NFL Training Camps: Trying to Answer the Biggest Question Surrounding Each NFC Team
With the start of training camp upon us and the Hall of Fame Game approaching in less than a week on August 1, I thought now would be a great time to ask some of the key questions that each NFC team has to try to answer heading into camp. Don't get me wrong, every team has a laundry list of tasks to cover over the five weeks leading up to Week 1, but some teams are still in a better position than others, as you'll see throughout the list.
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Arizona Cardinals: How Fast Can Kyler Murray Adjust?
The Cardinals decision to draft Murray first overall and pair him with Kliff Kingsbury is a risk that they had to take. Murray ran wild over teams at the collegiate level, but NFL defenses are next-level good. Murray should be able to run Kingsbury's air-raid system with ease, but making the right decisions is something rookie QB's struggle with. As with most teams who draft a rookie QB in the Top-5, the growing pains are going to be there, but Cardinals fans hope they won't last long.
Atlanta Falcons: Is the Defense Good Enough to Help the Offense?
The Falcons were always known as an upper-echelon offensive team with a subpar defense. We know they were young on that side of the ball. However, now that they've chosen to pay to upgrade the defense, can it become an elite unit? Only time will tell, but one player that needs to step up in a big way is Vic Beasley, who registered only 10 sacks over his last two seasons after notching 15.5 the year prior.
Carolina Panthers: Cam's Shoulder vs. Defensive Alignment
The biggest question should be the health of their franchise quarterback, Cam Newton. Newton's surgically repaired shoulder is going to be a constant talking point throughout the season until he shows us no signs of it slowing down the production. The defense, on the other hand, is a work in progress as they are shifting from a 4-3 to more of a 3-4 style. They brought in Gerald McCoy from Tampa and Bruce Irvin from Atlanta to complete the linebacking core. Will this hybrid pay off? Only time will tell.
Chicago Bears: Kicking Woes and Quarterback Growth
We all know how the Bears season came to a crashing halt in last year's Wild Card loss to Philadelphia. Will the Bears get better kicking this year? It's anyone's guess as kicking across the league seems to be at an all-time low. Offensively, Mitch Trubisky is going to the key to this season, and it's a big question on how he will produce under the second year of Matt Nagy's offense. We've seen his MVP odds drop drastically over the last little while, so it's safe to say some people believe he's about to take a very big step forward.
Dallas Cowboys: What's the Deal with Ezekiel Elliott?
The Cowboys No. 1 running back is expected to hold out of training camp as he awaits (demands) a new contract. If this saga continues into the preseason, we can only wonder how it's going to affect Zeke's regular-season performance and if it will put Dallas in a hole to start the season. Dak Prescott can only do so much on his own. However, with Zeke potentially out of the picture, Prescott's responsibilities and pressure just doubled. I say pay the man and get him to camp ASAP.
Detroit Lions: Will the Detroit Lions Ever Have a Running Game?
This is the question that has been plaguing the team for the last handful of years. The running game has simply not been productive enough to trust on a game-to-game basis. And as such, Matthew Stafford has taken a beating in the backfield trying to throw the ball 50 times a game. The addition of C.J. Anderson should help a bit, but a healthy Kerryon Johnson is the key to a productive rushing attack.
Green Bay Packers: Does Aaron Rodgers Like Anyone?
It's no secret that Aaron Rodgers is hard to get along with. He and Mike McCarthy fell out of favor, and last year was a complete write-off. Now he has Nathaniel Hackett calling the offensive with Matt LaFleur as his coach. It'll be interesting to see if the two mesh and how long it takes, or if they butt heads on play-calling and what kind of offense should be run at Lambeau Field. Also, how healthy is Rodgers and how productive can he be at the ripe old age of 35?
Los Angeles Rams: Can They Avoid an Offensive Dropoff?
