The Biggest Question Every NFL Team Must Answer in 2021 Training Camps
Throughout the NFL offseason, we NFL lovers pose questions to fellow fans, to ourselves and even to those involved with the teams we love.
I hear them all year, really. Can Quarterback X stay healthy? Will Player Y put Team Z over the top? Who the heck is that rookie?
Not all of our questions can be answered before the season starts, but some are up for grabs in training camps, which begin July 27 for most teams. With that in mind, here are the biggest questions facing all 32 teams as camps loom.
Arizona Cardinals: What's Up with the Defensive Centerpieces?
It's fair to say we know what we're getting from the exciting, talented offense run by Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray. The question is whether the defense can keep up, and the focus this summer will be on the four centerpieces of that unit.
Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt are two of the five highest-paid players on the team. They have a combined six 16-plus-sack seasons. But the 31-year-old Jones is coming off a major biceps injury and is a holdout threat after he skipped the team's mandatory minicamp, while the 32-year-old Watt will be adjusting to a new home after he missed the majority of three of the last five seasons in Houston.
The Cardinals have also used back-to-back first-round picks on off-ball linebackers, but the versatile and wildly talented Isaiah Simmons failed to meet expectations as a top-10 selection in 2020, and we have no idea what to expect from this year's first-rounder, Zaven Collins.
If those four show up and stand out at camp, it'll be a good indication the Cards will become a contender in 2021. If they don't, it could be another tough climb in the mighty NFC West.
Atlanta Falcons: Are Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley Ready to Take Over?
With Julio Jones now a member of the Tennessee Titans, veteran quarterback Matt Ryan and the new-look Atlanta Falcons offense will have to rely heavily on less proven targets Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley.
We've yet to see Pitts in the NFL, and while he's extremely intriguing as a rookie No. 4 pick, tight ends often require time to become acclimated to the pro game. And while Ridley has put up at least 800 yards and seven touchdowns in each of his first three seasons, we've yet to see the 2018 first-round pick serve as a regular No. 1 wide receiver.
How those two adjust to new head coach Arthur Smith's balanced scheme this summer could have a huge bearing on whether the Falcons can surprise in the first year of the post-Drew Brees era in the NFC South.
If the duo struggles, it'll be difficult for Atlanta to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Baltimore Ravens: Will Ronnie Stanley Be Ready?
It's clear that the Baltimore Ravens' chances of breaking through in the AFC Super Bowl race are linked to the success of 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, which is why the Ravens have bolstered his support this offseason.
How a new-look offensive line comes together will be a big part of that, and veterans Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva will have to get acclimated quickly. But that's less of a focus than the health of standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in November.
Stanley didn't participate in the team's offseason program but is "on schedule" to return for training camp "as long as there are no setbacks," according to head coach John Harbaugh.
That's promising, but it's worth monitoring closely because Jackson and the Ravens desperately need their 27-year-old 2019 first-team All-Pro throughout the 2021 campaign.
Buffalo Bills: How Close Are the Young Pass-Rushers?
There's a good chance the Buffalo Bills enter training camp with veterans Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison penciled in as starters on either defensive edge. But both the 32-year-old Hughes and the 33-year-old Addison are beyond their primes and coming off relatively unproductive seasons (9.5 combined sacks in 30 games).
If the Bills are going to make an even more aggressive run at the Super Bowl in the loaded AFC, they'll ideally get a breakout campaign or two from one of their young pass-rushers. That's why a lot of eyes will be on 2020 second-round pick A.J. Epenesa, 2021 first-rounder Gregory Rousseau and rookie second-round selection Boogie Basham when they launch their 2021 training camp.
Epenesa had just one sack on 291 snaps as a rookie, Rousseau is considered a project with a small sample in college and Basham might have to fight to climb the hierarchy, but all three have elite ceilings.
How close is each pass-rusher to becoming a better option than either Hughes or Addison? That's the big question in Western New York.
Carolina Panthers: Who Will Protect Sam Darnold's Blind Side?
Any question regarding new Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold would work in this spot. How will he adapt to Joe Brady's offense? What kind of chemistry will he form with DJ Moore, Christian McCaffrey and former New York Jets teammate Robby Anderson? But for me, it's all about who will protect the 24-year-old 2018 No. 3 overall pick at left tackle.
