1 Storyline to Keep an Eye on for Each NFL Team During OTAs

Ryan Riddle@@Ryan_RiddleCorrespondent IJune 18, 2014

1 Storyline to Keep an Eye on for Each NFL Team During OTAs

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    There’s no doubt that OTAs and minicamps are the most exhaustively optimistic time of year in the NFL. With that being the case, it’s not always easy to read between the lines of positivity so as to sink your teeth into something substantial.

    Without pads or hitting, the things we learn from OTAs could all be an illusion, but sometimes the signs and previews are accurate forecasts of what’s to come.

    Here are the storylines to keep track of during this year’s OTAs.

Buffalo Bills

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    The search for a new owner continues in the wake of Ralph Wilson’s passing back in late March. At the same time, the hope for a franchise quarterback hinges on the arm of an unproven first-rounder, EJ Manuel—who enters his second season.

    Ownerless and without an established quarterback, the Bills are looking for a new identity. But what we have learned during these productive offseason months is that there is no shortage of talent on either side of the ball throughout this roster.

    How talented are these new-look Buffalo Bills?

    Talented enough for the veteran linebacker Brandon Spikes to say, “I think we're gonna shock the world this season."

    Sure, talk is cheap this time of year, but keep in mind that Spikes spent his first five years on the New England Patriots, a team known for its consistency, talented rosters and competitiveness year in and year out.

Miami Dolphins

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    The Dolphins will have a different look this year. We can expect an exciting, fast-paced offense with a lot of the elements borrowed from Chip Kelly’s system in Philadelphia.

    New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s offense has been spreading the field and moving players around a lot this offseason. Lazor spent last season as the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, where Eagles QB Nick Foles emerged with a breakout year.

    But one thing we’ve learned in Miami is that Ryan Tannehill is no longer a young, inexperienced rookie. Tannehill is entering his third year as the starting quarterback of the Dolphins and is taking charge of his team in ways he hasn’t done in the past.

    With the early success of other young QBs like Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, Tannehill is facing a lot more pressure to take his game to the next level in 2014.

    Per ESPN.com's James Walker, Tannehill was quoted as saying “I think now I’m more apt to step up and say something, make a statement. That’s part of playing the QB position. Now I feel more comfortable. I have the respect of my teammates around me and I can do that.” 

    The emergence of a real leader in Miami sounds like a refreshing concept for a team that's become notorious for its bullying problem.

New England Patriots

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    The linebacker crew has been reshuffled, and it looks like the Patriots intend on taking advantage of the versatility at the linebacker spots.

    Second-year player Jamie Collins showed flashes of dominance toward the end of last season, and Dont’a Hightower is another guy who can be used a variety of ways. This defense has looked a lot more aggressive inserting its linebackers into the pass rush according to Andy Hart on Patriots.com. Both Collins and Hightower are each highly-effective pass-rushers.

    If the OTAs are any indication, we can expect a very active front seven that plans to fully take advantage of their personnel.

    Vince Wilfork looks to be back to his old self again after a season of injury. Dominique Easley could end up being one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the 2014 draft class if he can recover in time from his knee injury that sidelined him much of last season. The Patriots also added established veteran defensive end Will Smith to aid in setting an edge and rushing from the outside.

    One thing we can count on, teams will not be able to run against this Patriot defense like they did in 2013.

New York Jets

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    There’s a bit of bad news for all of the Jets fans counting on Michael Vick to resurrect the team by carrying them to a Super Bowl with his legs. Apparently Vick has not looked impressive out there this offseason and, at the age of 33, his most valued asset may be nearly tapped out. According to Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post, Vick looked like time and injuries have finally taken their toll on his super-human abilities.

    Without Vick’s uncanny playmaking ability with his legs, there’s little chance the Jets can expect him to stand in the pocket and pick defenses apart with his poise and decision-making.

    Sure Vick still has value as a backup who can come in for spot duty and can perhaps be asked to win a game or two if called upon, but the idea of him sustaining a high level of play while staying healthy for 16 games is simply unreasonable at this point.

    With that said, it looks like this team will have to sink or swim on the back of its defense and hope that Geno Smith can take that next step in his development. To aid that cause, Jets general manager John Idzik brought in receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson via free agency and drafted the highly-productive tight end, Jace Amaro, in the second round.

Baltimore Ravens

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    The cornerstone of the Ravens defense has been Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs for quite some time. Both players have looked healthy and seem to be in excellent shape this offseason.

