The Biggest Question Every NFL Team Must Answer in Training Camp

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2018

The Biggest Question Every NFL Team Must Answer in Training Camp

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    The NFL is a year-round endeavor, but for players and personnel, the workload is about to be ratcheted up. Training camp season is upon us, as all 32 teams will be in camp by July 27.

    Over the next several weeks, they will be busy holding positional battles, sorting out depth charts and inching closer to final 53-man rosters. Players will be battling for starting jobs and rosters spots. Coaches will be getting to know their teams while identifying both strengths and weaknesses.

    There are a lot of questions that need to be answered between camp and the start of the regular season on Sept. 6. We're here to examine the biggest question for each team heading into training camp.

        

Arizona Cardinals: Is David Johnson the Same Player He Was Pre-Injury?

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    Running back David Johnson missed the majority of the 2017 season with a wrist injury. For a running back, returning shouldn't be as hard as if it were, say, a torn ACL. But the fact remains that Johnson has been away from the playing field for nearly a full year.

    The Arizona Cardinals need to figure out whether Johnson can be the same back who produced more than 2,000 yards in 2016—and they need to do so sooner than later.

    The reasoning for this is two-fold. Regardless of whether Josh Rosen or Sam Bradford is under center, Arizona needs to protect its quarterback with a strong running game. Bradford is injury-prone and Rosen is, of course, a rookie.

    The Cardinals also need to determine how much they value Johnson, who is in the final year of his rookie deal. Johnson is lobbying for an extension and skipped mandatory minicamp earlier this offseason. NFL Media's Mike Garafolo reported in June that a deal is expected to be in place before the start of the season. The specifics of that deal could largely depend on what kind of back the Cardinals believe Johnson will be this season.

Atlanta Falcons: How Can They Get More from the Sarkisian Offense?

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    The Atlanta Falcons got a mixed bag from Steve Sarkisian's offense in the first year. While the offense was still potent—it averaged 364.8 yards per game, eighth in the NFL—it wasn't the point-producing powerhouse it was with Kyle Shanahan at the helm.

    In 2016, Atlanta averaged an NFL-best 33.8 points per game. Last season, that fell to 22.1. Figuring out how to get more out of Sarkisian's offense has to be a major goal of training camp.

    The Falcons have already taken some steps to help support Sarkisian. They brought in Greg Knapp as quarterbacks coach and named Raheem Morris the passing-game coordinator.

    The Falcons also added former Alabama wideout Calvin Ridley in the first round of the draft. Ridley puts a little more firepower at Sarkisian's disposal, while Knapp and Morris should help Sarkisian prepare for and call games more efficiently.

    Having a year under his belt in Atlanta will also help.

    "Now I can make some of the tweaks that I feel like are needed for this offense to continue to grow," Sarkisian said, per Matthew Tabeek of the team's official website.

    Those tweaks should be coming in camp.

Baltimore Ravens: How Big of a Role Can Lamar Jackson Handle as a Rookie?

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    The Baltimore Ravens moved into the first round of the draft in order to snag former Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. While the plan seems to be to continue sticking with quarterback Joe Flacco for the immediate future, Jackson is going to take over as Baltimore's starting quarterback at some point.

    For now, the Ravens need to decide how they can best use the talented signal-caller until he is ready to take over as the full-time starter.

    According to Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network (h/t Michel David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com), the Ravens have been experimenting with plays that involve both Flacco and Jackson handling the ball. This could be part of an effort to integrate Jackson into subpackages and to get him involved in gadget plays.

    Baltimore can take advantage of Jackson's skills while allowing him to adjust to the speed and the nuances of the pro game. Over the next several weeks, the Ravens need to determine just how big of a role Jackson can handle out of the gate.

Buffalo Bills: Can Josh Allen Challenge for the Starting Job?

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    The Buffalo Bills got their quarterback of the future in this year's draft. They pulled the trigger on former Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen after trading up to the seventh overall slot.

    Unlike the Ravens, the Bills don't have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback on their roster to hold off the rookie. They have journeyman AJ McCarron and 2017 fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman, who tossed five interceptions in his first NFL start last season.