That job was veteran Russell Okung's when he was healthy in 2020, but the Panthers haven't brought Okung back yet, and it's possible we could be looking at a wide-open competition between 2019 second-round pick Greg Little, rookie third-round selection Brady Christensen, veteran journeyman Cameron Erving and third-year sixth-round pick Dennis Daley.
Of course, it's also possible they bring back Okung, and moving steady right tackle Taylor Moton to the left side isn't out of the question either.
For what it's worth, Erving expects to be the front-runner, per The Athletic's Joe Person, and Christensen is likely a better early fit on the right side or at guard. Regardless, there's a whole lot up in the air at that key spot, and we'll be looking for answers in July and August.
Chicago Bears: Can Justin Fields Win the Starting Job Before Week 1?
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy continues to insist that veteran Andy Dalton is his team's starting quarterback, and that rookie No. 11 overall pick Justin Fields is in the second spot on that depth chart.
"Andy is our starter," Nagy said recently on The Cris Collinsworth Podcast. "Again, I can't predict anything. You know how it goes. There's so many things that can happen between today and that Week 1, but Andy is our starter and Justin's our No. 2. And we're going to stick to this plan."
Cool, but if Fields excels in training camp and the preseason and Dalton does not, the pressure on Nagy to make the change before the start of the regular season will be high. And if Fields' performances in organized team activities are any indication, that could happen.
The Bears didn't start Mitchell Trubisky right away in 2017, and Nagy's Kansas City Chiefs waited to throw Patrick Mahomes into the lion's den that same year. But every situation is different, and you get the feeling the Fields question will dominate Bears camp this summer.
Cincinnati Bengals: How Quickly Will Joe Burrow Become Reacclimated?
Just seven months ago, Cincinnati Bengals 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee and suffered damage to his PCL and meniscus on a season-ending hit. Before that, the LSU product was in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation. Now, Bengals fans are hoping the injury doesn't impede Burrow's progress as a sophomore in 2021.
For what it's worth, he participated in OTAs and is confident he'll be good to go when Cincinnati opens camp next month.
"The knee still has a little ways to go, but my upper body, my right leg, everything else feels better than it ever has before," Burrow said recently. "When I'm on the field and executing, I'm playing better than I ever have before. So I'll continue the program we were on and get back to 100 percent before camp."
Beyond that, we'll all be watching closely to see how he connects with new Cincinnati wide receiver/college teammate Ja'Marr Chase, and in preseason action we'll look for progress from the Bengals' oft-criticized but potentially improved offensive line.
In other words, unsurprisingly, all of the questions surround Burrow and those charged with working directly with him in 2021.
Cleveland Browns: Who Else Will Come Through on Defense?
The natural question for the Cleveland Browns might be: Can quarterback Baker Mayfield evolve in his fourth season? But that's not something he can answer in training camp, so we'll instead focus on a defense that struggled to support Mayfield and Co. because it was far too top-heavy in 2020.
Edge-rusher Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward did most of the heavy lifting for that unit, and the D ranked in the bottom 10 in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders) as a result. But the team has since invested heavily at every level of the defense, and in July and August, Browns fans will hope to see others emerge in support of Garrett and Ward.
We could be talking about three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney, incoming 25-year-old and 2017 first-round pick Takkarist McKinley, new linebacker Anthony Walker, new cornerback Troy Hill, rookie corner Greg Newsome II, sophomore safety Grant Delpit, third-year defensive back Greedy Williams, 2020 COVID-19 opt-out Andrew Billings, big-money secondary addition John Johnson III, rookie second-round steal Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, someone else (Ronnie Harrison? Sione Takitaki? Jacob Phillips? Mack Wilson?) or all of the above.
How the pecking order is established with that unit this summer could be a good indication of the kind of support the star duo will get.
Dallas Cowboys: Can the Offense Hold Up?
The Bengals aren't the only team entering training camp with an eye on a starting quarterback who is coming off a major injury. The same applies to the Dallas Cowboys, who lost Dak Prescott to a season-ending ankle setback in October, although he was able to shine in OTAs and recently stated he'd "buried the injury."
Will he be 100 percent in camp? Will the injury impact his performance anyway? And what about his offensive line? Veteran O-linemen Tyron Smith (neck), La'el Collins (hip) and Zack Martin (calf) are also coming off significant injuries, and Smith and Martin, both 30, don't exactly have full tread on their tires.
