NFL Training Camp Preview: 50 Players with the Most to Prove
It seems like only a week ago that Tracy Porter was jumping Reggie Wayne's slant route and racing the New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl title.
Though the offseason has gone by quickly, there have been a number of intriguing developments, from potential holdout situations, to injuries and run-ins with the law.
In a league like the NFL, where players' careers are so short, each training camp serves as a new proving ground for rookies and veterans alike.
For rookies, the chance to show that their skills will suffice at the highest level of play is the first (and most important) step in establishing an NFL career.
For veterans, each training camp is a necessary evil to show their team's coaching staff that the younger players will have to wait at least another year before overtaking them.
So, without further adieu, the 50 players with the most to prove entering 2010 training camps.
50.) Deuce Lutui, OG Arizona Cardinals
The restricted free agent skipped the Cardinals' offseason workout program in an effort to secure a new deal.
Apparently Lutui was taking part in a workout program of his own, though probably not the type the Cardinals' brass would have preferred: gorging.
It was reported last week that Lutui recently weighed-in at a colossal 396 lbs., nearly 70 lbs. over his normal playing weight.
If Lutui has a hope of remaining on the Cardinals roster, or any NFL roster for that matter, he'll need to prove that he has recommitted himself to conditioning during training camp.
49.) Eric Wright, CB Cleveland Browns
With their first draft pick in 2010, the Browns selected former UF Gator All-American Joe Haden. Head coach Eric Mangini also brought in former Phialdelphia Eagle Sheldon Brown.
Is Wright the odd man out? His talent would say absolutely not. However, an impressive camp would go a long way to securing his starting spot in the secondary.
48.) Javon Ringer, RB Tennessee Titans
While he's away, backup tailback Javon Ringer has a chance to pad his NFL resume.
As a rookie, Ringer dressed for only seven games, compiling season statistics of eight carries for 47 yards. While it will be impossible to replace Johnson's explosiveness, Ringer could make the lives of his employers much easier with a strong training camp.
47.) Cullen Jenkins, DE Green Bay Packers
One of the stalwarts of the Packers defense for years, Jenkins has made his money in the interior. Dom Capers may have other plans for Jenkins in 2010.
Rumors have been flying that Capers is going to give Jenkins a shot at outside linebacker during training camp this summer. Don't mind the fact that Jenkins is listed 305 lbs.
When asked about Jenkins having to drop into space to cover, Capers cooly responded, "We know that he can handle it."
The Packers coaching staff may be the only people who have that kind of confidence in Jenkins, but he'll have all of training camp to prove he's the most versatile 300 pounder in the NFL.
46.) Taylor Mays, SS San Francisco 49ers
Once thought to be a sure-bet top 10 pick in the 2010 draft, Mays slipped all the way to the San Francisco 49ers in the middle of the 2nd round after a disappointing senior season and Senior Bowl.
Reports during OTAs from the Niners beat writers were that Mays impressed many during the non-contact team drills.
With a strong training camp, Mays could find himself in the starting lineup sooner than most pundits had anticipated.
45.) Trent Williams, OT Washington Redskins
For nearly the entire 2010 pre-draft evaluation period, Oklahoma State's Russell Okung was thought to be the cream of the LT crop.
Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins had other ideas.
With the 4th overall pick, the 'Skins nabbed Trent Williams of Oklahoma. Inevitably, the careers of Williams and Okung are destined to be forever compared.
With the signing of former Saints LT Jammal Brown, many Redskins fans assumed Williams would be moved to the right side to begin his career.
According to Redskins beat writers, that may not be true. Williams will have the first crack at the LT job in training camp. The pressure is on.
44.) Jerome Harrison, RB Cleveland Browns
However, his future in Cleveland might not be as bright as he previously thought. The Browns drafted former Tennessee tailback Montario Hardesty in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft.
With Harrison missing the majority of Browns' OTAs after refusing to sign his RFA tender, Hardesty got a number of 1st team reps and impressed many.
Harrison will need to refocus, regardless of his contract situation, and have a solid training camp, or he could lose his job to the rookie.
43.) Jammal Brown, OT Washington Redskins
After a trade in late June sent Brown to Washington in exchange for draft picks, the future of 'Skins' rookie LT Trent Williams was put into question. Who would play where? Is Brown the best option on the left side?
As of now, Brown will be the starting RT, and from all reports is happy to play wherever the team needs him.