    Ngata said, in a post-practice press conference, that he feels much better this offseason than he did last year when he was coming off an injury sustained in the Super Bowl. In that same video, head coach John Harbaugh said Ngata told him this was the healthiest he has ever felt during an offseason.

    When asked who stood out the most in minicamp, Harbaugh quickly mentioned Pro Bowler Suggs. He said it was clear from his body mass index numbers that Suggs has been working hard this offseason.

    Judging by the video, Suggs does appear to be in amazing shape.

    Expectations this year should be high for both Suggs and Ngata. They are the leaders and the backbone of a defense loaded with depth in the front seven. 

Cincinnatti Bengals

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    The idea of building the roster and developing players through the draft is an understandable strategy, but over the years, the Bengals have established a roster that can really make a push for a Super Bowl in 2014.

    So what’s the problem, you ask?

    The Bengals had a rare opportunity this offseason to take advantage of extra cap space and be more aggressive in the free-agent market, especially considering they have about $24 million in cap space still available to play with, according to Spotrac, and are only a few pieces away from overpowering teams like the Broncos and Patriots.

    If there were no players they think could have helped tip the scale in their favor, they could’ve re-signed guys like offensive tackle Anthony Collins or maybe defensive end Michael Johnson.

    Imagine if they would have made a run for Darrelle Revis, Jared Allen and/or Julius Peppers?

    Signing a safety like T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner or Jairus Byrd could be the difference between a playoff appearance and a real shot at a Super Bowl ring.

Cleveland Browns

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Johnny Manziel has a long way to go, but if he can learn fast, a starting spot is not out of the question this year.

    Brian Hoyer is currently considered the starting quarterback, according to head coach Mike Pettine, but he also indicated that both quarterbacks will be given a fair opportunity to compete for the starting job.

    As of right now, Manziel is considered to be quite a ways behind Hoyer in making reads and getting the ball out quickly, which is normal for a rookie quarterback. However, coach Pettine also added that the lead is by no means insurmountable.

    If history is any indicator, the chances are high that Manziel does start at some point during his rookie year—the question now becomes when, rather than if. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    In a much-needed push to bolster an aging roster and return to their once-dominating ways, the Steelers opted for players who were either incredibly large or possessed unique speed.

    During offseason workouts, these features were on full display.

    First-round selection Ryan Shazier is one of the fastest linebackers in this draft, while running back Dri Archer had the fastest 40 time (4.26) at the NFL Scouting Combine this year, according to NFL.com.

    On the size tip, the Steelers added defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Daniel McClullers. Tuitt stands 6’5”, 304 pounds, while McClullers measures in at a whopping 6’7”, 352 pounds.

    The strategy on both sides of the ball seem to be: win the battle up front with brute strength while outrunning opponents in the second level and from the flanks. This is exactly what they need to do to get back to the Super Bowl-caliber level they were at not that long ago.

Houston Texans

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Ryan Fitzpatrick is apparently the quarterback who gives this Texans team the best chance to win right now. New head coach Bill O’Brien has named Fitzpatrick the starting quarterback heading into training camp.

    Fitzpatrick beat out Case Keenum, T.J. Yates (whom the Atlanta Falcons announced on Twitter they had swung a trade for) and rookie Tom Savage for the starting job. Fitzpatrick certainly has the most experience. This could end up being the fifth franchise that Fitzpatrick has started for in his NFL career.

    A guy who bounces around this much generally has some serious weaknesses as a quarterback. Hopefully for Texans fans, Coach O’Brien is able to get the most out of his signal caller. Last year Fitzpatrick played well under the circumstances in Tennessee, but his limited arm strength and inconsistent decision making has derailed his career.  

    If he struggles early, we could see Savage. According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the coaches have liked what they've seen from Savage so far. 

Indianapolis Colts

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Indianapolis Colts had a productive offseason, bringing in guys like wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. One area they seemed to ignore, though, was the secondary.

    The Colts have come a long way since hiring Chuck Pagano as their head coach, making it to the playoffs both years he's been there, but they haven't gotten back to Super Bowl contention just yet.

    One thing we can count on is that the Colts offense in 2014 will be even more cohesive. This applies from the running game on up to Andrew Luck having more control at the line of scrimmage.

    Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is entering his second year as the play-caller and he's hoping to build on the progress they made from a year ago.

    With a healthy group of weapons and some exciting new additions, expect to see big things from the Colts in 2014.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    For a young team in transition like the Jaguars, positive leadership from a veteran can go a long way. Tight end Marcedes Lewis is the second-longest tenured player on the roster and has been leading by example during OTAs.

