2005 NFL Training Camp Primer
ARIZONA CARDINALS - Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ (July 31)
What to Watch: Most media eyes will be cast upon Kurt Warner and Josh McCown, who will be dueling for the quarterback job, but that battle will be but one of many on the offensive end of the ball. Rookie running back J.J. Arrington (Cal) will be looking to win the starting backfield job from Marcel Shipp, who missed all of 2004 with a broken leg. The right side of the offensive line could also be brand new, with rookie guard Elton Brown (Virginia) and free agent acquisition Oliver Ross (Steelers) attempting to solidify their slots. At tight end, unproven Eric Edwards will have to prove he is an NFL-quality starter. In the secondary, new projected starters in rookie corner Antrel Rolle (Miami) and free safety Robert Griffith (Browns) will have to learn coordinator Clancy Pendergast's scheme quickly. The Cardinals finished 27th in the NFL against the run last year, and the team needs a pair of linebackers - free agent pickup Orlando Huff (Seahawks) and rookie Darryl Blackstock (Virginia) - to make an immediate impact in that regard.
ATLANTA FALCONS - Falcons Training Facility, Flowery Branch, GA (July 25)
What to Watch: If the Falcons want to reach the next level and make a serious Super Bowl bid, they have to get the passing game going. The team ranked 30th in the aerial game last year, leaving most of the pressure on the legs of Michael Vick and running backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett. Either first-round draft pick and wideout Roddy White (UAB) or 2004 first-round pick Michael Jenkins must emerge as a pass-catching threat, and Vick must show development within Greg Knapp's offensive scheme. On defense, the Falcons have to work out their personnel at linebacker, with free agent pickups Edgerton Hartwell (Ravens) and Ike Reese (Eagles) vying for spots along with rookies Jordan Beck (Cal Poly) and Michael Boley (Southern Miss) as well as holdovers Keith Brooking and Demorrio Williams. The other new defensive faces will be at free safety, where Ronnie Heard (49ers) and Rich Coady (Rams) will be seeking duty. The kicking game has been completely overhauled, and Jim Mora will want to see more immediate strong play from kicker Todd Peterson (49ers) and punter Toby Gowin (Jets) than he got out of Jay Feely and Chris Mohr.
BALTIMORE RAVENS - McDaniel College, Westminster, MD (July 31)
What to Watch: The Ravens have a pair of new coordinators in Jim Fassel and Rex Ryan, who replace the departed Matt Cavanaugh on offense (resigned following last season) and Mike Nolan on defense (named head coach of the 49ers), respectively. Fassel, who must seek to improve the NFL's 31st-ranked passing attack of a year ago, has the tougher job. Quarterback Kyle Boller will have to get in sync with free agent pickup Derrick Mason (Titans) and rookie Mark Clayton (Oklahoma), both of whom figure to be starters at WR. Many eyes will also be upon running back Jamal Lewis, who returns to the team after serving jail time during the offseason for his role in a drug transaction. Meanwhile, Ryan's job will be to transition the defense from its previous 3-4 look to this year's 4-3. Terrell Suggs will move from outside linebacker to a traditional defensive end role, and former pass rusher Adalius Thomas will have to prove his run-stopping abilities as a 4-3 outside linebacker. Former Ram Tommy Polley will play on the other side of Ray Lewis, and must prove that he is past a shaky 2004. Cornerback and former Titan Samari Rolle will seek to fill the slot previously occupied by free agent defector Gary Baxter (Browns).
BUFFALO BILLS - St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, NY (July 29)
What to Watch: Most of the media focus during Bills camp will be on the quarterback position, where second-year man J.P. Losman will be taking over full-time for the departed Drew Bledsoe. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements is expected to install more plays that take advantage of Losman's mobility, and the entire offense will have to adjust to those changes. New backup QB Kelly Holcomb, formerly with the Browns, must also be indoctrinated in the Buffalo scheme. The Bills will be welcoming a new left side on the offensive line, with free agent pickups Mike Gandy (Chicago) and Bennie Anderson (Baltimore) taking over at tackle and guard, respectively. Defensively, the number one unknown for coordinator Jerry Gray will be the ability of tackles Ron Edwards and Tim Anderson to occupy the slot formerly filled by Pat Williams, now a Viking. In the secondary, Troy Vincent moves from cornerback to free safety, and Terrence McGee must adjust to a full-time role opposite Nate Clements at cornerback.
