The Denver Broncos will be the first NFL team to open training camp when rookies and veterans report for work Wednesday. What story lines will dominate the discussion as teams get back on the practice field? Let’s take a look at eight big questions entering training camp:
Will the Los Angeles Rams see a drop-off on offense?
The Sean McVay-led Rams were tough to stop last season — until a 13-3 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. The offensive issues amplified during that loss could carry over to this season.
The health of star running back Todd Gurley II is a concern. He has an arthritic knee and probably will need to take on a greatly reduced workload, possibly ceding snaps to third-round draft pick Darrell Henderson. Not only will Gurley almost certainly sit out the preseason, but it’s going to be tough for him to handle tight turnarounds — such as the Oct. 3 Thursday night game at the Seattle Seahawks, which comes just four days after a home game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He is not the only injury concern on offense: Wide receiver Cooper Kupp is recovering from an ACL tear. The offensive line lost Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan this offseason, too.
McVay is one of the best coaching minds in the NFL, but he will be tested this season — as will fourth-year quarterback Jared Goff, who completed just half of his pass attempts in the Super Bowl defeat.
How will the Kansas City Chiefs adjust if Tyreek Hill is suspended?
It remains unclear whether — and for how long — Hill will be suspended by the NFL following a law enforcement investigation into suspicions of child abuse. While the on-field ramifications pale in comparison to the severity of the allegations, the wide receiver’s absence would have a significant impact on the Chiefs’ offense.
It was already unrealistic to expect quarterback Patrick Mahomes to match last year’s total of 50 touchdowns, given that when Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady produced 50-plus-touchdown seasons, they dropped into the 30s the next year. Hill, the team’s top playmaker, opens things up for Mahomes and Coach Andy Reid, and while the Chiefs traded up to draft Mecole Hardman in the second round as a potential Hill replacement, it’s unlikely he can make an immediate impact anywhere close to what Hill provides.
Despite the Chiefs’ aggressiveness in acquiring edge rusher Frank Clark, safety Tyrann Mathieu and others, they are still challenged enough on defense that the offense again might need to score more than 30 points per game.
What will a healthy Cam Newton mean for the Carolina Panthers?
It’s unlikely that Newton plays much in the preseason, but as he returns to the field following two shoulder surgeries over the past three seasons, he has to decide whether he’s ready to play a different type of football. The quarterback loves using his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame to punish the opposing defense in the running game — he has averaged more than 100 rushing attempts per season — but he must avoid making contact so often if he is to stay healthy.
Last season, the extra contact caught up to him, and he could no longer throw deep. Newton is a career 60 percent passer, but he has the creative mind of offensive coordinator Norv Turner working for him, and if he’s healthy, Carolina could surprise in the NFC South.
What will the New York Jets get out of Le’Veon Bell?
After missing last season with his holdout, Bell stayed away from organized team activities to get his body ready for the season, and he attended only two minicamp practices.
That makes him something of an unknown as training camp starts, and he hasn’t had any time to work with second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. Bell is 27, so he should still be in his prime, but if he didn’t do a good job of preparing himself for the season, he could be vulnerable to an injury. Coach Adam Gase probably won’t play him in the preseason, but the Jets have to figure out how he fits into their offense.
How will Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense — and Kyler Murray — work in the NFL?
Each year, NFL coaches incorporate more plays from college spread and Air Raid offenses. But the Arizona Cardinals are making the most dramatic jump yet behind Kingsbury, a first-year head coach with no NFL coaching experience, and Murray, the first pick of the draft.
Since 2012, nearly two-thirds of all rookie starting QBs completed less than 60 percent of the passes. That won’t work in the Air Raid, which requires a high completion percentage to operate effectively, meaning Kingsbury will need Murray to be on target from the start.
Some are skeptical, but if this works, it could lead to more owners trying to lure college offensive coaches to the NFL. It could make Washington State’s Mike Leach a popular target.
Will HBO’s “Hard Knocks” have a negative impact on the Oakland Raiders?
Jon Gruden has his hands full. He has to make things work with veterans Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito, in addition to getting an early impact from the team’s three first-round draft picks. The Raiders have the toughest schedule in the NFL, including a brutal road slate that has them playing away from home for two months.
The presence of HBO cameras will make things more difficult. The Raiders were a no-brainer pick for the show from a fan and league perspective, but for the team, it’s a different story. We will see how Gruden and the Raiders handle the spotlight.
Will the Buffalo Bills’ new additions help quarterback Josh Allen?
The Bills may have four new starters on the offensive line after signing six linemen in free agency and drafting Cody Ford in the second round. They also added three wide receivers, two tight ends and two running backs.
All of the moves were geared toward getting help for Allen, the second-year quarterback who was considered the most raw passer among first-rounders in his draft class. The good news for Coach Sean McDermott is that Buffalo’s defense, which finished second in the league in yards allowed last year and added defensive tackle Ed Oliver with the draft’s ninth pick, should again be very good.
Who will be the starting quarterbacks in Washington and Miami?
The NFL’s best quarterback battles involve Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Dolphins, and Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum and Colt McCoy of the Redskins. Good preseasons could give the edge to Rosen and Haskins, given their youth and upside, but if they aren’t ready, the veterans could get the nod, at least in Week 1.
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