RENTON, Wash. — Pete Carroll is used to the glare. It was part of the deal coaching at USC.
When his Seattle Seahawks begin training camp this week, they’ll feel the glare of a spotlight that’s never shined through the clouds this bright in the Pacific Northwest.
They aren’t just plucky upstarts with little regard on a national scale. These Seahawks begin camp knowing they are a popular choice not just to win the NFC West, but to reach the Super Bowl.
Carroll basked in the glow of such expectations when he was at USC and the Trojans were the dominant power in college football. But this is Seattle, where expectations are usually met with disappointment. And with a team that relies so much on youth, the Seahawks will have to watch from becoming overwhelmed by the attention
“I make my own expectations so I don’t really worry about what the media says or what other people say to be honest with you,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “My only expectation is to work as hard as I can, to be consistent, for our football team to be consistent, and for our football team, to play as hard as we can every Sunday, every practice and then we’ll see what happens.”
Five things to watch as Seattle opens training camp:
1. RW3: THE SEQUEL: A year ago, Wilson wasn’t even the starter when camp began and fans were still worried if he was too short to be an NFL quarterback. Now fans are angry when he’s not considered among the top 10 QBs in the NFL and ranked behind San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick by one organization. Wilson is the clear-cut leader of the Seahawks entering camp. Will it be more of the Wilson the league saw the final five weeks of last season and again in the playoffs when he put up dizzying numbers running and throwing? Or will Seattle rely more on Marshawn Lynch, putting Wilson less at risk?
2. SECONDARY TO NONE: All-Pro safety Earl Thomas is the reason Seattle’s secondary works. You might not know that with all the attention All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman gets. Thomas and Sherman are deserving of the accolades, but most of the attention has fallen to Sherman for his confident, borderline cocky attitude, his willingness to jaw with any opponent — on and off the field — and his overturned PED suspension from last season. Throw in safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Brandon Browner and new arrival Antoine Winfield, and it’s hard to argue against Seattle having the league’s best secondary.
3. HIT THE QUARTERBACK: If there was a weakness defensively a year ago it was the inability to consistently pressure the quarterback. Seattle finished the regular season tied for 18th with 36 sacks, but eight of those came against Green Bay in Week 3. Outside of Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, no Seattle defender had more than three sacks. Clemons’ value became even more apparent in the NFC playoffs against Atlanta. With Clemons out due to a knee injury, the Seahawks had no sacks on Matt Ryan. The solution was a major revamp of its defensive front. Seattle signed Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel, and drafted Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill. Once back from his four-game suspension for using banned substances, Irvin is likely to transition to outside linebacker, but still rush from that position. The lingering question is where Clemons is at in his recovery from ACL surgery.
4. SUSPENSION CENTRAL: Irvin became the latest to be caught by the NFL for using a banned substance. The Seahawks have seen five players get suspended for using PEDs since 2011. It’s created a stigma for the team and even San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh made mention of Seattle’s problems in June. The Seahawks need a preseason without off-field issues to quiet some of the murmurs.
5. HANDLE THE HYPE: Seattle will be a very popular place for every national publication during training camp, looking to swoop in and document what could be an unprecedented season. Carroll’s ability to demand focus and avoid distraction over the next six weeks could be just as important as solving any on-field questions before the opener in Carolina.
With the National Football League’s preseason camps opening today and tomorrow it is time to look at what each team has brought to the table for their first official camps of the season. Who has retirements, draft picks, swaps, trades, losses, additions, suspensions, arrests and so on an so forth.
The labor agreement between the league and players mandated no pads, no real blocking, no power football, no real football per say during minicamp practices. That makes evaluating talent hard enough. Now teams enter training camps where two-a-days are outlawed unless one is a walk-through, which means decisions will still be hard. Over the next month coaches and players will be together in camps, exhibition games, home facilities, and classrooms to study plays in books and on film.
