The revamped weight room, new strength and conditioning program, shortened side fields and the seemingly endless stream of music at New York Giants practices this spring were just the beginning. New coach Ben McAdoo will continue to put his stamp on the organization at training camp this summer, and it will extend into the season when he institutes a new daily schedule.
McAdoo, who was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach to replace Tom Coughlin earlier this year, is putting his mark on a team that is trying to rebound from three consecutive losing seasons and four playoff-less years. The next phase will be changes to the way training camp operates, both on the field and in meeting rooms.
The Giants will increase the number of daily meetings so players can better digest new material. In the process, they will decrease the length of each meeting. McAdoo and his staff will also put an increased emphasis on remaining healthy, something they’ve stressed since taking over in January. It will be evident during drills designed specifically to stress fundamentals and physicality while limiting the risk of injury.
The Giants have been the most injured team in the NFL three years running, according to Football Outsiders.
So gone are some of the ways that Coughlin conducted business during an unequivocally successful 12-year run that bore two Super Bowl titles. The veteran head coach made changes to his training camp routine in recent years -- specifically in an attempt to limit injuries -- but it didn’t produce the intended results. The Giants were down four safeties, their starting left tackle, a star wide receiver and starting middle linebacker before last year's regular-season opener in Dallas.
Like most of the NFL, the Giants used GPS monitors in an attempt to embrace sports science. They even had a “halftime” break the previous two years in the middle of practice where players would head inside for a five-minute hydration period that would’ve made a younger, stricter Coughlin nauseated. But it begrudgingly became common practice in East Rutherford regardless of that day's temperature.
McAdoo’s first training camp as head coach will consist of 13 summer practices that wrap on Aug. 15. Veterans with more than five years’ experience will check out of the team hotel on Aug. 16. Everyone else will remain until Aug. 21.
The Giants will begin this year with three straight days of work before a day without practice. They had four practices last year before a day off. It's another minor but maybe significant trend throughout the summer.
Giants training camp last year was longer and different. It consisted of 17 practices, before wrapping much later on Aug. 27. Coughlin also held the workouts in the afternoon (mostly at 2:30 p.m. and some even beginning as late as 5:50 p.m.). Most of this year’s practices under McAdoo will begin at 10:40 a.m.
The way McAdoo has scheduled meetings plays greatly into this change. The Giants will hold three “install” meetings per day instead of two. These are the classroom sessions where players are first introduced to plays. They’re later asked to take this information to the field.
The coordinators (offensive, defense and special teams) will handle the first installation meeting at night. The position coaches will follow up and handle questions in the morning after the players had time to digest the new information.
The hope is this approach will best prepare the Giants’ players for practice before a meeting in the afternoon where they will review what unfolded on the field. This new approach by McAdoo appears geared toward teaching millennials, who are thought to learn and absorb information more effectively in shorter bursts.
It’s not the only change to expect this summer at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. The Giants will also have full-padded half-line running drills, with the goal to stress fundamentals and physicality while minimizing the risk of players getting rolled up from the back side. Again, the emphasis is on smaller, more focused groups and limiting injuries.
The Giants made it through the spring relatively healthy. They’re hoping to do the same this summer. After the way everything unfolded the past few years, they're hoping to become a better team this summer, in part because of some of changes McAdoo is implementing for his first training camp as a head coach.
He will balance himself, making sure he's not leaning too much to his left or right. He will make sure he is not too top heavy. He will make sure he is not leaning back too much. Everything must be centered. The pressure on his fingers can't be too much but not too light either. From there he will fire off the line, taking three or four steps before stopping. He will do it over and over again.
It's something he has done thousands and thousands of time, but he will act as if he has never done it before.
If you're looking for a reason why Witten has been able to maintain his success over the years, it is in these moments.
What might be mundane for most is ultra-important to Witten.
"I've never seen a guy who emulates the practice-how-you-play more than him," said wide receiver Cole Beasley, who moved into the locker next to Witten this spring. "It looks just like Sunday out there when he's practicing. It's insane. There's other guys that do it, but I've never seen it like that consistent."
Witten turned 34 in May. He is entering his 14th season. He has been named to the Pro Bowl 10 times. No Cowboy has played in more consecutive games in team history. No Cowboy has caught more passes than Witten either.
But every year it is the same for Witten. He watches every snap from the previous season, looking at the good and the bad. He looks at other tight ends across the league to see what he can incorporate into his game.