The Dallas offense is loaded at the skill positions, and that line is one of the best in football when the key cogs are healthy, but we haven't seen much of those four critical contributors of late.
If all or most of them can prove they're back in full form in July and August, it'll be a lot easier to get behind the veteran Cowboys in September and beyond.
Denver Broncos: Who Will Be the Starting Quarterback?
It's a simple question for the Denver Broncos: Who will be under center when they open the season against the New York Giants on Sept. 12?
That means we'll enjoy a battle between veteran offseason acquisition Teddy Bridgewater and third-year second-round pick Drew Lock, but the elephant in the room is reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. He, of course, remains on the Green Bay Packers' roster, but trade rumors have swirled ever since the draft, and Denver continues to be viewed as the favorite to land him, per KOA Radio's Benjamin Allbright (via FanNation).
As for the current competition?
Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur recently said of Bridgewater and Lock:
"I think they're both getting better. They've both gotten work with the [starters] and they've both had the chance to share the workload with regard to the reps. [I've] seen improvement in Drew from the decision making, his timing and his accuracy. Getting a feel again for Teddy, you can see the things he does well. For Teddy, it's more getting up to speed with what we've done. He's right on board with the new things that we're doing. It's been good."
May the best man win, unless neither does.
Detroit Lions: Can Anthony Lynn and Jared Goff Click?
The Detroit Lions have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback and a new-look supporting cast for that new quarterback. So the natural question entering camp is how Jared Goff will operate under coordinator Anthony Lynn's tutelage.
Lynn's head coaching stint with the Los Angeles Chargers didn't end well last season, but he did get a lot out of Justin Herbert and has often gotten the most out of his running games. If he can do that in Detroit, it could make life a lot easier on Goff. But he'll certainly want to get vertical often as well, which could be interesting considering the lack of wide receiver talent in Detroit.
This will be the first time we've truly seen Goff outside Sean McVay's system, excluding his seven games as a rookie. The good news is he says he feels "empowered" by Lynn and Lions head coach Dan Campbell.
"I think that's been a healthy relationship and something that's been fun for me to experience and be a part of guys that are really wanting to hear from me and wanting to hear what I like," Goff told the media during OTAs.
Soon, we'll see if that transfers to the field.
Green Bay Packers: Who Will Be the Starting Quarterback?
The Broncos and Packers share a big question, with both essentially dependent on Rodgers' fate.
The three-time MVP didn't show up this offseason after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on draft day that Rodgers does not want to return to the team that selected him 24th in 2005. Denver is a logical landing spot, but it's not out of the question that he could go to the Las Vegas Raiders, Browns, New Orleans Saints, Washington Football Team or Miami Dolphins.
Of course, it's also possible he'll return to Green Bay for a 17th season. But if that doesn't happen, the Packers will almost certainly turn to 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love, who has by many indications made progress in his second NFL offseason.
The Rodgers-Love narrative will dominate this summer in Wisconsin.
Houston Texans: Who Will Be the Starting Quarterback?
It just so happens that several teams in this stretch are wondering who will quarterback them come training camp. The Houston Texans have been facing that question ever since Deshaun Watson asked for a trade in January.
Now he is facing 22 lawsuits from women accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct.
Texans general manager Nick Caserio said last week on Sports Radio 610 (h/t John McClain of the Houston Chronicle):
"I think we're respectful of what's happening, respectful of the process and everybody that's involved. The most important thing is for all of us, the coaches and players and myself included, is to focus on the things we can control. As we get more information, as we get closer to training camp, we'll try to make the best decision for the Houston Texans, whatever that entails."
We're still not even sure if or when he'll be eligible to play football, as he could land on the Commissioner Exempt list before the start of the season.
Otherwise, former Watson teammate Kareem Jackson said on Aqib Talib's podcast that Watson wants to join the Broncos, while ESPN's Dianna Russini noted on air last week that the Texans "are still open to trading" the 25-year-old.
The other quarterbacks on the Houston roster are Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Driskel and rookie third-round pick Davis Mills. It's safe to assume that Taylor will get the job if Watson is unavailable or off the roster.
Indianapolis Colts: Can Frank Reich Get Carson Wentz Back on Track?
We do know who'll start under center for the Indianapolis Colts. What we don't know is whether Carson Wentz will be any good.