“Well, it is pro football. It is the way it is today,” New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “Success has to be built by doing a good job with our evaluations — bringing the right people in here and getting them integrated into our offense, defense and special teams, the way we do things, what our expectation levels are, what our values are. And the more we can be with them and around them, then the better you are going to feel about it.”
But discovering the real deal is even more of a chore with practice time in pads and scrimmaging so limited compared to before 2011. The players association insisted on the cutbacks during CBA negotiations, and with player safety a major issue, the NFL agreed.
Doug Casa, professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut and the lead researcher for the Korey Stringer Institute, already has seen many health benefits resulting from the 2011 CBA.
A leader in heat illness detection and prevention, Casa advised the league and the players’ union on establishing practice guidelines during the hottest time of the year.
“For certain, 2011 was the first real opportunity to make changes since Korey,” he said, referring to Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer dying from complications due to heat stroke on Aug. 1, 2001 during training camp. At 27, he was the first professional football player to die from the illness. “After the CBA, when they overhauled the heat guidelines, did away with two-a-day practices, modified some heat treatment recommendations, it created a safer environment.”
Coaches also recognize everyone plays by the same set of rules.
“It’s a level playing field, so there’s no difference between our team and every other team,” Jets coach Rex Ryan says. “But there are other things that you do. I think having opportunity days where maybe at the end of practice you put the ball down and you let the young guys go at it. You’re going to see them in preseason games as well. That’s why those games are critical, (as well as) the green-and-white scrimmage. Even if we have to create our own live scrimmage situations, they’ll have the opportunity to show what they can do.”
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5)
LAST YEAR: Seahawks were seconds from playing in NFC championship game in season few expected when rookie Russell Wilson became starting quarterback. Wilson proved right choice by coach Pete Carroll, and Seahawks beat Washington in wild-card round for first road playoff win since 1983. Somewhat lost in Wilson’s rise and performance and antics of cornerback Richard Sherman were All-Pro seasons from running back Marshawn Lynch and safety Earl Thomas. Seattle had best scoring defense in NFL.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Percy Harvin, DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, DT Tony McDaniel, CB Antoine Winfield, rookie DT Jesse Williams, rookie DT Jordan Hill, rookie RB Christine Michael, QBs Tarvaris Jackson and Brady Quinn.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB/KR Leon Washington, LB Leroy Hill, QB Matt Flynn, TE Anthony McCoy, DT Alan Branch, CB Marcus Trufant.
CAMP NEEDS: Improving mediocre pass rush that could be without sacks leader Chris Clemons (knee) to start season. It was offseason priority with additions of Avril, Bennett, McDaniel, Williams and Hill, coupled with move of Bruce Irvin to outside linebacker; Irvin is suspended for first four games for violating performance-enhancing drug policy. Deciding who will back up Wilson will be another training camp competition, along with settling guard positions.
EXPECTATIONS: Many feel Seahawks are in select group labeled Super Bowl contenders. New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will try and build on what Gus Bradley (now Jaguars head coach) started, but with more pieces to play with. Harvin’s addition to offense that averaged nearly 33 points over final nine games of season makes trying to slow down Wilson and Co. even more terrifying.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (11-4-1)
LAST YEAR: 49ers returned to Super Bowl for first time in 18 years, chasing sixth championship, but fell to Baltimore, with second-year coach Jim Harbaugh’s team missing multiple chances from 5-yard line in waning moments. Unlike last summer, when starting lineups on both sides of ball remained nearly intact, there are new faces at prominent positions as two-time NFC West champions try to defend title in much-improved division featuring Seattle and St. Louis.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Anquan Boldin, S Craig Dahl, K Phil Dawson, QB Colt McCoy, CB Nnamdi Asoumgha.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Alex Smith, S Dashon Goldson, TE Delanie Walker, K David Akers, WR Randy Moss.
