Veterans may not have to report until late July, but we’re only nine days away from the official start of NFL training camp. So it’s time to stop complaining about Kevin Durant’s move to the Warriors because football season is right around the corner. To get ourselves back into the swing of things, here are the nine biggest storylines to pay attention to once camp opens. Spoiler alert: there’s a lot of talk about quarterbacks ahead.
Who will start at QB for the Denver Broncos?
Super Bowl champions usually don’t have much turnover at marquee positions the following season. However, that won’t be the case for the Denver Broncos, who will have to move forward without Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, their top two quarterbacks from last year.
This now leaves Gary Kubiak with three potential options to start the season opener against Carolina. The first, and most likely choice, is the newly acquired Mark Sanchez. The former Jet and Eagle has the most experience of the bunch, but he’s certainly turnover prone. In short, I don’t think many teams are intimidated by the “Sanchize.” Another potential alternative is to start rookie Paxton Lynch. However, recent reports suggest that Lynch may be “redshirted” for a year, meaning we probably won’t see him unless there’s an injury.
So the job is Sanchez’s, right? Wrong. There’s another guy in the mix named Trevor Siemian. I watch and study football more than 98.4% of the country, but if you held a gun to my head three months ago and asked me who Siemian was I would’t have been able to tell you. Nonetheless, the second year player out of Northwestern is holding his own, meaning that the battle for Denver’s starting QB position is wide open heading into camp.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Holdout
New Yorkers have been talking about this for months: When is Ryan Fitzpatrick going to resign with the Jets? Yet with training camp approaching, it doesn’t seem like a resolution is on the horizon. It has some pundits wondering whether the Jets will just move on from Fitzpatrick altogether at some point in the near future.
Even though he has been an average quarterback for most of his career, Fitzpatrick put together his finest season in 2015 throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Sure, the Jets will probably have to overpay him, which won’t please those who haven’t gotten over his Week 17 performance against the Bills, but he’s the only hope at quarterback for the Jets if they want to make noise this year.
How long does it take for the Jets to come to an agreement with Fitzpatrick, and how much do the negotiations impact the Jets preparation, assuming Fitzpatrick holds out well into training camp? Or, what if he doesn’t choose to resign at all? In that case, get ready for another round of Geno!
Jimmy Garoppolo Prepares for Spotlight
The Jets aren’t the only team in the AFC East unsure who their Week 1 starter will be. Tom Brady’s Deflategate case is waiting for a seventeenth appeal, meaning there’s still a chance he is available for New England’s first four games. If the suspension is upheld, though, then Jimmy Garoppolo will borrow the keys to the franchise for a quarter of the season.
Garoppolo was in this same position a year ago, and the attention on his preseason performances last August was both intense and excessive. Overall, he accorded himself well, although he did look a little flustered at times. But the difference between last year and this season is that it seems likely that Brady will not be returning to start the season. That means there should be an even bigger microscope on Garoppolo, particularly from the national media. Let’s see how he handles it.
**UPDATE– It was just announced that Brady’s suspension was upheld by the Federal Court, meaning Garoppolo will indeed start New England’s first four games.
Rams Start Anew in Los Angeles
The Rams will begin their first season in Los Angeles since the mid-1990’s, but that’s not the only reason to be interested in them this August. First overall pick Jared Goff will be one of the more intriguing players to follow because he seems to be the favorite to start at quarterback in Week 1. But he’s not a lock for the job yet- a shaky preseason from Goff might lead Jeff Fischer to go back to Case Keenum, who he had named the starter early in the offseason before the Rams decided to trade for the number one overall pick. Moreover, the Rams will also be featured on Hard Knocks this year. I’m not sure if Fischer will be as entertaining as Rex Ryan, but it still should make for some good television.
Chip Kelly Arrives in San Francisco
Kelly, one of the league’s most maligned coaches, starts over in San Francisco, where he’ll try to get Colin Kaepernick’s career back on track. I’m always interested to see how Kelly overhauls the entire culture of the organizations he’s a part of, from dictating what kind of smoothie each player drinks to monitoring urine samples. However, Kelly’s influence in San Fran should be tempered by the fact that he doesn’t have as much power as he did in Philadelphia. Even so, it should be intriguing to see what kind of response Kelly gets from the veterans on the 49ers such as NaVorro Bowman and Antoine Bethea. He can’t be more demanding than Jim Harbaugh, right?
QB Controversy in Philadelphia?
Speaking of Chip Kelly, his old team will surely be one of the more discussed teams this preseason. Philadelphia has a new coach in Doug Pederson and a new quarterback as well in Carson Wentz to potentially compete with Sam Bradford. The Eagles also brought in Chase Daniel, who has been one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks over the past few years. Even though the Eagles seem set on naming Bradford as their Week 1 starter, there could be a three-way quarterback battle if Bradford were to falter early in the preseason.
Transition Once Again in Cleveland
Former Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson begins his first year as the coach of the Cleveland Browns, and he certainly has his work cut out for him. Not only was the roster that Jackson inherited thin in multiple areas, but the new Browns front office appears set on positioning themselves for success beyond this year, as evidenced by how they traded down multiple times in this year’s draft to acquire a plethora of future picks. This isn’t a bad strategy, by any means. It might suggest, however, that the Browns already understand that they probably won’t be very competitive in 2016. Nonetheless, it should be interesting to see who emerges as the starting quarterback for the Browns: Will it be the veteran Josh McCown, former rookie of the year Robert Griffin III, or third-round pick Cody Kesler, who the Browns coaches seem very optimistic about?
Return of Injured Stars
Another storyline to pay attention to is the return of many injured stars. In particular, a few high profile running backs like Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles return from knee injuries. Big-name defenders like Terrell Suggs and Cameron Wake look to bounce back after lost seasons as well. But I think the biggest name to keep an eye on is Packers receiver Jordy Nelson. His season ending injury in the preseason last year was a devastating blow to Green Bay’s Super Bowl chances, but if he’s back at 100 percent, Aaron Rodgers should rebound after a disappointing season by his standards.
There’s Always Drama in Dallas
Finally, there’s always a reason to follow the Cowboys. With regards to injured stars, Dallas is certainly happy to welcome back Tony Romo and Dez Bryant after both battled injuries throughout the 2015 season. In addition, keep an eye on rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. Many experts criticized the Cowboys decision to select him with the fourth overall pick, and while I agree that choosing a running back that high is risky, I think Elliott has a good chance to prove those pundits wrong and develop into the next Adrian Peterson.
Stay tuned to Check Down throughout the rest of the summer, as we’ll be continuously previewing the upcoming NFL season.
Sanchez photo courtesy of David Zalubowski/Associated Press; Fitzpatrick photo courtesy of Fansided; Garoppolo photo courtesy of Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports; Goff photo courtesy of Rant Sports; Chip Kelly photo courtesy of Getty Images; Carson Wentz photo courtesy of USA Today Sports; Hue Jackson photo courtesy of Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports; Jordy Nelson photo courtesy of Getty Images; Ezekiel Elliott photo courtesy of Getty Images