Archive for Monday, July 24, 2006

NFL training camp capsules - NFC

July 24, 2006



SEATTLE (13-3)

Open camp: July 28, Cheney, Wash.

Last year: Franchise-record 11-game winning streak, Shaun Alexander breaking the NFL single-season record with 28 touchdowns and Matt Hasselbeck's Pro Bowl passing led to Seattle's best season and its first Super Bowl - a mistake-filled, 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh that still stings.

Important additions: LB Julian Peterson, WR Nate Burleson, rookie CB Kelly Jennings, DT Russell Davis, OL Tom Ashworth.

Important losses: All-Pro LG Steve Hutchinson was lost to Minnesota in free agency. Starting S Marquand Manuel signed with Green Bay, 2005 touchdown receiving leader Joe Jurevicius signed with Cleveland, and key blocking TE Ryan Hannam signed with Dallas. Starting CB Andre Dyson was released.

Camp needs: Jennings seizing the starting CB role. Starting S Ken Hamlin passing his first tests of live contact since fracturing his skull in street fight last October. Incorporating more three-WR sets to fit Burleson in among incumbent starters Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram. Finding suitable TE within a hodgepodge behind starter Jerramy Stevens.

Expectations: Higher than the Space Needle. The Seahawks think they've greatly improved an already upgraded defense with the dynamic Peterson, who says he is fully healthy for first time in years.

TAMPA BAY (11-5)

Open camp: July 27, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Last year: Had winning record, won NFC South and made playoffs for first time since winning Super Bowl during 2002 season. Defense ranked No. 1 overall and offense made strides with Chris Simms emerging at quarterback and running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams making a splash as NFL Offensive Rookie.

Important additions: G Davin Joseph, LB Jamie Winborn, QB Jay Fiedler, WR David Boston.

Important losses: S Dexter Jackson, QB Brian Griese.

Camp needs: With 21 of 22 starters returning, focus will be on remaining healthy and getting Joseph, team's first-round draft pick, ready to play.

Expectations: A first-round playoff loss to Washington left sour taste that can only be expunged by deep postseason run.


Open camp: July 29, Spartanburg, S.C.

Last year: Finished second to Bucs in strong NFC South. Advanced to NFC championship game for second time in three seasons, but lost 34-14 at Seattle.

Important additions: WR Keyshawn Johnson, LB's Na'il Diggs and Keith Adams, DT Maake Kemoeatu, C Justin Hartwig.

Important losses: LBs Will Witherspoon and Brandon Short, DT Brentson Buckner, RB Stephen Davis.

Expectations: Panthers will try to make it to Super Bowl for second time in four years.

CHICAGO (11-5)

Open camp: July 27, Bourbonnais, Ill.

Last year: Won NFC North in coach Lovie Smith's second season behind a strong defense that didn't play well in playoff loss to Carolina when Steve Smith torched it.

Important additions: QB Brian Griese, DB Dante Wesley, DB Danieal Manning (rookie), DB Rickey Manning Jr.

Important losses: DB/KR Jerry Azumah, DB Mike Greene

Camp needs: Sort out some unhappy campers like RB Thomas Jones, a 1,000-yard rusher unhappy because of likely loss of starting job to 2005 first-round pick Cedric Benson. Find out if QB Rex Grossman will be healthy for first time in career as he faces challenge from Griese.

Expectations: Unheard of in present-day NFL, Bears return all 22 starters and should be a favorite again in division.


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

Last year: Rebounded from 6-10 record in Tom Coughlin's first season to win NFC East. Despite great start, Eli Manning struggled down stretch. He was horrible in 23-0 first-round playoff loss to Carolina. Plaxico Burress added big-play dimension on offense. Osi Umenyiora emerged as Pro Bowl DE.

Important additions: LB LaVar Arrington, CB Sam Madison, CB R.W. McQuarters and S Will Demps - all free agents. WR Sinorice Moss, speedy second-round pick.

Important losses: DT Kendrick Clancy, CB Will Allen, CB Will Peterson, LB Nick Greisen.

Camp needs: Get new secondary to mesh; find someone to replace Clancy at DT; get Moss up to speed quickly.

Expectations: Very high, but Giants seem to stumble in those seasons.


Open camp: July 31, Ashburn, Va.

Last year: Won last five regular-season games to make playoffs for first time since 1999. Offense sputtered in postseason, but still managed to win at Tampa Bay in first round before losing at Seattle.

Important additions: Assistant coach Al Saunders, WRs Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El, S Adam Archuleta, DE Andre Carter, TE Christian Fauria, second-round pick LB Rocky McIntosh.