    According to head coach Gus Bradley, Lewis has done a fantastic job being able to prioritize a busy offseason while managing to not only show up to every practice, but also excel while doing so.

    “I will say this, one thing that I’m really fired up about is Marcedes Lewis,” Bradley said in an article by Tim Bee at WOKV.com. 

    In Lewis' eight-year career, he has only had five touchdowns or more in one season. A big year for Lewis could be just what this young offense needs, especially if rookie quarterback Blake Bortles ends up starting this season. 

Tennessee Titans

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The players seem to be adjusting well to the new schemes being implemented on both sides of the ball.

    As the case with all coaching changes, teams and players are forced to learn and get comfortable with an entirely new set of rules and emphasis. This can take a long adjustment period and usually runs into the regular season and beyond.

    Defensively, the Titans are making a major shift from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 front. This can be a huge adjustment for players who are asked to completely redefine their assignments. 

    So, consider it good news to hear that the Titans are feeling a lot better about the system and plays after finishing OTAs.

    As per Craig Peters of the Titans’ official website, head coach Ken Whisenhunt likes what he sees so far.

    Cornerback Jason McCourty agrees, adding:

    I feel like Xs and Os are going to come. We’re learning a new offense and defense and we’re definitely moving forward in that, but I think the most important thing we’ve been able to develop is just our bond together as a team. To see guys out there during these practices, standing up for each other and wanting to better one another is going to pay huge dividends for us in the future.

Denver Broncos

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    GM John Elway understands this is probably Peyton Manning’s last chance at a Super Bowl. And so, Elway’s intention this offseason has been clear—help Manning finish off his career with a bang.

    Denver has become extremely aggressive in free agency, bringing in high-profile stars to help create the most talented team in football, or at least on paper.

    This offseason the Broncos went on a spending spree of epic proportions, adding players like wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

    If they can just figure out who their starting left tackle will be, it’ll be hell for opponents as they try to find any kinks in the Broncos’ armor. 

Kansas City Chiefs

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    What are the Chiefs trying to accomplish with their personnel decisions this offseason?

    If they have a strategic plan to improve their roster for the 2015 season I sure as heck don’t understand it. By all accounts it seems as though Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey are weakening the depth and talent across the board.

    Their offensive line has been purged by free agency, they failed to add any veteran assistance to better help them compete against the Broncos and the Patriots and they just released the best cornerback on their team.

    Maybe in some odd way this team has gotten better, but if they did, it will be a lot of fun seeing how and where.

Oakland Raiders

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    Derek Carr is not going to accept a backup role without a fight.

    Both GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen have expressed numerous times that this season they plan on riding the experienced arm of veteran QB Matt Schaub. However, Carr might be looking impressive enough to warrant a change in plans. According to NFL.com’s Chris Wesserling:

    Although Schaub continues to take the bulk of the first-team practice reps, NFL Media’s Albert Breer reports there is now internal belief that the veteran will be pushed by Carr.

    Carr already has convinced the Raiders’ brass that he won’t need a redshirt season, per Breer.

    If Schaub doesn’t perform at a much higher level in training camp and preseason action than he has in his past 20 games, don’t be surprised if coach Dennis Allen gives Carr the shoulder tap as early as September or October.

    Don't be surprised if you see Carr end up starting for Oakland at some point this season. Nobody thought Terrelle Pryor had any chance of being the opening day starter in 2013, yet that unlikely feat came to fruition.

    Whether Carr ends up starting or not, we can say that he looks prepared for the NFL more so than most rookies and has the talent and ambition to give Schaub a legitimate run for his money.

San Diego Chargers

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    The most interesting element to the Chargers' offseason so far has been the degree of silence and inactivity.

    So what exactly did we learn from this? We certainly learned that GM Tom Telesco must really like his roster as is.

    Several guys will be returning from injuries in 2013, which forced them to miss some or most of the season last year—guys like outside linebacker Melvin Ingram and Malcom Floyd.

    This could be considered an upgrade if you want to look at it that way.

    Surprisingly, the Chargers didn’t really add or subtract any free agents this offseason, other than signing running back Donald Brown, opting instead for the return of veterans like Dwight Freeney (who was injured in training camp last year) and Floyd.

    Sometimes less is more, but not when you’re in a division with the powerhouse Denver Broncos. The more subtle approach is not likely to close the gap on the elite teams until much later down the line. 

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Cowboys are cursed with bad luck. Even without the pads on, this team has struggled to stay healthy. There most recent victim of the curse is star linebacker Sean Lee. Lee injured his knee during OTAs and has already undergone season-ending surgery.

