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Team training camp previews: NFC West



Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Around The NFL's Conor Orr breaks down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.

Today, we take a look at the NFC West. For the rest of the NFL, click here.

Training camp report dates: Rookies and veterans July 30.

Training camp location: SAP Performance Facility, Santa Clara, Calif.

Offseason in a nutshell: Chip Kelly! The hope is that Kelly, who is a good coach, stops being considered some type of mad scientist in San Francisco -- a moniker that overshadows the purpose of what he's actually trying to accomplish. Good offenses win with simple strategies that can be quickly absorbed and, with time, customized to suit the strengths of the team's best players. This is not breaking news, just ask Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Just ask Peyton Manning, Bruce Arians and Tom Moore. Just ask Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr and Vicente del Bosque. Kelly is the kind of coach the talent-starved 49ers need right now and, more than any other coach available this offseason, he can maximize a roster that few coaches wanted to touch with a focus on running the football, spacing out defenses and creating open wide receivers via play action.

Player to watch: Defensive end DeForest Buckner. The 49ers have a chance to start a formidable pair of bookends in their 3-4 defense this season if Buckner can be even half as disruptive as advertised. However, we should really say the person to watch in camp is defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil. O'Neil is an interesting case -- finally out from under the Mike Pettine umbrella, this is really the first time he has the chance to mold the philosophies of Rex Ryan and Pettine. O'Neil was a surprising choice given the behind-the-scenes defensive struggle in Cleveland, which was thankfully overshadowed by the very public struggle between the club's front office and coaching staff. O'Neil's saving grace is that he has two players both projected as young versions of Calais Campbell to work with.


1. Will Colin Kaepernick quietly fade or make a move?

Occam's razor suggests that we should have been wary of a Kaepernick-Kelly resurgence the moment we first typed the sentence Colin seems to be the perfect fit in Kelly's system. We want to believe this because we still associate Kelly's offense with a mobile quarterback. We also want to see Kaepernick's career revived in the worst way after being treated to one hell of a run during the Jim Harbaugh era. But the reality is that Kelly has three quarterbacks -- Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Jeff Driskel -- with a relatively similar skillset at his disposal and will end up riding the hottest hand.

2. Can Eric Rogers continue to impress?

Kelly sure as heck hopes so. Rogers has prototypical size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and stood out during minicamp, as fast, tall wide receivers tend to do. Our interest level is high, though, because Kelly contacted him almost immediately after getting the job. The argument for Rogers, a former California Lutheran University standout, is that he got the proper seasoning over two years in the Canadian Football League and is perhaps ready to contribute at the NFL level. At the moment, Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton seem to be battling it out for the No. 2 spot opposite Torrey Smith.

3. Will Ahmad Brooks make the team?

Niners fans have been discussing the possibility of ditching Brooks' balky contract ever since he signed it, and this might finally be the time to do it. Kelly is going to need a fresh, young rotation on defense and the team already has players like Eli Harold and Tank Carradine, who reportedly is meshing well with his new(ish) responsibilities as a stand-up edge rusher, in the queue.

Way-too-early season prediction: Minor Chip Kelly obsession aside, this is a team lucky to win seven games in 2016, but one that will hopefully show enough flashes to merit Kelly staying another season. Two bridge coaches would sink this franchise into pre-Gus Bradley Jaguars territory.


Training camp report dates: Rookies July 25, veterans July 28.

Training camp location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona.

Offseason in a nutshell: Until they post a losing season under SuperCoach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals will float in that beautiful, hazy stratosphere that certain NFL teams reach. No decision is a bad one. Every move made is such a classic [Pick name: Arians/Belichick/Carroll/Gettleman] move. So trading for troubled but massively productive defensive end Chandler Jones? Great. Bringing back Chris Johnson and "All Or Nothing" star Red Bryant? Even better. Cutting ties with former first-round pick Jonathan Cooper instead of moving him to center? Why not? An NFL team's culture is good until it isn't, and right now, the Cardinals are riding quite high.

Player to watch: Wide receiver Michael Floyd. Widely believed to be the next wide receiver to get paid, Floyd hopefully will spread his wings this offseason and truly declare himself as the Cardinals' most consistent pass catcher. Larry Fitzgerald isn't going anywhere, but Floyd can be dominant -- and the Cardinals are waiting for the next-level, top-10-in-production type of season to take hold. Sometimes, you can see it coming early on in training camp.