CAMP NEEDS: Third-year QB Colin Kaepernick must find groove with new wideouts in hurry. Kaepernick, A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette began that process with workouts in Atlanta during offseason. Getting more snaps will certainly help Kaepernick after he began 2012 as backup to Alex Smith. Top wideout Michael Crabtree is sidelined after surgery on torn right Achilles tendon in May, big blow to Niners. But they had already acquired Boldin from Ravens before Crabtree went down, and his role will be even greater now. Several newcomers join secondary and must be integrated into system.
EXPECTATIONS: 49ers will count on more consistency from kicking game as Dawson replaces Akers. Dawson went 29 for 31 last season in 14th year with Browns, making all 13 of attempts from 40 yards or beyond, including 7 for 7 from 50-plus. Akers missed 13 field goals in 2012. All-Pro DL Justin Smith returns from partially torn left triceps that required offseason surgery. He anchors one of league’s top defenses past two seasons, aided by stars Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Carlos Rogers. With solid lines and big-time playmakers, 49ers look to get that one more victory in postseason.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-8-1)
LAST YEAR: Refreshed from one-year coaching break, Jeff Fisher combined with GM Les Snead on roster makeover. Franchise shook off worst five-year stretch (15 wins) in NFL history, as league’s youngest team improved from two wins in 2011, and went 4-1-1 in tough division. QB Sam Bradford had best statistical season, aided by strong showing from line. Rookies CB Janoris Jenkins and DT Michael Brockers made impact as starters, defense tied for NFL lead with 52 sacks behind big years from Chris Long and Robert Quinn, team’s first duo with double-digit sacks since 2000.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Jared Cook, OT Jake Long, rookie WRs Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, rookie OLB Alec Ogletree.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola, S Quintin Mikell, S Craig Dahl, LB Rocky McIntosh.
CAMP NEEDS: Finding RB combination to replace Jackson’s workhorse contribution among Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and rookie Zac Stacy. Develop chemistry between Bradford and new crop of pass catchers led by Austin. Fine-tune attack that could feature pass-catching TEs Cook and Lance Kendricks. Prepare Ogletree to start alongside team’s top two tacklers, James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dumbar. Find replacements at both safety spots. Develop chemistry on new-look OL, with Rodger Saffold moving to right tackle to make room for Long.
EXPECTATIONS: Rams anticipate more growing pains from roster that has gotten even younger. Team has no winning seasons since 2003, appears poised to end drought.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-11)
LAST YEAR: Got off to surprising 4-0 start, then lost 11 of last 12 thanks to worst offense in NFL. Quarterback and line were main culprits. Kevin Kolb had team’s only success at QB, but went down with season-ending torn cartilage. Unable to pass or run effectively, Cardinals were blown out more often than not. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who directed team to Super Bowl in 2008 season, was fired, as was general manager Rod Graves.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Bruce Arians, QB Carson Palmer, RB Rashard Mendenhall, rookie OG Jonathan Cooper, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Jasper Brinkley, rookie LB Kevin Minter, rookie S Tyrann Mathieu.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Adrian Wilson, QB Kevin Kolb, QB John Skelton, RB Beanie Wells, S Rashad Johnson, ILB Paris Lenon, S Kerry Rhodes, OG Adam Snyder, CB William Gay, WR Early Doucet, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling.
CAMP NEEDS: With camp moved from Flagstaff to team’s home stadium in Glendale, emphasis will be on getting players comfortable with new offensive and defensive system brought by Arians. Plenty of work ahead between Palmer and primary receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler. On defense, with top LB Daryl Washington suspended for first six games for violating league’s substance abuse policy, adjustments in personnel must be made.
EXPECTATIONS: Arians, NFL Coach of the Year for work as interim boss in Indianapolis, gets at age 60 to finally run show, and he’s relishing opportunity. He even brought in longtime Indianapolis offensive coordinator Tom Moore as top assistant. Cardinals aren’t expected to do much in tough division, but if line can keep immobile Palmer on his feet, it could be exciting offense with downfield game Arians loves.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (11-5)
LAST YEAR: Overcame 2-3 start to win NFC North, making playoffs for fourth straight season. Pack beat Vikings in playoffs, then fell at San Francisco. Green Bay was unable to find enough balance in offense as running game stagnated, ranking 20th, and defense allowed too many big plays.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RBs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, DE Datone Jones, all rookies.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Greg Jennings, S Charles Woodson, LB Desmond Bishop.
