NFL training camps have finally arrived, and with them come a new year’s worth of hope, speculation, and intrigue. In past years, training camps have brought us such drama as Albert Haynesworth’s overweight fitness tests, the beginning of Michael Crabtree’s 42 day holdout, and a never ending cycle of quarterback controversies. Here are some thoughts as to what this year’s top drama could be.
1. Peyton Manning
Until recently, Manning was considered the league’s best quarterback, but a bout of neck injuries that eventually cost him all of last season have put his status as one of the NFL’s elite in jeopardy. On top of that, Manning is joining a new team after being the face of the Colts franchise for a decade. Training camp will provide an opportunity for him to prove his health, reassert himself as a dominant passer, and usher the Broncos into a new era. Year 1 AT (After Tebow) is starting in Denver.
2. MJD’s absence
After leading the league in rushing last season, despite every opponent focusing solely on stopping him, Maurice Jones-Drew was rewarded by the Jaguars with a refusal to offer him a new contract. In fact, Jacksonville owner Shad Khan publicly stated that he would not give Jones-Drew a new contract, making it no surprise that MJD began his holdout shortly after. Jones-Drew still has two years left on his current deal, which will net him a little under $5 million each year, but after larger contracts have been doled out to other running backs recently, such as Matt Forte and Ray Rice, Jones-Drew has a valid argument asking for more money, given he outperformed those two (and the rest of the league). Still, MJD’s contract was front-loaded, so he earned more his first few years of the deal than he was worth at the time. It will be interesting to see how long this lasts and which side will give in first in this game of monetary chicken.
3. 1st NFL action for rookies
This year’s draft was top heavy with talent at the skill positions, with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, and Justin Blackmon all taken in the top five. Training camp will give us our first look at how the stack up against NFL competition and could give us an idea of the type of impact they’ll make in their rookie years. Luck is the most hyped quarterback prospect in over a decade and the magnifying glass will be on him after the Manning trade anointed Luck Indianapolis’ savior. Similar scrutiny will be given to RG3, considering how much the Redskins gave up in order to draft him. Richardson will be filling the gap vacated by the most recent Madden Curse victim, Peyton Hillis, and Blackmon will also have high expectations as he finally provides a target for Blaine Gabbert to throw to.
4. New faces in new places
Several star players switched teams during the offseason and will get a chance to showcase how they fit into their new rosters. New Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson and quarterback Josh Freeman should begin developing some chemistry during camp as the two hope to connect often during the season. Ditto for Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler as the two reacquaint themselves with each other after having been teammates in Denver. Matt Flynn will get his first opportunity to fight for a starting spot after a huge game in week 17 earned him a nice contract in Seattle. He’ll compete with incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson. If Flynn looks as impressive in training camp as he did last season against the Lions (480 yards, 6 TDs), he should get the nod. Lastly, Peyton Hillis joins the Chiefs after a disappointing and injury-filled season with the Browns last year. It will be interesting to see how Hillis fits into the Chiefs offense with star running back Jamal Charles on the roster.
5. Stars recovering from injuries
Several star players who suffered season ending injuries last year will be returning to action for the first time in training camp and it will offer some insight into how their injuries could affect their effectiveness this season. Adrian Peterson is coming off of a torn ACL and could possibly sit out training camp to further rest it. If he participates, expect his explosiveness and ability to make quick cuts to be analyzed and watched closely. Several other players are also returning from ACL injuries including Titans receiver Kenny Britt and running back Jamal Charles and safety Eric Berry of the Chiefs. Their health and fitness will be also be called into question. Raiders running back Darren McFadden is returning from a foot injury that cost him the final six games of last season. His potential has been limited by his frequent injuries so this year will be important for him to prove he can stay healthy. The last big name coming off of a major injury is, of course, Peyton Manning. After many believed his neck injury could have ended his career, Manning is back. But few have really seen him throw the ball since his recovery, except for a grainy video, so Manning needs to prove he can still play football before he can try to reclaim his title as one of the best.