1. Will Evan Mathis put this offensive line over the hump?

The Cardinals had some of the most underrated offensive linemen in football last year, but adding an experienced guard in Mathis -- one who should have been named in NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2016" -- unquestionably puts Arizona in new territory on paper. The team now pairs Mathis with perennial Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati and rangy, powerful tackles Jared Veldheer and D.J. Humphries.

2. Will Matt Barkley play his way onto a different NFL roster?

This team is cautious about its quarterback choices -- especially after seeing how bare the cupboard can get beyond Drew Stanton -- so is there a reason to let Barkley go? Quarterback movement is fascinating late in the preseason, and it's one of the ways teams can immediately get better before the start of the regular season. Look for the former would-be first-round pick to try to stake his claim on a backup spot somewhere else, even if he might be better served working another year under QB guru Arians.

3. Will Bruce Arians give us what we want in camp?

Inside-run periods are understandably limited during training camp due to injury, but we can hopefully get a sneak preview of this offensive line thudding against rookie first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche, Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, Red Bryant, Frostee Rucker and the rest. Goodness gracious. There might not be a better intra-squad matchup this summer.

Way-too-early season prediction: Like we said before, the Cardinals have one of the best cultures in the NFL -- until they don't. Arians doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and this team is good enough to win another 13 games this season.


Training camp report dates: Rookies July 27, veterans July 29.

Training camp location: University of California-Irvine, Irvine, Calif.

Offseason in a nutshell: The Rams essentially announced to the rest of the NFL that they are one player away from competing in perhaps the best division in football. After lauding their success in the Robert Griffin III draft train robbery, the Rams essentially reversed course, mortgaging the future for the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL Draft. Jared Goff is a work in progress and is going to spend the season making the type of mistakes rookie quarterbacks make. At the moment, the team is unsure if he is their opening day starter. What does all this mean, exactly? The disaster scenario is staring us down: Hard Knocks will be in town to film training camp. An owner interested in rapidly building (or restoring) a fan base wants his underperforming coaching staff to come out of the gates fast and the teams the Rams will have to face a total of six times a year all got better this summer. Did the Rams?

Player to watch: Tight end Tyler Higbee -- Free agency picked away at the Rams' roster a bit, leaving the team to try and solve their remaining holes via the draft-and-pray scenario. Higbee, a troubled product out of Western Kentucky, may end up battling as many off-the-field issues as on-the-field hurdles this August, but the Rams are in need of a reliable intermediate target. Rookie quarterbacks love and depend on tight ends, especially early in their careers, and the Rams just watched Jared Cook head north to Green Bay.


1. How good is this secondary, and will we know by the end of camp?

The Rams let go of Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod this offseason along with other defensive staples like Chris Long and James Laurinaitis. The secondary is now rolling with Lamarcus Joyner in the slot and (probably) E.J. Gaines and Coty Sensabaugh opposite Trumaine Johnson. They were pick-heavy in mini camp, but will need to figure out a way to make sure they can contend with the likes of Arizona and Seattle -- a team that will be passing much more in 2016. In practice, it will be interesting to see if the coaching staff does anything to negate the lack of a full workout given that they'll be breaking in a rookie quarterback and working against the same Kenny Britt/Tavon Austin tandem once again. There is a sense among those close to the Rams that this is a chance to show off depth and let some of their unheralded stars emerge while they spend the smart money elsewhere.

2. Can they placate -- and consistently use -- all these "dynamic" weapons?

I would love to have Tavon Austin and Pharoh Cooper on my team, but I would only do so if I were positive I could get them the ball on a regular basis. Austin had his best year in 2015, setting career highs in targets, catches yards, rushing attempts, rushing yards and touchdowns but that took three very frustrating seasons and a handful of offensive coordinators. Cooper is being billed to us as a slightly taller and more practical alternative who may end up functioning better in the slot. On paper? Great. But let’s see it in camp first.

3. Will the players show up in shape and healthy?

Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News brought up an interesting point. The Rams were shut out of their Oxnard, Calif. camp at the end of June and won't have another facility until after the beginning of training camp. That means a drop-off spot where people can lift, run, work out, use the cold tub and ice up. Not that these athletes wouldn't have trainers across the country throwing gym memberships their way, but is there something to be said about the lack of a true home base? Players are fickle and depend on routine. One tweaked hamstring could have a significant effect on the regular season.

