As teams settle in at sweltering training camps this week, playbooks are distributed (digitally, of course), rookies and other youngsters try to catch the eye of decision makers, and fans wonder what their teams will look like in early September. And beyond.
Until the NFL shortens its preseason, there will be one goal in late July and early August: Stay healthy.
Unfortunately, nearly every team sustains significant injuries, some of which can be devastating for the regular season. Coaches and general managers will curse under their breath when they lose a key regular, then claim the “next man up” policy will take care of the problem. Sometimes, they are right. Often, the swearing becomes more intense and louder.
Some things to keep an eye on until the Packers and Bears kick off Sept. 5 to open the league’s 100th season:
Brady yes, Gronkowski, no: We’re not likely to see much of New England quarterback Tom Brady until the opening regular-season game. We won’t see any of his buddy and tight end, Rob Gronkowski, whose battered body caused him to retire.
It’s a big blow for the soon-to-be 42-year-old QB, who somehow manages to overcome such obstacles.
“He was such a great player for our team,” Brady said of Gronkowski. “I think like any season, things are different and we’re going to have to adjust differently and teams are going to play us differently without him. We’ve seen it even when he’s been on the team.
“That’s got to be a position of strength even if it’s not one player but multiple players doing different roles. There were times in my career before that where we had similar approaches. No one’s going to make any excuses for our offense. We’re going to do everything we can to be the best we can be, score every time we touch the ball, and the tight end position’s a big part of our offense, and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us.”
Those guys include Ben Watson, who also was ready for retirement before opting to come back to New England. Gronkowski’s absence is still the most critical difference for last season’s champions.
Coaching carousel: When the spinning stopped, new head coaches landed in Tampa, Miami, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, Denver, and New York.
• Bruce Arians, Buccaneers — One of two hires with previous head-coaching experience, Arians is charged with developing the talent and instilling maturity in Jameis Winston. The quarterback has not lived up to his top overall draft-pick status (2015), but if anyone can push Winston toward elite status, it is Arians, a QB whisperer.
• Brian Flores, Dolphins — For a while, it looked as if Miami was ready to tank this season as it reorganizes from top to bottom. But this is not the worst roster in the league. Still, Flores has to prove a Belichick protege can succeed as a head coach.
• Matt LaFleur, Packers — Aaron Rodgers isn’t the easiest superstar passer with whom to work, so keep an eye on the transition in Green Bay. The offense should be pretty good if Rodgers is healthy, so the biggest chore is upgrading an unreliable defense.
• Zac Taylor, Bengals — The Bengals have the weakest talent group in the AFC North, with even players such as A.J. Green and Geno Atkins carrying big question marks. Of course, if Taylor ever wins one postseason game, he will have outdone Marvin Lewis.
• Freddie Kitchens, Browns — The idea here is that Kitchens, QB Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will blend their skills and personalities to create a dynamic offense. And, yes, a winner on the shores of Lake Erie. Of all the new hires, Kitchens might be under the most pressure considering the ramped-up expectations in Cleveland — and the potential for major disruptions.
• Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals — Perhaps the strangest hire of this group because Kingsbury had a mediocre record at Texas Tech and was fired. But he specializes in the type of offense top draftee Kyler Murray favors, and he is innovative. Kingsbury also is stuck with a weak roster.
• Vic Fangio, Broncos — A career assistant who has built strong defenses for years — including with Stanford, the 49ers and Chicago — Fangio is the latest sideline boss hired by John Elway. He has some studs on defense with Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Chubb, so improvement is possible. Can the offense, with Joe Flacco behind center, do the same?
• Adam Gase, Jets — The Dolphins’ head coach the past three seasons, Gase’s main responsibility is developing Sam Darnold into the franchise QB the Jets believe he will become. Though there has been substantial turmoil in New York’s front office, the roster has been upgraded with the likes of running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker C.J. Mosley. That gives Gase a chance to do what predecessor Todd Bowles could not: make the playoffs.
Who are those guys? New addresses for players now with the Jets, Browns, Raiders, Broncos and Jaguars on offense could have huge impacts. Defensively, the Cowboys, Chiefs, Cardinals, Rams and Washington made major moves.
• Le’Veon Bell, Jets — Bell will get plenty of work as a runner and receiver, and is critical to turning Darnold into a dangerous quarterback — and the Jets into a contender.
• Odell Beckham Jr., Browns — If the histrionics and selfish attitude disappear, Beckham could link with Mayfield for the best pass-catch combination in football.
• Antonio Brown, Raiders — If the histrionics and selfish attitude disappear, Brown might make Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock look smart with this trade.
• Joe Flacco, Broncos — Flacco got hurt and lost his job to Lamar Jackson last year; Flacco would have lost it eventually, anyway. So Flacco gets a fresh start in the Rockies, but his receiving group is very questionable.
• Nick Foles, Jaguars — The most intriguing move of the offseason. Foles was perfect for Philadelphia’s offense, and the Jaguars want to be more of a running team. There is something special about Foles, though, so don’t doubt him.
• Earl Thomas, Ravens — Jerry Jones coveted this premier safety for years and didn’t get him for the Cowboys. Baltimore gets a somewhat battered player who should become a leader in the secondary and locker room, and will not give less than his all.
• Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu, Chiefs — Had Kansas City boasted any sort of defense in ’18, it probably would be the NFL champion. Now, K.C. can boast a bit, with Clark supplying a pass rush and Mathieu playmaking.
• Terrell Suggs, Cardinals — This is likely Suggs’ last stop in a Hall of Fame-caliber career. He might get a lot of sacks, but the end game is the Cardinals won’t contend even if he does dominate blockers.
• Eric Weddle, Rams — Savvy and versatile, though a bit beyond his prime, Weddle joins an already stout defense that lost an important cog in safety Lamarcus Joyner.
• Landon Collins, Washington — It was bad enough the Giants allowed their best defender to leave in free agency. Then he goes to a division rival, for which he is a huge upgrade.
Barry Wilner is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/NFL-2019-Camps-set-to-open-in-sweltering-14115046.php.