Archive for Monday, July 24, 2006

NFL training camp capsules - AFC

July 24, 2006




Open camp: July 28, Latrobe, Pa.

Last year: After finishing second in AFC Central, Steelers won three consecutive road playoff games as AFC's No. 6-seeded team before beating Seattle to win first Super Bowl in 26 years. NFL No. 5 career rusher Jerome Bettis announced retirement minutes after game.

Important additions: WR Santonio Holmes, S Ryan Clark, WR Willie Reed, S Anthony Smith.

Important losses: Bettis, S Chris Hope, WR Antwaan Randle El, DL Kimo von Oelhoffen.

Camp needs: QB Ben Roethlisberger must show he's mended from and won't be affected by scary June 12 motorcycle accident that potentially could have been much worse. Clark to adequately fill key role on defense that requires him to call signals - the job Hope formerly had. RB Duce Staley to prove that, after playing little for 11â2 seasons, he can replace Bettis as a power back.

Expectations: Now that the team that never seemed to get past AFC championship game has shown it can win Super Bowl, Steelers have raised expectations. In the 1970s, they twice won Super Bowls in consecutive seasons. Potential problems: Roethlisberger's health - he also had knee surgery last season - and uncertainty over how much longer Bill Cowher wants to coach.


Open camp: July 30, Terre Haute, Ind.

Last year: Won first 13 games, third straight AFC South title and had home-field advantage throughout playoffs. Then lost two of final three and were eliminated by Pittsburgh in divisional round when Mike Vanderjagt missed a field goal in game's final minute. Endured suicide of coach Tony Dungy's son in mid-December.

Important additions: K Adam Vinatieri, RB Joseph Addai, CB Tim Jennings.

Important losses: RB Edgerrin James, Colts' career rushing leader, LB David Thornton, DT Larry Tripplett, K Mike Vanderjagt.

Camp needs: Find replacement for James. See if Raheem Brock can make smooth transition from DE to DT. Learn whether DE Robert Mathis can be more of an every-down player than just a pass-rush specialist. Rediscover the same motivation that led them to 13-0 start.

Expectations: Favored to win another AFC South title and contend - again - for Super Bowl.

DENVER (13-3)

Open camp: July 27, Englewood, Colo.

Last year: Won 14 games and were AFC championship game favorite after Pittsburgh knocked off Indy. But Steelers never trailed in winning at Invesco Field as Broncos couldn't put pressure on Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger and Denver QB Jake Plummer reverted to struggling old self.

Important additions: WR Javon Walker, DL Kenard Lang, QB Jay Cutler, assistant head coach Mike Heimerdinger.

Important losses: RB Mike Anderson, DE Trevor Pryce and TE Jeb Putzier were all jettisoned in a salary cap dump, but biggest losses may be those of offensive coordinator Ted Kubiak, who left to coach the Texans, and assistant GM Rick Smith, who joined him in Houston.

Camp needs: Replace Anderson and Putzier on offense and see if another Cleveland connection, Lang, can find success in the Rockies after languishing in Ohio. Also, get Walker up to speed so he can make successful comeback from knee injury that forced him to miss all but the opener in Green Bay last year.

Expectations: After a super draft, they feel they can get to AFC title game again and come out on top this time.


Open camp: July 29, Jacksonville.

Last year: Advanced to playoffs for first time since 1999, but was beaten soundly at New England. Only team in league to defeat both Super Bowl representatives, Pittsburgh and Seattle. Won eight of last nine regular-season games despite injuries to QB Byron Leftwich and RB Fred Taylor. Played most of season without SS Donovin Darius.

Important additions: CB Brian Williams, LB Nick Greisen, TE Marcedes Lewis.

Important losses: WR Jimmy Smith abruptly retired in May, leaving little experience at the position. LB Akin Ayodele opted for free agency.

Camp needs: Figure out how to replace Smith, who caught team-high 70 passes for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns last season. Keep Taylor healthy and work short, speedy RB Maurice Drew into the offense. Find offensive identity.

Expectations: Jaguars are still chasing Indianapolis in AFC South, but should vie for another postseason berth despite tough early schedule (Dallas, Pittsburgh, Indy and Washington).


