Analysis  

 

Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow, Saints hierarchy top summer subplots

The NFL is about to go dark -- at least in terms of offseason workouts and on-field news.

The New Orleans Saints -- dealing with the bounty scandal and Drew Brees' contract negotiations -- the rookie symposium and other off-field events and issues will provide enough news to carry us into training camps, which start in a month, but baseball and Olympic trials are going to have to satisfy our sports appetite for a while.

Isn't it funny how the NFL season seemed to just end, yet we're clamoring for things to get going as soon as possible?

To whet the appetite even further, let's delve into some of the bigger storylines heading into training camp ... and beyond.

Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow

This is going to be a screaming headline every day. We know the dynamics by now. What we'll find out more than anything is if Sanchez has the gumption to truly be better than he's been.

The Jets have put obvious pressure on him. There's none on Tebow. If Sanchez steps up under new coordinator Tony Sparano, then there is no controversy. If Sanchez steps up, that's also very good for the Jets because it means he's making better decisions and showing the maturity needed for New York to challenge the New England Patriots and what could be a good Buffalo Bills team in the AFC East.

The test will come in preseason games. Tebow probably will get the most snaps, as is usually the case with backup QBs, and he'll be facing second- and third-unit defenders. The moment Rex Ryan gives Tebow a few series against No. 1 defenses is when the quarterback competition becomes a full-blown controversy.

Who's in charge in New Orleans?

This franchise has gone through unprecedented troubles these past few months. However, as someone who has spent time with the team over the years and knows the makeup of that roster, the players and coaches will galvanize and rally. Entering training camp, the bigger issue will be Brees. There's little doubt around league circles that a long-term contract will be completed by the July 16 franchise-tag deadline and Brees will be in camp on time.

Upon arrival, he has to show leadership like he's never shown before -- if that's possible. It's his team, with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the season.

Also, the coaching staff is going to have to establish a chain of command and game-day hierarchy during five preseason games. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt is suspended for the first six games, so the staff will have to decide who's calling the shots in his absence, and who will be in the booth/on the field. There are no major obstacles on an individual level, but collectively the Saints have some hills to climb.

Monitoring Manning

The intrigue here will be how Denver Broncos coaches manage the veteran quarterback. Manning, one of the most competitive players in the game, hasn't been in pads in more than a year. He's going to want to take a ton of snaps in practice and preseason games. And to some degree, he should. He has to get used to contact and being back in the heat of game competition.

Still, games don't mean anything until Week 1, and Manning has to be healthy and progressing by then. Denver has no grace period for the transition. Its schedule is downright ugly (Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston, Oakland and New England right out of the gate). It's the type of schedule Manning is used to, but not the type of schedule the Broncos typically are dealt. Early on, the development of Manning's supporting cast might be more important than that of Manning himself.

Four bona fide QB battles

The Kevin Kolb-John Skelton competition in Arizona might be one of the more understated subplots in the NFL.

If Skelton wins the job, it would show that coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves made a huge error by trading a second-round draft pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Philadlephia Eagles for Kolb in 2011. They also signed Kolb to a deal that guarantees him roughly $21 million. Even worse, if Skelton wins the job but doesn't win games, Whisenhunt could be on a very hot seat.

Shifting gears to another NFC West team, it appears it's really Matt Flynn's job to lose in Seattle, according to league sources. Still, there are a lot of questions from some non-Seahawks coaches and other NFL personnel as to what exactly coach Pete Carroll is doing at quarterback. The biggest question seems to be whether Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson or rookie Russell Wilson is good enough to complement what appears to be a playoff-ready roster.

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The Tennessee Titans are closer to pushing the Houston Texans for the division crown than most people realize, and the battle for the starting quarterback job might not be controversial, regardless of who opens the season as the starter. Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker are capable, but Hasselbeck's leadership would seem to make him the favorite heading into Week 1. As a rookie last season, Locker showed he's ready to step in when needed. Having that type of security at this position could be what gets the Titans into the playoffs.

Matt Moore and David Garrard appear to be more insurance for rookie Ryan Tannehill than real threats. Tannehill knows the system better, since he played for offensive coordinator Mike Sherman at Texas A&M. Recent history also suggests that first-time head coaches (Rex Ryan, Mike Smith, John Harbaugh and Ron Rivera) hitch their careers onto the rookie QBs they draft. If Tannehill doesn't win the job, then it shows he's simply not ready. Coaches will earn the respect of their players if they don't force a player into the lineup just because of his draft status.

Peace in Philadelphia

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There was hype and anger with the Eagles last training camp, after Cullen Jenkins, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Rodgers-Cromartie were paid as free-agent newcomers. That left in-house stars DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy a tad miffed as to why they hadn't received new deals after coming up through the system. Not to mention cornerback Asante Samuel, who was bitter throughout the season after he was perpetually mentioned in trades.

Samuel is now in Atlanta, while Jackson and McCoy have been rewarded by Philly brass. The others are entering their first full offseason after performing better than perceived. The Eagles are going to be an early Super Bowl favorite ... again. Can they do a better job handling expectations with a peaceful locker room?

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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