This is his 14th year, but he acts as if it's his first.
"Start over," Witten said. "For me, even more so now, you constantly have to reevaluate that so. I started from scratch, watch every play. Go into the stance, catching, blocking, all those things that go into what I want to do and how I want to play. I think if you don't start over and go through that process, sometimes you get through it a little bit quicker in certain situations. But for me, I think that's the only way you can approach it."
When he talked about the closing of the Cowboys' Valley Ranch practice facility this spring, he mentioned butterflies in his stomach when he would turn left at the guard shack and park around back in the players' lot.
It is a short walk from the locker room at the River Ridge practice fields in Oxnard, California, to the grass fields. When the fans see him jog to the field, they will cheer his name and the butterflies will grow.
Even if the coaches want to give him a day off, he will argue about needing work. He might relent, but he never approaches work with dread.
"Never a day and really never a rep in anything he's ever done," coach Jason Garrett said. "That doesn't mean he wins all the time, but his approach is always right. And that's probably line one with him is he's as professional a person as a player as I've ever been around. His commitment to doing things the right way, commitment to excellence is unmatched. And, again, it's beyond a day. It's everything within that day."
Time and age are undefeated in the NFL. The best players delay it as best they can. Witten has altered his workouts in recent years, working more on his core and flexibility than power. He watches what he eats as well.
He led the Cowboys in receptions last year with 77 but only for 713 yards and three touchdowns. His 9.3 yards per catch were more about the routes he was asked to run than an inability to run them. In 2015, he averaged 11 yards per catch. Tony Romo's return to health should see Witten's numbers increase.
While some might wonder if Witten, who is signed through 2017, will slow down, he just keeps going, keeping something Bill Parcells said over and over.
"Parcells had an old saying -- it's a show-me game. It is that," Witten said. "So you've got to be able to take the negative criticism when it comes and allow it to fuel you to be a better player, not to get bitter or upset about it. I love playing, and obviously, I have a high expectation and standard I want to play at.”
Which is why the first day of training camp practice, he will work on his three-point stance.
PHILADELPHIA -- There is one small problem with Doug Pederson's attempt to recreate Andy Reid’s 1999 launch of his tenure as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
It isn’t 1999.
In the years since Reid took over as head coach of the Eagles, the NFL has tightened the rules governing training camp and regular-season practices. Coaches simply can’t practice as often or be as physically demanding as they used to be.
While Pederson intends to follow the rules, he also made it clear that he plans to adhere as closely as possible to Reid’s training methods.
“Why do I believe in hitting?” Pederson said last month. “It's a physical game. It's football. It's tackle football. I think the only way you can properly fit offensively and defensively, you have to put the pads on and you have to hit.”
In 1999, Reid opened his first training camp with a grueling stretch of two-a-day practices in full pads. That approach, which became known as “three days of hell,” lasted for a few years. In ’99, nine players missed practice time because of dehydration in the first week.
After Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer collapsed and died during a training camp practice in 2001, the league began to develop guidelines for teams to follow.
There are limits on the number of times teams can wear full pads, how often they can hit and how many days they can work without a day off.
Under Chip Kelly, the focus was on tempo rather than contact. Kelly wanted his team to practice fast. Hitting was not the priority.
Under Pederson, it will be. Rookies report on Monday. They will spend three days together before the veterans report. On Thursday, with the full team on the field, Pederson plans to implement his own modified version of Reid’s “three days of hell.”
“We'll probably go three days in pads, take them off, and then go another three days and take them off,” Pederson said. “So it's kind of a broken-up schedule. It's not every day, but it's at least three consecutive before we take them off and have a lighter day, where they can recover for a day."
Reid believed that hitting was part of the process of building a team from the group of 90 men allowed on the roster. Pederson also thinks it is important to evaluate football players by actually watching them play football.
“For instance,” Pederson said, “if you're looking for a fullback, are you going to go out here in shells and tell me you're going to find a fullback? I want to see him run downhill and hit a Mike linebacker. I want to see him strike a defensive end. I want to see if he can hold up. Do his legs collapse? Does he stay up? Can he power through the block?
“I want to see if guards can pull. I want to see if linebackers can tackle. I want to see receivers and DBs test each other, and the only way you can do that is in pads. We can put the shells on all day, and you still have to learn how to practice out of pads and protect each other that way. But the best evaluator in this game, I feel, is in pads."