But, if Williams falters during training camp, Brown will have to step up.
42.) David Buehler, K Dallas Cowboys
Nick Folk, a once sure thing from anywhere inside 50 yards, mysteriously lost his confidence and converted only 4-11 field goals during one stretch in the second half of the season. He was promptly cut.
Kickoff specialist David Buehler is the Cowboys' only kicker on the roster after Connor Hughes was cut. The team's brass appears to be confident in Buehler, at least for the moment. That could change in a heartbeat if he doesn't live up to expectations during training camp.
41.) Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings
While Peterson has exceeded seemingly unattainable exceptions, he's been flawed by an Achilles heel: fumbling.
That ugly wart in Peterson's game was on display during the Vikings' NFC Championship Game loss to the New Orleans Saints when he put the ball on the ground three times.
A.P. will have to prove that the problem has been corrected during training camp. If he can't, the team may be forced to cut his carries.
40.) Michael Turner, RB Atlanta Falcons
He also carried the ball 376 times.
The wear and tear of the 2008 season caught up with him 2009, as Turner had trouble staying on the field, finishing the year with less than 900 yards.
He's said recently that he's out to prove he wasn't a one year wonder and that he'll regain his 2008 form in 2010, even though coach Mike Smith will monitor his carries.
Training camp will be an important time to get back into peak physical condition, as reports were swirling that Turner showed up to OTAs overweight.
39.) Anthony Davis, OT San Francisco 49ers
Not so fast, Niners fans.
Though it's dangerous business to buy too much into OTA hyperbole, Davis didn't impress many people with his performance. He had a rash of false starts and struggled in pass protection.
By the end of OTAs, Davis was seeing limited reps with the first team. He'll will have the chance to get things on the right track once the pads come on next month.
38.) Joseph Addai, RB Indianapolis Colts
After a fantastic first two years in the league, in which Addai rushed for over 1,000 yards in each season, the former LSU running back's career has faltered.
An injury-plagued 2008 season led to the Colts drafting another RB, Donald Brown out of UConn. Brown showed why he was the team's first pick, getting more and more opportunities as the season went along.
Having rushed for under four yards a carry in each of the last two seasons, Addai will have to reassert himself as the team's leader in the backfield during training camp, or his job could be lost to Brown.
37.) Marion Barber, RB Dallas Cowboys
A running back whose bruising style of play isn't sustainable, there have been rumors that Cowboys brass is already preparing to transition a number of Barber's carries to Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.
Though veteran running backs often aren't asked to do much during training camp, it'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys' crowded backfield plays out come the regular season.
36.) Cam Thomas, DT San Diego Chargers
Chargers fans have to be hoping that the coaches have seen enough from 5th round draft choice, Cam Thomas, to validate the move. Thomas will have all of training camp to win the job from other contenders, Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Antonio Garay.
35.) Alex Smith, QB San Francisco 49ers
Having played under a different offensive coordinator every year he's been in the NFL, Smith has never been able to enter his comfort zone.
That could change in 2010.
With the return of offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, and a unit that features Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, Smith should finally have the pieces in place to be a successful NFL quarterback.Training camp will be an accurate barometer of the progress he has made.
34.) Ryan Mathews, RB San Diego Chargers
With the departure of the face of the team, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mathews was penciled in as the starter minutes after he was drafted. That's putting a lot of eggs, or footballs, in one basket.
Mathews can go a long way towards putting Chargers' fears to rest by having a strong training camp.
33.) Jimmy Clausen, QB Carolina Panthers
Despite the fall, he might have found himself in one of the best situations possible.
Incumbent QB Matt Moore has shown flashes of NFL-caliber play, but the team certainly wants Clausen to win the job, and win the job quickly.
The training camp battle between Clausen and Moore should be one of the most intriguing storylines of any NFL training camp in 2010.
32.) Al Harris, CB Green Bay Packers
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, there is a realistic chance that Al Harris could not be rea
dy for the start of training camp, and potentially, for the start of the regular season. Harris will need to catch a break in his rehabbing over the next month if he has a chance to get back on the field by August.
31.) Tramon Williams, CB Green Bay Packers
The only way that doesn't happen is if Williams has a disaster of a training camp. No pressure, Tramon.
