Every team has a shot at the Super Bowl when training camp begins.
As the summer weeks bleed into the preseason, though, a sense of realism must emanate from each camp around the league as injuries and other negative developments begin to stack up and can no longer be ignored.
We're not to that point just yet, as the overwhelming sense of optimism is infectious throughout the league. New rookies, coaches and more have a tendency to generate such feelings, which makes for a great time.
Let's take a moment to slow down the rumor mill ever so slightly and grab a few off the rack before things hit fever pitch once more.
Jay Gruden's Impact in Washington
After three successful seasons mentoring quarterback Andy Dalton through a lockout and to three postseason trips, Jay Gruden was rewarded with the top coaching spot in Washington.
There, Gruden's creative West Coast offense can greatly utilize the mobility of Robert Griffin III in the pocket as well as the churning legs of Alfred Morris, who seems to fit well enough in Gruden's plans.
Perhaps the biggest storyline coming out of Washington that actually has to do with the football itself is Gruden's choice of players, namely those at the fullback position. It is easy to think that Gruden would show a player such as Darrel Young the door, given his past tendencies.
Interestingly enough, Tarik El-Bashir of CSN Washington writes that Young's job, at least for now, sounds safe:
I was recently told by a source that Young’s job is safe. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, he’s darn good at what he does. And what he does is open holes for Alfred Morris and chip in on special teams, where he made four solo tackles and two assisted tackles last season. I’m sure you also noticed that the Redskins signed a free agent fullback Stephen Campbell this week. I don’t suspect Campbell is competition for Young but rather someone who can reduce some of the training camp/preseason wear-and-tear on D.Y., who has a history of hamstring problems.
This does happen to fly directly in the face of how Gruden runs his offense, especially last year, when he rarely featured a fullback at all. He instead opted to utilize plenty of two-tight-end sets and at times even flex those players or other positions into the role of a traditional fullback.
The general thought seems to be that with talented, versatile names to work with such as Jordan Reed, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul, Gruden will do away with the dying position once more.
But for now, it seems Gruden is holding off, which is probably the smart move: Young was ranked as the No. 11 overall player at his position last year, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Trouble in 49ers Land
To be blunt, the 49ers are a mess.
The whirlwind of chaos is far from over just because camp has arrived.
Perhaps most pertinent at this juncture is the health of linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who ranked as the No. 1 inside linebacker last year over at PFF, did the same in 2011 as a sophomore and had a No. 6 ranking sandwiched in between. His numbers speak for themselves:
Yet Bowman is still MIA while recovering from a shredded knee suffered in January, and as the league tweeted Wednesday, he'll start on the PUP list:
It's important to note that this means Bowman can be activated off the list at any point during training camp, and knowing him, the radar for his return might receive a dramatic jolt near the start of the season.
However, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee suggests fans temper expectations, while providing a peek at the next man up:
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.
There's no question it is difficult to replace someone like Bowman, but with the criminally underrated Dan Skuta on the roster and collegiate tackle machine Chris Borland around, camp and preseason should at least go off without a hitch.
Interestingly enough, Bowman is only one of the major current issues in San Francisco, as guard Alex Boone is set to begin what could be a lengthy holdout.
Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports painted the scene Wednesday:
Don't hold your breath waiting for video of Niners G Alex Boone reporting for duty today. Not gonna happen. Interesting standoff continues.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) July 23, 2014
This meshes well with what a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport about the situation, as Boone is the 38th-highest-paid guard in the league and at 27 years of age wants a raise. Dan Hanzus of NFL.com provides the official numbers:
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 ranked as the No. 39 overall guard at PFF last season, although in 2012 he came in at No. 3 overall. The point is, both sides of the table have a strong argument against the other, as Boone's individual numbers are an issue, but he's an integral linchpin in an elite unit.
The 2009 undrafted free agent out of Ohio State took the league by storm in recent years and made a strong case for a better contract a season ago, but he does play for an organization which isn't known for redoing deals before an expiration date.
As has been the case for most of the offseason stories from San Francisco, this one could get ugly.