    The Bills, though, don't seem intent on rushing Allen onto the field.

    “Josh Allen is going to continue to get reps with the third unit, but we’ll mix him in with the starters," head coach Sean McDermott recently said, per the Bills' Twitter account. "That's all part of his development plan.”

    Allen comes from a pro-style offense, but he's mechanically raw and has poor footwork and accuracy issues. Buffalo needs to figure out if these can be corrected enough in camp to give Allen a chance to see the field during the regular season.

Carolina Panthers: Who Replaces Andrew Norwell?

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    A camp battle for an interior lineman spot might not seem like headline-grabbing material, but the Carolina Panthers aren't looking to replace a run-of-the-mill guard. Last year, Andrew Norwell was given the highest pass-blocking grade among guards by Pro Football Focus and was named a first-team All-Pro.

    Norwell signed a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency.

    The Panthers have options—including 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moton, Amini Silatolu and free agent Jeremiah Sirles —but none carries the pedigree of Norwell.

    The Panthers need to keep pressure off of quarterback Cam Newton if they expect him to return to an MVP level of play. In a division that includes interior defenders like Grady Jarrett and Gerald McCoy, anchoring the middle of the offensive line is going to be key.

Chicago Bears: How Much of the Offense Can Trubisky Absorb by Week 1?

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    The Chicago Bears are hoping quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can make a significant jump in his second season. They have made several moves this offseason to help him do so, including hiring the offensively minded Matt Nagy as head coach.

    Nagy, who helped the Kansas City Chiefs field the league's seventh-ranked passing attack (256.5 yards per game) last season, should put Trubisky at the center of a more explosive and a more creative system.

    "We're going to have some fun with him," Nagy said of Trubisky, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com. "We're going to let him cut it loose. He's going to live and learn a little bit. And that's OK. It's good for him. There's going to be some scars that he gets. But I just want him to be him."

Cincinnati Bengals: Can the Offense Come Close to Its Potential?

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have a quarterback who has been to multiple Pro Bowls. They have one of the top receivers in A.J. Green, a red-zone game-changer in Tyler Eifert and promising young offensive weapons in Joe Mixon and John Ross.

    "If the Bengals could ever get all of their weapons on the field at the same time and protect Andy Dalton, they would be absolutely terrifying," ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell recently wrote.

    The Cincinnati offense is indeed big on potential, but for a variety of reasons, it has continually underwhelmed. Eifert continues to deal with injuries, the offensive line was a joke last season and coordinator Bill Lazor's offense was about as creative as a first-grade book report.

    Cincinnati had the league's worst overall offense (280.5 yards per game) last season.

    If the Bengals plan to contend in the AFC North, they have to figure out how many of these issues they can correct before the start of the regular season. The additions of Billy Price and Cordy Glenn improve the talent level on the line, but these players still need to be integrated. The offense has to stay healthy and Lazor needs to run something that doesn't resemble a Pop Warner scheme. Otherwise, it's going to be another disappointing season in Cincinnati.

Cleveland Browns: Who Is the New Left Tackle?

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    Trying to replace a guy who made 10 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and who has been a six-time first team All-Pro is no enviable challenge. However, that's exactly what the Cleveland Browns have to do now that Joe Thomas has retired.

    Left tackle is easily Cleveland's biggest question mark heading into training camp. It won't matter if it's Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield under center if opposing pass-rushers regularly have a free path to the quarterback. Whether it's Shon Coleman, rookie second-round pick Austin Corbett, 2014 first-rounder Greg Robinson or even guard Joel Bitonio—who played left tackle at Nevada—someone has to solidify the position.

    "Coleman is leading the charge (at left tackle)," offensive line coach Bob Wylie said, per Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com. "But we have a lot of bodies."

    Having a lot of bodies doesn't always produce a surefire starter, though. Cleveland needs to see if it has one in the group.

Dallas Cowboys: Who Will Be Dak Prescott's Go-to Guy?

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    The Dallas Cowboys are heading into the season with a revamped receiving corps. Dallas brought in Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup while also saying goodbye to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.