CAMP NEEDS: Packers can’t afford to have NFL’s highest-paid player knocked around like tackling dummy, as Aaron Rodgers was last season. He was sacked league-high 51 times, so Pack hoping retooled offensive line will provide better protection. Coach Mike McCarthy made switch as OT Bryan Bulaga and OG Josh Sitton moved from right side to left, while OG T.J. Lang and OT Marshall Newhouse went other way in April so new line would be up to speed at training camp. Packers also need to find No. 1 running back, a spot Lacy will challenge for. Defense has some big-time playmakers who need to return to those roles, from LB Clay Matthews to NT B.J. Raji to CB Tramon Williams.
EXPECTATIONS: Packers look to win division again and go deep in playoffs, and Rodgers’ aerial show is capable of taking them there. But even in pass-happy NFL of 2013, this team will need to get more production on ground and be solid on defense down stretch.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-6)
LAST YEAR: Blew by most external expectations with seven-win improvement and spot in playoffs, buoyed by MVP Adrian Peterson’s super-human comeback from ACL knee reconstruction that left him 9 yards short of NFL’s all-time single-season rushing record.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Greg Jennings, LB Desmond Bishop, rookie WR Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie CB Xavier Rhodes, rookie DT Sharrif Floyd.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Percy Harvin, CB Antoine Winfield, P Chris Kluwe.
CAMP NEEDS: Christian Ponder must continue to make strides in decision making, accuracy and confidence in pocket, as much as QB can do that in practice and exhibition games. Jennings has to stay healthy to make impact Vikings are counting on. Bishop needs to quickly learn new defense and settle in one of spots next to LB leader Chad Greenway. Rhodes, one of three first-round picks, must help fill void left by Winfield’s departure. Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson have to do same.
EXPECTATIONS: With Peterson in his post-surgical prime and Ponder adding ex-Packer Jennings and the rookie Patterson to cadre of receivers, Vikings are in position to make deeper push through postseason. Missing playoffs would be considered disappointment, particularly with head coach Leslie Frazier only under contract through 2014, and despite Ponder’s unproven status and holes created by jettisoning of Harvin and Winfield.
CHICAGO BEARS (10-6)
LAST YEAR: Bears missed out on playoffs for fifth time in six years following another late collapse, leading to coach Lovie Smith’s firing.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LT Jermon Bushrod, TE Martellus Bennett, G Matt Slauson, rookie G Kyle Long, LB James Anderson, LB D.J. Williams.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Brian Urlacher, DE Israel Idonije, LB Nick Roach.
CAMP NEEDS: Time to adjust. New coach Marc Trestman is installing new offense, and there is no shortage of new faces on both sides of ball. Developing leadership with Urlacher gone.
EXPECTATIONS: Relationship between Jay Cutler and Trestman will be worth watching. Bears QB has offense-minded head coach, versatile pass-catching tight end and revamped offensive line after that unit ranked among league’s worst. He doesn’t have excuses and might be running out of time given his expiring contract. Even with no Urlacher, core players such as DE Julius Peppers, LB Lance Briggs and CB Charles Tillman are in their 30s. Also, can Devin Hester rediscover his electrifying form on returns?