IRVING, Texas – ESPN Insiders recently came up with the most player-friendly and team-friendly contracts for each team.
Because Dez Bryant was on the roster the fifth day of the 2016 league year, the final part of his $45 million guarantee -- his $13 million base salary in 2013 -- became fully guaranteed, and that was deemed the most player-friendly deal for the Dallas Cowboys.
The most team-friendly deal was for running back Alfred Morris, who signed a two-year deal worth $3.5 million that included $1.8 million guaranteed. That’s not a bad answer, but I don’t know if it is the most team-friendly with Morris’ role being limited to a degree because of Ezekiel Elliott.
Some NFL observers will cynically say left tackle Tyron Smith has the most team-friendly deal because he could have gotten more than the $98 million extension he received in 2014. At 26, Smith's base salaries from 2017 to 2020 stay flat at $10 million each year.
But after seeing what Baltimore paid kicker Justin Tucker last week before the franchise-tag deadline kicked in, I think the most team-friendly deal for the Cowboys belongs to their kicker, Dan Bailey.
Tucker received a $6 million signing bonus on his four-year, $16.8 million deal, which included $10.8 million guaranteed.
In 2014, the Cowboys signed Bailey, an undrafted free agent, to a seven-year deal worth $22.5 million that included $7.5 million guaranteed. At the time, the Cowboys were criticized in some circles for a seven-year deal to a kicker.
The Cowboys knew Bailey’s importance to the team, considering how many close games they play, and they were willing to take the chance. Since signing the deal, Bailey has become the most accurate kicker in NFL history and was named to the Pro Bowl after last season.
He is also signed through 2020, and his base salaries never top more than $3.4 million. The Cowboys can sleep easy knowing a vital part of their offense is locked up for a long time at a good price.
IRVING, Texas -- In a week, the Dallas Cowboys will land at Point Mugu, Calif., for the start of training camp.
They will arrive with an offense that should be among the best in the NFL. Tony Romo is healthy. Dez Bryant is healthy. They have a top offensive line and added running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick. They have one of the best tight ends in Jason Witten. They also have role players who can create problems for other teams, such as Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and even Alfred Morris.
They will also arrive with a defense that is dogged by questions, mostly because of the suspensions of Rolando McClain (10 games), Randy Gregory (four games) and DeMarcus Lawrence (four games). They have not seen Orlando Scandrick play a game since the divisional round loss in the 2014 playoffs due to a serious knee injury. They didn’t see Sean Lee take part in any offseason work because of minor knee surgery. They saw 2016 third-round pick Maliek Collins take part in one organized team activity before he broke his foot, which required surgery. They will not see this year’s second-round pick, Jaylon Smith, play because of a serious knee injury.
Despite the myriad of questions, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones sees hope in the defense. Some of that might be because of the offensive expectations. Some of it is just the hope that arises for every team coming into a new season. Some of it has to do with 2014.
“I know we had a really good football team two years ago, and I think this defense that we have is better than the defense we had two years ago,” Jones said in June, before the suspension of McClain became official.
That might not be saying much, but considering the woes predicted for the defense in 2014 -- some wondered if it might be the worst ever -- it was a plus. The Cowboys finished ranked 19th in defense that year (eighth against the run and 26th against the pass). But the defense did enough to help the Cowboys finish 12-4.
The 2013 defense was a mess, giving up 6,645 yards and finishing ranked 32nd (last) overall (27th against the run and 30th against the pass).
The Cowboys cut DeMarcus Ware that offseason. They made no attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher, who had a career-high 11 sacks. They saw Lee go down for the season in spring workouts with a knee injury that forced him to miss the entire season.
Their biggest free-agent signings in 2014 were defensive tackle Henry Melton, who was coming off a major knee injury, and Jeremy Mincey. The Cowboys gave up their second- and third-round picks to take Lawrence only for him to broeak his foot early in training camp, an injury that cost him the first half of his rookie season.
There was one training camp practice that summer in which DeMarco Murray was not touched before he was at least 7 yards down field.
It was bleak.
But the Cowboys and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli figured it out to a degree that year on their way to a 12-4 finish. Mincey led the Cowboys with six sacks. Although the team had just 28 sacks for the season, they finished second in takeaways with 31.
