As teams begin filing into training camp, the one thing that makes it all worthwhile is the optimism surrounding all the players and coaches. No one denies this is a long grind, but being able to hold the Lombardi Trophy is the ultimate goal.
However, not all training camp stories are positive. Teams are going to carry themselves with optimism, but the reality of the NFL is this time of year also leads to injuries and contract disputes.
Some of the injuries are carried over from last season or minicamps in June. Contract disputes can get ugly when the media gets involved, but we've seen a number of cases that were resolved quickly and without incident.
As we devour all the news and rumors coming from the NFL, these are the stories that have us buzzing.
Raiders Defense Starting Behind The Eight Ball
The Oakland Raiders spent a lot of the offseason trying to patch together a defense with several short-term contracts to veteran players like Carlos Rogers, Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Tarell Brown and Charles Woodson.
While the unit may be better in 2014 than it has been in recent years, John Middlekauff of 95.7 The Game in San Francisco reports cornerback DJ Hayden could start training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Depending on your perspective, Hayden's absence might not be a bad thing. The sixth thing that comes up when you type his name into Google is "DJ Hayden bust."
However, it's important to remember he's just starting his second year. It was a surprise when Oakland took him 12th overall in the 2013 draft, but Mike Mayock of NFL.com had the University of Houston product as the 14th-best player in the class.
The Raiders are going to be better this season because of the strong veteran leaders they added, but this still isn't a playoff team. The development of players like Hayden is still crucial to the future success of the franchise.
As long as Hayden doesn't miss substantial time in camp and is ready to play the season opener against the New York Jets, this current injury isn't a big deal.
It's not like Hayden can't handle this current situation, given everything he had to overcome just to get to the NFL.
One 49ers Holdout Ends, Another Will Continue
One thing you can't say about the 49ers offseason is it was boring. Between all the drama trying to figure out whether head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke got along to Aldon Smith's saga to Colin Kaepernick's contract extension, it's been one new thing after another.
The latest development is a good news, bad-but-not-unexpected news situation. The good news, which came courtesy of teammate CJ Spillman on Instagram, saw Vernon Davis end his holdout:
The bad news is offensive lineman Alex Boone, who has held out of all team activities looking for a new contract, is not going to end his holdout, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com.
The decision is not a surprise. Rapoport reported over the weekend that Boone would not report to camp unless he was given a new deal. Boone has two years left on his current contract, which is scheduled to pay him $2 million with a roster bonus of $200,000 in 2014 and another $1.2 million in 2015.
Boone signed his current deal in 2010 one year after being an undrafted free agent, so the money was certainly appealing considering where he came from.
However, going back to 2012, articles were written about how underpaid Boone was for the 49ers. Joel Corry of National Football Post, via Yahoo Sports, wrote the story as well as anyone:
Boone has been a major surprise in his first season starting at right guard. The 2009 undrafted free agent has quickly developed into one of the NFL’s most promising young guards after making the switch from offensive tackle during the offseason.
Following another solid season in 2013, which saw Boone ranked 25th among all guards on Matt Miller's NFL 1,000 series, he wants to be paid like his contemporaries.
The 49ers, on the other hand, showed how they play the game by giving Joe Staley, another veteran who was signed to a team friendly deal, an extension through 2019. The 29-year-old didn't hold out from camp and was rewarded for his on-field performance and showing up to camp.
Of course, Staley is also the lynchpin of that San Francisco offensive line after being named to the All-Pro second team last season.
You have to assume Boone will eventually show up because he's not going to sacrifice most of the money he's due to make in an effort to get a bigger deal. The 49ers just don't seem concerned about getting anything done until he arrives.
Dolphins Still Have Offensive Line Woes
As if there haven't been enough stories about the Miami Dolphins offensive line over the last 10 months, they are prepared to enter the 2014 season without their best O-lineman for a substantial amount of time.
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Mike Pouncey could miss half of the season recovering from hip surgery.
Well, a source familiar with the center's surgery and recovery says it's more likely he will miss four months (from the time of surgery June 23). That would carry the rehab process through September and into late October.
'Eight weeks is probably what we're looking at,' the source said today.
The Dolphins have a bye the weekend of October 4-5 so the regular-seasons' first eight weeks will cover seven games.
This is a big year for the Dolphins. They have improved their win total in each of the last two years, going from six in 2011 to seven in 2012 to eight last year. Ryan Tannehill showed a lot of promise at quarterback after back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and doubling his touchdown total from 12 as a rookie to 24 in 2013.
The Dolphins did address the offensive line in the offseason by signing Branden Albert and drafting Ja'Wuan James in the first round, but neither player has experience playing center.
Pouncey's absence will be felt, especially since the Dolphins are also integrating four new players up front. He was supposed to be the rock in the middle that held this new group together.
Instead, while it's a better unit on paper than the one that gave up an NFL-high 58 sacks last year, Tannehill will have to develop a rapport with the center to keep progressing as a quarterback.
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