CAROLINA PANTHERS - Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC (July 29)
What to Watch: Panther head coach John Fox and coordinator Dan Henning prefer to run the ball, and will look to find a starter out of a running back crop including veterans Stephen Davis, DeShaun Foster, and rookie Eric Shelton (Louisville). Both Davis and Foster missed the majority of 2004 due to injury. With Muhsin Muhammad now a Bear, Carolina needs wideout Steve Smith to bounce back from the broken leg that knocked him out for good in Week 1 of last year. Along the line, Fox needs free agent pickup and guard Mike Wahle (Packers) and/or rookie Evan Mathis (Alabama) to register an impact right away. Defensively, Carolina needs to figure out whether first-round pick Thomas Davis (Georgia) is a better fit at safety or outside linebacker, and must also indoctrinate free agent pickups in cornerback Ken Lucas (Seahawks) and safety Idrees Bashir (Colts) into coordinator Mike Trgovac's scheme. With Todd Sauerbrun having taken his act to the Broncos, Carolina must have either Tom Rouen or Steve Cheek emerge as a reliable punter.
CHICAGO BEARS - Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, IL (July 23)
What to Watch: The Bears begin camp earlier than any other NFL team (and a full nine days before the defending NFC champion Eagles), which makes sense for a franchise with a great deal of work to do. After last year's debacle at quarterback, Chicago needs not only to determine whether Rex Grossman is back from last year's season-ending knee injury, but also whether Chad Hutchinson and rookie Kyle Orton (Purdue) can be suitable backups. All will be trying to pick up the west coast offensive system implemented by new coordinator Ron Turner, formerly the head coach at Illinois. Elsewhere on offense, new acquisition and wideout Muhsin Muhammad (Panthers) must prove that his Pro Bowl form of 2004 was no fluke, and will have to make an immediate difference for the league's lowest-scoring, worst-passing team of last season. First- round draft pick Cedric Benson (Texas) will seek a firm spot in the backfield, and must beat out incumbent Thomas Jones. Guard Roberta Garza (Falcons) and tackle Fred Miller (Titans) must prop up a line that allowed a league-high 66 sacks a year ago. Defensively, head coach Lovie Smith needs linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Mike Brown to bounce back from injury-plagued 2004 seasons. Disgraced former Jet Doug Brien was brought in to replace the unreliable Paul Edinger in the kicking game, and has to prove he can recover from his ugly playoff meltdown.
CINCINNATI BENGALS - Georgetown College, Georgetown, KY (July 28)
What to Watch: Many of the Bengals' camp questions will undoubtedly come on the defensive side of the ball, where new coordinator Chuck Bresnahan takes over for the deposed Leslie Frazier. Bresnahan will seek to reform a unit that was 26th against the run last year, and will do so with a pair of rookie linebackers in David Pollack (Georgia) and Odell Thurman (Georgia) along with free agent pickup and defensive tackle Bryan Robinson (Dolphins). Offensively, the team will simply be looking to pick up where it left off last season, when it ranked 10th in the league in scoring. Quarterback Carson Palmer will need to communicate early with third-round draft choice Chris Henry (West Virginia), since the 6-4 rookie's presence likely spells the end for either injury-prone Peter Warrick or disappointing Kelley Washington.
CLEVELAND BROWNS - Browns training facility, Berea, OH (July 24)
What to Watch: New head coach Romeo Crennel has far fewer certainties than question marks as training camp is set to begin. On offense, Crennel and coordinator Maurice Carthon must pray that 33-year-old journeyman quarterback Trent Dilfer can handle a full-time workload, and will also have to find a capable backup from a group including Doug Johnson, Josh Davis, and rookie Charlie Frye (Akron). Whoever plays quarterback will have to get in step with first-round draft choice and receiver Braylon Edwards (Michigan), and will also have to settle in behind a line that includes new starters in guards Joe Andruzzi (Patriots) and Cosey Coleman (Buccaneers) and tackle L.J. Shelton. Also uncertain is the running back situation, where offseason acquisition Rueben Droughns (Broncos) will look to seize rushing duties from veterans Lee Suggs and/or William Green. Defensively, coordinator Todd Grantham will shift his unit from last year's 4-3 to a 3-4. Free agent pickup Jason Fisk (Chargers) will be expected to anchor the line from the nose tackle position, and former end Kenard Lang will have to make a seamless transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. In the secondary, new starters in cornerback Gary Baxter (Ravens) and free safety Brian Russell (Vikings) must change the mentality for a unit that ranked 24th in the league in points allowed a year ago.
