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Nine things we're looking forward to in training camp

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With July 4th in the rearview mirror, NFL coaches are starting to trickle back into team headquarters. Players are still a few weeks away from showing up, but training camp will be here before we know it.

Here are nine things we're looking forward to when players return to the field:

Eagles quarterback battle


There are a few more open quarterback spots around the NFL (New York, Houston, Buffalo), but this one just matters more. The Eagles have more 10-win seasons under Chip Kelly than Tom Coughlin has had in the last six years. Philadelphia's defense was reloaded in the offseason, and the offense has nearly been quarterback-proof. That's why all the reports about Mark Sanchez's improved offseason were worth noting. Sam Bradford is basically battling his knee, but Sanchez provides Kelly a safety net if he plays well in August. It was Sanchez, not Bradford, working out with his Eagles teammates in July. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Eagles gave Bradford more time to get healthy and see how Sanchez looks early in the Eagles schedule.

Contract standoffs


Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston all were given the franchise tag. None of them have signed a new contract in the meantime. Teams have until July 15 to sign the players to a long-term deal. That isn't going to happen with JPP, who is recovering from a finger amputation and a broken thumb. It would be surprising if any of the other three get their deals this summer.

These aren't just solid starters. Bryant, Thomas and Houston are all among the best 20 players in the league. If they don't sign new deals, it raises a tricky question. How long do they want to skip work before signing their one-year tenders? Is there any point to missing training camp when there is no chance of getting a long-term deal? It wouldn't be surprising if the players skipped the "camp" portion of August for two weeks, and then show up as the preseason gets in full swing.

Giant intrigue


Pierre-Paul's bizarre situation has a lot of layers to it. His status for the season is unclear, while the Giants and JPP play contractual chicken. The Giants offense took huge strides last season, and the defense can only improve with coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's return. But so many of their biggest names have question marks. Victor Cruz is coming off a torn patellar tendon, and there's no telling if his speed returns. We aren't going to overreact to Odell Beckham's latest hamstring injury, but the Giants would love to see him take in a training camp for the first time. First-round pick Ereck Flowers will be tested to take over injured Will Beatty at left tackle. After some relatively quiet years, the Giants will be back in the spotlight in a do-or-die season for coach Tom Coughlin.

Rookie heat check


Top picks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will be starting quarterbacks in September, and their progress in August will be a fascinating subplot in the preseason. Bears wideout Kevin White needs to get healthy and prove he can make a quick impact as a starter in Chicago. The same goes for Miami's DeVante Parker, who was looking great in offseason workouts before undergoing foot surgery. Rams running back Todd Gurley, Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon and Browns running back Duke Johnson are all angling for big roles. Since there is little tackling in offseason workouts, the preseason is huge for running back depth chart jostling.

The Rex Show in Buffalo


This is Rex Ryan's time of year. Daily press conferences and boundless optimism lead to tasty sound bites. It doesn't hurt that Ryan has a dominant defense to coach and a quarterback battle to comment on. This is a potential playoff team if offensive coordinator Greg Roman can teach his offense quickly enough to at least one quarterback: Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel or Tyrod Taylor. Manuel looks like the slight favorite entering camp.

Jimmy Garoppolo's test drive


New England's presumptive Week 1 starter impressed us last preseason. His performance this August will be under a much bigger microscope than a year ago. We still don't know exactly how long Garoppolo will be slated to replace Tom Brady, but he sets up as one of the key NFL question marks of the next few months.

Johnny Manziel


The treatment of Manziel's life as a daily reality show is beyond tiresome, but there is a legitimately fascinating football story here. It's not often you see a first-round pick at quarterback benched in his second season behind a 35-year-old journeyman like Josh McCown. (Much less one coming off a brutal season like McCown.) It remains to be seen whether Manziel's struggles as a rookie were more about football or lifestyle. This is Manziel's month. If he doesn't make progress in the preseason, he won't get a shot to play when the games matter (and when McCown inevitably struggles). With a talented defense and offensive line, the Browns aren't that far away from making noise.

Hard Knocks


Hard Knocks seasons, like Mad Men episodes, have reached the level where grading them too closely is missing the point. Some seasons are better than others, but they are all better than any other football related show on television. I'm just happy they keep coming out, and always want more. It would be great if a Hard Knocks: Regular Season with the Baltimore Ravens came out. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about this Texans season, starting with J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork and a sneaky sarcastic coach in Bill O'Brien.

Jim Tomsula and the new look 49ers


Tomsula has already proven to be entertaining in press conferences, and he's going to have a lot to talk about this month. The 49ers lost an insane amount of talent over the offseason, which means a lot of starting positions are up for grabs. This has been one of the dominant teams of the aughts, and there is a chance the bottom could completely fall out in a loaded NFC West.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down the latest news surrounding Jason Pierre-Paul's injury, as well as the Mettenberger and Watt feud. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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