2012 NFL Training Camp: Storylines to Watch

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Some things worth keeping an eye on as training camps open this week

<p> 2012 NFL Training Camp Storylines to Watch</p>

NFL training camps are underway as teams have begun their preparations for the upcoming season in earnest. Here are a few storylines to keep an eye as players and teams return to the practice field.

Quarterback Battles
The most wide-open battles for starting quarterback spots are in Arizona, Jacksonville and Miami. Cleveland, Seattle and Tennessee are some other situations that bear watching for different reasons. For the Browns and Titans a decision has to be made on whether to go with the “young” quarterback over the veteran on the roster, whereas the Seahawks appear ready to hold a three-man competition for their starting job.

And then there are the Jets. While Rex Ryan’s team may not be starring on “Hard Knocks” this season, the Jets’ training camp will still attract its fair share of attention, as the media is sure to provide plenty of coverage on the daily Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow “battle.”

Related: 2012 Training Camp: Quarterback Battles to Watch

New Eras Begin in Indianapolis and Washington
There appears to be no quarterback controversy in both Indianapolis and Washington as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are expected to be the starter for their respective teams come Week 1. Expectations are high for the first two picks of this year’s draft as Luck will attempt to the take the place of a future Hall of Famer, while Griffin will be tasked with leading a once-proud franchise back to the Super Bowl.

No one, however, is expecting either of these scenarios to occur in 2012, especially considering Luck is joining a team that was able to take him at No. 1 overall because it went 2-14 in 2011. The starting quarterback isn’t the only thing that’s new in Indy in 2012 either, as owner Jim Irsay brought in a new general manager (Ryan Grigson) and head coach (Chuck Pagano), in addition to overhauling the Colts’ roster during the offseason and through the draft. Now fellow rookies Grigson, Pagano and Luck hope to transform the Colts into a new version of the team that dominated the AFC South from 2002-10.

The situation in Washington is a little different as head coach Mike Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder want to win now. That’s easier said than done considering the Redskins are in the NFC East, the same division as the defending Super Bowl Giants, not to mention the Cowboys and Eagles. So while no one is expecting the ‘Skins to win the division this season, an improvement on last season’s 5-11 showing must happen. Otherwise, Shanahan may not be around long enough to see if Griffin was worth trading up for in the first place.

Peyton’s New Place
Luck is the starter in Indianapolis because, after 14 seasons, Peyton Manning is no longer there. After cutting ties with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998, the coveted free agent decided to sign a five-year contract with Denver, much to the delight of both Broncos’ fans and John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback and team’s executive vice president of football operations.

Elway and the rest of the Broncos’ front office is pinning their hopes of another Super Bowl title on Manning, who last played in an NFL game in January 2011. Manning appears to be healthy after missing all of last season because of multiple neck surgeries, but no one knows for sure until they get a close look at him in action, both in training camp and in preseason games.

Denver head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy are comfortable handing the offense over to Manning, and the team has made multiple moves during the offseason to provide No. 18 with more weapons. However, it will be for naught if the Broncos don’t make the postseason, or worse, if Manning succumbs to injury once again. After all, Manning’s current backup is former Chicago Bear Caleb Hanie, who could end up losing that job this season to second-round pick Brock Osweiler.

Bountygate Hangover?
Without question, no team had a worse offseason than New Orleans. Thankfully, with training camp opening on Tuesday, the team can finally turn its focus to this season. Or at least that’s what they would like to do.

The truth is that the questions about the bounty scandal and the NFL’s punishments stemming from it, won’t go away anytime soon, especially since Saints head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma are both suspended for the entire season because of it.

General manager Mickey Loomis and interim head coach Joe Vitt, both of whom will be serving multi-game suspensions themselves once the regular season starts, will get the bulk of the questions, but the players will not be immune to the constant queries. One can’t help but wonder how much of a distraction this will be for the Saints during training camp.

At least the Saints do have some good news to talk about as franchise quarterback Drew Brees and the team finally came to agreement on a new five-year contract worth $100 million, including a record $60 million guaranteed. Then again, Brees has already filed an affidavit in support of teammate Vilma’s appeal of his season-long suspension by the NFL.

One way or another, Bountygate isn’t going away anytime soon. This just adds another obstacle for the Saints to overcome as they prepare to defend their NFC South crown against an Atlanta team that won 10 games in 2011 and a Carolina team that should be even better in Cam Newton’s second year.

Dynasty in Philadelphia?
Apparently Michael Vick didn’t learn anything from the mistake made by his former teammate Vince Young, who declared the Eagles a “Dream Team” prior to last season, only to watch them finish a disappointing 8-8 and miss the playoffs. In fact, you could argue Vick went a step further than Young’s bold prediction when he said in a recent interview that he thinks the Eagles could develop into a dynasty.

Before Vick and the rest of the Eagles can even start to mention their team in the same breath as the Steelers from the 1970s or the 49ers from the ‘80s or even the Patriots from the 2000s, they may want to win one Super Bowl, something the franchise has yet to do in its history.

For what it’s worth, the Eagles look to be a legitimate playoff contender in 2012, as the team took a different route to improving its roster this offseason. Unlike the free-agent spending spree that took place in 2011, this time around the Eagles used trades and the draft to further bolster their defense, while signing key offensive playmakers LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson to contract extensions.

So once again the Eagles look the part, at least on paper, to be a contender not only in 2012, but also beyond. But if last season showed the team and everyone else anything, it’s that the games aren’t played on paper. If the Vick and his teammates have any hopes of laying the groundwork for a possible dynasty, it needs to start this season; otherwise head coach Andy Reid may be looking for a new job.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 24, 2012

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2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings


NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

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