The offense’s success directly contributed to the defense’s success. While controlling the ball is important, scoring is more important. The Cowboys scored at least 30 points in 10 games. It is far easier to play defense with a 7-10 point lead.
But Jones looks at the personnel differences as a reason for optimism in 2016.
“We didn’t have a Byron Jones two years ago,” he said. “We didn’t have a Sean Lee playing for us two years ago. We didn’t have Tyrone Crawford playing where he is right now -- he’s got so much experience. [Lawrence] and obviously Gregory have got to serve their suspensions but he's come a long way. So we have a chance to have a good defensive football team.
“[I have] a lot of confidence in Rod [Marinelli] and I know he’ll come up with ways to get pressure on the quarterback. But we feel good about this team and feel good that we have a great opportunity to really compete for a championship.”
The Dallas Cowboys open training camp on July 30 in Oxnard, California. Here's a starting lineup projection:
Quarterback (Tony Romo): If he can stay healthy, the Cowboys' chances of making the playoffs improve significantly. The Cowboys are 15-4 in Romo's past 19 regular-season games. Romo has not played a full season since 2012 but had a terrific offseason even with collarbone surgery.
Tailback (Ezekiel Elliott): Tony Dorsett ran for 1,007 yards in 1977, which remains the best season by a Cowboys' rookie. The Cowboys are hoping (needing?) more than that from Elliott, the fourth overall pick in the draft.
Wide receiver (Dez Bryant): He was not Dez Bryant last year. He had just 31 catches and three touchdowns in nine games, mostly because of a broken foot. He was held out of the offseason program this spring as a precaution but expects to be full-go early in camp. If he's healthy, he will produce.
Wide receiver (Terrance Williams): He is in the final year of his contract and needs a solid season to earn a big contract in 2017. He doesn't miss games. He doesn't miss practices. He can run all day. He is also a better receiver when lined up opposite Bryant.
Wide receiver (Cole Beasley): He is coming off a career high in catches and yards and that was mostly without Romo. He could be in position to set career highs again if the offense operates as hoped. He is extremely effective in the slot.
Tight end (Jason Witten): He averaged just 9.3 yards per catch last year but some of that is on the poor quarterback play and the routes he was asked to run. He turned 34 in May but if you ask the coaches and staff he is not slowing down. He remains the glue to the entire operation.
Left tackle (Tyron Smith): He is considered to be one of the best tackles in the game and he is durable. He has missed just one game in his career.
Left guard (La'el Collins): He was given the job early last season, and while he had moments of greatness he also had too many mistakes. He has to be more consistent in his second year.
Center (Travis Frederick): The Cowboys were ridiculed by many when they took him in the first round in 2013. All he has done is start every game and made the Pro Bowl the past two years.
Right guard (Zack Martin): Is this the year he becomes the best guard in football? He is smart and tough and plays with the right amount of meanness.
Right tackle (Doug Free): The other offensive linemen follow his lead. He plays hurt and without complaint. His time is running short but he knows how to get through a game, season.
Defensive end (Benson Mayowa): Signed as a restricted free agent from the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys are betting that with more playing time will come more sacks. He is coming off knee surgery before minicamp but should be ready to go and win the job during Randy Gregory's four-game suspension.
Defensive end (David Irving): With DeMarcus Lawrence out the first four games because of a suspension, Irving and Ryan Russell will get the chance to win this job. Russell took most of the turns in the spring with Irving limited with a wrist injury.
Defensive tackle (Tyrone Crawford): He signed a five-year, $45 million deal last summer and posted a career-high five sacks. He knows the Cowboys need more, especially with the suspensions of Lawrence and Gregory.
Defensive tackle (Cedric Thornton): The Cowboys' biggest free-agent signing at four years, $17 million, the Cowboys are looking at him as a solid run defender with some pass rush ability. They need him to occupy blockers to help Crawford.
Weakside linebacker (Sean Lee): He was added to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement after missing 2014 with a torn ACL. He led the Cowboys in tackles and remains their best playmaker. He had a scope on his knee that kept him off the field in the spring but should not limit him this summer.
Middle linebacker (Anthony Hitchens): With Rolando McClain suspended the first 10 games, Hitchens is the most logical fill-in. With McClain suspended the first four games last year he was credited with 35 tackles, two sacks and four quarterback pressures.