    There is potential with the new group, but there isn't anyone who jumps out as a legitimate No. 1 receiver or a game-changing tight end.

    "Depends on what you're defining as a No. 1 receiver," former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo told NFL Network. "Is it name alone? By talent? You don't know they don't have one."

    Romo is right in saying we don't know if the Cowboys have a No. 1 pass-catcher on their roster. They probably don't either, and it's something they're going to have to figure out during training camp. Even if Dallas doesn't have a No. 1 receiver in the traditional sense, they need to identify a reliable go-to target or two for third-year quarterback Dak Prescott.

Denver Broncos: What Should the Backfield Look Like?

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    If the Denver Broncos hope to return to the postseason in 2018, they have to get more out of their offense. Last season, Denver produced just 18.1 points per game, 27th in the NFL. The Broncos still have defensive talent, but it's wasted when the offense can't sustain drives or score points.

    This is why Denver added quarterback Case Keenum in free agency.

    The next step has to be figuring out the ideal backfield rotation. C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles are both gone, which leaves Denver with the likes of Devontae Booker, De'Angelo Henderson and rookie third-round pick Royce Freeman.

    "We want two or three guys to be our main core backs," head coach Vance Joseph said, per Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post.

    The Broncos need to determine the right configuration of backs to help support Keenum, the offense, and by extension, the entire team.

Detroit Lions: How Big of a Role Can Kerryon Johnson Handle?

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    The Detroit Lions have been searching for a franchise-caliber running back for what seems like forever. They haven't even had an above-average one in recent years, and looked to change that by drafting former Auburn back Kerryon Johnson this offseason.

    In camp, the Lions need to figure out how big of a role the rookie is ready to handle. From a talent standpoint, there's a lot to like about the former Tiger, but he's still a rookie who does some things better than others.

    "He's a guy that they run inside the tackles primarily in that offense," Lions general manager Bob Quinn told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "... I think this guy's very versatile that he can run inside, but I think we'll probably use him more to run outside as well."

    With LeGarrette Blount and Ameer Abdullah also on the roster, the Lions don't need to put all the responsibility on Johnson out of the gate. However, he may already be the most explosive runner on the roster. Finding the best way to maximize his talents will go a long way to putting Detroit's rushing woes in the rear view.

Green Bay Packers: How Can the Defense Maximize the New-Look Secondary?

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    The Green Bay Packers had the league's 23rd-ranked pass defense (236.8 yards per game allowed) last season, which is an issue for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

    "I think you have to be sound against the run, but you lose a heck of a lot faster when you're giving up chunks in the pass game," Pettine said, per Zach Kruse of Packers Wire.

    Green Bay took some steps to revamp its secondary this offseason. The Packers traded away Damarious Randall, parted with Morgan Burnett, drafted Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson and brought back former starter Tramon Williams.

    Burnett and Randall were both starters for most of 2017, but given the overall performance of the pass defense last season, the Packers probably aren't sweating their departures. Instead, they need to focus on finding the right combinations of seasoned vets and young defenders to actually make up a quality secondary.

    This is a division that now features Matthew Stafford, Mitchell Trubisky and Kirk Cousins at quarterback. Green Bay can't expect to dominate it if the secondary struggles the way it did last season.

Houston Texans: How Healthy Is Deshaun Watson?

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    The Houston Texans traded up to grab former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson in the first round of last year's draft. For a period of the 2017 season, Houston looked like the smartest team in the NFL for doing so.

    The Texans thrust Watson into the starting lineup just two quarters into the season. Over the next seven games, the rookie racked up 1,699 passing yards, 269 rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns while completing 61.8 percent of his passes. Unfortunately, his brilliant run was cut short by a torn ACL.

    Watson expects to pick things back up sooner than later.

    "I feel great. I'm getting ready for next week when we report to Greenbrier and I'm gonna be a full go," Watson told Good Morning Football's Kay Adams.

    The Texans need to use camp to evaluate just how much of a "full go" Watson is. If there's any doubt at all about his ability to start the season or to stay healthy, Houston needs to consider alternatives to putting him under center in Week 1.

Indianapolis Colts: Is Andrew Luck the Same Player He Was Pre-Injury?

