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What to watch for with 7 teams opening minicamps

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The next step in the NFL's offseason program begins this week for seven squads.

The Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers each open veteran minicamps on Tuesday.

Up to this point workouts have been "voluntary." Minicamps, however, mark the first mandatory workouts -- players are subject to fines for skipping these sessions.

Aside from the mandatory aspect, little else changes. Minicamps remain non-contact, sans pads. Teams can conduct "live" offense vs. defense drills as part of their installations.

With players still in shorts, we caution against gleaning too much from June minicamps, but there are some storylines worth tracking.

Let's take a look at a few storylines to watch for all seven teams:

Arizona Cardinals


Offense: Coach Bruce Arians has beamed about second-year receiver J.J. Nelson this offseason, but with a stacked receiving corps, where does the speedy, slight wideout fit? Minicamp could give us our first clue about whether Nelson can vault himself into more snaps or will continue to be buried behind Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd for another season.

Defense: The secondary enters minicamp as the biggest question mark on the Cards' roster. Corner is the real concern, where Justin Bethel currently sits as the top option behind Patrick Peterson. With Tyrann Mathieu continuing rehab, we'll see how Arizona begins to formulate their revamped secondary.

Cleveland Browns


Offense: As it has been for the entire millennium, it's all about the quarterbacks in Cleveland. Will Robert Griffin III's play in practice finally force coach Hue Jackson to officially name him the starter? Or will the competition with Josh McCown float into August?

An additional item to watch for on the Browns' offense is which late-round receiver separates from the pack. With Brian Hartline jettisoned, Ricardo Lewis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton are in line to win snaps as rookies.

Defense: Where will the pass rush come from? Barkevious Mingo is the guy I'm going to watch this offseason. The subject of positive offseason trope stories enters a make-or-break year -- one of several Cleveland first-round picks with such a designation. Mingo has reportedly bulked up, but will his new sculpture lead to actual production on the field?

Denver Broncos


Offense: Denver rides a three-headed quarterback battle into training camp. Mark Sanchez entered the offseason as the presumptive starter. Paxton Lynch came as the first-round pick. 2015 seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian -- the only one with experience in Gary Kubiak's system -- has, by all accounts, a legitimate chance to win the starting gig. Will Sanchez's experience win out or will he display more of the poor game-tape we saw last season? Will Lynch's talent overcome his inexperience running a pro system? Does Siemian's knowledge of the system give him a leg up? These questions we're unlikely to get concrete answers to after three minicamp practices, but it's a start.

Defense: The Broncos return the majority of their starting unit, but replacing linebacker Danny Trevathan is easier said than done. Todd Davis and Corey Nelson will get the first shots at getting a head start on the competition that will last into training camp.

Side note: Von Miller has yet to sign his franchise tag tender and is not currently under contract. Therefore, if the linebacker skips minicamp it is not considered a holdout and he cannot be fined.

Indianapolis Colts


Offense: The Colts drafted heavy on the offensive line, but questions still remain, specifically on the right side. Joe Reitz, Hugh Thornton, Denzelle Good and Jonotthan Harrison will battle for the right tackle and guard spots. With protecting Andrew Luck the offseason priority, these positions are worth keeping an early eye on.

Also: Who in seven bloody hells is going to back up Frank Gore?

Defense: Injuries are likely to keep several members of the Colts' defensive front out of minicamps. Still, pass rusher is a weak spot for Indy. Is there any depth behind the aging quartet of Robert Mathis, Kendall Langford, Erik Walden and Trent Cole?

New England Patriots


Offense: The Pats added several depth options at receiver this offseason: Chris Hogan, Nate Washington and rookie Malcolm Mitchell. With Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman still nursing injuries, the newcomers should get a chance carve out an early niche. We could be nearing the end of Aaron Dobson's time in New England.

Defense: Bill Belichick is famous for seamlessly plugging holes. The Hooded One will work his magic again after trading Chandler Jones, cutting Dominique Easley and losing Akiem Hicks in free agency. How Belichick will plug his holes on the inside with Malcom Brown and Terrance Knighton and the outside with Chris Long will be something to focus on for the Pats' D.

Philadelphia Eagles


Offense: The quarterback rotisserie will continue to spin in Philly and we're unlikely to get any clarity until training camp. So, let's focus on the receivers. Coach Doug Pederson recently said Jordan Matthews continues to look better on the inside. Some hoped the No. 1 wideout would progress to the outside, but that doesn't appear to be the case. So where will the Eagles turn? Nelson Agholor had a disappointing rookie season, Josh Huff and Chris Givens inspire little enthusiasm and Rueben Randle was inconsistent in four seasons in New York. How Pederson deploys his wideouts in minicamp will be our first substantial look at how he views their potential in 2016.

Defense: How will the Eagles' secondary shake out? Eric Rowe is one presumptive starter at corner, leaving Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin to skirmish for the other starting job. Should Carroll return from a broken fibula this week, we could see the beginning of the battle that will stretch into training camp.

Tangent: Two veterans skipped Eagles voluntary offseason workouts this spring: Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports that Sproles is expected to report to minicamp. Pederson expects Cox to follow. 

San Francisco 49ers


Offense: With Colin Kaepernick sitting out all three practices, will Blaine Gabbert extend any advantage for when a competition does begin later this summer?

The battle along the Niners' receiver depth chart will also be something to keep an eye on. Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington appear to have the clear edge behind Torrey Smith. Could someone like DeAndre Smelter -- coming of an ACL tear -- sneak his way into snaps?

Defense: Given that there is no contact, suggesting to eye the re-formed Oregon tandem of DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead seems like a semi-waste. Instead I'll be keeping tabs on Jimmie Ward's move to corner. If the transition from safety goes smoothly, the 49ers' back end should be stellar with Ward and Tramaine Brock at corner and Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea at safety. If all goes according to plan, there is a lot of flexibility in San Francisco's secondary.

End note: Minicamp wraps up spring workouts for the Cardinals, Browns, Colts, Eagles and 49ers. The Broncos and Patriots will conduct further OTAs the following week.

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