DALLAS COWBOYS - Marriott Residence Inn, Oxnard, CA (July 28)
What to Watch: New starting QB Drew Bledsoe will get plenty of ink during the summer, but the real story for America's Team will be on the defensive side of the ball. After watching his club give up 25.3 points per game last year, Bill Parcells scrapped the 4-3 defense in favor of a 3-4, ushered in name free agents at defensive tackle (Jason Ferguson, formerly with the Jets), cornerback (Anthony Henry from the Browns, Aaron Glenn from the Texans), and safety (Izell Reese from the Bills), and used his first three draft picks on pass rusher Demarcus Ware (Troy), solid end Marcus Spears (LSU) and linebacker Kevin Burnett (Tennessee). The largely new group will have to come together right away or risk inciting Parcells' wrath. Elsewhere, Bledsoe has to learn to work with a suspect receiving corps led by Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn, and free agent acquisition and guard Marco Rivera (Packers) must mesh well on an offensive line that failed to protect Vinny Testaverde adequately last season. The Cowboys' ability to succeed on offense in 2005 rests heavily on the shoulders of second-year running back Julius Jones, who missed the first half of his rookie season due to injury.
DENVER BRONCOS - Paul D. Bowlen Mem. Centre, Englewood, CO (July 28)
What to Watch: Much is riding on the ability of the team's four Cleveland Browns defensive line castoffs - ends Courtney Brown and Ebenezer Ekuban along with tackles Gerard Warren and Mike Myers - to make a smooth transition in their new home. The four were part of a Cleveland unit that ranked last in the league against the run in 2004. The Broncos lost end Reggie Hayward to free agency, so Trevor Pryce, who missed 14 games with back problems in 2004, will have to prove he's able to again take on a substantial role. With outside linebacker Donnie Spragan (Dolphins) and strong safety Kenoy Kennedy (Lions) both gone via free agency, new starters Ian Gold and Nick Ferguson must convince skeptics that they're not a downgrade. Offensively, second-year running back Tatum Bell will have to look sharp in his first year as a full- time starter following the departure of Rueben Droughns to the Browns. Third-round draft pick Maurice Clarett, meanwhile, will have to show the world that he is capable of being an NFL player both on and off the field.
DETROIT LIONS - Lions training facility, Allen Park, MI (July 24)
What to Watch: The Lions made significant offseason changes on offense following last year's 6-10 campaign, and if quarterback Joey Harrington doesn't seem poised for a breakout year soon into training camp, look for free agent pickup Jeff Garcia (Browns) to take the reigns. If first-round pick Mike Williams (USC) and former first-rounders Charles Rogers and Roy Williams can all get on the field at the same time, Detroit's receiving corps could be among the best in the league. Running back Kevin Jones, who came on late in 2004, must also prove capable of carrying a full-time workload. On the offensive line, new faces in guard Rick DeMulling (Colts), tackle Kyle Kosier (49ers) and tight end Marcus Pollard (Colts) have to be ready to step immediately into starting roles. On defense, coordinator Dick Jauron needs free agent acquisition Kenoy Kennedy (Broncos) to settle in at strong safety, must have top linebacker Boss Bailey bounce back from a 2004 lost to injury, and must determine where second-round pick Shaun Cody fits along the defensive interior.