Strongside linebacker (Kyle Wilber): The position is something of an afterthought because of how much the Cowboys use their nickel defense. Wilber can be a good run defender and in certain matchups the Cowboys could go with the more athletic Damien Wilson or Mark Nzeocha in this spot.
Cornerback (Orlando Scandrick): He missed last season with a torn ACL and MCL as well as the offseason program. He promised to be ready to go for the start of camp and nothing in his rehab suggests otherwise. He is one of the better slot corners because of his strength and smarts. Like all of their cornerbacks, he needs more interceptions.
Cornerback (Brandon Carr): He has not had a pick since Thanksgiving of 2013 and accepted a hefty pay cut in the offseason. He has never missed a game or start in his career. He moved to right cornerback in the offseason, which could be his more natural position.
Strong safety (Barry Church): He is entering the final year of his contract. He finished second to Lee in tackles last year.
Free safety (Byron Jones): Last year's No. 1 pick will benefit from playing one position compared to last year when he played slot corner, outside corner and safety. The Cowboys believe his athleticism will give them a centerfield safety they have not had in years. He did not have a pick as a rookie but the Cowboys believe he has playmaking ability.
Kicker (Dan Bailey): He is the most accurate kicker in NFL history and has proven to be even better in the clutch with 10 game-winning kicks, including five in overtime.
Punter (Chris Jones): He is coming off his best season in which he had a 42.5-yard net average. His directional kicking has improved greatly and he has a strong leg that can flip field position.
Long snapper (L.P. Ladouceur): He has not had a bad snap in his 11 years. He helps Bailey and Jones do their jobs well because of his precision.
The Washington Redskins open training camp July 28 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Virginia. Here's a starting lineup projection:
Quarterback (Kirk Cousins): In the final eight games last season, Cousins owned the NFL’s best passer rating and was second in QBR, but he has yet to defeat a team with a winning record in 26 career starts.
Running back (Matt Jones): This would be his first year as the starter, and Jones must improve last season’s yards-after-contact number (1.44), which ranked one spot behind ex-teammate Alfred Morris but 45th among all backs.
Receiver (DeSean Jackson): Since joining the Redskins before the 2014 season, Jackson leads the NFL with an average of 19.73 yards per catch.
Receiver (Pierre Garcon): He was a clutch target on third downs in 2015, with 26 of his 29 catches resulting in first downs.
Receiver (Jamison Crowder): Coaches were excited about his progress after he caught 59 passes as a rookie -- but only 17 came in the final seven games.
Tight end (Jordan Reed): Cousins’ passer rating throwing to Reed on 113 attempts was 130.1 -- better than any other receiving target on the roster.
Left tackle (Trent Williams): Williams has made four straight Pro Bowls but is seeking his initial first-team All-Pro bid.
Left guard (Shawn Lauvao): This assumes Lauvao is healthy, which is not a guarantee, but his importance is big; the Redskins averaged 4.61 yards per carry in three games with him last season.
Center (Kory Lichtensteiger): He has proved to the Redskins that he’s recovered from nerve damage in his shoulder that cost him 11 games last season.
Right guard (Brandon Scherff): The fifth overall pick in 2015 started every game at this position as a rookie after opening his first camp at right tackle.
Right tackle (Morgan Moses): Started all 16 games last year, his second season, after making one start as a rookie and appearing in just eight of the 13 games for which he was healthy.
Defensive end (Chris Baker): Coming off his best season, with six sacks and excellent play overall, and is entering the final year of his contract.
Defensive end (Stephen Paea): Signed a four-year deal in 2015 but lost his starting job to Baker after three games and missed the last five games with a foot injury.
Nose tackle (Kedric Golston): The 11-year veteran has started eight games in the past five years, but the Redskins likely will use only a nose tackle around 20 percent of the time.
Linebacker (Junior Galette): He had 22 sacks in 28 games with New Orleans in 2013 and '14 but missed last season with an Achilles’ injury.
Linebacker (Ryan Kerrigan): He has recorded at least 7.5 sacks in four of his first five seasons, including 13.5 in 2014, but hasn’t appeared in the Pro Bowl since 2012.
Linebacker (Will Compton): The Redskins love his passion, communication and leadership, which offset the former undrafted free agent being a little undersized at 230 pounds.
Cornerback (Josh Norman): The Redskins made him the NFL’s highest-paid corner in April at $15 million per season, helping turn this position into a strength.