    But what we really learned about the Cowboys during OTAs is that Kyle Orton is not a quarterback they should ever be relying on if they intend on making a postseason appearance. So, Tony Romo better stay healthy.

    Apparently Orton wasn't at Valley Ranch on Tuesday for the first day of the team’s mandatory three-day mini-camp.

    Realistically, though, if the Cowboys end up needing Orton at any point, they can pretty much kiss their chances goodbye. In nine years in the league, Orton has a career passer rating of 79.9 and has only completed 58.5 percent of his passes.

New York Giants

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    Former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
    Former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Giants finished the season 28th in the league in offense and averaged just 18.4 points per game. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride announced he was retiring after a 39-year career and after serving seven seasons in the position and winning two Super Bowl titles.

    The timing is either curious or impeccable, considering Giants co-owner John Mara called the offense "broken" after this 7-9 season and Gilbride’s job security was certainly up for discussion.

    Ben McAdoo, who replaced Gilbride, plans to marry the best of the Packers’ West Coast offense with the Giants’ game plan. He echoed Tom Coughlin’s offensive beliefs—fundamentals, ball security, discipline and poise.

    McAdoo, 36, spent the past eight seasons with the Packers. He was the team’s tight ends coach for the first six seasons before becoming the quarterbacks coach the past two.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The Eagles have no regrets about drafting wide receiver Jordan Matthews as the rookie has made a quick impression this offseason.

    Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com took to Twitter to comment about the Eagles’ exciting new weapon: “Jordan Matthews has looked like the best WR on the team, in my opinion, and it hasn’t been close.”

    That is high praise for a rookie who has yet to strap on pads as a pro.

    Jeremy Maclin, before his ACL tear, was always a solid receiver for the Eagles. Riley Cooper is coming off his only impressive season so far, but it was an impressive season nonetheless. Can Matthews take the No. 2 spot away from Cooper?

    With DeSean Jackson now in the nation’s capital, Matthews is expected to be a valuable contributor to this offense.

Washington Redskins

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Robert Griffin III will have his mobility back, but we have yet to see what type of complete quarterback he can be.

    The success of the Washington Redskins will depend a lot on what type of output they can get from RG3. Now more than a full season removed from his knee surgery, Griffin can finally take the knee brace off while practicing.

    Expectations for the young QB in 2014 remain a mystery as new head coach Jay Gruden brings with him an entirely new system.

    RG3 rushed for just 489 yards last season, down from 815 his rookie year. Obviously much of that depreciation had to do with injury, but Gruden seems steadfast in his plan to find the right balance with RG3 running the ball:

    Gruden told TheMMQB.com's Peter King:

    I worked with Andy Dalton for three years in Cincinnati, and built a foundation of concepts and protections that I think worked well with him. With Robert, we'll obviously use his skill set differently. When it comes to the quarterback position, my job is to make him comfortable and productive. I would be foolish to try to turn RGIII into a pocket passer. The way he is as a runner, we have to take advantage of that. He strikes fear into defensive coordinators when he runs outside. I'm going to let him be himself.

Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Head coach Marc Trestman is excited about the depth at all levels of this roster. “The competition is deep,” as he puts it in a press conference.

    According to Trestman, trying to put together the top 46 players on the roster right now would be nearly impossible and he said that there’s a long way to go before true separation can be made on the depth chart.

    An examination of the team’s roster does seem to suggest they’re loaded with promising young talent behind established veterans and high-round draft picks. Veteran sack master Jared Allen and versatile defensive lineman Lamarr Houston were both good additions.

    Shea McClellin will be transitioning from a defensive end to a strongside linebacker, where coaches hope his skills will translate more. Behind him is second-year player—and one of the more promising linebackers from that draft class—Khaseem Greene.

    Look for rookie Will Sutton to push for playing time at the interior defensive line position. The starters there are Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea.

    With so much depth, the Bears should make for one of the most interesting teams to watch this preseason.

Detroit Lions

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Expect a faster offense in Detroit, one that spreads the ball around even more than the Lions have already done.  

    Caldwell told local media members back in May that the offense will be different schematically but continue to up-tempo, via The Detroit News. A major difference will be that quarterback Matthew Stafford has even more targets to throw to with the additions of Golden Tate and rookie tight end Eric Ebron.