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    Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is an elite signal-caller when he's healthy. At least, he was before a series of injuries and shoulder surgeries cost him the 2017 season. Luck has spent the past year recovering, and the Colts have struggled mightily without him.

    Before the start of the season, the Colts need to figure out if Luck is the same top-tier talent he was before his shoulder first fell apart.

    According to Colts general manager Chris Ballard (per 1070 The Fan's Kevin Bowen), Luck will be "good to go" in camp and will have "no limitations" in practices. We've heard optimism coming out of Indianapolis regarding Luck's health before, though, so things need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    The Colts should find out in camp if Luck is back to 100 percent and if he's prepared to jump back into his role carrying the offense. If he isn't, Indianapolis may be forced to ease him back onto the playing field.

Jacksonville Jaguars: How Can They Get More out of Leonard Fournette?

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    As a rookie, running back Leonard Fournette immediately became a major piece of the offense. The LSU product amassed 1,040 yards rushing, 302 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. However, Fournette, who dropped weight this offseason, is looking to be even better in the future.

    "I don't want to be average," Fournette told John Reid of the Daytona Beach News-Journal. "I want to be above average, be the greatest one to play this game. I feel lighter, quicker and I have a lot of my burst."

    If Fournette wants to be above average, he'll need to improve on the 3.9 yards-per-carry average he had in 2017. The Jaguars need to focus on helping him do so in training camp. The addition of Norwell should help the blocking in front of Fournette, but there are still steps Jacksonville can take to make Fournette a more consistent runner.

    Spelling Fournette more often with backs like T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant may help, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett can tinker with that in camp. He can also tinker with running schemes to see if he can juice more out of Fournette.

    The last thing the Jaguars should want to do this season is run Fournette into the ground without getting maximum results.

Kansas City Chiefs: What Can the Offense Expect from Patrick Mahomes II?

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    The Kansas City Chiefs traded quarterback Alex Smith to Washington this offseason in order to make room for 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes II. While Smith is certainly capable of delivering big plays, his biggest strengths are his care with the football and ability to run the offense efficiently.

    The Chiefs cannot expect the same reliability and consistency from their second-year signal-caller.

    "Due to his supporting cast and his amazing talent, Mahomes could be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season," Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports recently wrote. "Or he could have typical first-year struggles and then everyone will second-guess Kansas City’s decision to trade Smith."

    Mahomes may prove to be an upgrade over Smith. He may represent a step down. One thing for certain is that he isn't going to be the same quarterback.

    What the Chiefs need to figure out in camp is what kind of quarterback Mahomes is going to be after being handed the keys to the offense full-time.

Los Angeles Chargers: Is Mike Williams Ready to Be a Difference-Maker?

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    Last year, the Los Angeles Chargers used the seventh overall pick on former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams. What they got in return during his rookie campaign was disappointing to say the least.

    Though he appeared in 10 games, Williams caught just 11 passes for 95 yards. He'll have to be more of a difference-maker if the Chargers are going to start feeling better about their investment. Williams appears ready for the challenge.

    "I'm just ready to go out here and just have fun and ball out," Williams told Hayley Elwood of the Chargers' official website.

    L.A. needs to determine if Williams is indeed in position to be a major piece of the offense. The receiving corps isn't exactly hurting for talent—it boasts pass-catchers like Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin—so if Williams isn't ready to shine, the Chargers will need to focus on giving valuable reps to other players.

Los Angeles Rams: Can a Deal with Aaron Donald Get Done Before the Season?

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    Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the most dominant players in the entire NFL. He's been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his four pro seasons and is coming off a 41-tackle, 11-sack campaign.

    Donald is also entering the final year of his rookie deal and is looking for a new contract. CBS Sports' Will Brinson told The Mighty 1090 that colleague Pete Prisco said on Brinson's Pick Six Podcast that Donald is looking for "quarterback money."

    Los Angeles needs to see if it can get a new deal done with Donald before the season starts. Otherwise, it may risk dealing with a holdout—Donald skipped camp last year—or a tense situation that lasts well into the season.

