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Nfl Training Camp Review

July 23, 2006|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

WHILE SOME FOLKS HAVEN'T PICKED OUT THE BOOKS THEY PLAN to read on the beach yet, the NFL's vacation is just about over. The Philadelphia Eagles and Oakland Raiders, whose full squads report today and tomorrow, respectively, are the first in training camp because they play in the annual Hall of Fame preseason game in Canton, Ohio, but the rest of the league's 32 teams will start in earnest by next Sunday. The Ravens open their camp Friday at McDaniel College. For nearly a third of the clubs, the sense of renewal is more than just about a new season - 10 teams have new coaches, five in each conference. However, in the NFL, each team is a soap opera unto itself. And as the drama that concludes with the Super Bowl in Miami begins, here are the plot lines (last season's record in parentheses):

AFC East

New England Patriots (10-6)

Veterans report -- Friday

Skinny -- How long can coach Bill Belichick replace key free-agent losses? Linebacker Willie McGinest is in Cleveland. Wide receiver David Givens has gone to Tennessee. But the departure of likely Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri to Indianapolis as a free agent may be most problematic because of the crucial points it might cost the Patriots and the way it strengthens a possible playoff rival. Still, as long as Tom Brady is at quarterback, the Patriots will be in the hunt.

Miami Dolphins (9-7)

Veterans report -- Friday

Skinny -- The Dolphins are a preseason favorite to land a playoff spot based on their six-game winning streak at the end of last season and the addition of quarterback Daunte Culpepper from the Minnesota Vikings. Culpepper, of course, is rehabilitating from a knee injury last season.

Buffalo Bills (5-11)

Veterans report -- Friday

Skinny -- The 2006 Bills are a study in old school - 87-year-old owner Ralph Wilson hired 80-year-old Marv Levy as general manager, and he hired 55-year-old Dick Jauron as coach. But ages aside, the real issues for the Bills are on the field. Quarterback contenders are Kelly Holcomb and J.P. Losman, and though Holcomb had decent statistics last year, it was for just half a season.

New York Jets (4-12)

Veterans report -- Friday

Skinny -- The Jets also have a new coach, 35-year-old Eric Mangini, a protege of Belichick's. This will be a rebuilding year, when the Jets will have to find out whether Chad Pennington can come back from his shoulder injuries. New York was credited with a good draft, taking offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold, but those are moves that will pay dividends in future seasons, not this fall.

Division summary

Skinny -- The Dolphins could end the Patriots' long run as division masters, but both should sweep the Bills and Jets.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (14-2)

Veterans report -- Next Sunday

Skinny -- Perennial bridesmaids, the Colts are still the preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl according to many oddsmakers. The biggest defection is running back Edgerrin James, who scampered off to Arizona as a free agent. But there's still quarterback Peyton Manning, three outstanding wide receivers and a defense led by pass rusher Dwight Freeney. The key, though, could be the addition of ex-Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri, picked up as a free agent.

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)

Veterans report -- Friday

Skinny -- A lot depends on whether quarterback Byron Leftwich and running back Fred Taylor can stay healthy. Both are solid performers when they're in the game but missed a combined 10 starts last year. And wide receiver Jimmy Smith retired. The Jaguars were plus-11 in turnovers last year and need to continue to work on a short field to succeed.

Tennessee Titans (4-12)

Veterans report -- Friday

Skinny -- Without Steve McNair at quarterback, Billy Volek has to hold it together while No. 1 pick Vince Young figures out the pro game. Coach Jeff Fisher promises to pound the ball on the ground, and the Titans' defense, an especially young group last year, should be better.

Houston Texans (2-14)

Veterans report -- Thursday

Skinny -- Pity quarterback David Carr. Already, he has been sacked 208 times in a four-year career. New coach Gary Kubiak, coming out of the Denver Broncos' system, is likely to run the ball more to take pressure off Carr. Kubiak is also switching to a 4-3 defense, in which No. 1 overall draft pick Mario Williams will be under pressure to contribute almost immediately at defensive end.

Division summary

Skinny -- The Colts are the class of this group by miles. The Jaguars are a solid playoff team in part because they should sweep the Titans and Texans.

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

Veterans report -- Saturday

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