Important losses: LB LaVar Arrington, S Ryan Clark, TE Robert Royal, QB Patrick Ramsey.

Camp needs: Get up to speed on Saunders' full-throttle offense. Groom backup QB Jason Campbell in case Mark Brunell falters this year. Develop McIntosh to take Arrington's spot. Look for improved depth.

Expectations: Lineup looks solid in 20 of 22 spots, with Brunell and rookie McIntosh the only real question marks.

DALLAS (9-7)

Open camp: July 28, Oxnard, Calif.

Last year: Nearly every game was decided in closing minutes, and all those close calls caught up to Bill Parcells' club. A 7-3 start gave way to 2-4 finish, leaving them out of playoffs for second time in Parcells' three seasons in Dallas.

Important additions: WR Terrell Owens, K Mike Vanderjagt, LG Kyle Kosier, LB Akin Ayodele, DB Marcus Coleman, RT Jason Fabini.

Important losses: LG Larry Allen, WR Keyshawn Johnson and DT La'Roi Glover were released. LB Dat Nguyen retired. TE Dan Campbell wasn't re-signed and offensive play-caller Sean Payton became head coach in New Orleans. Campbell and Nguyen were team captains.

Camp needs: Proof that Owens can fit in, or at least not be too much of a distraction. His relationship with QB Drew Bledsoe will be scrutinized, but how OL comes together without Allen could be biggest factor.

Expectations: Dallas hasn't won playoff game in 10 years and is in tough division. Still, Jerry Jones was thinking Super Bowl when he took risk of signing T.O.


Open camp: July 27.

Last year: Late-season surge, sparked by defensive improvement and steady QB Brad Johnson, gave Vikes winning season, but coach Mike Tice was fired and flurry of changes throughout organization followed.

Important additions: New coach Brad Childress. LG Steve Hutchinson, RB Chester Taylor, K Ryan Longwell, rookie LB Chad Greenway. C Matt Birk returns from hernia/hip injuries that kept him out all of 2005 season.

Important losses: Trade of injured Daunte Culpepper ended deteriorating relationship with one-time franchise QB. CB Brian Williams was valuable nickel back who became starter when Fred Smoot got hurt and signed as free agent with Jacksonville. WR Nate Burleson left for Seattle.

Camp needs: Identify linebacking corps, especially at middle spot; keep Birk healthy; maximize offensive production with new West Coast offense under Childress and dearth of skill-position stars.

Expectations: Middle-of-the-road team with improved offensive line that could contend for playoff spot if inexperienced coaching staff meshes with several new additions.


Open camp: July 27, Flowery Branch, Ga.

Last year: After 6-2 start, went 2-6 in second half of season to miss playoffs. Warrick Dunn was big reason team led league in rushing for second straight year. Inconsistent pass rush helped expose safeties as weak spot of defense. Tight end Alge Crumpler had another big year, but Michael Vick struggled to work his young wide receivers into significant roles.

Important additions: DE John Abraham was acquired for team's first-round draft pick. SS Lawyer Milloy, FS Chris Crocker and LT Wayne Gandy were other notable veteran additions who should start. CB Jimmy Williams and RB Jerious Norwood were draft picks with best chance to help in 2006.

Important losses: S Bryan Scott was shipped to Saints in the trade for Gandy. Two more safeties, Keion Carpenter and Ronnie Heard, were not re-signed. DE Brady Smith was released.

Camp needs: Must find a new kicker, but open camp with no experience at position. Lack of depth is big concern at offensive guard and center, safety and defensive end.

Expectations: Return to playoffs.


Opened camp: July 20, Bethlehem, Pa.

Last year: After four consecutive NFC East titles, four straight appearances in conference championship and losing a Super Bowl, went winless against division and finished last with six wins.

Important additions: DE Darren Howard, DT Brodrick Bunkley, LB Shawn Barber, WR Jabar Gaffney, backup QB Jeff Garcia.

Important losses: WR Terrell Owens was officially released in offseason after he was kicked off team last November.

Camp needs: Stay healthy; rebuild team unity. Sort out linebacking corps; shore up once-feared defense.

Expectations: Should compete for playoffs, but no longer the dominant team in East.

ST. LOUIS (6-10)

Open camp: July 27, St. Louis, Mo.

Last year: A season of chaos capped by firing of coach Mike Martz, who missed last 11 games with heart ailment. Quarterback Marc Bulger missed significant time with shoulder injury. Team missed playoffs for only second time in six seasons.