    The Rams gave offseason acquisition Brandin Cooks a five-year, $80 million deal. It's possible Donald isn't too happy that the newcomer got paid before he did. The Rams must figure out where they stand with Donald before camp comes to a close.

Miami Dolphins: Is Ryan Tannehill Back and Better Than Before?

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    The Miami Dolphins will be getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill back after a season lost to a torn ACL. That has brought some positivity to the offense.

    "You could tell he has a total grip of the offense," head coach Adam Gase said, per Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post. "Everything just moves smoother. That's just experience, whether it's in this offense or just football in general."

    There are two questions that need answers: Is Tannehill 100 percent? Can he be even better than he was before the injury? Tannehill has an intriguing skill set but has never been more than an average starter.

    He is 37-40 as a starter.

    By the end of camp, the Dolphins need to know what to expect from Tannehill and whether this should be his last season in Miami.

Minnesota Vikings: How Quickly Can Kirk Cousins Make the Offense Better?

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    The Minnesota Vikings decided this offseason that Case Keenum wasn't going to take their offense any further than he did last season, when they fell short in the NFC title game. They turned instead to Kirk Cousins, who locked down the starting job in Washington the last three seasons.

    From a physical standpoint, Cousins appears more gifted than Keenum. He's certainly accomplished. However, he won't make the offense better than it was last year until he fully grasps offensive coordinator John DeFilippo's system.

    "It's a bit like drinking through a firehose right now," Cousins said of learning the offense in June, per Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune.

    The fact that DeFilippo is replacing former coordinator Pat Shurmur makes the transition a bit more difficult for Cousins. He can't lean on new teammates to help learn the offense the way he could with an entrenched coordinator at the helm.

    The Vikings have enough defensive talent and a good enough backfield to survive a slow start to the season by the passing offense. The trick will be figuring out just how quickly that unit can jell and adjusting the game plan accordingly.

New England Patriots: Who Will Replace Nate Solder?

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    The New England Patriots parted with starting left tackle Nate Solder this offseason, which left a glaring hole on Tom Brady's blind side. Yet Andrew Callahan of MassLive.com wrote there is still reason for optimism regarding New England's line.

    "Uncertainty should not be equated with a lack of options or talent," Callahan wrote. "The Patriots are armed with a sufficient supply of both. And in time, the 2018 offensive line should [jell] into a stronger, deeper unit than its predecessor."

    New England does have options at left tackle. It used a first-round pick on Isaiah Wynn and traded for Trent Brown during draft weekend. But neither is proven in the New England system, and that is a reason for concern.

    The reality is Brady will turn 41 years old in August and could struggle to stay healthy if opposing defenses regularly exploit the left tackle spot. New England needs to figure out if Wynn or Brown is capable of replacing Solder or if it should consider external options.

    Determining how to best protect Brady has to be priority No. 1 in training camp.

New Orleans Saints: Who Will Replace Mark Ingram in the Opening Month?

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    The New Orleans Saints got some tough news this offseason when running back Mark Ingram II was suspended four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy. Last season, Ingram racked up 1,124 rushing yards, 416 receiving yards and helped the Saints field the league's No. 2 offense (391.2 yards per game).

    Because of the suspension, though, the Saints will be without Ingram for the first month of the season. They'll still have 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara, but they'll need to find him a running mate.

    The Saints recently added Terrance West and Shane Vereen. They also have unproven backs like Trey Edmunds and Boston Scott. New Orleans needs to figure out if one of them—or a combination of the bunch—can complete the backfield.

    The Saints face two divisional opponents in that first month. And since the NFC South should again be hotly contested, getting off to a strong start will be important.

New York Giants: How Healthy Is Odell Beckham Jr.?

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    The New York Giants offense was largely ineffective in 2017, thanks in large part to star receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s season-ending injury. With Beckham—and later Sterling Shepard—out, the Giants averaged just 15.4 points per game, the second-lowest total in the league.

    The Giants have to figure out how healthy Beckham is and if he's the same receiver he was before the injury. Not only does the offense need him, but the Giants also have to determine how much Beckham is worth in the long-term.