Cornerback (Bashaud Breeland): The ex-fourth-round pick has started 29 games in his first two seasons, intercepting four passes and forcing five fumbles.
Safety (David Bruton): In seven seasons with Denver, the special-teams standout started only eight games, but he played a career-high 446 snaps last season.
Safety (DeAngelo Hall): The longtime corner switched to safety midway through last season, playing eight games with four starts at his new position.
Kicker (Dustin Hopkins): He was one of their best pickups last season, making 25 of 28 field goal attempts and recording 52 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Punter (Tress Way): He ranked fifth in yards per punt and fourth in net yards per punt over the final eight games last season (he was 13th and 20th, respectively, overall).
Long-snapper (Nick Sundberg): He's been a steady performer through his first six seasons with the Redskins.
Punt returner (Jamison Crowder): He excelled in this role at Duke but not as a rookie in the NFL, averaging just 5.3 yards on 30 returns.
Kick returner (Rashad Ross): Chris Thompson and Keith Marshall are options -- and there's a chance Ross would be inactive, but he averaged 24.4 yards on 28 returns last year, including a 101-yard touchdown.
The New York Giants open training camp on July 28 at Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Here's a starting lineup projection:
Quarterback (Eli Manning): Same as it ever was. Manning hasn't missed a game since he became the starter during his 2004 rookie season. He threw a career-high 35 touchdown passes in 2015, and his completion percentage in two years with new head coach Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator is 62.8 -- notably higher than his career completion percentage of 59.3.
Running back (Rashad Jennings): Lots of competition here, and Shane Vereen will replace the starter on third downs and in the two-minute drill. But while Jennings could eventually lose the job to rookie Paul Perkins, that's not likely to happen soon. After averaging 5.47 yards per carry over the final five games of 2015, Jennings heads into camp as the clear starter.
Fullback (Will Johnson): Johnson missed only one game in four seasons with Pittsburgh and is a player the Giants believe can line up in a variety of spots, including tight end. His versatility and his skills as a blocker likely give him the edge over Nikita Whitlock, who was one of the fun stories of 2015 after he made his mark as a substitute defensive tackle.
Wide receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.): A bona fide superstar in bloom. In 27 NFL games, Beckham has 187 catches for 2,755 yards and 25 touchdowns. His goal last year was to play all 16, and only the late-season suspension stopped him. Expect continued brilliance as long as he keeps himself on the field.
Wide receiver (Sterling Shepard): Tough to assume anything at this point about Victor Cruz's availability or effectiveness, and the Giants run out of three-receiver sets the majority of the time anyway. That means a lot of opportunity for rookie Shepard, whose experience in four years at Oklahoma has Giants coaches believing they can use him all over the formation.
Tight end (Will Tye): Another spot where the competition is too close to call among many candidates. Larry Donnell was the starter a year ago and is back from his neck injury. Rookie Jerell Adams looked good in the spring. But we'll call Tye the incumbent after he averaged 11 yards per catch while filling in for Donnell in the second half of 2015.
Left tackle (Ereck Flowers): He had his share of struggles as a rookie, but he would point out that he was playing hurt, as he sprained his ankle in Week 2 and it never had time to fully recover. Flowers' advancement as a pass protector will be a key part of the Giants' story this season, one way or the other.
Right tackle (Marshall Newhouse): Sure, they have been poking around for upgrades. And someone like Eugene Monroe could still be a possibility. But Newhouse heads to camp with the job, a chip on his shoulder and more faith from the coaching staff than he has from the fan base.
Left guard (Justin Pugh): The 2013 first-round pick is settled in after moving from tackle to guard a year ago. He's the backup left tackle if Flowers gets hurt, and in the meantime the Giants will count on him for reliable production on the interior.
Right guard (John Jerry): Brought in as a backup two years ago, Jerry has started 24 games the past two seasons and is a favorite of the coaching staff. I don't expect the Giants to look to upgrade at this position, even as they scope out the market at tackle.
Center (Weston Richburg): The 2014 second-round pick heads into his third full season as a starter and his second at center. This is the first time since 2013 that Eli Manning starts the season with the same center with which he finished the previous one.
Defensive end (Olivier Vernon): He had 29 sacks in four years with the Dolphins, but the Giants gave him a five-year, $85 million contract in the hope that he was about to make the leap into the elite echelon of pass-rushers. They're likely to line him up at right defensive end and send him to do battle with left tackles all year.
