If there's a slow rumble building up in your head, it's probably the sound of cleats walking off the cement and onto the grass to signal the start of NFL training camps. While storylines will develop over the next few weeks, players and teams are dealing with issues already.
There's no offseason in the NFL, which makes it seem like years ago since the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl but also provides constant entertainment and news to fans around the world. This allows us the opportunity to talk about the news, figuring out what it means for the immediate future.
That's what we are going to do for you. Instead of just telling you what is happening, we have thoughts on the latest buzz from around the NFL as training camps get underway around the country.
Andre Johnson's Holdout Over?
One of the most surprising stories of the offseason was Andre Johnson's unhappiness with the Houston Texans. Here's a player who has never been a vocal critic of his team and is signed to a massive contract through 2017.
It turns out a 2-14 season and turnover at the quarterback position was enough to set Johnson off. He held out of the Texan's minicamp and openly wondered if Houston was still the right place for him to be.
Now, with Houston's veterans due to report for training camp on Friday, ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli reported the former All-Pro receiver could end his holdout soon:
The seven-time Pro Bowl receiver arrived at the Texans' facility to learn the team's new offense on Monday, sources told ESPN.com.
It's unclear whether Johnson will report to training camp with the other veterans on Friday, but his appearance at the facility was a positive development.
Johnson's problems with the Texans undoubtedly stem from their drastic fall from grace last season, only one year after making the playoffs each of the previous two seasons.
Now, though, Houston needs Johnson more than ever. He's got a huge salary that hurts the franchise's ability to make moves, but even with awful quarterback play last year, the 11-year veteran had 109 receptions for 1,407 yards.
New head coach Bill O'Brien has a track record of success with quarterbacks, though he's working with a weak group that includes journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, the undrafted Case Keenum and rookie fourth-round pick Tom Savage.
You can't blame Johnson for looking at that group and wondering where the production will come from. He had little leverage in this holdout to generate a trade, because teams aren't able to trade for receivers over the age of 30 who are due a ton of money.
It's in the best interest of both parties to make peace in order to make this transition phase much shorter than the last one, which took 10 years to produce a postseason game.
NaVorro Bowman Out Longer than Expected?
No franchise in the NFL is better positioned to withstand an absence at the linebacker position than the San Francisco 49ers. That's good news, since the team will likely be without NaVorro Bowman for longer than the mandatory six weeks when he goes on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list.
According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Bowman will likely be returning on Week 9 against St. Louis:
NaVorro Bowman (ACL recovery) is expected to go on the physically-unable-to-perform list when he reports to camp this week. The smart money on his return is after the team’s Week 8 bye. One of Bowman’s understudies, veteran Michael Wilhoite, doesn’t have a lot of experience. He’s played in 21 games, starting two, since he was an undrafted rookie from Washburn in 2011.
The 49ers have set themselves up well to survive in Bowman's absence. Having Patrick Willis as the other inside linebacker certainly doesn't hurt, but rookie Chris Borland is a playmaking machine, Nick Moody is a speed demon, and Dan Skuta is listed as an outside linebacker but played well in the NFC Championship game after Bowman got hurt.
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One thing the 49ers can't replicate if Bowman is out for half the season is versatility. He's outstanding against the run, pass and getting after the quarterback. Those replacements have some of the same singular qualities, but the total package is missing.
Making this story even more interesting is what it does for Willis. The 49ers haven't asked him to rush the passer since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011, as evidenced by the 5.5 sacks he's had the last three years, but it's something he has done in the past after recording 15 sacks in his first four seasons.
The 49ers don't use a lot of blitz packages, but they will have to adjust who they are sending when Vic Fangio calls for extra pass-rushers.
Jairus Byrd Progressing Well
The New Orleans Saints gave Jairus Byrd a lot of money to anchor their secondary, so you could hear the front office go into full-blown panic when he had back surgery at the end of May.
However, there's some good news on that front, as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett reported that Byrd's recovery is on point:
New Orleans Saints safety Jairus Byrd's recovery from back surgery has gone as expected this summer, according to a league source. Byrd is expected to be healthy enough to participate in training camp, though it’s unknown if he will be limited when the Saints begin practicing Friday at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
The Saints had the No. 2 pass defense by yards allowed last season, trailing only Seattle. However, they were middle-of-the-pack in opponent completion percentage (60, 15th overall) and near the bottom of the league in passes defended (23, 23rd overall) and interceptions (12, tied for 24th).
Byrd is the definition of a center fielder at safety. He's registered at least three interceptions in four of his first five seasons and had over 50 tackles each year from 2010-12.
The Saints need to get more physical on defense to keep up with teams like Seattle and San Francisco, so it was easy to justify the $54 million he will make over the next six years, especially if it keeps their contention window open during the Drew Brees era.
They are still behind those top two teams in the NFC West, but the rest of the conference is wide-open for anyone to swoop in. Among teams in the NFC South, Carolina is trying to break in a new receiving corps, Atlanta has an exciting offense but little defense and will miss Tony Gonzalez, and Tampa Bay is putting its hopes on career backup quarterback Josh McCown.
At the very least, the Saints should be able to recapture the division title for the first time since 2011.
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