GREEN BAY PACKERS - St. Norbert College, DePere, WI (July 25)
What to Watch: The Packers were 25th in the league against the pass last season and gave up 23.8 points per game, problems that the franchise hopes new defensive coordinator Jim Bates can fix. He'll have his work cut out for him, as Green Bay failed to make a single personnel upgrade at any spot on the defensive side of the ball. The biggest concern will be at cornerback, where Al Harris is solid but far from spectacular and second-year players Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas have yet to impress. Newbies Earl Little (Browns) and Arturo Freeman (Dolphins) will be in line for the starting strong safety job, and Cardinals castoff Ray Thompson will likely take over at one outside linebacker slot. On offense, Brett Favre must prove he can thrive without longtime starting guards Marco Rivera (Cowboys) and Mike Wahle (Panthers), both of whom slipped away in the offseason. Free agent acquisitions Adrian Klemm (Patriots) and Matt O'Dwyer (Buccaneers) are slated to take over at guard, but neither is considered to be of first-rate vintage. Head coach Mike Sherman will take a long training camp look at first-round draft choice and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (Cal), who is unlikely to get on the field this season but is considered the heir apparent to Favre. Punter B.J. Sander, a major disappointment in 2004 training camp, will get another chance to win the job after Bryan Barker was not tendered a contract for '05.
HOUSTON TEXANS - Texans Practice Facility, Houston, TX (July 29)
What to Watch: Vic Fangio takes over defensive coordinator duties from Todd Grantham, who is now with the Browns. Fangio's first task will be to guide a largely transformed linebacking crew, one that dispensed with longtime staples Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman in the offseason. Free agent pickup Morlon Greenwood (Dolphins) will take one inside slot, former outside linebacker Kailee Wong will move inside, and one-time backup Antwan Peek will start on the outside. Dom Capers' team must generate more defensive pressure after notching a league-low 24 sacks in 2004. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who was acquired from the Raiders in the offseason, will also be expected to make big plays. Offensively, the main objectives will be to keep quarterback David Carr and running back Domanick Davis healthy, as well as achieving more consistency from a suspect receiving corps and offensive line.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS - Rose-Hulman Institute, Terre Haute, IN (July 27)
What to Watch: As ever, the Colts will try to promote stronger play from a defense that finished 24th in the league against the run and 28th against the pass last season. The team used its first two draft picks on defensive backs Marlin Jackson (Michigan) and Kelvin Hayden (Illinois), and will be expecting much from both right away. Apart from the secondary, the bulk of Ron Meeks' defensive unit will look much the same as last year. Little tinkering was done with the NFL's best offensive attack, though Ben Hartsock will have to mature in replacing Marcus Pollard as the No. 2 tight end. Second-year man Jake Scott appears set to take over for free agent defector Rick DeMulling (Lions) at one guard, though the Colts expect that transition to go off without a hitch.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - ALLTEL Stadium, Jacksonville, FL (July 29)
What to Watch: Most of Jacksonville's focus will be on offense, where new coordinator Carl Smith will take over for the deposed Bill Musgrave in an effort to improve an attack that finished 29th in the league in scoring last season. Quarterback Byron Leftwich will have to adjust to Smith's more vertical passing approach, and also must learn to work with rookie wideout/tight end Matt Jones (Arkansas). With running back Fred Taylor's future in doubt following arthroscopic surgery on his knee in January, the team needs to find a capable backup option among LaBrandon Toefield, Greg Jones, and rookie Alvin Pearman (Virginia). Defensively, the club added free agents Reggie Hayward (Broncos) and Marcellus Wiley (Cowboys) to help beef up one of the league's worst pass rushes, and would like to see early success for both. In the secondary, coordinator Mike Smith's mission will be to find a starting cornerback to oppose Rashean Mathis, with free agent pickups Terry Cousin (Giants), Kenny Wright (Titans) in the mix there along with veteran Kiwaukee Thomas and rookie Scott Starks (Wisconsin).
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS - Wisconsin-River Falls, River Falls, WI (July 28)
What to Watch: Revamping the long-suffering defense will be job number one for the Chiefs, and a number of reinforcements have arrived to aide in that process. Offseason acquisitions in strong safety Sammy Knight (Dolphins), cornerbacks Patrick Surtain (Dolphins) and Ashley Ambrose (Saints), linebacker Kendrell Bell (Steelers), and rookie linebacker Derrick Johnson (Texas) will have to learn how to play together during the summer session. On offense, running back Priest Holmes must show signs that he is over the knee injury that limited him to eight games in 2004. Quarterback Trent Green must also find a target to replace the departed Johnnie Morton, with free agent pickups Freddie Mitchell (Eagles) and Darrell Hill (Titans) competing for time along with veterans Dante Hall, Samie Parker, Marc Boerigter and rookie Craphonso Thorpe (Florida State). The rest of the offense is solid but aging, meaning Kansas City will have to spend significant time in the preseason on developing its young backups for the future.