Defensive end (Jason Pierre-Paul): Everyone knows about the hand, but Pierre-Paul believes the surgery he had right after the season will allow him to play without that heavy club wrap and make him a more effective tackler. The Giants also believe the time that has passed since last July 4, and Pierre-Paul's presence in their offseason program, will pay dividends in their pass rush.
Defensive tackle (Damon Harrison): Rated as the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the league, Harrison joins the Giants as part of their defensive spending spree. His former team, the Jets, thought $9.25 million a year was too much for a player who comes out of the game on third downs. The Giants believe the work Harrison does on first and second downs will put their opponents in longer and tougher third-down situations.
Defensive tackle (Johnathan Hankins): A year ago, Hankins was coming off a seven-sack season and hopes were high. Still just 24 and coming off an injury-shortened season, Hankins should form a potent run-stuffing duo along with Harrison and maybe even get in some pass-rush work if the new guy can eat up blockers.
Strongside linebacker (Devon Kennard): The Giants love what Kennard can do -- especially as a pass-rush helper -- when he's on the field. But he has missed 11 games during his first two years in a league, so he enters camp as a question mark. Keeping the 2014 fifth-round pick healthy could be essential for what the Giants want to do on defense.
Middle linebacker (Keenan Robinson): This could be anyone from a group that includes Robinson, rookie B.J. Goodson, 2015 starter Jasper Brinkley or newcomer Kelvin Sheppard. The Giants believe Robinson has the skills and the smarts to handle this very important job in Steve Spagnuolo's defense, but he has had health issues too. Wide-open competition here.
Weakside linebacker (Jonathan Casillas): A lot of options here, including some of the guys named in the paragraph above. Last year's starter, J.T. Thomas, is also still around and could keep the job with a strong camp. But Thomas has (broken record alert!) injury concerns after a year in which he missed four games, and Casillas goes into camp in the lead here.
Cornerback (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie): His speed and his coverage ability make him as good as anyone in the league when he's on the field, but he has frustrated coaches and fans alike by floating in and out of games with various unspecified physical ailments. The Giants hope he has one more good year in him with first-round pick Eli Apple waiting in the wings.
Cornerback (Janoris Jenkins): Another of the big-money additions from this offseason, Jenkins arrives with a five-year, $62.5 million contract and 10 career interceptions -- five of which he returned for touchdowns. He's an electrifying playmaker who should bring a lot of excitement to the back end of the defense.
Strong safety (Landon Collins): Thrown into the fire as a rookie, Collins struggled in coverage and with some aspects of the playbook. But he was clearly a helper against the run, and if the Giants can find someone reliable enough in coverage to man their other safety spot, they should be able to keep Collins up close where he can showcase his strengths.
Free safety (Darian Thompson): Another wide-open camp competition, with promising names from the past such as Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson, Mykkele Thompson and Cooper Taylor in the mix if any of them can get/stay healthy. Darian Thompson, the rookie from Boise State, showed well in spring and has as good a chance as any of them to start.
Kicker (Josh Brown): Brown has made 54 of 58 field goals the past two years, including 19 of 22 from 40 yards or longer and 7 of 7 from 50 yards or longer.
Punter (Brad Wing): Odell Beckham's college teammate and good friend just signed a three-year contract to stick around after a promising first year with the Giants.
Long snapper (Zak DeOssie): As there must always be a Stark in Winterfell, there must always be a DeOssie in East Rutherford. The Giants missed him when he was out with an injury in the second half of the season. Fellow Ivy Leaguer Tyler Ott could give him a push in camp, but I think DeOssie sticks it out.
The Eagles open training July 25 at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. Here’s a starting lineup projection:
Quarterback (Sam Bradford): Finally healthy going into training camp, Bradford has to walk a thin line in leading the Eagles: Coach Doug Pederson has named him the No. 1 quarterback, but Bradford also knows that rookie Carson Wentz will eventually take his job.
Running back (Ryan Mathews): Mathews survived an awkward season with DeMarco Murray playing in front of him. He figures to be the lead guy this year, but can he remain healthy after missing three games in 2015 and a total of 23 during his six-year NFL career?
Receiver (Jordan Matthews): Pederson says he likes Matthews in the slot, where he caught most of his 85 passes for 997 yards in 2015. Pederson also plans to use a fullback and tight ends more extensively, which could affect Matthews’ playing time.
