather long 2013 season.
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New Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians had the following to say about the performance of his club during offseason activities last month (h/t ArizonaCardinals.com):
We’re just not picking it up fast enough, not picking it up the way I want to at all positions... Normally for the defense it’s a little easier, to put in a defense than it is an offense and have some continuity.
I don’t like mistakes and I really don’t like mental mistakes. Especially if you made the same one last week. Correct it and have it in the books right now. The receivers are not getting that done.
Arians is what you would call a hard-nosed, all-business coach. He doesn't take crap, and he tells his players exactly how he feels.
It's now up to the Cardinals to take his guidance and run with it.
They face a major uphill climb out of the cellar in the NFC West. Arizona must not only play two times each against two of the best clubs in the NFL (San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks), but it also has two more games against the up-and-coming St. Louis Rams.
It's hard to envision the Cardinals coming out of those six division games with more than a single win. This is only magnified with issues as it relates to protecting Palmer.
Darren Urban of the Cardinals' official website indicates that Levi Brown will be the opening day starter at left tackle:
Arians has spent so much time talking Brown up this offseason I don’t see any way Levi isn’t starting. He’ll be playing the left side, and we will find out if his strong finish to 2011 was a mirage or not.
As I mentioned in an article earlier this week, Brown was among the worst pass-protecting starting tackles in the NFL in 2010 and 2011 before missing last year due to injury. For what it is worth, Urban did indicate that Brown had a strong finish to the 2011 season.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown had a positive grade in pass protection in his final six games that season. It remains to be seen if that can carry over in his return.
This still has to be worrisome for a Cardinals offensive line that allowed 59 sacks last season. In addition, it isn't like Palmer is the most mobile of quarterbacks. The good news here is that he was sacked only 43 times over the past two seasons in Oakland. That's important to note because the Raiders didn't exactly have a great offensive line in front of him.
Linebacker Daryl Washington, perhaps Arizona's best overall defensive player, is also a major question mark heading into the season.
Washington, who is already suspended the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, might face an additional suspension for a recent arrest on aggravated assault charges, according to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. It remains to be seen how much, if at all, Washington will play this upcoming season.
For a team that was already showing cracks, this offseason hasn't exactly been the best for Arizona. It could be a long season in the desert.
New England Patriots
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There really isn't much of a need to discuss the whole Aaron Hernandez legal situation. (Read updated news as it relates to the homicide investigation here.)
Needless to say, Hernandez is in hot water and will be a huge question mark for the New England Patriots entering the 2013 season.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski may not be ready for the start of the regular season, either. As noted by Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Talk, Gronk underwent back surgery earlier this week, his fifth since November. Then NFL.com's Ian Rapoport confirmed that Gronkowski will be on the physically unable to perform list to start training camp.
This means that quarterback Tom Brady won't have his four top receiving targets from a season ago when he steps onto the field in Week 1.
Wes Welker left for the Denver Broncos in free agency this offseason, and New England released Brandon Lloyd back in March. If the season were to start today, an under-performing Michael Jenkins and injury-plagued Danny Amendola would be Brady's two starting receivers.
In addition, another injury concern is tight end Jake Ballard.
The former New York Giants tight end suffered a torn ACL in Super Bowl XLVI against these very same Patriots and missed the entire 2012 season. He was claimed off waivers by the Patriots last offseason, and they are hoping he will be ready to contribute in 2013.
This is the first time in over a decade that the Patriots will be entering training camp with so many questions on offense.
The good news here is that New England's defense appears to be taking shape. It has a bunch of solid young players on all tiers of the unit, and they might be ready to lead this team in 2013.
While we might be looking at a completely different Patriots team in 2013, there is no reason to believe that they cannot win the AFC East. It's just going to have to be with a different formula. This means the team will need to continue building a strong foundation in the running game and also step up a great deal on defense.
After all, Welker caught just 48 less passes than the Patriots' current crop of receivers combined last season.
It is time for the rest of the 53-man roster to step up.
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One thing Carson Palmer did bring to the quarterback position in Oakland was reliability. He might have been mediocre, but the Raiders knew what they were getting from him.
The same cannot be said heading into training camp this year.
General manager Reggie McKenzie traded Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason and then acquired Matt Flynn from the Seattle Seahawks. He basically swapped one over-the-hill veteran for another that has not been given a realistic shot to start in five NFL seasons.
At the time of these set of deals, it was assumed that Flynn was going to earn the starting job this season.
Yet McKenzie then went out there and drafted former Arkansas standout Tyler Wilson in the fourth round of April's draft. What initially seemed to be more of a project pick might now actually impact the Raiders in 2013.
This move doesn't even take into account the selection of Terrelle Pryor in the third round of the 2011 NFL supplemental draft.
The end result of all of this has been mediocrity and a lack of continuity.
Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times had the following to say about the performances of Oakland's quarterbacks earlier this month:
...In 19 years covering the NFL, today’s showing by Matt Flynn, Tyler Wilson, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin rates as one of the worst in memory.
Time and again, balls were batted at the line of scrimmage, thrown behind receivers, thrown over receivers, delivered too high or just plain off the mark.
Ouch. That's an honest and incriminating assessment of the Raiders' current situation at quarterback.
Unless one of these quarterbacks step up and proves to be starting-caliber, the Raiders are going to be in for a long season.
McKenzie cleaned house during the offseason, which has led to a major turnover on the defensive side of the ball. Furthermore, running back Darren McFadden has proven that he cannot stay healthy for a full season, and Oakland doesn't seem to have an in-house candidate to replace tight end Brandon Myers.
Without decent play at the quarterback position, Oakland has no shot at finishing outside of the cellar in the AFC West this season.
The good news here is that these quarterbacks have an entire training camp to get their act together.
New Orleans Saints
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Switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was already going to be a tricky proposition for the New Orleans Saints.
As first reported in a tweet by Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune, up-and-coming outside linebacker Victor Butler—whom the team signed as a free agent this offseason—tore his ACL earlier this month and will miss the entire 2013 season. This is a harsh blow to what was a historically weak Saints defense last season.
New Orleans was greatly relying on Butler to provide a solid pass-rushing threat from the outside linebacker position in 2013. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Butler was the ninth-best pass-rushing outside linebacker in the NFL this past season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Considering that the Saints racked up only 30 sacks last season, acquiring that type of pass-rushing ability was a necessity. This need was only magnified with the team's aforementioned switch to a 3-4 scheme this year.
Martez Wilson, Junior Galette and Will Smith will look to pick up the slack from the outside, but that trio combined for only 14 sacks last year. There is also no telling how Smith will translate to outside linebacker after playing his first nine NFL seasons at defensive end.
The Saints will need to produce a strong front seven this upcoming season if they want to mask a lackluster coverage unit in the secondary. Short of that happening, they aren't going to be much better than they were in 2012.
We already know that the Saints offense is in good hands with Drew Brees at quarterback. If he is able to cut down on the mistakes we saw last season, that side of the ball will not be an issue.
That being said, if the Saints defense is anywhere near as bad as it was last season, their 2013 squad doesn't stand to have a great shot in the ultra-competitive NFC South in 2013.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.
Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.