Important additions: LB Will Witherspoon, DT La'Roi Glover, S Corey Chavous, CB Fakhir Brown, LB Raonall Smith, P Matt Turk, QB Gus Frerotte, DT Jason Fisk, CB Tye Hill, the team's first-round draft pick.

Important loses: RB Marshall Faulk, a backup the last two seasons behind Steven Jackson, will have major knee surgery and miss the season. DT Ryan Pickett, S Adam Archuleta, DT Damione Lewis all signed free agent deals elsewhere.

Camp needs: Get team comfortable with new coach Scott Linehan's system. Sort out the secondary, which was without both cornerbacks most of last season due to injuries. Find backup running back in case Faulk retires.

Expectations: Should improve to at least .500.

ARIZONA (5-11)

Open camp: July 30, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Last year: Went 5-11 with most prolific passing game but worst ground game in NFL. It was one fewer win than coach Dennis Green had the previous season, his first with Arizona. WR Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin each had more than 100 catches, second time that's happened in league history.

Important additions: RB Edgerrin James, QB Matt Leinart, OG Milford Brown, DT Kendrick Clancy, OG Taitusi Lutui.

Important losses: Not many. QB Josh McCown, 9-10 as intermittent starter under Green, signed with Detroit after Cardinals expressed no interest in keeping him.

Camp needs: Molding an offensive line that can block for James.

Expectations: Cardinals move into their spectacular $450 million stadium, where season tickets are sold out, and Green is under pressure to produce a winner.

DETROIT (5-11)

Open camp: July 27, Allen Park, Mich.

Last year: Shared NFC North lead with a 3-3 record, then were eliminated from division race six weeks later. Fired Steve Mariucci after two-plus seasons.

Important additions: Coaches Rod Marinelli and Mike Martz, QB Jon Kitna, OG Ross Verba, WR Corey Bradford, LB Ernie Sims, Detroit's first No. 1 pick on defense since 1999.

Important losses: QB Joey Harrington, DT Dan Wilkinson, LB Earl Holmes.

Camp needs: Finding out if WRs Charles Rogers and Mike Williams have what it takes.

Expectations: With Matt Millen still leading a franchise with the NFL's worst record (21-59) during his five years in charge, a playoff berth would register as a surprise.

GREEN BAY (4-12)

Open camp: July 28, Green Bay, Wis.

Last year: The Packers lost several key offensive players to injury early in the season, and Brett Favre began throwing interceptions. The result was the worst Packers season of the Favre era - although six of those losses were by five points or less.

Important additions: CB Charles Woodson; S Marquand Manuel; DT Ryan Pickett; WR Mark Boerigter. The team hired former San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy to replace fired head coach Mike Sherman.

Important losses: K Ryan Longwell; WR Javon Walker; C Mike Flanagan; G Grey Ruegamer; WR/KR Antonio Chatman; LB Na'il Diggs.

Camp needs: Guard play was a weakness last year - so much so that the team could end up relying on at least one rookie starter. The Packers need their injured offensive stars to work their way into shape and find a receiver to complement Donald Driver.

Expectations: The Packers weren't awful on defense last year, and should be better with their free-agent additions.


Open camp: July 27, Santa Clara, Calif.

Last year: Won opener and final two games - but went 1-12 in between, spending another year as an NFL doormat despite coach Mike Nolan's burst of enthusiasm. Had league's worst offense and defense by statistical rankings.

Important additions: TE Vernon Davis, DE Manny Lawson, WR Antonio Bryant, OG Larry Allen, CB Walt Harris, S Chad Williams.

Important losses: LB Julian Peterson, WR Brandon Lloyd.

Camp needs: Build Smith's confidence with new targets Davis and Bryant under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner; find replacement for Peterson, the genial former Pro Bowl player who struggled with injuries the last two seasons.

Expectations: Owner John York still preaches patience while chasing a new stadium, but six wins would show progress.


Open camp: July 28, Jackson, Miss.

Last year: Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Saints regrouped to win opener in Carolina and began 2-2, but slid precipitously from there as injuries mounted and morale plummeted.

Important additions: RB Reggie Bush, QB Drew Brees, C Jeff Faine, LB Scott Fujita, LB Anthony Simmons, DT Hollis Thomas.

Important losses: C LeCharles Bentley, DE Darren Howard and LB Sedrick Hodge signed elsewhere as free agents; LB James Allen injured his right knee during offseason workouts. LT Wayne Gandy was traded.

Camp needs: Shore up linebacker corps and offensive line, both of which will have several new starters.

Expectations: Tough schedule probably eliminates playoff chances.


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