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Burning questions across the NFL heading into training camp

Who is the most intriguing player to watch in camp?

Actually, two players stand out. One is the new quarterback of the Colts. The other is the old one. Let's start with the old one. Peyton Manning, left, joins the Broncos after spending the past 14 years in Indianapolis. But he hasn't played a game in 18 months. At age 36, does Manning have anything left? Preseason will tell, but there's no reason to believe that if he's healthy, he won't be, again, one of the game's best quarterbacks. But is he healthy? He wasn't out with a hangnail or a blister. He had surgery on his neck. Make that four surgeries. More than anything, won't it be weird to see him in a helmet without a horseshoe?

Meantime, his replacement — first overall pick Andrew Luck, right — takes over in Indy, hoping to turn around a team that went 2-14 last season. Will Luck be Cam Newton good or Ryan Leaf bad?

Which is the most intriguing team?

QB Michael Vick is predicting the Eagles have a dynasty in the making. The Giants will try to repeat as champs. The Cowboys always have something going on. But no team has had a more tumultuous offseason than the Saints. Bounty­gate resulted in the suspension of players, coaches and executives. The big loss was Sean Payton, top left. Not only is he the head coach, perhaps more critically he's in charge of one of the league's most explosive offenses. The Saints will need every second of training camp to figure out how the playcalling is going to work this season. Interim head coach Joe Vitt will run things in camp, will be suspended for the first six regular-season games, then will take over again. Sounds like a mess. At least one potential pothole was avoided when QB Drew Brees, above left, signed a new contract.

The Saints had a bad offseason. Who had a good one?

Did anyone add as many weapons as the Bucs? Aside from hiring a new head coach, they added the best free agent wide receiver out there in Vincent Jackson and one of the top free agent offensive linemen in Carl Nicks. Throw in first-round pick and RB Doug Martin and veteran TE Dallas Clark, and that's a quarter of their offense. The bad news is most of Tampa Bay's problems last season were on defense. They drafted S Mark Barron out of Alabama with the seventh pick and added free agent CB Eric Wright, but defense remains a mystery.

Which teams will have quarterback controversies?

The Dolphins job might be open after Miami failed to land Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn or even Tim Tebow, left. Incumbent Matt Moore likely has the edge, but new additions David Garrard and Ryan Tannehill are in the mix.

Matt Hasselbeck led the Titans to a 9-7 record last season, but Jake Locker, who threw 66 passes as a rookie, is almost ready to take the reins. The two have a close relationship, so while there might be a quarterback controversy, it won't be an ugly one. Reportedly, even Hasselbeck's kids like Locker.

The Seahawks signed former Packers backup Flynn to a three-year deal that could be worth up to $25 million, including $10 million guaranteed, but coach Pete Carroll said that fat contract will have no bearing on who his starting quarterback will be. According to Carroll, Flynn will have to beat out last year's starter, Tarvaris Jackson, and rookie Russell Wilson. That shouldn't be too difficult.

Finally, in New York, Jets coach Rex Ryan says there's no controversy at QB. Mark Sanchez is his starter. But you just know that the first time Sanchez throws a pick, fans will start chanting for Tebow.

Which player coming off injury will be most closely watched?

All eyes are on Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. He tore both his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve. An injury that severe on that late a date would normally keep a player out for the start of the next season. Apparently, however, Peterson is ahead of his rehab schedule and says he expects to be ready for the Vikings' opener. The team is not going to rush him back, so don't be surprised if Peterson's timetable and Minnesota's don't exactly mesh. Still, his return is crucial because, aside from quarterbacks, no team relies more on one player than the Vikings do on Peterson.

What's up with always colorful wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Randy Moss?

Ochocinco, 34, joins the Dolphins after a failed stint in New England. He said he never quite grasped the Patriots offense or way of doing things. That was evident. Ochocinco, top left, caught only 15 balls last season. Is Miami the place where he turns around his career or is this the last stop?

Meantime, Moss, below left, who is 35, didn't even play last year. He was officially retired. In his two seasons before that, he played for three teams and caught only 28 passes. But how crazy is this: He not only is getting another chance with the 49ers, but coach Jim Harbaugh said Moss is the best receiver they have right now. You can't help but wonder if he still has the burning speed at his age after sitting out a season.

How will the first-year coaches do?

There are six teams breaking in new coaches in 2012, not counting Kansas City's Romeo Crennel, who took over the Chiefs at the end of last season and earned the permanent job after going 2-1. The list, however, does include Aaron Kromer, who will coach the Saints for the first six games until the suspended Joe Vitt takes over. But of all the new coaches, no one has more talent to work with than Kromer and Vitt.

The Dolphins' Joe Philbin has some talent, too, especially on defense and in the running game. The problem is he doesn't have a proven quarterback. Dennis Allen (Raiders) has a potential playoff team if he can iron out the defense, but Mike Mularkey (Jaguars), Chuck Pagano (Colts) and longtime Titans coach Jeff Fisher (Rams) all have rebuilding projects. Fisher has some young talent, starting with QB Sam Bradford, but this is a team that went 2-14 last season.

Of course, in these parts, Greg Schiano is the focal point. Can his no-nonsense attitude help turn around a Bucs team that limped to the end of last season with a 10-game losing streak? Or will his college ways rub veterans the wrong way the first time things go wrong? Training camp will set the tone.

tom jones' two cents

Are you ready for some football? Hard to believe, but the NFL gets under way this week as most teams report to training camp. Who are the players to watch? Who are the teams to watch? Which teams are in trouble? Here are some of the burning questions across the league as camps open.

Burning questions across the NFL heading into training camp

07/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 10:16pm]
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