30.) Jay Cutler, QB Chicago Bears
Offensive mastermind and QB guru Mike Martz was brought into the help fix the Bears' anemic offense. That reclamation project will begin and end with Jay Cutler's decision making and mechanics in the pocket.
If Cutler can make the necessary adjustments, he should put up some Dan Marino-like numbers under Martz.
Training camp will be the first tell of how he is progressing.
29.) Ronnie Brown, RB Miami Dolphins
It seems like only a couple years ago he was running roughshod over the SEC with battery-mate Cadillac Williams.
As of June 26th, Brown has yet to sign his RFA tender. But will a longterm deal come? The odds aren't great.
A truly outstanding training camp, especially after another injury riddled year, would go a long way towards putting cash in Brown's pockets.
28.) Charlie Whitehurst, QB Seattle Seahawks
Based on recent reports, that may only be a pipe-dream.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune, who has attended every Seahawks OTA this month, recently wrote that newly acquired QB J.P. Losman looked far superior to Whitehurst.
While in the grand scheme of things OTA performance means next to nothing, it's certainly not a hopeful sign for Seahawks fans that Whitehurst could be listed as the no. 3 QB heading into training camp.
27.) Laurence Maroney, RB New England Patriots
But, the Patriots backfield is a crowded place to be looking for more carries in 2010. With Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Kevin Faulk all proven NFL running backs, Moroney will have to prove that his vastly improved 2009 effort was a sign of things to come, not an aberration.
26.) Aaron Maybin, OLB Buffalo Bills
Aaron Maybin has an incredibly disappointing rookie year, posting exactly zero sacks.
However, with Aaron Schobel out of the picture, things are setting up for Maybin to have a far more productive 2010.
Already penciled in as the starter at the ROLB position, Maybin will be counted on to be the team's most disruptive pass rusher in their 3-4 alignment.
Whether or not he can hit the ground running will largely be determined by the progress he makes during the summer months.
25.) Dez Bryant, WR Dallas Cowboys
Though Bryant has undoubtedly displayed some character issues, the Cowboys are counting on him to seamlessly step into a prominent role in the Cowboys offense.
With the severely disappointing Roy Williams still on the Cowboys roster, along with Miles Austin, Sam Hurd, and Patrick Crayton, Bryant will need to get into better shape (he pulled a hamstring and was seen throwing up during OTAs) during training camp to have a shot at being the Cowboys' number one guy.
24.) Fabian Washington/Lardarius Webb, CBs Baltimore Ravens
Thankfully, word out of Baltimore is that both players are ahead of schedule (when do you ever hear of a player being behind schedule?) and should be ready for training camp.
Though modern medicine has given players the ability to recover from these types of injuries, there is always a concern whether players, especially skill guys, can retain their pre-injury explosiveness.
With Ed Reed's future in doubt, the 100% recovery of these two players will be crucial to the Ravens' success in 2010.
23.) Matt Moore, QB Carolina Panthers
Matt Moore has shown enough promise during his short NFL career to be given a fair shot at a starting job.
Unfortunately for Moore, Jimmy Clausen fell all the way to the Panthers in the second round, at a place they absolutely had to take him.
As I've aforementioned, the Clausen/Moore training camp battle will be one of the most interesting in the league. The teams' brass desperately want Clausen to win, but Moore's veteran moxie may rue the day.
22.) Nick Barnett, LB Green Bay Packers
Packers fans had cause for concern recently when news broke that Barnett had gone under the knife again. Fortunately, it appears the surgery was an elective procedure to remove some bothersome scar tissue.
Still, the 2010 training camp will be hugely important for Barnett to find his comfort zone again, especially in his lateral movement.
21.) Steve Slaton, RB Houston Texans
After a fabulous rookie campaign, Steve Slaton's sophomore season was an utter disaster.
Slaton averaged less than 3.5 yards a carry, and that was only the beginning of his troubles.
Having put the ball on the ground a staggering seven times, losing five fumbles, Slaton completely lost his confidence and eventually saw his carries greatly reduce before succumbing to an injury.
With the arrival of second round draft pick Ben Tate in Houston, Slaton will need to prove he can hold on to the ball during every rep he gets in training camp.
20.) Sam Bradford, QB St. Louis Rams
Couple that with being stuck on one of, if not the worst roster in the NFL and, well, Sam Bradford may be in for a tough a couple of years.
But the Rams do have a solid nucleus of young skill players on offense and one of the game's best backs in Stephen Jackson.
