Training camp is the eye opener of what you can potentially expect from the 32 teams in the rapidly approaching season. Granted a lot of the training camp games utilize the rookies more to see who will accommodate their 53-man roster, but most games begin with the veterans, allowing them to loosen up a bit. So which teams should you be keeping an eye out for? Starting with the AFC East, a conference known best for its continuous front-runners, the Patriots, but that is not the team at the top of the list.
The Dolphins came to compete when it came to their selections in the 2016 draft, but they have also utilized free agency in a beneficial way. At the Dolphins training camp most would agree that they are excited to see the skill set and potential in players such as Larmey Tunsil, arguably one of the best players in the draft. Tunsil is the type of player to start right away and will hopefully give Ryan Tannehill the ability to make more efficient plays.
In order to make plays you need play makers like wide receiver, Rutgers University’s, Leonte Carroo and Texas A&M’s Jakeem Grant. Now and days the tight end position has evolved into one of the most versatile positions played. Although the Dolphins only drafted one, they already had three veteran tight ends and picked up three more in free agency. To give Tannehill further help they drafted Alabama running back Kenyon Drake, as well as, picking up Arian Foster from the Texans. So what to expect from the Dolphins? A more rapid offense, more efficient offensive connections, and more end zone time, which a lot of Miami fans have been waiting for, for years now! We should expect to see a more composed quarterback out of Ryan Tannehill this season, especially because he will have the additional help he has been looking for.
Fans will mainly look at the Patriots just to see how Jimmy Garoppolo handles Tom Brady’s job. The Bills actually turned heads last year with their defense. So an expectation with the Bills will be how the offense and defense will feed off each other to be a full team to be reckon with this upcoming season, they aren’t to far off from a truly competitive team within the AFC. The Jets have yet to settle their QB shuffle, so you can definitely be expecting to see some hopeful progress in that department come camp.
Heading into the AFC West, toping this conference as a must see in training camp, the Denver Broncos, yes our super bowl 50 champions. Not because of their super bowl success, but because of the lose of Payton Manning to retirement, having Mark Sanchez, who doesn’t really fit their system, and their new first draft pick, dark horse, Paxton Lynch! Since Denver secured most of their super bowl team. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks at camp.
Kansas City put on an impressive 11-5 season last year. Alex Smith passed for 3,486 yards and 20 touchdowns, and lets not count out tight end, Travis Kelce, and his outbreak year with 72 receptions, 875 yards and 5 touchdowns, not to mention Kelce was targeted 100 times in the 2015 season. Mainly because Jaamal Charles went down week 5 with an ACL tear, also making way for Jeremy Maclin, Charcandrick West, and Spencer Ware. So it’s safe to say that we can all look forward to their training camp and the run they could potentially have again this season.
San Diego Chargers sadly have been consistently mediocre, season after season, but hopefully after picking up top draft pick Joey Bosa and in the 6th round the little brother of JJ Watt and former Wisconsin fullback, Derek Watt. We may see the team spice things up a little. The Raiders are here and there, but not far at all from being contenders. I’d say were looking forward to them continuing to build and execute and effective system on both sides of the ball.
AFC North. Bengals had a great run last season, but fell short in play offs with penalty calls and a major fumble. This camp we will see a fire in their bellies and get a glimpse of them possibly having a chance to head back to play offs. Dalton is nowhere close to letting this season slip by him. Big Ben and the Steelers showed up sort of late last year, but better late than never. Adding cornerback Artie Burns from Miami (who will be on the defensive side of the ball with former teammate Anthony Chickillo), Sean Davis from Maryland, and another defensive pick, Javon Hargraves from South Carolina, to their roster, this camp should preview a Steelers team that is looking to have a defense to be reckon with, along with a noted presence all season long. Baltimore Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco, struggled last season! But the Ravens made a smart move at snatching offensive tackle Lonnie Stanley to contribute to the line. This camp I am looking for Flacco to get his confidence back. Overall NFL Fans everywhere is looking for the Browns to do something smart. We have no clue what to truly expect this camp, but I do hope to see a lot of offensive progression.
AFC South. This is a conference where I would say to look forward to every team’s camp. Starting with the Texans, the Texans luckily have been predominately strong defensively, especially with athletic defensive end JJ Watt, but Watt is on the PUP list after undergoing back surgery. Outside linebacker and another freak athlete, Jadeveon Clowney, has been battling injuries since his draft debut. Last year the Texans lacked a consistent quarterback, yet still made plays thanks to rookie and go-getter Deandre Hopkins, the kid has hands! So, you can only imagine the hype that surrounded the team when the Texans picked up, Broncos back up quarterback, Brock Osweiler. Osweiler carried the Broncos through most of the 2015 season while Manning was recovering from injury.
The Colts have been close for two to three seasons and then last year looked just sloppy, but still managed 500, so that didn’t stop the Colts organization from making Andrew Luck the highest paid player in the league, interesting. Aside from that I’m looking for a healthy Andrew Luck to be worth his new paycheck and for training camp to shine a light on Colts corrected mistakes from the past season.
Jacksonville Jaguars had a great 2016 draft. Definitely looking forward to the recovery of Jalan Ramsey, as well as, the needed disruption he can and will bring to the Jaguars defense. To add to the defense they also snatched top linebacker, Myles Jack from UCLA whose prognosis has been declared, but his return time hasn’t been stated yet. Blake Bortles has progressed nicely in each of his seasons in the NFL thus far, so you can always look forward to what he’ll bring to the table in the upcoming season.
