Keys to Training Camp: NFC East
Posted 7/24 by Jason Wood, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
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Location: Marriott Residence Inn (Oxnard, CA)
Dates: July 29 - August 21
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
- Does Bledsoe have another resurgent season in him? - The Cowboys
believe Drew Bledsoe is an upgrade over Vinny Testaverde, but their numbers
the last few seasons are strikingly similar. Bledsoe reunites with his original
head coach, in what he and Parcells likely hope is a playoff-bound twilight
of their respective careers. Does Bledsoe have the mobility and pocket presence
to be an impact player any longer?
- Will the offensive line fall into place? - If the offensive line
doesn't improve by leaps and bounds, Drew Bledsoe isn't going to be effective;
it's as simple as that. The team enters camp with a handful of question marks;
but believes the answers are already on the roster. All-Pro Larry Allen may
move to right tackle, or he may remain at left guard if someone like Tucker,
Vollers or Petitti impresses in camp. Veteran guard Marco Rivera, signed as
a free agent this offseason, will man one of the guard spots provided he can
recover from offseason back surgery. Without a healthy Rivera, the line could
be in trouble.
- (IDP) Monitoring the transition to a 3-4 defensive front - The team
will use a 3-4 front as their base formation this year. Oddly, most of the
Cowboys projected starters have enjoyed most of their success in 4-3 schemes
including Jason Ferguson, Greg Ellis, La'Roi Glover, Dat Nguyen and Al Singleton.
Rookies Demarcus Ware, Kevin Burnett and Marcus Spears are all expected to
make major contributions in 2005, and they all project as better fits in the
3-4 than some of the veterans (particularly Spears).
- (IDP) Is Mike Zimmer a lame duck? - Mike Zimmer was a holdover from
the pre-Parcells era but could be on thin ice this season. After the Cowboys
finished in bottom half of the league defensively last season, Parcells has
implemented major changes including a transition to the 3-4 defensive base
formation. Zimmer has never coached a 3-4 scheme, and it seems only a matter
of time before he parts ways with the Cowboys organization.
- (IDP) Finding a starting free safety - With Roy Williams moving to
strong safety, the team must determine whether Izzell Reese, Lynn Scott or
Keith Davis are capable of starting at free safety. Should they struggle early
in camp, a veteran safety could certainly be brought in off the free agent
New York Giants
Location: University of Albany (Albany, NY)
Dates: July 30 - August 24
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
- Does Eli make strides in his second season? - Manning enters training
camp the undisputed starter in his 2nd year and should benefit from a) an
understanding of the playbook and b) seeing a majority of reps (he split reps
with Warner last year in camp). The Giants expect nothing short of greatness
from Eli, although not necessarily this season.
- Is Kareem McKenzie the missing piece of the puzzle? - The Giants
lured RT Kareem McKenzie away from the Jets, and he will anchor the right
side of an offensive line that couldn't protect the Giants QBs last season.
McKenzie's presence should allow David Diehl to play his more natural position
- Can Plaxico play for Tom Coughlin? - Plaxico Burress signed with
New York after a strange courtship this offseason, and finally has the chance
to be the focal point, having played second fiddle to Hines Ward in Pittsburgh.
Can Burress rise to the occasion, particularly playing for noted disciplinarian
Tom Coughlin? Bill Cowher was noted for his discipline too, so this may be
much less of an issue than the media would have us believe.
- Will Brandon Jacobs really spell Tiki? - 267-pound rookie RB Brandon
Jacobs will be given every opportunity to do what Ron Dayne couldn't, spell
Tiki Barber and be the team's primary option in short yardage situations.
GM Ernie Accorsi has told anyone who would listen that Jacobs WILL be used
that way; but we've heard that before. More importantly, does Jacobs' role
drive down Barber's fantasy stock, creating value for yet another season?
- (IDP) Is Umenyiora ready to be the man? - Osi Umenyiora is expected
to become a consistent impact pass rusher opposite Michael Strahan after a
solid 2004 season; is he up to the challenge? Can he improve against the run
to become an every down multi-dimensional threat?
- (IDP) Sorting out the LB Corps - We know that Antonio Pierce, signed
away from Washington this season, will man the middle, but training camp will
answer who lines up alongside him. Will it be Barrett Green or Nick Greisen
at weakside linebacker? And will Reggie Torbor unseat steady but unexciting
Carlos Emmons on the strongside?