The veteran certainly was when he last worked with Indy head coach Frank Reich with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. In fact, Wentz was an MVP candidate before he suffered a late-season knee injury during that Super Bowl campaign.
But the 28-year-old was the NFC's lowest-rated qualified passer with a tied-for-league-high 15 interceptions during a season-long slump in 2020, and nobody knows what exactly to expect in 2021. New teammate T.Y. Hilton seems fired up about his strong arm, but we don't have a lot more to go on just yet.
We should get a decent feel this summer for whether that ugly 2020 season was an aberration and whether Reich can get Wentz back on track in 2021.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Are Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence Ready?
The only real questions surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguars are focused on the two new faces of the team, head coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Broadly, the dominant question has to be whether they're ready.
As in, is Meyer ready to run an NFL operation after three-plus decades as a college coach? And are he and Lawrence ready to work together, with the patience level shrinking and the expectations rising in Jacksonville?
And more acutely, is Lawrence's body ready? The No. 1 overall pick spent much of this offseason recovering from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, and now he's limited by a balky hamstring. Meyer has said they've been cautious with him. That continues to be the case, and the Clemson product admits to being a little frustrated.
It's enough to wonder if he'll have the reps to start Week 1.
Kansas City Chiefs: What Can the New-Look Offensive Line Do?
Poor pass protection might have cost Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs a Super Bowl LV victory. This year, they aren't messing around.
Gone are hobbled veteran incumbent offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, and joining the fray are steady former New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney and two-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
We know Thuney and Brown will start, but every other starting spot along that line looks up for grabs. Vets Mike Remmers, Austin Blythe, Nick Allegretti and Andrew Wylie will likely scrap it out with 2020 COVID-19 opt-outs Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Lucas Niang as well as rookie second-round pick Creed Humphrey, and the venerable Kyle Long could also be in the mix when he returns from a leg injury.
If the Chiefs want to make a third consecutive Super Bowl run, protecting Mahomes—who is coming off toe surgery—is of utmost importance.
Las Vegas Raiders: Can Gus Bradley's Defense Become an Asset?
The Raiders recorded just 21 sacks last season, ranking 29th in the NFL in that category. They also ranked 30th with only 15 takeaways, which was another indication the defense lacked bite altogether as it posted the fifth-worst DVOA in the league.
But they've brought in established defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who had plenty of success at previous stops with the Seattle Seahawks, Jaguars and Chargers.
We won't be able to draw too many conclusions about Bradley's new defense in Vegas before the regular season starts, but we should get a pretty good feel for what he'll look to do with his former Jags pupil, Yannick Ngakoue, as well as youngsters Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby, Damon Arnette, Johnathan Abram and rookie second-round pick Tre'von Moehrig.
Bradley's got plenty of talent to work with, and if he can get that unit moving in the right direction in July and August, the entire team could have a shot at its first playoff run of the latest Jon Gruden era come fall and winter.
Los Angeles Chargers: How Will Justin Herbert Adapt to a New Offense?
With Lynn, Bradley and others elsewhere, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year and his cohorts will be working with an entirely new coaching staff in Los Angeles in 2021. Head coach Brandon Staley's defense will be worth watching in the early stages, but Joe Lombardi's offense presents a more significant question considering the groove it was in under Lynn's tutelage during Herbert's maiden campaign.
The good news is Herbert is used to change. In fact, Lombardi will be his sixth OC in the last six years.
How much will the new Bolts offense resemble the system Drew Brees ran during Lombardi's two tenures in New Orleans? And how much of the offense will cater specifically to Herbert's talents? They're obviously very different quarterbacks, so ideally there will be a strong attempt from Staley and Lombardi to tailor the offense as much as possible to Herbert's strengths.
Herbert told the media in April:
"His system with the Saints was really impressive, and (I) got the chance to talk with Drew a little bit, Drew Brees, about it. Drew is has always done such a great job of making the MIKE ID points himself, and he's just kind of run that system. So, it's going to be something I have to get used to. It's something I'm going to have to spend a lot of time with, but I'm really looking forward to it."
For what it's worth, he's taken a ton of reps in OTAs. Look for that to continue in camp.
Los Angeles Rams: Can Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford Click?
The Chargers are introducing a new staff to a returning quarterback, while the Los Angeles Rams are introducing a new quarterback to a returning coaching staff.
Same city, different dynamic. Same idea in terms of the big question: How will Matthew Stafford adapt to Sean McVay's offense? And will McVay recalibrate now that he's working with a very different type of quarterback than Jared Goff?