There is no doubt that Bradford will start from day one in St. Louis. Training camp will be the determining factor in whether or he can generate any early success on the field.
19.) Leon Washington, RB Seattle Seahawks
With a backfield that features Justin Forsett and Julius Jones, Washington's role hasn't entirely been decided.
A lot of that may rest on Washington's dicey knee. Training camp will be extremely important for Washington to prove he's healthy and to find his role in a crowded backfield.
18.) Terrell Owens, WR Free Agent
One of the game's all-time great receivers, Owens is confident he still has a lot of productive football left in him.
His price tag and reputation have scared teams off to this point, but after one training camp injury and T.O. should find himself employed once again.
17.) Kenny Phillips, FS New York Giants
The Giants' young hard-hitting safety Kenny Phillips played in only two games in 2009 after opting to have surgery to repair an arthritic condition in his knee.
With the loss of rookie Chad Jones for the season and maybe longer after being involved in a devastating car accident, the health of Phillips is more important than ever.
If Phillips can show that he's healthy during training camp, Giants fans will be much relieved.
16.) Jason Campbell, QB Oakland Raiders
As we've seen time and again with QBs in this league, continuity is as important as any physical intangibles in player development. New Raiders OC Hue Jackson has a proven track record, having developed Joe Flacco from D-1AA prospect to legitimate NFL QB.
If the Raiders are to finally gain some respectability on offense, training camp will be paramount for Jason Campbell.
15.) Julian Edelman, WR New England Patriots
According to Mike Reiss, who writes for ESPN Boston, Welker's rehab hasn't gone as smoothly as previously thought. There's a chance Welker could be put on the PUP list and miss training camp and part of the regular season.
The loss of Welker will put a huge burden on the shoulders of Julian Edelman, who showed flashes late in the 2009 campaign. He'll need as many reps as he can get with the first team during training camp.
14.) Keith Bulluck, LB Free Agent
33 year old linebackers coming off an ACL tear aren't in high demand in the NFL. Keith Bulluck is finding that out first hand.
Though he's convinced that he can still be a valuable contributor, he may have a difficult time finding a team willing to take a chance on him.
One potential option is former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, now the head coach of the Detroit Lions.
The Lions are a young team who could use the veteran presence of a guy like Bulluck.
If he gets the chance, Bulluck will need to prove during training camp that he's worth a spot on the regular season 53.
13.) Clinton Portis, RB Washington Redskins
Recent reports have stated that Parker may have difficulty making the team, regardless of whether or not Bryan Westbrook joins the club.
The starting job, as of right now, belongs to the incumbent Clinton Portis. But a drop in production, coupled with an abrasive attitude, has Portis staring at what is likely his last chance in Washington.
Not only will he need to display fresh legs during training camp, but a fresh attitude as well.
12.) Matt Leinart, QB Arizona Cardinals
Reports out of Arizona are that free agent acquisition Derek Anderson has done little to impress since he's arrived in the desert. Matt Williamson of ESPN.com recently wrote, "I don't think Anderson is anywhere near Leinart at this point."
It would seem Anderson's success of 2007 may have been a one shot deal.That doesn't mean there are still aren't concerns about Leinart. He'll need to find some rhythm with Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet before the calendar flips to September if the Cardinals hope to repeat as NFC West champions in 2010.
11.) Marshawn Lynch, RB Buffalo Bills
Marshawn Lynch has had a troubling few offseasons during his short NFL career, highlighted by a hit-and-run incident and gun charges.
The Bills haven't been shy about showing their hand when it comes to Lynch by drafting C.J. Spiller and penciling Fred Jackson in as the starter.
Whether or not Lynch remains on the Buffalo roster by the time the regular season rolls around, or he lands in a place like Seattle, training camp will be a hugely important time for him to show his employer that his head is on straight.
There is no doubt he has the talent. He must now prove that he is committed.
10.) Osi Umenyiora, DE New York Giants
Heading into training camp in 2010, Umenyiora is listed as the team's backup right defensive end.
He's asked for a trade and even threatened to retire. If he wants to have any shot of reclaiming his job, he'll have to dominate during the training camp months.
9.) LaDainian Tomlinson, RB New York Jets
Tomlinson is on a mission to prove he isn't washed up. While he'll likely be used primarily as a 3rd down and situational back, L.T.'s best chance of earning more carries will come from an impressive training camp.
