Questions everywhere as camps open
By Barry Wilner
Ah, the pleasantries of training camps. The oppressive heat. The two-a-day practices. The stuffy dorm rooms.
With the exception of rookies and obscure free agents looking to catch on, do any players enjoy the grind?
That’s one of the many reasons commissioner Roger Goodell wants to shorten the preseason. Still, there are incentives for just about everyone over the next six weeks — and dozens of questions to answer.
Even the Pittsburgh Steelers, fresh off a record sixth Super Bowl title, have enough uncertainties that they’ll need much of August to answer.
At least they are doing it from the top.
"The organization keeps it level and with a tone that keeps distractions to a minimum," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "Coach (Mike Tomlin) does a great job of coming in and doing that and we’ve got some veteran guys who know what it takes coming off the last Super Bowl."
The Steelers’ offensive line was a source of concern last season and hasn’t been upgraded much. They lost two key defenders in linebacker Larry Foote and cornerback Bryant McFadden. Reliable Nate Washington is gone as the third receiver.
And there’s the distinct and distasteful memory of how the Steel Curtain was shredded in 2006, the season after Pittsburgh’s previous Super Bowl win — the one for the thumb.
"It is a different time, a different place, a different set of circumstances," Tomlin said.
Different circumstances, accompanied by tons of question marks, abound in the NFL. Such as:
• Chicago and Denver. The Bears have a franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler, for the first time in decades, although his targets might not measure up to his talents. The Broncos no longer have Mike Shanahan at the helm after 12 years. He was fired following Denver’s monumental late-season collapse, and his replacement, Josh McDaniels, alienated Cutler before dealing him. McDaniels, 33, also brought in a score of free agents, likely increasing the adjustment time for everyone.
• Buffalo. Isn’t that the new stomping grounds of reality show star, Terrell Owens?
The reality with Owens is that things go well in his first year in a new setting, and he has just a one-year contract with the Bills. So maybe T.O. will make nice with developing quarterback Trent Edwards and his new teammates.
Ahead for 30 teams are four preseason games (Buffalo and Tennessee get five because they meet in the Hall of Fame match on Aug. 9) in which few starters play and the results matter little. Answering as many questions as possible matters most.
• New York Jets, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Tampa, Seattle, St. Louis and Detroit. Like the Broncos, each of those teams has a new head coach.
Can Rex Ryan inspire a squad that folded at the end of 2008? Does Eric Mangini, who went from the Jets to the Browns, bring with him the touch that made the Jets contenders, or the heavy hand that helped them fall apart?
Are McDaniels and Tampa’s 32-year-old Raheem Morris too green to be in total charge?
Does anyone have a tougher act to follow than Jim Caldwell as he succeeds Tony Dungy in Indianapolis? Well, perhaps Jim Mora in Seattle, taking over for Mike Holmgren.
Jim Schwartz can’t do any worse than Rod Marinelli did in going 0-16 in Detroit, yet how much optimism can Lions fans have when they look at the roster and that the Lions are 200-1 shots to win the Super Bowl, according to BetUS.com?
Ditto in St. Louis, where Steve Spagnuolo will look at his defense and wonder where the pass rush will come from.
Todd Haley goes from leading one of the most prolific and exciting offenses in the league in Arizona to one of the NFL’s most inept attacks in KC. Haley does have Matt Cassel, who parlayed a superb season filling in for Tom Brady in New England into a massive contract with the Chiefs.
• Speaking of Brady, he’s back and, considering that the Patriots have no backups with experience, apparently ready to go full throttle.
Dismissing his short stint in the 2008 opener before tearing up his knee, Brady still has the glow of that record-setting 2007 campaign and a perfect regular season. And the Patriots are the second choice behind Pittsburgh to win the championship, according to BetUS.com.