By the time NFL training camps start we have created expectations for every team in the league and how we expect them to perform. Until we see how the teams respond to the challenges of training camp, though, we are really just guessing based on what we see on paper. Every year there are a few teams that show early signs that are better than what we expect, and others that give us some reasons to be concerned early on. Here’s a look at three teams off to rough starts, and two that have been surprising so far:
Denver Broncos - There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the first year and a half of the Josh McDaniels era in Denver, and the pressure for results is climbing. Unfortunately, those expectations are climbing as the talent seems to be decreasing. There were hopes that McDaniels had taken some big steps forward, but there are some real reasons to be concerned this year. The biggest concerns focus around the offense.
Quarterback Kyle Orton has started well, but he needs to because it’s clear that the alternatives aren’t pretty. Tim Tebow has shown that he is a long way from being ready, and now he’s already nursing an injury. Brady Quinn has been just brutal. It’s going to be Orton or nothing for a while, and that’s not a good thing in some eyes.
Orton’s far from a mobile guy, so it’s also a big concern that the offensive line has been brutal this summer. It seems doubtful that Ryan Clady, the stud left tackle, will be ready for the start of the season. He’s needed to be a rock on this line because there are so many other issues. Rookie third round pick J.D. Walton is forced to start at center, for example, and he’s looked like a turnstile against the defensive line. This has been far from the start to camp that the Broncos needed.
New England Patriots - The Patriots have been so good for so long, so sooner or later it only makes sense that they are going to encounter an issue or two. It really seems to me like things might be catching up to them a bit.
Randy Moss is old and Wes Welker isn’t right, so the established core of the offense isn’t nearly as solid as it should be, and young guys aren’t stepping up to fill the void. There are other concerns, too. Left guard Logan Mankins is holding out and wants to be traded. Right tackle Nick Kaczur was moved over to replace him, and promptly injured himself - potentially for the whole season. Needless to say, there are serious concerns about the offensive line.
The pass rush last year was just brutal, and it’s not likely to improve this year - especially now that Ty Warren is out for the year. The wheels really seem to be falling off for the Patriots, and with two pretty solid teams chasing them that’s not good news.
New York Jets - I am instinctively skeptical of teams that coming into the season with as much hype as the Jets do this year - especially when I already have so many questions about the team. The preseason hasn’t done much to ease my concerns.
Mark Sanchez is a wildly popular guy, but the unavoidable fact is that he was largely lousy last year. Much of the late success they had last year - which is a big reason this team gets so much hype - is because they took the ball out of his hands as much as they could. He hasn’t done enough yet to make me believe that he is taking big steps forward.
Beyond that there are just too many distractions so far. The HBO cameras for “Hard Knocks” are a huge distraction for a team with this many egos. Tony Dungy’s ridiculous statements about Rex Ryan’s language on the show have created another distraction. Darrelle Revis’ absence s a massive elephant in the dressing room. All of the big-name vets that joined the team are forcing people to tread lightly and feel things out. The number of top-quality players that left can’t help but be missed.
I’m certainly not counting this team out just yet, but I’m not ready to buy tickets to their Super Bowl parade, either.
Arizona Cardinals - The Cards have a lot of shoes to fill, but so far it hasn’t looked too bad. Matt Leinart seems to have his head in a good place, early reports are uniformly positive. the running game is in good shape, and the receiving corps is still elite even without Anquan Boldin. The linebacking corps is old, but has looked very good so far. The defensive line just looks ferocious. There are real concerns about depth still, but this team looks better than a lot of people were giving them credit for.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - It’s all relative when you say the Bucs are looking good - they are still a lousy team, just not as lousy as they could have been. They were a real circus last year, and they are ridiculously young, but there are real signs that they are moving in the right direction. The offense wasn’t productive in their first game,, but the quarterbacks still played reasonably well then as they have throughout the summer. The receivers look much improved. So does the defensive line. The coaching staff is more stable, and seems to be more competent. This might only be a mildly embarrassing season for Tampa Bay fans. That’s progress.