Location: Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA)
Dates: July 30 - August 15
Open to the public? - YES (with a few exceptions, check website)
- Will he or won't he? - We all know who "he" is, and none
of us know the answer until camp starts. It seems certain that the Eagles
have no intention of renegotiating Owens deal, so is he willing to sit out
the season? Stay tuned.
- Is Reggie Brown capable of making an immediate impact? - The team
hasn't had much success with its draft choices at wide receiver; thus the
guarded optimism for rookie Reggie Brown. Although Greg Lewis and Todd Pinkston
would likely start if Owens doesn't play, a fast ascent up the learning curve
by Brown would go a long way to easing concerns related to Owens contractual
- Is Chad Lewis going to retire, and if not, will he be an Eagle? -
L.J. Smith is the team's starting tight end, but there is precious little
depth beyond him on the current roster. Lewis, originally expected to retire,
has made overtures about wanting to play again. Will he come back and if so,
will the Birds bring him aboard?
- Is Tra Thomas healthy? - LT Tra Thomas has dealt with a blood clot
in his leg and the team has been relatively mum about his progress. Will he
be healthy and ready to contribute in camp? If not, will LG Artis Hicks be
moved back to tackle in his stead?
- Defining the RB roles - Brian Westbrook wants a long-term contract,
but the Eagles brass and his agent appear far apart in their assessment of
his value. Westbrook has promised he'll be in camp, but his situation bears
watching. Meanwhile Correll Buckhalter is back after missing last season with
a knee injury, and rookie Ryan Moats (a Westbrook clone) is signed and ready
for camp too. Will we see an increased focus on the running game? Will each
back have defined roles or can they be used interchangeably? At fullback,
Jon Ritchie and Josh Parry are fighting for the starting spot.
- (IDP) Will Corey Simon be the good soldier? - The Eagles were close
to trading Corey Simon to the Baltimore Ravens this offseason, but the deal
was never consummated. Will Simon play under his one-year deal as the team's
franchise player? If not, is he prepared to hold out?
Location: Redskins Park (Ashburn, VA)
Dates: August 1 - August 11
Open to the public? - YES
- Can Patrick Ramsey succeed and not look over his shoulder? - It's
never easy to play with someone breathing over your shoulder and Ramsey has
not one, but two potential replacements on hand. It would be difficult to
imagine Mark Brunell stepping back into the role after his disastrous showing
last year, but he's under contract and an option. Furthermore, the Redskins
didn't trade back into the first round to draft Jason Campbell for nothing;
they clearly see him as a potential franchise QB, although probably not as
- Can 'Papa Hog' Joe Bugel whip the offensive line into shape? - We
asked this question last year and the answer turned out to be "Incomplete."
The loss of RT Jon Jansen made it difficult for us to effectively judge the
line's potential. Jansen is back, and the team upgraded at center with the
signing of Casey Rabach. Bugel is also implementing a new zone blocking scheme
to better utilize RB Clinton Portis' cutback abilities.
- Did the Redskins really upgrade at wide receiver? - The Redskins
believe they've upgraded their receiving corps this offseason, trading L.
Coles for Santana Moss and signing David Patten to play opposite him. Yet,
a look at their careers versus Coles and Rod Gardner (who is expected to be
released at some point) shows that they aren't necessarily better players.
Beyond Moss and Patten, what roles will Dyson, Jacobs, Thrash and McCants
- (IDP) The Sean Taylor debacle - Sean Taylor has been more trouble
than he's worth; which is saying something given his talents. Taylor was charged
with aggravated assault this summer and could face jail time. Furthermore,
he's griped about his contract (you know, the one he signed LAST YEAR). Whether
he can put all the behind him and emerge as the cornerstone of the defensive
secondary as was the team's intention remains to be seen.
- (IDP) Is LaVar Arrington healthy? - The Redskins were lucky enough
to have Antonio Pierce emerge alongside Marcus Washington as a playmaking
linebacker last season amid Arrington's injury woes. But Pierce has signed
with the Giants and the Redskins desperately need Arrington to be healthy
and effective this year; will he be at full speed in camp?
- (IDP) Can Walt Harris and/or Carlos Rogers replace Fred Smoot? -
Fred Smoot is now a Viking, and the team hopes either veteran Walt Harris
or rookie first rounder Carlos Rogers is up to the task of replacing him.