MIAMI DOLPHINS - Dolphins Training Facility, Davie, FL (July 24)
What to Watch: New head coach Nick Saban and his staff will have their hands full. Offensively, the team must figure out whether A.J. Feeley or free agent pickup Gus Frerotte (Vikings) is the right man to run coordinator Scott Linehan's system, and must find an appropriate way to work both rookie Ronnie Brown (Auburn) and prodigal son Ricky Williams into the attack at running back. Besides the skill positions, Linehan must concentrate on getting the most out of an offensive line that was miserable in 2004 and added just one bona fide starter - former Lion Stockar McDougle - during the offseason. Questions abound on defense as well, as do new faces. Three new secondary starters - cornerback Will Poole and safeties Tebucky Jones and Travares Tillman - will have to prove they're up to the task, and new line reinforcements Vonnie Holiday (Chiefs), Kevin Carter (Titans) and rookie Matt Roth (Iowa) will have to meld well with holdover end Jason Taylor. Amid all the personnel changes, the Dolphins are expected to introduce elements of the 3-4 defense, and both the long-time and new Miami players will have to grasp the schematic shift.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN (July 29)
What to Watch: The Vikings upgraded their defense by leaps and bounds in the offseason, and training camp will be the time for all of the new elements to come together under coordinator Ted Cottrell. Tackle Pat Williams (Bills) and rookie end Erasmus James (Wisconsin) will look to make an impact on the line, linebackers Sam Cowart (Jets) and Napoleon Harris (Raiders) will compete for starting jobs, and cornerback Fred Smoot (Redskins) and free safety Darren Sharper (Packers) will be responsible for improving a unit that ranked 29th against the pass in 2004. On offense, quarterback Daunte Culpepper must learn to work with first-round pick and wideout Troy Williamson (South Carolina), who will be asked to fill the man-sized shoes vacated by the departed Randy Moss. Outside of the passing game, new coordinator Steve Loney must settle on a running back to take the pressure off of Culpepper. Candidates include former starters Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore, along with fourth-round draft choice Ciatrick Fason (Florida). On special teams, the Vikings signed former Bear Paul Edinger to compete with kickoff specialist Aaron Elling for place-kicking duties, and will look for one to emerge before the team breaks camp.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA (July 24)
What to Watch: Gone are coordinators Charlie Weis (Notre Dame) and Romeo Crennel (Browns), meaning head coach Bill Belichick will be calling the offensive plays while Eric Mangini seizes the defensive coordinator role. Belichick's main priorities will be figuring out whether first-round draft choice Logan Mankins (Fresno State) can adequately fill a number of backup roles on the offensive line, incorporating free agent pickups David Terrell (Bears) and Tim Dwight (Chargers) into the receiving mix, and sorting out the quarterback depth chart (Rohan Davey, Doug Flutie, Matt Cassel) behind Tom Brady. On defense, Mangini must find two starting cornerbacks out of a group that includes holdovers Asante Samuel and Randall Gay along with new faces Duane Starks (Cardinals) and Chad Scott (Steelers). The status of linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who suffered a stroke in February, is still up in the air. If Bruschi is unable to play, the team will have to be sure free agent pickups Monty Beisel (Chiefs) or Chad Brown (Steelers) are prepared to step in.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - Saints Complex, Metairie, LA (July 29)
What to Watch: The Saints finished near the bottom of most defensive statistical categories in 2004, but their four-game winning streak at the end of the year was largely a result of improved defensive play. Coordinator Rick Venturi needs to tap into whatever spurred that effort early into training camp. Free agent pickup Dwight Smith (Buccaneers) will take over for the departed Tebucky Jones (Dolphins) at free safety, but otherwise, there will be minimal personnel changes on defense. Offensively, it's a different story, as former Eagle Jermane Mayberry takes over at right guard and rookie tackle Jammal Brown (Oklahoma) is expected to line up alongside him. Despite the mobility of quarterback Aaron Brooks, New Orleans gave up 41 sacks in 2004. In the backfield, Deuce McAllister needs to prove that he is over an injury- marred 2004 campaign, and backup Antowain Smith (Titans) must show that he has something left.