Way-too-early season prediction: Seeing is believing with Goff. He is talented, smart and has a great arm, but the Bear Raid offense at Cal doesn't seem to translate well. There will be growing pains and, to me, five or six wins makes a lot of sense.


Training camp report dates: Rookies and veterans, July 29.

Training camp location: Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Renton, Washington.

Offseason in a nutshell: From a personnel standpoint, Chris Clemons is back, Marshawn Lynch is gone, Bradley Sowell and J'Marcus Webb are here to compete for starting tackle jobs, Russell Okung is in Denver playing under a contract akin to a chocolate Easter rabbit (hollow in the middle) and Brandon Browner returned to potentially play some safety if he remains on the roster. So why is there so much anticipation in Seattle? The team has some young pieces that are finally maturing, and the results could be explosive. There are not many teams that already have an offense as good as Seattle's who can make such a drastic improvement in 2016.

Player to watch: Wide receiver Tyler Lockett. Matt Harmon has a nice breakdown of Lockett's route-running prowess here, and that is just the locomotive tip of the Lockett hype train that has carried us throughout a long offseason. Russell Wilson has had very good, overlooked talent in his arsenal for years now and, playing off Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, was able to get Lockett involved during his rookie season. The trio likely will be the bedrock of a 2016 campaign that could grace us with the most prolific scoring offense in football if Lockett develops into the type of receiver he can be.


1. Will Mike Morgan win the strong-side linebacker job?

As the wonderful people at Field Gulls noted, Seattle's lack of frantic hustle to replace their old SAM (departed free agent Bruce Irvin) could lead us to believe that the Seahawks are re-thinking how, exactly, to utilize the position. Though Morgan seems to be in the driver's seat right now, Pete Carroll was open to the many other options on his roster.

"The SAM linebacker spot is going to be a really good one to watch," Carroll said, via the team's official site. "That's going to be wide open to see what happens. Mike Mo brings all the experience, and so he would start if we had to start a game today; he's just ahead of the other guys. But both Cassius [Marsh] and Pink [Eric Pinkins] have done a great job of battling, and those guys are getting a great shot."

Many don't realize how significant the change in Seattle was between Gus Bradley's 4-3 and Dan Quinn's 4-3, with the SAM being one of the few focal points. Now Kris Richard, in his second season as defensive coordinator, has the chance to put his own stamp on the front seven, just as the former defensive backs coach has anchored the Legion of Boom.

2. Can rookie QB Trevone Boykin hold on to the backup job?

Boykin's collegiate legal issues were cleared up recently, seemingly giving him the green light to be all about football from this point forward. At the moment, he is the only person battling for the backup job outside of Jake Heaps and has gotten rave reviews from Seahawks brass so far.

"In terms of getting in the book, being a pro and studying, those are things he's going to need to prove to all of us over the next several weeks here as we evaluate him as a pro in the building," general manager John Schneider said of the undrafted rookie in an interview on "Pro Football Talk Live." "This guy has a lot of just pure talent. If he wouldn't have had his incident, I think we all agree he would have been taken much higher."

3. Will adding J'Marcus Webb end up being Seattle's best move of the offseason?

J'Marcus Webb had an objectively meh season last year in Oakland, but he played no worse than some of the NFL's better offensive linemen (D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Andre Smith, Kyle Long or Matt Kalil). Given his age (27), previous experience as a 16-game starter and price tag (he signed for two years and $6 million), he could come to define the savvy moves Seattle's management will need to keep the core of this team together.

Webb is a player who has had poor seasons but thrives under good coaching. He is now with one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL in Tom Cable.

"It's about getting someone to believe in him, and that's my job, and in getting him to believe in himself," Cable told Sirius XM recently. "And if those two things can marry up right, I think this kid can really, really do something cool for us."

Way-too-early season prediction: This is arguably a better team than the one that was a bad first half away from making it to the NFC Championship Game (and potentially the Super Bowl) last season. There is no reason to believe the Seahawks won't be deep in the title conversation in 2016. Matchups between the Seahawks and Cardinals will be absolute slugfests this year, and both have the talent to win 13 or 14 games.


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