Training Camp Glance

July 24, 2005|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

The NFL's long march to Detroit began yesterday when the Chicago Bears opened training camp. In July, every team is a contender. But once the pads go on and the hitting starts, things can get crazy. Sun staff writer Ken Murray looks at the key issues and subplots that will be played out over the next seven weeks in the countdown to the regular season.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (15-1)

Veterans report: Next Sunday

No one expects the Steelers to go 15-1 again this season, especially against a tougher schedule. QB Ben Roethlisberger was super most of the season (14 straight wins) but awful in the playoffs (five interceptions). Which stretch was more indicative of his NFL future?

Ravens (9-7)

Veterans report: Next Sunday

The deck is stacked for a big season, assuming QB Kyle Boller is ready to make the next step. He has a new position coach (Rick Neuheisel), a new coordinator (Jim Fassel) and new receivers (Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton). Expectations couldn't be higher.

Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)

Veterans report: Thursday

It's time to get off the 8-8 merry-go-round for coach Marvin Lewis, who got contract extensions for getting to .500 twice. His offense is loaded behind QB Carson Palmer, but his defense is an albatross. New coordinator Chuck Bresnahan must solve that riddle.

Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Veterans report: Friday

New coach Romeo Crennel must clean up the mess left by Butch Davis, and it won't be a quick fix. His 3-4 defense will take time. His quarterback - ex-Raven Trent Dilfer - surely could have used TE Kellen Winslow. The Browns are in line for another high draft pick.

Division summary

The Steelers are still the team to beat, but the Ravens and Bengals are closing fast.

AFC East

New England Patriots (14-2)

Veterans report: Thursday

No matter how many hits the Patriots take, Bill Belichick always seems to have the answer. This year, he has lost both coordinators, LB Tedy Bruschi and possibly DE Richard Seymour (to a pending holdout). With former Raven Duane Starks among the team's reinforcements, the Patriots may still win their third straight Super Bowl.

New York Jets (10-6)

Veterans report: Friday

Coach Herm Edwards made five staff changes for this season, but none of them will matter if QB Chad Pennington doesn't bounce back from shoulder surgery. New offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger will open up the offense if Pennington's arm allows.

Buffalo Bills (9-7)

Veterans report: Friday

Drew Bledsoe failed to reach the playoffs in three seasons, even with the benefit of the league's No. 2 defense a year ago, so the Bills have turned the offense over to second-year QB J.P. Losman. He will be more mobile, but look for the learning curve to be steep.

Miami Dolphins (4-12)

Veterans report: Today

The Dolphins will have suspect chemistry if 2004 defector Ricky Williams makes it to the regular season. Coach Nick Saban likely will opt for Gus Frerotte over A. J. Feeley at quarterback. Frerotte came with new coordinator Scott Linehan from Minnesota.

Division summary

Not even a patchwork secondary could stop the Patriots last season. There's little reason to believe they can be stopped this year.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

Veterans report: Wednesday

The only thing left for Peyton Manning is to win a Super Bowl, but he hasn't been able to shake his New England nightmare to get there. Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison are running out of time to do it together. This could be their last opportunity.

Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7)

Veterans report: Friday

Which quarterback takes his team to the playoffs first - the Ravens' Kyle Boller or the Jaguars' Byron Leftwich? Taken 12 picks ahead of Boller in 2003, Leftwich had trouble with the West Coast system, so the Jaguars will try a vertical passing game.

Houston Texans (7-9)

Veterans report: Friday

The Texans dumped former Ravens LB Jamie Sharper and CB Aaron Glenn to attempt to get quicker on defense. What they really need to do is to find a way to pass-protect better for David Carr, who has been sacked 140 times during three seasons, including 49 last year.

Tennessee Titans (5-11)

Veterans report: Thursday

After going $27 million over the salary cap, the Titans had to purge their roster. Bone-graft surgery should solve QB Steve McNair's chronic sternum problem, but McNair will have to be introduced to his new teammates.

Division summary

The Colts could steamroller this division, get home-field advantage and avoid a January trip to Foxboro, Mass. That's their best shot.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers (12-4)

Veterans report: Thursday

Coach Marty Schottenheimer did a masterful job bringing the Chargers back from the dregs of the NFL to a division title. The season ended with his fifth straight playoff loss, however. To advance in the postseason, Schottenheimer must abandon his cautious approach.

Denver Broncos (10-6)

Veterans report: Friday

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