DETROIT LIONS (4-12)
LAST YEAR: Closed awful season by losing eight straight after climbing to .500 midway through year, failing miserably in attempt to be in two straight postseasons for first time since 1993-95.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Reggie Bush, S Glover Quinn, S Chris Hope, DE Jason Jones, DE Israel Idonije, rookie DE Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, rookie CB Darius Slay, K David Akers, RB Montell Owens, DT C.J. Mosley, OG Leroy Harris, OG Jake Scott.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Cliff Avril, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE Lawrence Jackson, LB Justin Durant, OT Jeff Backus, OT Gosder Cherilus, OG Stephen Peterman, K Jason Hanson, WR Titus Young,
CAMP NEEDS: Desperately need rebuilt offensive line to develop chemistry with two new starting tackles and new right guard. 2012 first-rounder Riley Reiff will likely start at LT, while Corey Hilliard or Jason Fox is RT and job at RG is up for grabs, with Harris, Scott and Rodney Austin among candidates.
EXPECTATIONS: If new-look offensive line jells, QB Matthew Stafford will have time to throw to WR Calvin Johnson and Bush will have room to run, making offense tough to stop. Defense has lots of newcomers and that will only be good thing if Ansah, No. 5 overall draft pick, and other pass rushers can create pressure to help shaky secondary. Fifth-year coach Jim Schwartz is on hot seat.
ATLANTA FALCONS (13-3)
LAST YEAR: 28-24 home loss to 49ers in NFC championship game kept Atlanta from reaching its second Super Bowl. Falcons won NFC South and beat Seattle for first playoff win in five years with quarterback Matt Ryan and coach Mike Smith. Ryan set career highs with 4,719 yards passing, 32 TDs and 99.1 passer rating.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Steven Jackson, DE Osi Umenyiora, rookie LB Brian Banks, rookie CB Desmond Trufant, rookie CB Robert Alford, rookie DE Malliciah Goodman.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE John Abraham, RB Michael Turner, OT Tyson Clabo, C Todd McClure, CB Dunta Robinson, CB Brett Grimes, CB Christopher Owens, DE Lawrence Sidbury, LB Mike Peterson, DT Vance Walker, OT Will Svitek, TE Michael Palmer.
CAMP NEEDS: First-round pick Trufant is expected to win starting job beside Asante Samuel. Robert McClain and Dominique Franks also must play bigger roles after exits of three cornerbacks. Jackson will use camp to adjust to Falcons’ attack. Umenyiora is expected to replace Abraham, and rookies Goodman and Stansly Maponga will have chance to earn time at other end. Rebuilding offensive line after departures of longtime starters McClure and Clabo. Peter Konz is likely to replace McClure.
EXPECTATIONS: Boosted by return of TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons are expected to ride high-scoring offense back to playoffs. Ryan has wealth of top targets with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Gonzalez and now Jackson, who should add more diversity as receiver out of backfield. Turnover at cornerback and questionable pass rush could combine for leaky pass defense, especially early in season as rookie CBs gain experience.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)
LAST YEAR: With coach Sean Payton suspended for whole season in connection with NFL’s bounty probe, Saints missed playoffs for first time since 2008. Even without Payton, known mostly for his offensive acumen, Saints ranked second in yards per game with nearly 411. However, defense was one of worst in NFL history, yielding single-season record 7,042 yards.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie S Kenny Vaccaro, CB Keenan Lewis, TE Ben Watson, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LT Jermon Bushrod, WR Devery Henderson, DT Sedrick Ellis.
CAMP NEEDS: Defensively, Saints are adjusting to new 3-4 scheme under Ryan, forcing Will Smith to move to outside linebacker, while Jon Vilma becomes one of two inside LBs — role in which his production diminished when he was with Jets. Offensively, Saints need to see if third-year LT Charles Brown is ready to inherit starting role vacated by Bushrod in free agency. New Orleans is also looking at several young receivers to take field alongside Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Joe Morgan appears front-runner.
