All offseason -- through a host of unpredictable off-field activities like free agency and the NFL draft -- we plan for late July, when we know what to expect: training camp. Actual football.
Of course, life has taught me to expect the unexpected. My wife was expecting, due in late August. But the baby, now known as Max, had other plans, unexpectedly showing up on Friday night. A month early, healthy and ready for football. (He's already got active hands and big feet -- set to be a baller.)
A training camp surprise! ... But it won't be the last. And so, because little Max is pumped for his first training camp, I figured I'd give him a preview about what I'm excited to learn in the coming weeks. Here are seven areas of significant camp intrigue:
1) So, how fast will Chip Kelly's offense really be?
One of my favorite storylines of the offseason is this notion that the Philadelphia Eagles' new coach is a mad scientist. And no matter how hard Kelly tries to play it down, let's face it: His brand of football is not like the others. No, he won't be bringing his hilarious poster boards to the sidelines for play-calling purposes. But whatever he does promises to be different. How many plays can one team run in a 60-minute game? And will the coach Michael Vick was dying to play for anoint him as the starting quarterback? The first look will come in camp, flanked by new practice music and a faster-than-ever tempo. Hang on tight.
2) Will we see a different RGIII?
Robert Griffin III had a busy offseason: The Washington Redskins' star quarterback successfully rehabbed a torn ACL, dodged and deflected questions about how he was used in the playoffs, and got married. Oh, and then he was cleared by doctors to begin practicing. But the real questions haven't been answered. Will he be the same quarterback he was last year, in terms of both ability and his propensity to run? Will he heed warnings to play safer, most of which come from his dad? Coach Mike Shanahan insists that a read-option quarterback is safer than a drop-back passer because he keeps defensive ends at bay, but will Shanahan continue putting that theory to the test on the field? Will anything change in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's playbook in Year 2? The first hints come on the practice field.
3) Who will catch the ball from Tom Brady?
Prior to this offseason, the New England Patriots' dynamic duo at tight end was one of the team's biggest strengths. Now, Aaron Hernandez is longer with the team, facing a shocking murder charge, while Rob Gronkowski is on the PUP list, dealing with nagging injuries that could cut into his 2013 campaign. Additionally, Wes Welker left for Denver, while Brandon Lloyd simply wasn't asked back. Factoring in the additional departure of scatback Danny Woodhead, Brady will enter the new season without four of his top five pass catchers from 2012 (and all five, if Gronk doesn't come off the PUP list). Danny Amendola helps -- if he stays healthy -- and rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are worth watching. But can an annual contender stay in the mix after losing so much of its offense? This will play out in clear fashion on the practice field. That moment when Brady lofts a perfect end-zone strike to someone you've never heard of will be worth noting.
4) How much control of the offense will Tony Romo have?
Fresh off signing a lucrative contract extension, Tony Romo is taking control of this Dallas Cowboys offense. At least, that was the word this offseason. Coach Jason Garrett was stepping back as a play caller and Romo was stepping up his involvement in game planning with offensive coordinator (and new play caller) Bill Callahan. Perhaps you'll see it on the practice field with each passing rep -- or perhaps the offense will just generally take on a different shape, with an improving Romo exerting his influence. At Cowboys camp in Oxnard, Calif., it'll all be on display, especially with budding star Dez Bryant coming into his own.
5) How strongly will Sean Payton's return impact the New Orleans Saints?
With all the off-field news this offseason, did we forget that Sean Payton is back in New Orleans? Seems like we did. And really, that's a good thing. The best the Saints can hope for is that the team simply goes back to work, except at a higher level than it did last season. Payton can attempt to convince us that New Orleans won't immediately win just because he's back, but his return has changed the face of the team as much as his original arrival did. The Saints will look different. But can they get back to the level that saw them win that elusive Super Bowl? And will it still happen even if he's not calling plays? Time will tell, and it'll be fun to watch.
6) How deep a connection will Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace form?
The biggest splash of the offseason came in Miami waters, with deep threat Mike Wallace walking into the facility on the first day of free agency. The love affair was on from the beginning, with Tannehill and Wallace clearly cherishing the future. If it works, the move could be everything the Dolphins have been pining for -- a return to the franchise's glorious past, when a young, hotshot quarterback lit up the league with his electric receivers. And this will be the first chance to see it. On an endless loop, Tannehill and Wallace will feel each other out on the training camp field, deep throw after deep throw: Miami's version of fireworks.
7) Will the San Diego Chargers' camp optimism lead to wins this time?
Every year, the pattern returns: Visit Chargers training camp, be impressed by Philip Rivers and his high-flying receivers; watch Antonio Gates dominate defensive backs; believe this is the year Ryan Mathews breaks out. Chances are, Rivers will impress again, especially with offseason tinkering from new head coach (and QB guru) Mike McCoy. But is this the year the Bolts actually shake off the losing? Can the new regime -- young, energetic, analytical -- execute a swift turnaround? And how different will McCoy's offense look, especially with Ken Whisenhunt throwing in his (more than) two cents? The underachieving Norv Turner squads are gone. This camp will provide a look at the new reality.
Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.