Open camp: July 29, Georgetown, Ky.

Last year: Had first winning record and made playoffs for first time since 1990, emerging from one of longest slumps in NFL history. Carson Palmer emerged as one of league's top passers before tearing up his left knee during a playoff loss to Pittsburgh.

Important additions: S Dexter Jackson, DT Sam Adams, WR Antonio Chatman,

Important losses: QB Jon Kitna, TE Matt Schobel, DE Duane Clemons.

Camp needs: Figure out who's the quarterback. Palmer is hoping to be ready for the season opener, but Bengals need to get backups Anthony Wright and Doug Johnson ready in case he's not.

Expectations: If Palmer can return to form early, Bengals expect to contend for second straight AFC North title. If not, they could struggle with a much tougher schedule this time around.


Open camp: July 28, Foxborough, Mass.

Last year: Hit by injuries to key players, Patriots won one playoff game before mistakes ended their season at Denver - and chance to become first team to win three straight Super Bowls. Tom Brady led NFL in yards passing, but with Corey Dillon hobbling much of season, running game struggled.

Important additions: WR Reche Caldwell, PK Martin Gramatica, CB Eric Warfield, DT Jonathan Sullivan.

Important losses: PK Adam Vinatieri, LB Willie McGinest, WR David Givens and TE Christian Fauria left via free agency. QB Doug Flutie retired. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini became head coach of Jets.

Camp needs: With WR Deion Branch holding out and Givens gone, a receiver needs to emerge, perhaps second-round pick Chad Jackson. Comebacks from S Rodney Harrison, LT Matt Light and C Dan Koppen, all sidelined much of last season. Improvement from Dillon, who could be challenged by first-round pick Laurence Maroney.

Expectations: Weak second-half schedule should send them into playoffs with momentum and decent chance to go farther than last season.


Open camp: July 28, River Falls, Wis.

Last year: The only 10-win team not to make the playoffs, a disappointing end to Dick Vermeil's coaching career. When spinal injury shelved RB Priest Holmes, backup Larry Johnson emerged as a star while running for team-record 1,750 yards.

Important additions: Head coach Herman Edwards, a protege of GM Carl Peterson who gave up same job with Jets. First-round pick DL Tamba Hali, OT Kyle Turley, CB Ty Law, offensive coordinator Mike Solari. By time camp gets going, Holmes should decide whether to retire or back up Johnson.

Important losses: FB Tony Richardson, a team leader and superb blocker, G John Welbourn, CB Eric Warfield; Offensive coordinator Al Saunders, chief architect of creative offense that ranked among most productive in league during Vermeil Era, also left.

Camp needs: Continue bringing defense along, a project Edwards approaches with the passion of a former Pro Bowl CB. Continue Solari's education as coordinator while retooling offense from pass-to run-oriented.

Expectations: If aging offense has one more productive year left, Edwards' emphasis on defense might finally bring some balance, particularly with Law in the fold. Chiefs could make noise in unsettled AFC West. But new head coach and new offensive coordinator probably means KC goes into season still getting acquainted.


Open camp: July 25, San Diego.

Last year: Lost three of last four to finish 9-7 and out of playoffs for ninth time in 10 seasons. Went 4-1 in Eastern time zone, including at Indianapolis and New England, but just .500 at home. OLB Shawne Merriman won Defensive Rookie award, but secondary was brutal again.

Important additions: S Marlon McCree, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, WR Rashaun Woods.

Important losses: QB Drew Brees injured shoulder in finale and was deemed damaged goods by general manager A.J. Smith. LB Ben Leber, WR Reche Caldwell, CB Sammy Davis.

Camp needs: Get Philip Rivers up to speed as new starting QB so defenses don't bottle up LaDainian Tomlinson. Find out if LT Roman Oben is healthy and able to protect Rivers, who threw just 30 passes the last two seasons. Get first-round draft pick Antonio Cromartie signed and see if can win starting job at CB after making just one career start at Florida State, missing all of '05 with a knee injury and leaving after his junior year.