Although the Titans were maybe one of the worst teams last year, keep a close eye on them. It seems as if they are just rebuilding the team and in a dangerous way. Rebuilding the team to fit a style that Marcus Mariota dominated in in college. So don’t count them out. Check for the acceleration that can take place between Mariota and Demarco Murray. The Titans also added to their offensive line, meaning that the more protected Mariota is (which he wasn’t last season) the more ability he has to make plays and scramble successfully.
NFC East. The Redskins and Kirk Cousins have had an interesting relationship, but the hype here goes to cornerback, Josh Norman. Making quite a name for him last season when he played with super bowl contenders, Carolina Panthers. Training camp should highlight how well Cousins can and will connected with wide receivers, DeSean Jackson and rookie, Josh Dotson. Two very good receivers who can help the Redskins spread their offense and get into the end more.
America’s team really drew in the attention with draft pick Ezekiel Elliot. To paint a clearer picture of the excitement surrounding that decision, Elliot’s jersey is already one of the highest purchased jerseys! Woefully the health of quarterback Tony Romo is still a question and even if and when he is back, how long will he last in the season? Training camp can give us a glimpse of Romo’s health length, but everyone is excited to see Elliot’s debut.
New York Giants surprised most of us once they grabbed cornerback Eli Apple at number 10. Then they proceeded to pick up defensively, when we all assumed they would add to their offensive line. So that will be an attention-grabbing look in camp. Coach Ben McAdoo said, “We plan on focusing on teaching and working up the millennials”. The Eagles have a lot of situating to do after upsetting Sam Bradford with their draft selection of Carson Wentz. I am sure we’re all curious of what the temperature of the offense will be, but also how Wentz conducts himself. Will he learn well under Bradford?
NFC West as a whole deserves to be paid attention to with camp now here. So much enthusiasm has come about the Rams who are now the LA Rams with the first round pick of Jared Goff. Goff is projected to do extremely well with the Rams. With the new transition and successful draft picks, the Rams will have some high standards to meet this season.
Then we have the Cardinals who nearly made it to the super bowl last season, so that won’t go un-noticed at all. Palmer put it all on the field last year and I am sure his thirsty enough to get that far again or further. The 49ers and Chip Kelly, enough said there. Seahawks have been pretty proficient at maintaining their team through the last three seasons. Granted we can count of a solid camp and season from them.
NFC North. The Vikings lead the conference and impressively at that! Their defense stepped up so much, but no surprise there seeing as how Zimmerman is a defensive minded coach. More over, Teddy Bridgewater needs to settle himself more in the pocket and not be put in the position to sling the ball down the field, not his strength. Luckily, the Vikings picked up Laquon Treadwell, one of the highest ranked receivers coming out of college. To draw more attention, they also drafted the first overseas player, Mortiz Bohringer, who actually looks to be promising and add some versatility to the offense as a big receiver. No one can ever leave out Adrian Peterson. How about Stefon Diggs, who was one of their top play makers. I say that the Vikings will not only impress us in camp, but will appear in the playoffs again this year.
Not only was Aaron Rodgers on his back most of last season, but he also carried his team on his back. Jordy Nelson is on the PUP list for camp, but the Packers love having a tight end to hit such a Richards, but now they have receiving tight end, Jared Cook. Did I mention this end came out of college running a 4.6 at 260 pounds? Rodgers and him will get along great. Of course there is still Eddie Lacy, who runs hard, gets in the end zone, and his team on the scoreboard. Chicago stacked defensively this past draft, but the offensive has not been up to par for seasons now. Jay cutler has got to produce way more than he does, with way less turnovers. Expectantly by now the organization has placed some heat under Cutler. Sources gave us five key positions to watch in training camp with the Lions. Running back because they lack a workhorse running back. Abduallah will be the lead back for now. Offensive line, with rookie Taylor Decker facing off with Riley Reiff at tackle. At the Long snapper position, we have rookie, Jimmy Landes, competing with Dan Muhlbach. Punt returner, Abdullah could carry more responsibility here, but the job mainly goes to Golden Tate. Last but not least, strong side linebacker, where Van Noy has had the job since being picked up in 2014, but hasn’t impressed the Lions. Making this a make or break year for Noy.
NFC South. The Panthers secured most of their super bowl team from last years adventurous run. Can they hit a 15-1 record again? Camp will give some insight on the teams hunger. Cam Newton is certainly hungry for more after coming up short to the Broncos. Falcons has a decent run at 8-8, but Devonte Freeman broke up and gave that team breath of fresh air mid-season last year. During training camp I would look out for the offensive changes, giving freeman more of a leadership role. The Saints and Drew Brees are looking for stimulation, have they found it? We won’t know until probably week one. Training camp will be good ground to see what necessary changes they have made. Lastly, Tampa Bay’s biggest eye sore last season was the amount of yards they gave up. Their defense struggled! But they drafted very well, landing linebacker Vernon Hargreaves, and a great defensive playmaker. Camp will show us just how well the Bucs are connecting and building a team to compete with.
Even though training camp is a platform for rookies. Camp gives us soft insights into what a team can potentially produce in the upcoming season. With many new teams in the spot light and a few under dogs who are setting up their team confidently, we are looking forward to another entertaining season in the NFL. Stay tuned with @1340amfoxsports for all of your sports updates and entertainment.
The Sports Kase.