    If the Lions end up playing a lot of up-tempo (maybe even no-huddle) offense with two tight ends, both Calvin Johnson and the offense in general should benefit. The addition of Ebron and Tate gives Stafford options at the line of scrimmage and will limit substitution packages by the defense. Ebron can be an on-the-line tight end and a big receiver (6'4", 250 lbs), which will put some stress on defenses.

    It’s unlikely Johnson will see some of the bracketing and triple coverage he has in the past with Ebron in the slot or on the line on his side and Tate on the other side. If he does, defenses will pay for it.

Green Bay Packers

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    With the 98th pick in the 2014 draft, the Packers addressed an obvious need when they scooped up former California tight end Richard Rodgers. This was a wise choice from a positional standpoint considering the Packers will no longer rely on the services of Jermichael Finley. Finley is currently an unrestricted free agent who is looking to sign with a team after he was medically cleared by his own doctor to return to action.

    Despite the lack of production and consistency at Cal, Rodgers has been proving doubters wrong early with impressive displays of size and athleticism during OTAs.

    Packers coach Mike McCarthy was one of the many pleased with what he's seen thus far.

    “I just think he's a natural in space," McCarthy said, via Leslie Spoon of WeAreGreenBay.com. "But as far as all the movement, playing in space, picking up the scheme, I think Richard's off to a very good start."

    If Rodgers keeps impressing the right people, he could push Andrew Quarless out of a starting job—a move many think would be a welcomed upgrade.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    New head coach Mike Zimmer is handling the QB competition the right way. In a post-practice press conference, Zimmer was adamant about the quarterback competition being wide open. He even refused to acknowledge a favorite at this point in the process.

    Many coaches feel that stretching out a QB battle can be detrimental to the organization because it takes away from reps that would normally go to a clear-cut starter.

    Zimmer’s philosophy on this is that there is plenty of time and opportunity for the eventual starter to get reps and it’s far more important to make the right decision at QB rather than the quick one.

    This is an underrated strategy that more teams should adopt.

    Prioritizing fierce competition can be far more beneficial than some extra practice reps.

Atlanta Falcons

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    The Falcons pass-rush situation doesn't appear to be as improved as fans would have hoped.

    Atlanta will now look to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks from their new 3-4 defensive front. Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi and Osi Umenyiora will be the main contributors on the outside. Biermann is a solid player coming off an injury, and Massaquoi is a younger player with decent potential. I liked his film coming out of college a few years ago.

    Umenyiora is in the twilight of a productive career but lacks experience standing up from a linebacker position. Expectations for Umenyiora need to be realistic. His main value will come as a situational pass-rusher with a knack for stripping the ball while providing depth.  

    Free-agent defensive linemen Tyson Jackson will help some inside but not by way of pressure on the QB. He only has nine total sacks in five seasons.

    There doesn’t appear to be a player on the roster who can rack up double-digit sacks next season, but Massaquoi and Biermann provide some hope.

Carolina Panthers

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    The Panthers have not made Cam Newton’s job any easier this offseason. Sure, adding another capable pass-catching tight end in Ed Dickson could benefit the receiving options in two-tight end formations. After that, though, this team completely purged its receiving corps and failed to instill any confidence that it improved that unit.

    Surprisingly, the Panthers elected to bypass a big-name free agent to play receiver in favor of a group of guys generally utilized only for depth.

    Kelvin Benjamin was drafted early and should be expected to contribute right away when you consider their lack of options. Benjamin was notorious for being a slow starter during his college career at Florida State and has never established himself as a go-to-type guy.

    Jerricho Cotchery is a guy with experience, but to asking him to start at this point in his career is not a good sign. Jason Avant is another guy the Panthers brought in hoping to help Newton and he is one of the quicker receivers on the team. He should be a guy Newton looks for often as he tries to adapt to his new weapons.

    Unfortunately, this is not a group of guys who can really push Newton to taking the next step in his evolution as a dominant pocket passer.

New Orleans Saints

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    Tight End Jimmy Graham and the Saints are not fostering a harmonious long-term relationship with the ongoing dispute over his franchise tag designation.

    Graham and the NFL have now entered arbitration to decide whether the receiver should be franchised as tight end or a receiver.

    Regardless of how this pans out, the relationship between the Saints and their star tight end (yes, I will continue to call him a tight end) could be fracturing.

    We've seen similar issues arise between a player and an organization over finances numerous times throughout the years. Darrelle Revis, for example, likely would still be a Jet if their relationship hadn’t been strained by numerous contract disputes.

    Although contract negotiations are an unavoidable part of the business, they still can cause spiteful feelings to both parties if the process is not done carefully.