Expectations: Even with hard-nosed defense, it might be asking a lot for Rivers to get Chargers to playoffs, which could cost coach Marty Schottenheimer his job. Of course, if they do reach January, they've got to contend with Schottenheimer's 5-12 postseason mark.

MIAMI (9-7)

Open camp: July 29, Davie, Fla.

Last year: Dolphins won their final six games under new coach Nick Saban, but still missed playoffs for fourth year in row.

Important additions: QB Daunte Culpepper, acquired from Minnesota for a draft pick. QB Joey Harrington, rookie DB Jason Allen, DBs Deke Cooper, Will Allen, Andre Goodman, and Renaldo Hill. LBs Sedrick Hodge and Keith Newman, FB Fred Beasley, WR Kelly Campbell, TE Justin Peelle, OTs L.J. Shelton and Mike Pearson, G Bennie Anderson.

Important losses: RB Ricky Williams, serving one-year suspension for violations of NFL's substance abuse policy. DBs Sam Madison, Lance Schulters and Tebucky Jones, QB Gus Frerotte, LB Junior Seau.

Camp needs: The biggest question is how quickly Culpepper completes recovery from surgery in November to repair three torn ligaments in right knee. His availability for Sept. 7 opener at Pittsburgh is uncertain.

Expectations: They might be too high. With addition of Culpepper, Dolphins fans believe team finally has a worthy successor to Dan Marino capable of leading a run to the Super Bowl. This remains a team in transition.


Open camp: July 28, Westminster, Md.

Last Year: The Ravens sputtered to their worst season under coach Brian Billick, who received little production from quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright. A porous offensive line and a lackluster season from RB Jamal Lewis didn't help, either. The defense, meanwhile, was hurt by injuries to LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed.

Important additions: QB Steve McNair, RB Mike Anderson, DE Trevor Price, S Gerome Sapp, DT Justin Bannan.

Important losses: RB Chester Taylor, S Will Demps, DE Anthony Weaver, S Chad Williams, P Dave Zastudil, DT Maake Kemoeatu.

Camp needs: McNair must learn a new playbook and adjust to a new band of receivers. Most of all, he must stay healthy. That means the OLine must come together as quickly as possible.

Expectations: The Ravens would be content with a trip to the playoffs.


Open camp: July 26, Berea, Ohio

Last year: Coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage got rid of dead weight in their first season and made team more competitive. Went 1-5 in tough AFC North, including humiliating 41-0 loss to rival Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve.

Important additions: C LeCharles Bentley, OT Kevin Shaffer, WR Joe Jurevicius, LB Willie McGinest, DL Ted Washington, P Dave Zastudil, TE Kellen Winslow Jr. (back from injuries), rookie LB Kamerion Wimbley.

Important losses: QB Trent Dilfer, WR Antonio Bryant, C Jeff Faine, OT L.J. Shelton, TE Aaron Shea, LB Kenard Lang, LB Ben Taylor.

Camp needs: Prepare second-year QB Charlie Frye to lead offense; determine whether Ken Dorsey can handle backup duty; improve pass rush that ranked last in sacks last season; decide on Sean Jones or Brodney Pool at strong safety.

Expectations: A .500 finish would have desperate fans envisioning a Super Bowl run in 2007.

BUFFALO (5-11)

Open camp: July 28, Pittsford, N.Y.

Last year: Injuries and inept offense kept Bills out of playoffs for sixth straight season, matching team's longest drought since NFL-AFL merger, and leading to front-office shakeup.

Important additions: WR Peerless Price, DT Larry Tripplett, TE Robert Royal, C Melvin Fowler, first-round draft pick S Donte Whitner and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild.

Important losses: WR Eric Moulds was traded to Houston. Team released DT Sam Adams, S Lawyer Milloy, TE Mark Campbell and OT Mike Williams.

Camp needs: QB J.P. Losman needs to show he's capable of regaining starting job in competition with journeyman Kelly Holcomb after both split duties last year.

Expectations: Not many for once-proud team enduring another rebuilding year with its fourth head coach since Levy retired following 1997 season. Levy has restocked roster with rookies and mid-range free agents.

