Around The League's Training Camp Preview* series will identify three things to watch for the teams in each division this summer. Next up is the NFC East*.
- With Sean Lee lost for the year, Dallas must patch up a gaping hole at middle linebacker. The likely fill-in is veteran Justin Durant, but nobody on the roster can drop into coverage like Lee. DeVonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens will fight for time, with the enigmatic Rolando McClain looming as the dark horse for a roster spot.
- All eyes rest on the mended back of Tony Romo. If the team's underrated starting passer can't stay healthy, the Cowboys could be in for a mega-disaster with Brandon Weeden ticketed as the next man up. Coaches have draped the former Browns signal-caller with plenty of pretty words, but the same occurred last summer in Cleveland. No Around the League scribe plans to predict a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown output from the ginger in 2014.
- Brandon Carr and his outrageous contract are locked in at cornerback despite last year's horror show, but there's stiff competition for the safety spot alongside Barry Church. The team would love to see second-year man J.J. Wilcox step up. If he doesn't, it's up to Jakar Hamilton to fend off Jeff Heath, who was the division's worst safety for parts of 2013.
New York Giants
- With David Wilsonback on the field, Big Blue has a juicy battle on tap in the backfield. Rashad Jennings will see the biggest piece of the pie, but a healthy Wilson gives New York one of the game's premier athletes whose 1,925 all-purpose yards in 2012 were fifth-most in the NFL. With the Giants hinting at a three-back rotation with Wilson, Jennings and Andre Williams, camp will go a long way toward sorting out the workload.
- Middle linebacker is another tussle to watch after starter Jon Beasonsuffered a sesamoid fracture in his right foot in June. Jameel McClain's recent injury scare reminds us how dangerously thin New York has become at the second level. With coach Tom Coughlinfailing to show much confidence in veteran Mark Herzlich, look for rookie Devon Kennard to battle McClain for the top role.
- New York needs someone to step up at tight end. We tabbed Adrien Robinson to beat out the likes of Kellen Davis, Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells after coaches called him "the Jason Pierre-Paul of tight ends due to his combination of raw size and speed." The only player at the position drafted by the Giants, Robinson is being counted on to blow up, but there's scant on-field evidence that he can produce consistently or stay healthy.
- NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah stopped by the desk to echo our excitement over the potential of second-year tight end Zach Ertz. One of our "Making the Leap" candidates, the former Stanford playmaker is a physical after-the-catch receiver with the ability to punish smaller cover men. He lost snaps last year because Chip Kelly couldn't trust him as an in-line blocker, but Ertz added weight and muscle this offseason. Our prediction of 60 grabs for 850 yards and eight touchdowns still feels reasonable -- and possibly conservative.
- A combination of Ertz, rookie slot man Jordan Matthews and a healthy Jeremy Maclin will help fill the void left by DeSean Jackson. So will jitterbug Darren Sproles. Coming out of last season's playoff loss to the Saints, the memory of Sproles' handiwork in that contest "remained fresh two months later" and prompted Kelly to swing a trade for the versatile ball-carrier. Chip insists he's a running back, but we expect Sproles to line up all over the field this summer.
- With Robert Griffin IIIgaining steam as a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, we'll be watching practice and game tape for clues on how this offense will change under Jay Gruden. It's encouraging to hear that Washington's new coach has blended aspects of his West Coast scheme with the "best pages" from Kyle Shanahan's multiple playbook. We won't get a full picture during camp, but preseason action will drop breadcrumbs about Griffin's quest to become a more complete passer.
- RGIII isn't worried about getting all his weapons involved, but we hope a deep group of wideouts led by Pierre Garcon and D-Jax won't pull production away from young tight end Jordan Reed. After setting franchise rookie records at the position in catches (45) and yards (499) over just nine games, Reed is a candidate to cross the 1,000-yard barrier as opponents struggle to cover an array of Redskins targets.
- Washington has plenty of work to do with a defense we simply don't trust, so let's stay on offense: I'm interested to see if rookie running back Lache Seastrunk can show off the home-run ability he displayed in college. Roy Helu is a strong pass protector being talked up as the team's third-down back behind Alfred Morris, but Gruden also likesChris Thompson as a change-of-pace runner who can return punts. Stay tuned.