NEW YORK GIANTS - State University at Albany, Albany, NY (July 28)
What to Watch: The time is now for quarterback Eli Manning, who must emerge from his second pro training camp with more poise and confidence than he displayed as a rookie. The presence of a big new target in free agent signee Plaxico Burress (Steelers) should help, but a Giant line that gave up 52 sacks in 2004 isn't a whole lot better than it was last year. Former Jet Kareem McKenzie, who should settle in at right tackle, is a start, however. Running back Tiki Barber, who had a strong '04 but turned 30 in April, needs to show that he is not about to slow down. Tim Lewis' defense should benefit from the return of a healthy Michael Strahan at end, and should be a great deal stronger up the middle following the acquisition of middle linebacker Antonio Pierce (Redskins). The G-Men still have depth issues on the defensive line, and Tom Coughlin and company need draft picks Justin Tuck (Notre Dame) and Eric Moore (Florida State) to chip in along with free agent pickup Kendrick Clancy (Steelers). With Steve Christie now out of the picture, former Falcon Jay Feely needs to show he can be consistent outside the Georgia Dome.
NEW YORK JETS - Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY (July 29)
What to Watch: New offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger steps into the role formerly filled by the deposed Paul Hackett, and inherits a few concerns. First, he likely won't have the full services of quarterback Chad Pennington, who is coming off shoulder surgery. Heimerdinger must make sure new backup Jay Fiedler (Dolphins) is ready to play in case of another Pennington injury, and also needs to get Laveranues Coles (Redskins) up to speed in the receiving game. With Curtis Martin nearing his sell-by date and LaMont Jordan now a Raider, the Jets need Derrick Blaylock (Chiefs) to be ready at running back. On the line, tight end Doug Jolley (Raiders) and second-year player Adrian Jones must be ready to occupy starting positions. The defensive question marks are fewer, though Lance Legree must prove he is capable for taking over for departed nose tackle Jason Ferguson (Cowboys) and a still-sketchy cornerback situation needs to be sorted out. In light of the team's kicking woes in the 2004 postseason, second-round draft pick Mike Nugent (Ohio State) must put Herman Edwards' mind at ease with some early consistency.
OAKLAND RAIDERS - Napa Valley Marriott, Napa, CA (July 28)
What to Watch: Since the Raiders upgraded their offense to an elite level in the offseason, most of the camp focus will be on the defensive side of the ball. Norv Turner's team finished 2004 ranked 30th against the pass and 31st in scoring defense, but upgrades on "D" were minimal. Rookie corners Fabian Washington (Nebraska) and Stanford Routt (Houston) will be in the mix to start opposite Charles Woodson, as will new acquisition Renaldo Hill (Cardinals) and holdover Nnamdi Asomugha. The projected safety tandem of Derrick Gibson and Stuart Schweigert will have to prove to skeptics that they're ready, and underachievers in linebacker Jay Foreman (Texans) and end Derrick Burgess (Eagles) must prove that a change of scenery has done them good. On offense, the mission will be to figure out how to properly distribute the ball among wideouts Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, and Ronald Curry, along with running back LaMont Jordan. Developing either Marques Tuiasosopo or rookie Andrew Walter (Arizona State) into a capable backup to Kerry Collins is also in the best interest of the Silver and Black.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA (July 29)
What to Watch: With Terrell Owens not likely to return to the fold for much if any of camp, Donovan McNabb needs to concentrate on developing a better rapport with receivers Todd Pinkston, Greg Lewis, and rookie Reggie Brown (Georgia). Running back Brian Westbrook will likely bear more of the offensive load, but with his future in Philly uncertain beyond 2005, the team also needs to give backup Correll Buckhalter and rookie Josh Moats (Louisiana Tech) plenty of summer reps. Elsewhere on offense, fullback Jon Ritchie and guard Shawn Andrews must show that they are recovered from injuries that sidelined them during 2004. On defense, N.D. Kalu must return from injury to reclaim the right end spot formerly held down by the departed Derrick Burgess (Raiders). Coordinator Jim Johnson would also like to find a spot for rookie Mike Patterson (USC) within the defensive tackle rotation. At linebacker, the Birds need to permanently place up-and-comer Keith Adams. The special teams lost its leader in linebacker Ike Reese (Falcons), and must find a suitable replacement. Second-round draft choice Matt McCoy (San Diego State) is among the candidates there.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS - St. Vincent College, Latrobe, PA (July 31)