It's clear he's already bought what the Jets are selling having gotten a tattoo of the Jets logo on his calf. Now, we'll have to wait and see if Rex Ryan and co. are buying back.
8.) Adam Jones, CB Cincinnati Bengals
Most people believe in second chances. The Cincinnati Bengals apparently believe in 4th, 5th, and 6th chances.
While the artist formerly known as Pacman Jones (he insists on going by Adam Jones now) has kept his nose clean in the last year, it's his declining skills that led the former Titan and Cowboy to play a year north of the border in the CFL.
He never displayed his playmaking prowess while in Dallas, leaving the team after only a year. If he has anything left in the tank, the Bengals will find out during training camp.
7.) Matt Forte, RB Chicago Bears
Much of that may have been due to Forte's lack of help from the passing game. Jay Cutler had a horrible year, and teams were able to stuff the box in run situations.
With the arrival of free agent Chester Taylor in the offseason, Forte's carries will probably be way down in 2010. Unless he has a strong showing in training camp, the Bears carries in 2010 could be split down the middle.
6.) Trent Edwards, QB Buffalo Bills
Really, all three QBs on the Buffalo Bills' depth chart could be on this list. The latest, according to head coach Chan Gailey, is that all three players (Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brian Brohm) are about even as OTAs wrapped.
The pressure really only lies on Edwards, however. As a rookie, Edwards surprised many by posting some solid numbers and leading the Bills to a few wins. But injuries and a lack of arm strength have hampered Edwards over the last several years.
If he's not able to beat out journeyman backups like Fitzpatrick and Brohm in training camp, his career as a starter may be over.
5.) Roy Williams, WR Dallas Cowboys
For all intents and purposes, Williams has been a Texas-sized bust in Big D.
With the breakout of Miles Austin, and the selection of Dez Bryant in the first round of the 2010 draft, Williams opportunities in Dallas may be waning.
Team officials have stated time and again that they are behind Williams and he is an elite NFL receiver. The first few months of the 2010 season may be his last chance to prove them right.
4.) Albert Haynesworth, DT Washington Redskins
What can be said about Albert Haynesworth that hasn't already? The talented but spoiled nose tackle has said he'd rather play elsewhere than in Washington's 3-4 scheme, only a year after signing a contract worth more than $100 million dollars.
Recently, Haynesworth was quoted as saying he would report for training camp. The question remains: Will Mike Shanahan let him?
Regardless of where Big Al plays this fall, he'll have a lot to prove. Is his heart still in the game? Can he get along with his teammates? Is he just a high-priced virus?
Many answers to those questions will come during training camp, whether he's participating or not.
3.) Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Oakland Raiders
But with the arrival of a legitimate NFL QB in Jason Campbell, things could be looking up for Heward-Bey.
According to Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune, DHB has looked vastly improved during OTAs.
It has also been reported that the sophomore WR has added 10 lbs of muscle this offseason. Training camp will be a crucial time to build some chemistry with Campbell and begin to take steps towards statistical respectability.
2.) Jake Delhomme, QB Cleveland Browns
Many people were surprised when Mike Holmgren and the Cleveland Browns offered Jake Delhomme a two year contract that will pay him $7 million dollars in 2010. (For those counting at home, Delhomme will be making $20 million dollars this season, $7M from the Browns, $13M from the Panthers.)
For QB who threw 18 INTs in only 11 games last season, and is coming off an injury, the risk factor is incredibly high for Holmgren and co.
Delhomme won't have the benefit of being surrounded by a surplus of talent either. The Browns have the NFL's least experienced WR corps.
Training camp should be a good tell of things to come for Jake. If he can mesh with his receivers early on, the team has a chance to improve on their dismal 2009 record. If not, Delhomme and the Browns will go down in flames.
1.) Tim Tebow, QB Denver Broncos
Steve Young, who knew a thing or two about being a scrappy left-handed QB, said that too often people look at all the things Tim Tebow can't do as opposed to the things he can do.
We know he's a winner. We know he'll give his team 100 percent. We know he was able to inspire his teammates in college. And we know he'll be a positive face for his organization. Young's point was that we know more sure things about Tebow than most QB prospects who catch far less heat.
While there is truth in what Young says, the facts remain clear: Tebow's release and footwork are both not near-NFL ready. Or so we think. Tebow will have all of training camp to prove us wrong.