EXPECTATIONS: With most key starters back on offense, not to mention return of Payton, New Orleans should have little trouble moving and scoring. If Ryan’s new defense can elevate New Orleans from worst to even mediocre, Saints, who lost five games by eight or fewer points last season, might return to playoff contention.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (7-9)
LAST YEAR: Josh Freeman became first player in franchise history to throw for more than 4,000 yards, and Bucs improved from four wins to seven in 2012. Nevertheless, team’s first season under coach Greg Schiano ended amid speculation whether Freeman is quarterback to lead this offense. His inconsistency was only partially responsible for Tampa Bay losing five of six following 6-4 start.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CB Darrelle Revis, S Dashon Goldson, rookie CB Johnthan Banks, PK Lawrence Tynes, LB Jonathan Casillas, T Gabe Carimi, DT Akeem Spence.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Ronde Barber, PK Connor Barth, DE Michael Bennett, DT Roy Miller, TE Dallas Clark, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Quincy Black.
CAMP NEEDS: Overhauled porous secondary that nearly set NFL record for yards allowed through air now has Revis, generally regarded as top cornerback in league when healthy. He comes off major knee injury that sidelined him most of last season with Jets. How much will he practice and will he be 100 percent by Sept. 8 season opener against his old team? Goldson was All-Pro with San Francisco in 2012 and figures to help second-year safety Mark Barron’s development. Another objective: improving anemic pass rush. After losing Bennett, who led Bucs with nine sacks, Schiano is counting on big years from ends Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn.
EXPECTATIONS: With Freeman entering final year of rookie contract and Revis beginning six-year, $96 million deal, anything short of ending six-year playoff hiatus will be major disappointment. RB Doug Martin comes off outstanding rookie season ( 1,454 yards rushing), and WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams eager to build on standout seasons, Freeman has supporting cast capable of run at NFC South title if Revis and Goldson can shore up defense.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-9)
LAST YEAR: Panthers got off to 1-5 start for second straight year under coach Ron Rivera, but finished strong by winning five of six to save his job.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, DT Colin Cole, CBs Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore, S Mike Mitchell, WRs Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Chris Gamble, LB James Anderson, WR Louis Murphy.
CAMP NEEDS: Panthers need to focus on re-establishing running game, getting DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart more involved in offense. Defensively, they still have questions in secondary, but hope solid pass rush will alleviate pressure on back end.
EXPECTATIONS: High, with Cam Newton heading into third season. Newton has put up good stats, but reality is overall record is 13-19. There is plenty of pressure on Rivera to get his team off to quick start and reach playoffs after two losing seasons.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (10-6)
LAST YEAR: Unique pass-and-run talents of Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III propelled franchise to first NFC East title in 13 years. Griffin was injured along way, however, and had reconstructive knee surgery after first-round playoff loss to Seattle. Redskins have indicated he’s ahead of pace to return in time for regular season, and he has been cleared to practice by his doctors. Rookie RB Alfred Morris set franchise rushing record and finished second in NFL behind Adrian Peterson.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie CB David Amerson, rookie TE Jordan Reed, rookie S Phillip Thomas, rookie S Bacarri Rambo, CB E.J. Biggers, WR Donte Stallworth, T Jeremy Trueblood, T Tony Pashos.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Lorenzo Alexander, TE Chris Cooley.
CAMP NEEDS: Everything begins and ends with RG3, which means camp will be 24/7 vigil on state of his right knee. If there are no setbacks, Redskins will again have one of NFL’s most exciting offenses. At least one draft pick DB — Amerson, Thomas or Rambo — needs to prove worthy of playing time immediately; defense ranked 30th against pass in 2012.
EXPECTATIONS: Coach Mike Shanahan did remarkable job keeping roster essentially intact, working creative deals to re-sign players after NFL implemented second half of $36 million salary cap penalty for previous overspending. Griffin, if healthy, should only improve in second year, although he’ll have to adapt as defenses come up with new ways to stop zone-read attack. If secondary holds its own, Redskins should be in good shape to repeat as division champs.
NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7)
LAST YEAR: Had another second-half swoon (3-5) and missed playoffs for second time in three years. They won Super Bowl in 2012. Defense was big culprit, giving up 60 plays of 20 yards or more and finishing 31st in league.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Brandon Myers, PK Josh Brown, DT Cullen Jenkins, WR Louis Murphy, LB Aaron Curry, CB Aaron Ross.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, TE Martellus Bennett, PK Lawrence Tynes, DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Chris Canty, LB Michael Boley, LB Chase Blackburn, S Kenny Phillips.