What to Watch: With running backs Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley not getting any younger and Ben Roethlisberger on the way up, the Steelers are likely to heap more upon the second-year pro in the passing game during the summer. The presence of two new targets - wideout Cedrick Wilson (49ers) and rookie tight end Heath Miller (Virginia) - enhances the importance of Roethlisberger's training camp development. Offensive line backups Keydrick Vincent (Ravens) and Oliver Ross (Cardinals) have departed, meaning Bill Cowher's team must solidify its depth there prior to the start of the season. Defensively, there have been few changes, though the team will want to make sure nose tackle Casey Hampton is over the knee injury that caused him to miss most of 2004. In the secondary, Ricardo Colclough and veteran Willie Williams will do battle for cornerback duties opposite Deshea Townsend.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS - Chargers Park, San Diego, CA (July 26)
What to Watch: For all of their successes in 2004, the Chargers were inconsistent at best against aerial attacks and with the pass rush. The team is hoping that the drafting of outside linebacker Shawne Merriman will translate to a great deal more heat on opposing quarterbacks, in turn aiding a secondary that was scarcely tinkered with in the offseason. The offense was barely touched either, but Marty Schottenheimer and company will have some work to do regardless. The Bolts must get Philip Rivers ready in the event that Drew Brees turns back into a pumpkin, and must figure out if Keenan McCardell, Reche Caldell, Eric Parker and rookie Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado) can handle the receiving load. San Diego drafted running back Darren Sproles (Kansas State) to succeed the departed Tim Dwight (Patriots) in the return game, and must make sure he's comfortable with the role.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS - 49ers Complex, Santa Clara, CA (July 28)
What to Watch: Nothing is for certain in the first year of the Mike Nolan era in San Francisco, meaning position battles rage throughout the two-deep. No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith (Utah) will try to hold off incumbent Tim Rattay at quarterback. Former 1,000-yard rusher Kevan Barlow will attempt to beat out fellow returnee Maurice Hicks and third-round draft choice Frank Gore (Miami (FL)) at running back. Free agent pickup Johnnie Morton (Chiefs), holdovers Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle, and second-year disappointment Rashaun Woods will vie for receiving duties. The offensive line will include newcomers in free agent acquisition Jonas Jennings (Bills) at left tackle and rookie David Baas (Michigan) at one guard. There will be fewer major changes defensively, as much of last year's injury-ravaged unit was welcomed back into the fold. Former Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson, who missed the final 10 games of the 2004 season, will have to prove to skeptics that he can again lead the defense. In the secondary, cornerback Shawntae Spencer will be trying to win a starting cornerback job from either Ahmed Plummer or Mike Rumph. The team is banking on kicker Joe Nedney, who has missed the better part of the last two seasons due to injury, to replace the departed Todd Peterson (Falcons).
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA (July 26)
What to Watch: In an attempt to improve a unit that ranked 23rd against both the pass and run last season, Seattle has ushered in a number of new faces on defense. Free agents Kelly Herndon (Broncos) and Andre Dyson (Titans) were brought into compete for the cornerback job vacated by the departed Ken Lucas (Seahakws), former Texan Jamie Sharper was acquired for a linebacking unit that lost former staples Chad Brown (Patriots) and Orlando Huff (Cardinals), and end Bryce Fisher (Rams) will try to solidify a pass rush that no longer boats the services of Chike Okeafor (Cardinals). The newbies will have to come together in the summer for Seattle to show improvement. Offensively, changes to the first unit were minimal, though Jerome Pathon (Saints) and Joe Jurevicius (Buccaneers) should see plenty of reps following the departures of Jerry Rice and Koren Robinson (both released). Running back Shaun Alexander is likely to sit out most of training camp to protest his "franchise" designation, meaning backup Maurice Morris should see plenty of reps with the first unit. On special teams, new coach Bob Casullo replaces Mark Michaels, and should have former Pro Bowl special teamer Alex Bannister back and healthy following an injury-plagued 2004.