OAKLAND (4-12)

Open camp: July 24, Napa, Calif.

Last year: Lost final six games to give team third straight losing season for first time since Al Davis came aboard in 1963 to coach and eventually own club. Oakland scored just 51 points and six touchdowns in its last five games and failed to win a division game.

Important additions: Coach Art Shell, QB Aaron Brooks, CB Tyrone Poole, CB Duane Starks, first-round pick S Michael Huff.

Important losses: QB Kerry Collins was released after second straight ineffective season. DB Charles Woodson left as free agent after another injury-plagued year. DT Ted Washington and OL Ron Stone were also released.

Camp needs: Robert Gallery is shifting to left tackle and will be counted on as dominant blocker Raiders expected when they made him No. 2 overall pick in 2004. Brooks needs to develop chemistry with Randy Moss that Collins couldn't last season.

Expectations: A fourth straight season out of playoffs.


Open camp: July 28, Hempstead, N.Y.

Last year: One injury after another sent Jets into downward spiral. Though hopes were high after coming a field goal away from playing for AFC championship the previous season, losing QBs Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler in the span of seven plays during Week 3 doomed them. Add in season-ending injuries to C Kevin Mawae, OT Jason Fabini, WR Wayne Chrebet, RB Curtis Martin and LB Eric Barton.

Important additions: CB Andre Dyson, DL Kimo von Oelhoffen, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, QB Patrick Ramsey.

Important losses: DE John Abraham, Mawae, CB Ty Law.

Camp needs: Figuring out who will start at quarterback. New coach Eric Mangini has said it is an open competition between Pennington, Ramsey, rookie Kellen Clemens and Brooks Bollinger. It will be crucial to see whether Pennington can regain his old form after second shoulder operation. Martin, is 33 and coming off knee surgery, and rookies Ferguson and C Nick Mangold will try to fit into offensive line quickly. DT Dwayne Robertson and LB Jonathan Vilma must adjust to new roles in 3-4 defense?

Expectations: Another 4-12 season as Mangini begins task of completely rebuilding team.


Open camp: July 28, Clarksville, Tenn.

Last year: Forced rebuilding through salary cap pressures resulted in NFL's youngest team, and Titans missed playoffs for second straight season. They trailed by double digits in each loss.

Important additions: Horrible season gave them third overall pick in draft and they got QB Vince Young, followed by RB LenDale White in second round. LB David Thornton, S Chris Hope, WR David Givens and C Kevin Mawae as free agents.

Important losses: QB Steve McNair's 12-year tenure ended after nasty and protracted stalemate over his salary before being traded to Baltimore. LT Brad Hopkins was cut for salary cap reasons, then retired in June after 13 seasons. C Justin Hartwig chose Carolina in free agency over a return, and S Tank Williams was not re-signed.

Camp needs: Build team chemistry, which is why coach Jeff Fisher is leaving Nashville for first two weeks of camp for first time since team relocated to Tennessee from Houston in 1997. Try to get Young ready to take over for nominal starter Billy Volek.

Expectations: Winning six or seven games will be a challenge.

HOUSTON (2-14)

Open camp: July 28, Houston

Last year: After improving steadily in first three seasons, the Texans sank to worst record in NFL and in short history of franchise. Houston opened season 0-6 before beating Cleveland, then losing six more. Texans got win over Arizona and then lost last two games.

Important additions: DE Mario Williams (No. 1 draft pick), WR Eric Moulds, LB DeMeco Ryans (second-round pick), DT Anthony Weaver, TE Jeb Putzier, new coaching staff.

Important losses: DE Gary Walker, FS Marcus Coleman, backup QB Tony Banks.

Camp needs: New coach Gary Kubiak has had six months to assemble staff and revamp team, now it's time to see the group in action. They kept QB David Carr, so first priority should be plugging in the right people to protect him - a task Texans have yet to master. They'll also be adjusting to 4-3 defense after employing 3-4 the last four seasons.

Expectations: After last year's debacle, many don't know what to expect. But fans will demand an immediate contribution from Williams after Houston passed on Reggie Bush. The team will almost certainly be better, but don't expect miraculous one-year turnaround.


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