Stafford is less likely to stick to structure than Goff was, but he's also never benefited from working with a brilliant play designer on McVay's level.
So far, McVay sounds thrilled.
"I think we're in the early phases of it," he told reporters last month. "But certainly, the way he's handled things up to this point, been very pleased. He's a joy to be around every single day. The consistency that he comes in to work with is definitely something that he makes it really fun. And been pleased with what he's done up to this point."
Stafford sounds encouraged as well, telling Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times in May:
"There's things I've done in the past that I think make sense to him and make sense for our offense. There's also things that I've never been exposed to that are in this offense that I'm trying to learn and make second nature to myself as well. So, it's been fun. We've been able to kind of bounce ideas back and forth off of each other, and we'll figure out what this thing looks like come August, September."
We might even get a feel for what those two have been able to devise before then.
Miami Dolphins: How Much Progress Has Tua Tagovailoa Made?
Coming off a major hip injury and an offseason that was severely limited by COVID-19 restrictions, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa failed to impress as a rookie with the improving Miami Dolphins in 2020. But Miami didn't overreact by making any major changes at that position, and it looks as though Tagovailoa will have at least one proper shot at serving as the team's starter from the get-go in 2021.
How he performs this summer, though, could indicate how much leeway he has for a team that might not have a lot of patience at the conclusion of a thorough rebuild.
It wasn't ideal that the Alabama product threw five interceptions in the team's first minicamp practice last week, but as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes, "Tagovailoa followed Tuesday's turnoverfest with six completions of 20 or more yards on Wednesday—including a 40-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle and a deep completion to Jakeem Grant—and just as importantly, not a single interception."
Can he build on that and avoid camp performances like last week's session? If so, the Dolphins will feel confident entering September. But that remains a big "if."
Minnesota Vikings: Can Darrisaw Take the Reins on Cousins' Blind Side?
Plenty of questions surround the Minnesota Vikings' defenders, regarding both youngsters (can early 2020 draft picks Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler emerge?) and veterans (What does Patrick Peterson have left? Will Danielle Hunter show up?), but the largest question surrounding Vikes camp is centered on the largest new member of the roster.
That'd be 6'5", 323-pound first-round rookie offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw, who is expected to man the starting left tackle spot in place of departed veteran Riley Reiff.
That's obviously a critical role for the long, physically intimidating Virginia Tech product, as he'll be charged with protecting Kirk Cousins' blind side in what could be a make-or-break year for this iteration of the Vikings. So how he performs this summer will give us a feel for what might be in store for the team in the fall and winter.
"He's exceeded expectations, cause he's very bright," offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak told reporters during minicamp. "He puts in the work, he takes the coaching points from coach [Rick] Dennison and coach [Phil] Rauscher and when he's been out there, he's taken it to the field. So he just needs to get more reps, cause reps are key. He missed a few of them, but he's going to get them back. We're going to get our money's [worth] out of him come fall camp."
New England Patriots: What Shape Are the Quarterbacks In?
Cam Newton wasn't consistently healthy in 2018 or 2019 and wasn't himself following a diminished offseason in his debut campaign with the New England Patriots. It's possible the 2015 MVP peaked that season and is running out of gas, and a hand injury cost him some time this offseason as well.
Does that mean he'll prove during training camp that he's set to take the reins despite the presence of first-round rookie Mac Jones? That could depend on how far along Jones is then, but it's worth noting that, according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, the Alabama product took more first-team reps than Newton at minicamp practice Tuesday and "was the best QB on the field" in consecutive sessions.
This could be a legitimate battle because the Pats look to be all-in on 2021 and won't likely have the patience to ride out more passing struggles from Newton this summer.
New Orleans Saints: Who Will Be the Quarterback?
This is the final time we ask this one, but the quarterback question with the New Orleans Saints might be league's most intriguing.
Will it be 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, or will it be undrafted 30-year-old Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill? The former has a higher profile and a much more enticing resume, while the latter is intriguing because of his unique physical tools.
Is Winston accurate enough to run Sean Payton's offense? Should that system change to cater to his gunslinging ways? Is Hill refined enough as a passer to be a regular NFL starter? Does the system need to change for him? The Saints are likely hoping they'll get answers to these key questions in August so they can focus on winning games in September and beyond.