ST. LOUIS RAMS - Rams Park, St. Louis, MO (July 28)
What to Watch: The Rams' safety situation is a mess, as the team needs to find two starters out of a group that includes disappointing holdover Adam Archuleta, second-tier free agent pickups Michael Stone (Cardinals) and Michael Hawthorne (Packers), and rookies Oshiomogho Atogwe (Stanford) and Jerome Carter (Florida State). Also in flux is the linebacking corps, with new faces Dexter Coakley (Cowboys) and Chris Claiborne (Vikings) expected to register an impact for a club that ranked 29th in the league against the run last year. Offensively, Mike Martz needs to determine how to get touches for running backs Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk, and also must bring former Bears guard Rex Tucker and rookie tackle Alex Barron (Florida State) up to speed within the team's complex passing scheme. St. Louis struggled on special teams last year, and it is new position coach Bob Ligashesky's responsibility to reverse that trend. In the kicking game, sixth-round draft choice Reggie Hodges (Ball State) was selected to compete with holdover Kevin Stemke.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS - Rams Park, St. Louis, MO (July 28)
What to Watch: An offense that finished a miserable 29th in rushing last season is counting on first-round draft choice Carnell Williams (Auburn) to help reverse that trend. Williams' presence should take some training camp heat off of returning quarterback Brian Griese, who is a shaky No. 1 on a depth chart that also includes Chris Simms. Griese will again work behind a young and unheralded line that must make big strides during the summer. Also of note on offense is the tight end battle between free agent pickup Anthony Becht (Jets) and well-regarded rookie Alex Smith (Stanford). Defensively, coordinator Monte Kiffin is still held in high esteem, but the core of his unit, namely linebacker Derrick Brooks, end Simeon Rice and cornerback Ronde Barber, is aging. The defense must continue to play with high energy during camp, and Kiffin has to give a great deal of attention to up-and-comers like rookie linebacker Barrett Ruud (Nebraska). Tampa Bay's field goal game has been atrocious of late, something they hope former Dolphin and Giant Matt Bryant can alleviate.
TENNESSEE TITANS - Rams Park, St. Louis, MO (July 28)
What to Watch: New offensive coordinator Norm Chow, formerly the mastermind of the USC attack, needs to answer a number of questions before his unit suits up in earnest. Chow must determine whether quarterback Steve McNair can shake off his injury-plagued 2004, whether the signal-caller can thrive without top receiver Derrick Mason (now with the Ravens), and whether he and running back Chris Brown can operate behind a line that will feature at least one rookie (tackle Michael Roos from Eastern Washington). The Titans' defensive makeup is no more certain, as cornerbacks Samari Rolle (Ravens), Andre Dyson (Seahawks), safety Lance Schulters (released) end Carlos Hall (Chiefs) and tackle Kevin Carter (Dolphins) have all departed the Music City. First-round draft choice and cornerback Pac-Man Jones (West Virginia) will have to show he is ready to play, as will young players like ends Bo Schobel, Travis LaBoy, and strong safety Donnie Nickey.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS - Rams Park, St. Louis, MO (July 28)
What to Watch: Though the Redskins are proceeding as if Patrick Ramsey will be their starting quarterback come the fall, conventional wisdom suggests that first-round draft pick Jason Campbell (Auburn) will have a better-than-average chance to unseat him. Whoever takes snaps will have to get in sync with a new receiving corps of offseason acquisitions David Patten (Patriots) and Santana Moss (Jets). Center and former Raven Casey Rabach will have to show he was worth the investment, and tackle Jon Jansen must prove he is fully recovered from a torn Achilles that caused him to miss all of 2004. With Rabach and Jansen in the fold, life should get a bit easier for Clinton Portis in the running game. Most of the defensive questions focus on the status of safety Sean Taylor, who faces felony charges for his role in a Sept. 1 assault. Also in question is the status of first-round draft choice and cornerback Carlos Rogers (Auburn), who has a stress fracture in his right foot and a bone bruise in his ankle. The Skins must make sure that holdover cornerback Walt Harris and new safety Pierson Prioleau (ex-Bills) are ready in the event that Taylor and Rogers are unavailable during the season. With Antonio Pierce having defected to the division rival Giants, linebacker LaVar Arrington must show that he can bounce back from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of 2004.
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