We've almost reached the end of the NFL's "quiet" period, as training camps across the country begin next week. That means we can stop talking so much football and actually start watching it. And once the pads start popping, we should get answers to some offseason questions. Which burning question interests you the most heading into the preseason?
There are many enticing storylines, but three have really piqued my interest:
- How will the New Orleans Saints handle all of the uncertainty that's engulfed them? Quarterback Drew Brees hasn't been with the team all offseason, but having just signed a mega-deal, he'll be walking into a hornets' nest that won't include defensive leader Jonathan Vilma (unless he can delay or overturn his season-long suspension).
- The potential holdout of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew also is worth noting. That relationship could get ugly. How will new coach Mike Mularkey and new owner Shahid Khan respond?
- In terms of on-field impact, I really want to see how middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans fits into the Philadelphia Eagles' defense. If he emerges as the leader and glue guy he was with the Houston Texans, we might be talking about Philly's defense ... in a positive way.
I'm looking forward to having a pair of questions answered:
- Are the Philadelphia Eagles really ready to begin their dynastic quest, as Michael Vick recently suggested? The NFC East stands ready to put that notion to the test, with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, make-or-break Dallas Cowboys and RG3-led Washington Redskins.
- Are the San Francisco 49ers ready to wear the bull's-eye that comes with being a Super Bowl favorite all year long? They certainly look the part, but we know they will get everyone's best shot each week.
As always, even better storylines will emerge. Let the camps begin!
I'm looking forward to the quarterback battles in the NFC West. Really.
The 49ers might be Super Bowl favorites to some, but I'm not convinced they will make it back to the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have two of the most exciting young defenses in the league. Both teams can run the ball and become real contenders. Both teams just need to figure out who their leader will be.
The question foremost in my mind is whether Peyton Manning can be the same precise field general he was before sitting out the 2011 season with a neck injury. And as if trying to come back physically from a serious injury wasn't enough, he's also trying to install his offensive system with a new set of receivers in Denver.
Has his arm strength recovered sufficiently to allow him to throw those patented lasers down the field? Will he be able to take hits without fear of re-injury? Can he get on the same page with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Andre Caldwell and Jacob Tamme during camp so that the Broncos' offense runs like the well-oiled machine Manning built with the Indianapolis Colts? The answers to these queries will tell us where Manning is in his recovery and also portend the team's ability to contend in the AFC in 2012.
Two topics intrigue me. The Eagles' defense is first. I think Philadelphia was hurt by the lockout more than any other team, especially on defense. Juan Castillo now has a full year under his belt as defensive coordinator and a full offseason to work with the defense. They added DeMeco Ryans and Fletcher Cox. Trading Asante Samuel was an addition by subtraction that will allow the Eagles greater flexibility in how they use Nnamdi Asomugha.
My second topic is: How will last year's rookie quarterbacks progress? Is Jake Locker ready to start for the Tennessee Titans? Can Blaine Gabbert get more settled in the pocket and be the Jacksonville Jaguars' answer? (I'd also ask this question of Kevin Kolb and the Arizona Cardinals. Though he wasn't a rookie last season, he's entering his second year with the Cardinals as a potential starter.) Can Christian Ponder take the next step in his progression as a quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings? Will Cam Newton and Andy Dalton build on their rookie successes with the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively, or will defenses catch up with them?
- Jason Smith NFL.com
Tebowmania vs. The Sanchize -- need I say more?
"Welcome to the latest episode of Mark and Timmy Time, here on NFL Network. I'm your host, Rich Eisen. We had no idea this show would be the highest-rated summer program since the debut of American Idol, but what we have here is a true phenomenon. As always, we're being carried live across the globe, and even on Armed Forces Radio. Our formula is the same: For the first 10 minutes, you'll see quarterback-only highlights from today's New York Jets practice, with both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow miked up. Our analysts will break down who had the better overall day, and then we'll show you what their Jets teammates said after practice about them. So far, Tebow leads Sanchez, having gotten the better of him during three out of the five full team practices the Jets have had so far. However, Sanchez has the slight advantage in 7-on-7 drills. We'll end the show with a few minutes of film time, where you'll get to see both players in a classroom setting. So far, this portion has been about even, in terms of general knowledge and adjustments. Get ready, Team Sanchez and Team Tebow -- the fun starts now!" Does that answer this question? I feel I might have been a little too vague ...
C'mon, NFL.com editors -- what kind of question is this?
Which story am I excited about in 2012? Every last one of them. Go 'head, spin the Great Wheel of 32. Wherever the arrow lands, it'll be pointing at something intriguing. Behold!
[DAVE GETS UP FROM HIS SEAT AND SPINS HIS CUSTOM-BUILT "GREAT WHEEL OF 32." IT LANDS ON THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS.]
The Wheel has spoken! Let's look at the Chiefs. They might not have been a big story this offseason, but while the world was focusing on Peyton's arrival in Denver, Scott Pioli smuggled some gems into K.C.'s already-loaded locker room.
The defense should be terrific, as high-pedigree safety Eric Berry returns from knee surgery to join Brandon Flowers (the league's most anonymous shutdown corner), leading tackler Derrick Johnson, sack-master Tamba Hali and rookie blobby boulder Dontari Poe. On offense, Peyton Hillis will provide the brawny yin to the returning Jamaal Charles' yang. Sophomore home-run hitter Jon Baldwin will further validate the first-round pick the Chiefs spent on him. And finally, Grade-A right tackle Eric Winston -- late of the Texans -- and a couple of rookies will strengthen the O-line. Throw in Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster and Steve Breaston, and this juggernaut figures to be Matt Cassel-proof. How good? Good enough to win the AFC West. Guaranteed.
We still have 48 days 'til kickoff? Dang. Guess I'll go spin the wheel again ...