Of course, it's also possible we'll see some sort of quarterback platoon for much if not all of the 2021 season in New Orleans.
New York Giants: Is Saquon Barkley Ready?
This may be a make-or-break season for third-year New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, but that'll be the case regardless of what he does on the practice field and in preseason action this summer. Instead, the focus in terms of big training camp questions should shift to Jones' top weapon, running back Saquon Barkley.
The 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year has not been healthy for much of the last two seasons and is still recovering from a torn ACL. Earlier this month he told reporters he's "doing well," but it's unclear when we'll see him on the field without restrictions.
"You know me. I'm going to take it one day at a time. Just come in with my head down and ready to work," Barkley said during minicamp. "It's going to be whenever my body tells me I'm ready or I'm able to show everyone I'm ready again. That's when I'm going to be able to go out there and hopefully be elite, what I was before but even better."
If Barkley's ready in August, Giants fans should feel pretty good about Jones and Co.'s chances of making progress in 2021. But for now, we're waiting and guessing.
New York Jets: Is Zach Wilson Ready to Run Mike LaFleur's Offense?
The New York Jets might also have an interesting running back battle on their hands in training camp, but it's hard to put that question higher on the priority list than the one surrounding rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and his incoming offensive coordinator, Mike LaFleur.
Wilson is coming off just a single strong college season, and now both he and LaFleur will be tasked with understanding each other's skills and philosophies as quickly as possible before the Jets open the season (ideally with Wilson under center) on Sept. 12.
"What's cool and unique about this offense is, yes, it's the West Coast system and we're trying to run the outside zone and do the play-action stuff off it," LaFleur said last month, "but we fit it to our players, and that's something I've learned from all the guys I've been around."
It helps that Wilson comes from a pro-style system at BYU, but there will likely be some growing pains. The question is how long they'll last and how much progress he and LaFleur can make in the process.
Philadelphia Eagles: Is Jalen Hurts the Answer?
How long is Jalen Hurts' leash? Considering that he was a second-round pick with limited entry-level expectations and is now the starter in a place with practically no football patience, the Philadelphia Eagles could easily decide to pull the plug on the Hurts experiment before the regular season arrives.
That's why the crucial question at Philly camp will simply be whether the Oklahoma product can look the part.
Peripherally, it'll be important for the Eagles' new offense to complement Hurts' skill set. New head coach Nick Sirianni's high-tempo system typically employs plenty of tight ends and running backs in the passing game, but he's shown an ability to adapt to who's under center, and that'll be necessary with Hurts.
This will likely be a one-year audition at most for a young but flawed quarterback who completed 52.0 percent of his passes as a rookie. But if he looks like a fish out of water in July and August, the Eagles could consider making a drastic move for a veteran on the trade market, or we could even get a Joe Flacco sighting.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Will There Be a Struggle Between Big Ben and Matt Canada?
"We are going to what Ben wants to do and how Ben wants to do it."
That's a hell of a quote from last week from new Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who is taking over for the departed Randy Fichtner in that role.
So, case closed, right? Canada will let Ben Roethlisberger stand in the shotgun and toss up 40 deep balls every Sunday, and there's nothing the coordinator will do to get in the way.
That's hard to believe.
It's easy to understand why Big Ben might be stubborn about how things are done this deep into his career, but the Steelers used a first-round draft pick on running back Najee Harris in April, and at the college level, Canada employed plenty of pre-snap movement and had his quarterbacks under center frequently.
"Last year, the Steelers played in shotgun at the fourth-highest rate in the league," wrote Pro Football Focus' Seth Galina. "Canada's last college offense, the 2018 Maryland Terrapins, did it at the 117th-ranked rate in the country. The Steelers used pre-snap motion at the 23rd-highest rate in the league, while the Terrapins used it at the second-highest rate in college football."
Galina concluded that "there might not be a more dissimilar quarterback-offensive coordinator pairing in NFL history."
Despite what Canada says, there's a decent chance we'll see a clash at some point. Possibly even in camp.
San Francisco 49ers: Can They Stay Healthy?
It's beginning to feel as though the San Francisco 49ers are cursed. The talented 2019 NFC champions were ravaged by injuries to a ridiculous degree in 2020, and they've already lost safety Tarvarius Moore to a torn Achilles and offensive lineman Justin Skule to a torn ACL this offseason.