We know the health of Todd Gurley is murky at best. The running back says he's close to 100 percent, but we can only believe that when we see it. The loss of Cooper Kupp for the season hurts as well, as well as the loss of two players on the offensive line. It's going to take a great coaching performance from Sean McVay to get the best out of a team that looks primed for a letdown season.
Minnesota Vikings: How Will the Offensive Reboot Go in Minnesota?
The Vikings had a terrible season last year by most accounts and as such fired their OC with three games left to go in the season. Kevin Stefanski took over play-calling duties and will do the same this year as the interim tag was removed. Stefanski wants to introduce a heavy-zone blocking scheme with play-action, bootlegs and everything in between. It'll be night and day from last year's pass-happy attack, so only time will tell if it's a move that pays off.
New Orleans Saints: Is Drew Brees on the Decline?
I know this is an easy question to answer, but it's all I've heard and read regarding the Saints. Brees just turned 40, and many Saints fans are wondering how long they can trust Brees to stay healthy and lead their team. Well, if you dwell on what could be, you'll miss out on what is. Brees is still as efficient as ever, and with a host of weapons around him the offense is in great shape. Injuries can occur at any moment to any players, but Brees has shown great durability over his career. And while he may not be able to push the ball 50-yards downfield with his arm strength, he can still get the job done with his high football IQ.
New York Giants: Will the Giants Rush the Daniel Jones Project?
The Giants shocked the NFL world by drafting Daniel Jones with the sixth overall selection. The Giants have already openly said that it'll be Eli Manning who starts the season as the No. 1, but his play last year can only mean the end is near. But how close is Jones to being completely ready for NFL action? Nobody was high on Jones entering the draft. However, if (when) Manning's dead arm falters, the Giants will have no choice but thrust Jones into the fire.
Philadelphia Eagles: Too Many Mouths to Feed in the Backfield
The Eagles went out and traded for Jordan Howard in the offseason to add some depth at running back. The only problem is they already had depth at running back in the form of Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, and Josh Adams. Oh, and some guy named Darren Sproles -- you might have heard of him. If you are doing the math at home, that's five guys for what should be only two spots. Someone is going to be the odd one out, and your guess is as good as mine as to who that's going to be.
San Francisco 49ers: See Above
The 49ers are hoping that the return of Jimmy Garoppolo will be the spark the team needs to make the postseason. He will have weapons around him to utilize, especially in the backfield, where the Niners are faced with the same problem the Eagles have -- they have too many running backs. The Niners signed Tevin Coleman from Atlanta to a two-year, $8.5-milllion deal. That's not a bad signing. The problem is they already have Jerick McKinnon under contract for four years at $30 million and Matt Breida on the roster as well. Three guys for one starting spot. That's going to cause more headaches than anything.
Seattle Seahawks: Will the No. 2 Receiver Please Stand Up
As of writing this, the Seahawks WR's consist of Tyler Lockett and then absolutely nobody. The retirement of Doug Baldwin forced the Seahawks to select multiple receivers in the draft, starting with DK Metcalf at 64th overall. It's going to take a monumental leap of faith for Wilson to trust anyone other than Lockett, and we don't see that going too well for a team that seems to always struggle to push the ball down the field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Is Bruce Arians the Answer in Tampa?
I have nothing but respect for Arians, and I believe he is a great coach. However, he's going to have to perform a miracle to get the rushing attack going and be productive every week. Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber combined to average 3.6 yards per carry last season. I could fall forward and average that. Arians is likely to rely on a pass-heavy attack, but that's going to spell disaster if the running game can't keep the defense honest.
Washington Redskins: The Quarterback Dilemma
Who will start at quarterback? That's a question that every team has to answer before the start of training camp. Most teams know who their No. 1 is, but Washington isn't so lucky. They acquired Case Keenum and drafted Dwayne Haskins from Ohio State. If Haskins can grasp the offense out of camp, the job is his. If not, Keenum will be called upon to hold down the role until Haskins can figure it out. Either way, Haskins is the QB of the future, and many Redskins fans are hoping the future starts in Week 1.
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