    Obviously the Saints would like to get a long-term deal done with Graham, but if the price doesn’t make sense, we could see this walking mismatch wearing different colors in the coming years.  

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    New offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will likely divide the workload in the backfield. Tedford is a firm believer that a backfield should be diverse, and it’s the duty of the play-caller to both understand and utilize the strengths of each running back on the roster.

    While head coach at Cal, Tedford did an excellent job of establishing a balanced attack between the run and pass by developing blocking schemes that helped keep defenses off balance.

    Tedford must be licking his chops looking at the talent in Tampa Bay's backfield. Doug Martin returns from injury to assume the starting role, while Bobby Rainey, Mike James and rookie Charles Sims will all compete for touches.

    However, one guaranteed way not to get more carries in a Tedford offense is to fumble the ball. There are few things this coach hates more than putting the ball on the ground.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    In Year 2 of Bruce Arians' offense, we should expect to see the Cardinals taking their game to the next level.

    Last year the focus was about fixing leaks on the offensive line to protect their aging veteran at quarterback. Over the last two years, this offensive line has seen numerous upgrades and is no longer considered the laughing stock of the league.

    With that said, the right side of the line is still undecided. Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell continue to battle for the right tackle spot, while Earl Watford should ultimately win over the right guard spot. He showed a ton of promise his rookie year in 2013.

    But what Cardinals fans really get to look forward to seeing is a more confident quarterback—expected to be veteran Carson Palmer—who understands the offense better and can now trust in his blockers. One of the most promising aspects of this team is the talented group of pass-catchers the Cards have stockpiled over the years. Receiver Michael Floyd is poised for a breakout year and Larry Fitzgerald should benefit from the added attention to the other side of the field.

    We already knew the Cardinals have a good defense, but now we can expect the other side of the ball to contribute a lot more in 2014.

St. Louis Rams

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    Running back Isaiah Pead has been a disappointment in his first few years with the Rams. With the emergence of Zac Stacy and the drafting of Tre Mason in the third round, most fans expect Pead to be either a non-factor or completely buried in the depth chart.

    But according to special teams coach John Fassel (h/t ESPN.com), Pead has found a place on the roster where he is able to not only contribute, but shine. Fassel claims that Pead really bought into his role on special teams and believes we’re going to see a guy who will excel this preseason at running back when given the opportunity.

    The coach showered praise Pead’s way and considers him to be one of the hardest-working guys on the team.

    One possible area we could see his role expand is as a kick returner.

    If Pead does catch on as a viable contributor in the running game, this team is going to have to make some tough decisions about who stays and who goes.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    As if things were not bad enough for the 49ers secondary, the lack of depth was exasperated with the unexpected retirement of veteran cornerback Eric Wright.

    The projected starters at cornerback as it stands right now are Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock. Culliver is coming off knee surgery and missed the 2013 season. He also faces possible suspension by the league after being arrested and booked on four separate charges related to a hit-and-run incident in San Jose.

    If Culliver does get punished by the league, which would be a surprise if he didn't, the available corners on the roster will get even more thinned out.

    Last year’s starters, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, have both moved on to other teams, leaving Darryl Morris and Perrish Cox. Morris is an undrafted guy who spent some time on the 49ers practice squad last year. He is going to be relied on for depth and to contribute, although his talents would normally just equate to a camp body that would be cut by September.

    Perhaps the 49ers can bring in a guy like Brandon Flowers, who was recently released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Without adding anymore help, this weakness could cost the team dearly in the most competitive division in football.  

Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Seahawks are getting ready for life without Marshawn Lynch. This offense is going to be a lot faster. But with Lynch showing up to minicamp, it looks as though we can count on Lynch returning for the 2014 season.

    However, the Seahawks still plan to utilize a more balanced workload in the running game.

    According to Terry Blount of ESPN.com, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the Seahawks will be "running back by committee" this fall.

    The team is especially excited to give more opportunities to Christine Michael, their second-round pick from a year ago. Michael is one of the most gifted athletes to enter the NFL in the last three years.

    Using a metric that grades every physical tool a player brings to the table, Michael ranked third overall when combining the last draft classes.

    He has a rare combination of speed, power and explosiveness and is expected to be one of the more dominant young runners in the league pretty soon.

    This does not bode well for Lynch’s desire to get a pay increase.

    The writing appears to be on the wall: Beastmode is probably playing his final year as a Seahawk. The team has made all the moves needed to prepare for life without him.

    Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who writes for Bleacher Report. 

    Follow him on Twitter or visit DraftMetric.com