Are they simply becoming one of those teams that can't catch a break in the health department? That'll be on most minds when they open camp next month, especially if wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk's groin injury lingers or frequently injured running back Raheem Mostert continues to be bothered by a knee issue.
We're still not sure if edge defender Dee Ford's neck will allow him to take the practice field at the start of camp, and we're yet to get a thorough feel for how pass-rusher Nick Bosa (knee), quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) or star tight end George Kittle (knee) will look after they missed so much time in 2020 and the 2021 offseason.
If the 49ers can hold up physically, they should be a contender again. But that's a large "if," and it'll be at the forefront throughout this summer.
Seattle Seahawks: Will Russell Wilson Be Satisfied with the New Offense?
Good news, guys! Russell Wilson is happy again! He says he didn't request a trade this offseason, but we did hear him state clearly in a radio interview with KJR in Seattle (via ProFootballTalk) early in the offseason that he was "frustrated at getting hit too much."
The Seahawks brought in veteran guard Gabe Jackson to help with that, and it appears Wilson is getting comfortable in new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's system.
"It's super complex," Wilson said of the new offense earlier this month. "We are going to be able to move people around. We are going to do everything that we want to...I really believe in him."
Again, promising! But what if the execution isn't there? What if he continues to face too much pressure during training camp and the preseason? How long will it take for Wilson to again become disenchanted?
If you want to take a less cynical route, the question here could be: How will the Seahawks' new offense look? But there's more to it than that, because Wilson's future in Seattle is likely riding on the success of Waldron's system.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will Tom Brady Continue to Evade Father Time?
Remember when we used to sort of laugh at the notion Tom Brady planned to play until he was 45? Well, in just a few weeks, the reigning Super Bowl MVP turns 44. And the odds favor his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get back to the Super Bowl again in the NFC.
Brady is a massive exception to the rule when it comes to aging quarterbacks. He's close to being the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history. He's thrown 40 touchdown passes since turning 43, which is 30 more than every other 43-plus-year-old player in league history. Most quarterbacks are long gone well before reaching 40, and only extreme anomalies make it close to 44. But here he is, thriving.
However, it's also true that Father Time is undefeated, and that NFL quarterbacks fall off cliffs fast. Brady's coming off what he said was "pretty serious knee surgery," per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud, and there's always a chance he just won't be the same anymore. If that's the case, we may pick up on it in camp.
Of course, you'd be silly to bet against the guy regardless of his age. We all know better by now.
Tennessee Titans: What Can the New-Look Defense Do?
All of the attention at Tennessee Titans camp will be on incoming star wide receiver Julio Jones and the stacked Tennessee offense that also features Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown. But for years, the Titans have been limited by an oft-toothless defense.
Will that change in 2021?
They've certainly invested more heavily in a unit that ranked 29th in DVOA and generated just 19 sacks in 2020, but the makeover comes with plenty of sub-questions.
Will big-money addition Bud Dupree be recovered from major knee surgery in time to make a significant impact on the edge? Is 2019 first-round pick Jeffery Simmons ready to take off in his third season? How much does incoming veteran cornerback Janoris Jenkins have left? Will rookie first-round pick Caleb Farley make an immediate impact at corner despite durability concerns and a 2020 opt-out?
The D won't be talked about as much as the offense in Titans camp, but we know the team will score a lot of points. The key questions actually surround a defensive unit that must get it together and start making more big plays in 2021.
Washington Football Team: Is There Enough Quarterback Talent on the Roster?
Aaron Rodgers is not (yet) a member of the Washington Football Team. And the franchise didn't get in on Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff or any of the other established quarterbacks on the move this offseason.
It did add...Ryan Fitzpatrick?
In 16 NFL seasons, Fitzpatrick has never started a playoff game. He's a solid backup who gets hot for short stretches as a starter, but he's wildly inconsistent, and that will almost certainly be the case again in his age-39 season.
It's hard to imagine that'll be enough for Washington to make a true Super Bowl run, even if the stacked defense delivers in 2021. That's why we'll be on Taylor Heinicke/Kyle Allen watch throughout the summer. Washington desperately needs one of those backups to emerge in emphatic fashion, but the former is an undrafted 28-year-old with limited experience and the latter faces an uphill battle as the presumed No. 3 quarterback.
How the signal-callers perform in July and August could indicate if the WFT can hang with the big boys in the fall and winter.
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