    He is in the final year of his rookie contract.

    Given the deal Cooks just signed with the Rams, Beckham should be in line for a massive pact if he is back to 100 percent. He averaged 96 catches, 1,374 yards and nearly 12 touchdowns per season before 2017. If he isn't back to who he was before the injury, the Giants may be willing to let another team pay him.

New York Jets: Which Quarterback Gives the Team Its Best Chance to Win Now?

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    The New York Jets have options in their quarterback room. They have a quality journeyman in Josh McCown. They have a 2014 first-round pick in Teddy Bridgewater. While Sam Darnold is obviously expected to be New York's future, the Jets need to determine which quarterback gives them the best chance to grab some wins early in the season.

    New York needs to get an idea of whether head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan have the franchise heading in the right direction. The Jets extended the contracts of Bowles and Maccagnan in December, but the reality is the on-field product hasn't shown tangible improvement under their direction.

    New York was 10-6 in 2015 but has won just five games in each of the past two seasons. If it doesn't field a better product this year, the organization is going to have to reevaluate its front office. Putting Darnold on the field too early could ruin any chances of becoming competitive.

    If he isn't ready, New York needs to refrain from throwing him into the fire until the team is eliminated from playoff contention. By then, owner Christopher Johnson should know whether it's wise to continue with Bowles and Maccagnan.

Oakland Raiders: What Can the Offense Expect from Derek Carr?

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    Though he was named to his third straight Pro Bowl, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr took a step back in 2017. His completion percentage (62.7), passing yards (3,496) and passer rating (86.4) all fell from 2016. His interceptions also increased from six to 13.

    The Raiders hope the hiring of head coach Jon Gruden will help Carr return to being a borderline elite quarterback.

    So far, Carr has enjoyed what Gruden brings to the table.

    "We love football. We want to win. We love to compete," Carr said on The Jim Rome Show. "We love to demand from one another. I demand from him; he demands from me."

    Gruden will likely demand a lot from Carr this season because he knows what the former Fresno State star is capable of. In camp, Gruden needs to find out what to expect from Carr in his offense, how quickly Carr can grasp it and how quickly Gruden can expand it.

Philadelphia Eagles: Should Carson Wentz Start the Season?

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    The Philadelphia Eagles lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL shortly before the end of the regular season last year. They may have him back before the start of the 2018 season, but the Eagles need to ask if Wentz should be in the starting lineup by Week 1.

    Wentz has yet to be medically cleared for full-contact practices.

    "I honestly really don't know when Carson will be cleared," head coach Doug Pederson said, via the team's official website.

    Thanks to the presence of backup Nick Foles, Philadelphia doesn't have to start Wentz in Week 1 if he isn't 100 percent ready. The Eagles need to use training camp to determine how healthy Wentz is and what the risk of re-injury is. The last thing Philadelphia can afford is another serious injury to its franchise signal-caller.

Pittsburgh Steelers: What Is Plan B at Running Back?

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers and running back Le'Veon Bell failed to come to an agreement on a new deal before Monday's deadline. So, Bell will either play on the franchise tag or not at all.

    Pittsburgh needs to prepare for the possibility it won't have Bell when the season opens—or at least a version of Bell that is in prime playing shape. Last season, Bell skipped training camp, reported just before the start of the year and then averaged a pathetic 3.2 yards per carry over the first two weeks.

    According to Bell's agent, the running back will again report just before the start of the season.

    "Whenever that date is, that will be the date," Adisa Bakari told SiriusXM Radio (h/t Joe Rutter of the Tribune-Review). "When he suits up, he'll be ready to play."

    That was the expectation last year too.

    While Bell essentially was Pittsburgh's running game last season, the Steelers have other backs on the roster—including James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Stevan Ridley. They need to figure out which one can start if needed and if one is a better option than an unprepared Bell.

San Francisco 49ers: How Can the Defense Improve the Pass Rush?

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    The future of the San Francisco 49ers certainly appears bright. Potential franchise pieces like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey are in place. One thing San Francisco lacks, though, is a top-tier pass-rusher.