CAMP NEEDS: RB David Wilson, first-round pick in 2012, has to prove he can replace Bradshaw. FB Henry Hynoski comes off knee surgery after minicamp injury in June. Jenkins and rookie DT Jonathan Hankins need to make middle stouter. Linebacking corps is unsettled with Boley and Blackburn gone. Mathias Kiwanuka steps in as he returns to DE as Jason Pierre-Paul recovers from back surgery.
EXPECTATIONS: Lots of ifs, but this is playoff team if defense returns to form. With Eli Manning, re-signed Victor Cruz and healthy Hakeem Nicks, New York will put up points, particularly if line keeps Manning clean. Giants allowed NFL-low 20 sacks in 2012. Defense must be opportunistic again after 35 takeaways last season.
DALLAS COWBOYS (8-8)
LAST YEAR: Cowboys lost to NFC East rival in playoffs-or-bust finale for second straight year. This time it was Redskins with 28-18 win that extended Dallas’ postseason drought to three years and four of past five. Second straight 8-8 season extended remarkable run of mediocrity: Dallas is 128-128 since start of 1997 season.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookies OL Travis Frederick, TE Gavin Escobar, WR Terrance Williams; defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Felix Jones, DT Marcus Spears, WR Kevin Ogletree, S Gerald Sensabaugh.
CAMP NEEDS: Cowboys have to decide if Frederick, their first-round pick, is ready to be Tony Romo’s center. Release of FB Lawrence Vickers a week before camp means Dallas will have to refine offense that often uses two tight ends. Also means establishing pecking order behind Jason Witten with second-round pick Gavin Escobar, veteran Dante Rosario and second-year player James Hanna. Jones’ departure leaves no established backup to RB DeMarco Murray. Switching to 4-3 defense, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will continue transition to pure pass-rushing ends. After releasing Sensabaugh, Dallas has to settle on starters at safety with Barry Church and Matt Johnson coming off injuries.
EXPECTATIONS: Cowboys need to win now. Coach Jason Garrett’s future probably depends on it. With offensive coordinator Bill Callahan taking over play-calling duties, Garrett can focus on game management, an occasional problem in each of his two full seasons. Romo has to show he deserved contract that made him highest-paid player in franchise history, with more guaranteed money than Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco got. If Dez Bryant continues to trend upward and Murray can stay healthy, Dallas can contend if offensive line improves. Kiffin’s defense is simpler than predecessor Rob Ryan’s and is supposed to create more turnovers. Linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are being counted on as playmakers.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-12)
LAST YEAR: Eagles had worst season since 1998, going 4-12 to cost coach Andy Reid job after 14 years. Slew of injuries to key offensive players and porous overall defense turned 3-1 start into flop. Players seemingly quit on Reid during nine-game losing streak and some started questioning commitment of teammates.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie RT Lane Johnson, rookie TE Zach Ertz, TE James Casey, rookie QB Matt Barkley, NT Isaac Sopoaga, LB Connor Barwin, CB Cary Williams, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Patrick Chung, S Kenny Phillips, P Donnie Jones.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Mike Patterson.
CAMP NEEDS: Determining starting QB. Michael Vick and Nick Foles battled throughout spring practices, and rookie Barkley isn’t out of contention. New coach Chip Kelly has implemented his unique offensive system since arrival from Oregon; does it translate to NFL, starting in real practices and preseason games? Eagles have plenty of new players and many starting spots up for grabs. Camp returns to Philadelphia after 17 years at Lehigh University.
EXPECTATIONS: Kelly has overhauled roster, changed atmosphere and invigorated stagnant organization. He’s innovative, offense-minded coach with impressive track record and is getting paid to turn around Eagles quickly. Still, he may not have players it takes to lead them back to playoff contention in one season.
AFC will preview in tomorrow’s paper.