Preseason is the stage for NFL franchises to answer the biggest questions facing their respective organizations. Some matters are more pressing than others each year and 2013 is no different.
This offseason has created several key storylines that stand out as we head into the new season. Quarterback competitions will always reign supreme, so we'll take a look at the five currently underway throughout the league.
Then there's the aftermath of the offseason the New England Patriots would like to forget. How will their offense look and perform after all of the changes it has gone through?
Lastly, Sean Payton has been reinstated and will lead the New Orleans Saints this year. Are they automatically contenders again with him back in the saddle?
Let's take a look.
What Will the 2013 New England Patriots Offense Look Like?
The new-look Baltimore Ravens defense is certainly dealing with some turnover this offseason. But there is a team unit on the other side of the ball that will look drastically different in 2013 than any other ground around the league: New England’s offense.
Tom Brady has proven to be capable of succeeding with just about anyone lined up on the line of scrimmage; literally, anyone.
But how will the aging quarterback fair without his top three targets from the last couple of seasons? Not only are Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker gone, but Rob Gronkowski could miss some time. He’s currently on the PUP list and might be ready for Week 1, but nobody knows for sure. It’s probably not wise to rely on him staying healthy for a full season either.
Of the 11 wide receivers on the Patriots roster, only Julian Edelman caught a pass for the team last season. Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are promising rookies, but they may need time before they’re ready to produce in the NFL.
Then there’s Danny Amendola, the team’s biggest offseason signing. Amendola has played a full season just once in his four-year career, missing five games last season due to injuries. The term "injury prone" is often associated with the new Pats receiver.
There are endless ways this offense might perform. If history has taught us anything, though, it’s that Bill Belichick and Brady will find a way to make it work.
Much of the team’s success, at least early on, is going to have to come from their ground game. If the Pats can run the football, Brady and Belichick might be able to make do with what they have. Either way, it’s definitely something to monitor.
Quarterback Competitions Around the League
What’s a good offseason without a quarterback competition to keep a fanbase on edge until the last possible moment?
Signal-callers are the most critical position on an offense, so there’s no hiding the massive interest these battles will draw during the preseason.
Cleveland was supposed to have a quarterback competition between veteran Jason Campbell and 29-year-old sophomore QB Brandon Weeden. That hasn’t happened as Weeden has taken all of the first-team snaps to this point in training camp.
One state over, new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is mulling the merits of inserting Michael Vick back into his starting role after missing much of 2012 due to injury. CSN Philadelphia’s Geoff Mosher doesn’t know who is going to win the competition but believes he knows what will happen to the loser:
Interesting prediction/report from @GeoffMosherCSN on PFT Live: Loser of the Vick-Foles competition won't be on the team Week One.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 29, 2013
It looks like Vick could be pulling ahead too. He's starting to receive more snaps at camp, especially with the first team, according to CSN Philadelphia's John Gonzalez.
Then there’s the New York Jets. Other than the Browns, there hasn’t been a team with a more tumultuous quarterback situation than Gang Green. This year might not be much better no matter who is behind center. Mark Sanchez has failed to live up to his No. 5 draft selection and could easily be relegated to backup duties this season. Geno Smith has looked good to this point and is gaining momentum to seize the job.
Buffalo is also fielding a competition, but it’s between two brand new players on its roster. First-round pick EJ Manuel is dueling Kevin Kolb to fill the void left when the team cut Ryan Fitzpatrick during the offseason. Bills general manager Doug Whaley recently labeled Manuel as the “face of” the Buffalo Bills, according to NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling. That shining endorsement may not be the nail in the coffin for Kolb, but the fat lady is practicing her vocals.
In Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert has been sidelined recently, losing reps to backup Chad Henne. That was temporary, though, as he was back and looking sharp this week, according to Jaguars.com writer John Oehser:
Hard to call Gabbert "limited" in any capacity today -- is pretty much back in the rotation— John Oehser (@JohnOehser) August 2, 2013
The final competition is out West and is a three-way race for the head job of the Oakland Raiders. Terrelle Pryor and rookie Tyler Wilson are challenging free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn for the starting nod. Last season, Flynn was signed by the Seattle Seahawks to run their offense but was beat out in training camp by rookie Russell Wilson.
Pryor recently admitted he’d never learned how to properly throw a football before this summer and Wilson is losing repetitions to undrafted free agent Matt McGloin, according to San Francisco Chronicle writer Vic Tafur. It looks like Flynn may finally get his shot to lead a franchise.
Life after Bountygate: Sean Payton’s Impact on Saints
Remove nearly any individual positional player and a defense still functions to near top form. Remove an inspiring and brilliant head coach like Sean Payton and a team flounders helplessly through a 16-game NFL season.
That’s what happened for much of 2012 in New Orleans while Payton served a full-season suspension for his alleged actions, or lack thereof, during the team’s bounty scandal that rocked the league last summer.
Finishing second in total offense wasn’t a total failure for the supremely talented Drew Brees-led offense. But the team’s historically poor defensive showing will go down as one of the worst performances in NFL history. Historically and statistically, it was. New Orleans D became the first unit to surrender over 7,000 yards of total offense in a season.
With their coach back on the field and calling the plays, according to Payton in an interview with Gary Estwick of the Sun Herald, the Saints should be considered contenders once again.
It’s hard to improve on an offense that was as successful as the 2012 Saints unit. But this year with Payton back in the saddle, it might just be good enough to counteract the shortcomings of the team’s defense.
After all, they can't be as monumentally awful as they were last year. Right?