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Top stories to follow as camps begin

With most of the NFL's training camps opening by week's end, here are the 10 storylines that will command the greatest attention this summer:

» How will the surgically-repaired knee of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hold up?

The offseason news about Brady's recovery from the surgery he underwent last September to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee has been overwhelmingly positive.

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Still, not all players are successful in such comeback attempts and it will be no small feat for Brady to equal or come close to the record-shattering season he had in 2007. Therefore, every move Brady makes on the field during practices will be monitored closely. If there's the slightest limp, it will be news, even if isn't a sign of anything serious.

Training-camp practices aren't games, but they are generally conducted at a greater tempo than OTA and minicamp workouts. Brady's performance will go a long way toward showing just how much progress he has made in his comeback.

» How will the surgically-repaired knee of San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman hold up?

Like Brady, Merriman has, by all accounts, been doing extremely well in his recovery from surgery to fix two torn ligaments in his left knee.

The Chargers' pass rush, which took a severe dip from '07 to '08, desperately needs him back to his All-Everything form. Given that the team used a first-round draft pick on another highly touted pass-rusher, Larry English, and the fact Merriman is in the final season of his contract, there is reason to believe he will be exactly what the Chargers need him to be.

But first, he'll have to get through camp practices.

» Is the civil complaint accusing Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of sexual assault going to be a distraction to him and the rest of the defending Super Bowl champs?

It's hard to imagine that Roethlisberger and the Steelers will simply go about their business with something this large hanging over them.

Sure, Big Ben, who publicly addressed the charges in a news conference last week, can refuse to say anything further about it. That doesn't mean reporters won't bring it up. It also doesn't mean that his teammates and coach Mike Tomlin won't hear about it as well.

If Roethlisberger should struggle for any prolonged stretch of practices or preseason games, conclusions will immediately be drawn that he is distracted by the complaint. And that will only intensify if he or the Steelers get off to a slow start.

» If Brett Favre does decide to join the Minnesota Vikings, how long will it take for him to mesh with his new teammates?

Despite Favre's vast experience, there probably isn't enough time for him to get comfortable with his new teammates or the Vikings' offense during camp or the preseason. Favre's learning/acclimation process is going to continue well into the regular season.

Of course, if it does take an extensive period for him to get comfortable with his new club, there is reason to believe the Vikings might not see the desired return for what shapes up as a significant financial investment. Remember, after joining the New York Jets after the preseason began, Favre never quite was able to find a consistent comfort zone and it showed as the season progressed. So did the effects of his aging and aching body.

» Are the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Chiefs going to be able to make smooth transitions from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense?

All three teams face a long, difficult summer adjusting to their drastic defensive makeovers. Some veteran players, such as the Packers' Aaron Kampman, are going to have a hard time moving from end, which they played in a 4-3, to outside linebacker, which they'll play in a 3-4. The conversion process will likely require more time on the field and in the meeting room.

» Is the Buffalo Bills' training camp going to allow Terrell Owens to develop into something more than a megawatt marketing/public relations machine?

So far, Owens has been a magnet for fans and media. Whether he can do anything about the Bills' offensive anemia remains to be seen.

After nine consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, the Bills have found a way to maintain excitement among fans. And that's having Owens on the practice field catching passes from Trent Edwards and then signing autographs afterward. However, there is still plenty of work to be done for Owens to develop timing with Edwards and fellow starting wide receiver Lee Evans, and grasp the finer points of the Bills' offense.

» Will the absence of Owens allow Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to assume a stronger leadership role?

No T.O. should mean more room for Romo to exert himself as the top Cowboy. Although he has taken the first important steps in that direction during OTA and minicamp practices, he will have a greater opportunity to do so during training camp workouts and preseason games when the team is on public display.

Romo needs to develop instant chemistry with Roy Williams and the rest of the receivers who will be filling Owens' void to demonstrate that the decision to send T.O. packing was addition by subtraction.

» Is Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel going to show, in his first training camp away from the New England Patriots, that he can have the success he enjoyed last year with his former team and live up to his new, six-year, $63-million contract?

It won't be easy, considering that Randy Moss and Wes Welker aren't catching his passes and that he'll be learning a new offense. Nevertheless, Cassel has a contract that says he's a franchise quarterback and his performance through every practice and game will be judged on that level.

» How are the Broncos going to respond to their first camp with Josh McDaniels, who is arguably under more scrutiny than any other new coach in the league after making a major negative splash when he took over as coach by shipping quarterback Jay Cutler out of town?

Much of how McDaniels is assessed will depend on how the Broncos' offense functions. And that's going to depend largely on how their new quarterback, Kyle Orton, operates their new offense. The quicker the Broncos' passing game resembles the one McDaniels helped build as offensive coordinator in New England, the quicker his credibility as a head coach will soar.

» Can first-year New York Jets coach Rex Ryan make an effective starting outside linebacker out of 2008 first-round disappointment Vernon Gholston?

It isn't just the sterling credentials Ryan established as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens that provides hope he could get more production from Gholston. It's the fact he is a tremendous motivator, showing a knack for pushing the right buttons to get the most out of his players. Another factor that should help in Gholston's development is the Jets' addition of former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott, who not only knows Ryan's scheme but also will serve as a sparkplug for the entire defense.

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