    As a team, the 49ers logged just 30 sacks in 2017. They did little to address the unit, adding Jeremiah Attaochu—who hasn't had a sack since 2016—and parting with Elvis Dumervil, who had 6.5 sacks last season.

    Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh believes the pass rush can be improved by making schematic changes.

    "They've identified some stuff that's going to be a cool dynamic," Saleh said, via the team's official website. "I think we're going to be much further along pass rush wise."

    In a division with Jared Goff and Russell Wilson, the 49ers are going to need an improved pass rush if they're going to rise to the top sooner than later.

Seattle Seahawks: Will the Offensive Line Be Any Better?

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    The offensive line has been a major liability for the Seattle Seahawks over the past several seasons. It was again a disaster in 2017, when it allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to be sacked a whopping 43 times—which is alarming given his ability to escape the pocket.

    The Seahawks replaced line coach Tom Cable with Mike Solari. They also brought in guard D.J. Fluker. However, those moves alone aren't going to transform the blocking unit into an on-field force. Solari has his work cut out for him.

    "The details, the precision of the blocking unit—we just have to crystallize some things and make sure we're better," Solari said, per Aaron Levine and Dusty Lane of Q13Fox.com.

    If the offensive line doesn't appear markedly better in camp, Seattle may need to make more additions or retool the playbook to better protect Wilson. A sixth straight season of 40-plus sacks could put him at a high risk of injury.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What Can the Offense Expect from Ryan Fitzpatrick?

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was handed a three-game suspension under the personal conduct policy after an NFL investigation determined Winston groped a female Uber driver in 2016. The NFC South sent three teams to the postseason last year, and Tampa Bay will have an uphill task to start the season strong if it wants to steal one of those spots in 2018.

    The Buccaneers open with a brutal three-game stretch against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers.

    With Winston out, Tampa Bay will again rely on backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. It'll need to spend training camp building the offense around Fitzpatrick in order to maximize its chances of picking up a win or two during Winston's suspension.

    Fitzpatrick is a capable spot starter—he delivered two wins in three starts last season—but he can be careless with the football. The Buccaneers need to decide if they can open up the offense with Fitzpatrick or if they'll need to relegate him to game-manager mode and build a game plan from there.

Tennessee Titans: How Can the Offense Get the Most out of Marcus Mariota?

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    The Tennessee Titans believe they have their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota. The challenge for the new regime is figuring out how to get the most out of the talented signal-caller.

    "The vision is that we're going to do things that are going to help him," head coach Mike Vrabel said, per Joe Rexrode of the Tennessean. "We're going to get guys around him that are going to help him. We're going to get him to play with confidence. We're going to get him to play energetic and bring the passion of football out that he's so capable of showing. That's my idea for him."

    Mariota is a gifted passer and runner, but he has never reached 3,500 passing yards or 400 rushing yards in a season.

    Tennessee needs to spend the next month-plus finding the right players and schemes to help raise Mariota's level of play. It has a good offensive mind in coordinator Matt LaFleur, who worked wonders with Jared Goff last year. If he can do so again with Mariota, the Titans will be in position to win the AFC South.

Washington Redskins: Can the Offense Count on Jordan Reed?

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    The Redskins have themselves a new quarterback in Alex Smith. What they have to figure out before the season is who is going to be his go-to target. While the offense was productive last season—it ranked 12th with 234.4 yards per game through the air—there wasn't a pass-catcher who stood out above the rest.

    No one reached 800 receiving yards.

    At first blush, it seems tight end Jordan Reed could be Smith's go-to guy, much like Travis Kelce was for the Chiefs last season. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player and a difference-maker when healthy. The problem is staying healthy has been an issue.

    Reed has never played 16 games and finished last season on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury. He also underwent a toe procedure after the season. Washington needs to figure out if Reed is back to 100 percent and if he can be counted on to start the season.

    "We've taken the necessary steps to get him right," head coach Jay Gruden said, per Carita Parks of Redskins Wire. "He's had some procedure done on his toes, and now it's just a matter of the rehab."

    Washington has a tremendous No. 2 option at tight end in Vernon Davis, but the offense is unquestionably better when Reed is at his best.