Receiver (Nelson Agholor): The 2015 first-round pick had a disappointing rookie season (23 catches, 283 yards), partly because of a high ankle sprain. He could blossom as the featured receiver in Pederson’s interpretation of a West Coast-style offense.
Tight end (Zach Ertz): Ertz’s strong finish (35 catches, 450 yards in final four games of 2015) earned him a five-year, $42.5 million contract and convinced Pederson he had a major weapon along the lines of Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.
Tight end (Brent Celek): The veteran will be on the field a lot, as Pederson showed three-tight end sets during OTAs. While the Eagles will use a fullback -- possibly Chris Pantale, who was a practice squad TE last season -- Pederson will change personnel more often than former coach Chip Kelly did.
Left tackle (Jason Peters): The eight-time Pro Bowler battled through back and nerve problems last year, but should benefit from Pederson’s plan to limit his practice workload.
Right tackle (Lane Johnson): The Eagles signed Johnson to a five-year, $56.5 million contract that takes into account the possibility that the 2013 first-round pick will move over to left tackle when Peters is finished playing.
Left guard (Allen Barbre): Of all the names here, Barbre’s is written most tentatively in pencil. He will go into camp as the starter but faces competition from veteran Stefen Wisniewski and rookie third-round pick Isaac Seumalo.
Right guard (Brandon Brooks): The Eagles landed the former Houston Texan with a five-year, $40 million contract. He will shore up a position that was left barren by Kelly’s release of Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis and decision not to draft any offensive linemen in 2014 or 2015.
Center (Jason Kelce): Kelce did not have his best season playing between two new guards, but Pederson believes Kelce can return to his Pro Bowl form of 2014.
Defensive end (Vinny Curry): In four seasons, Curry has never started an NFL game. The Eagles handed him a five-year, $46.25 million contract because they believe Curry can be a force in the team’s new 4-3 defensive scheme after playing out of position for three years.
Defensive end (Connor Barwin): There is a chance Brandon Graham starts here. Barwin was with the first team during OTAs and the best guess is that coordinator Jim Schwartz rotates his defensive linemen a lot.
Defensive tackle (Fletcher Cox): Another defender returning to his natural position after three mismatched seasons in a 3-4 scheme, Cox received a six-year, $102.6 million contract last month because the Eagles believe he can be a star in Schwartz’s 4-3 defense.
Defensive tackle (Bennie Logan): Logan spent his first three seasons as the thankless nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. He should have a chance to blossom playing alongside Cox in an attacking 4-3 scheme.
Outside linebacker (Mychal Kendricks): Kendricks added 15 pounds in order to be a more effective run-stopper in the Eagles’ new 4-3 defensive scheme.
Outside linebacker (Nigel Bradham): The Eagles signed Bradham because of his production -- 102 tackles, 2.5 sacks, an interception -- in Schwartz’s scheme as a Buffalo Bill in 2014.
Middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks): In just eight games (five starts) as a rookie, Hicks excited fans with two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a sack. The negative? Hicks tore a pectoral muscle, continuing a history of injuries, and spent half the season on injured reserve.
Cornerback (Leodis McKelvin): Another of Schwartz’s ex-Bills, McKelvin had a career-high four interceptions playing for the new Eagles coordinator in 2014. McKelvin can also play the nickel and return kickoffs.
Safety (Malcolm Jenkins): Jenkins went to the Pro Bowl and then signed a new four-year, $35 million contract. His versatility should allow him to be even more effective in Schwartz’s scheme.
Safety (Rodney McLeod): The former St. Louis Ram was credited with a career-high 106 tackles last season and should be a good partner for Jenkins in what should be the Eagles’ best safety tandem since Brian Dawkins’ heyday.
Punter (Donnie Jones): Jones turned 36 this month, and the Eagles will have to replace him at some point, but that point doesn’t appear to be right now.
Returner (Darren Sproles): Agholor got a lot of work fielding punts and kickoffs in OTAs because Sproles wasn't there, but the veteran returned two punts for touchdowns last year and is still the man.
PHILADELPHIA -- When Eagles coach Doug Pederson told a group of reporters last month that rookie quarterback Carson Wentz would likely be inactive on game days when the season begins, it didn’t sound to these ears like a major revelation.
Pederson already had announced that Sam Bradford would be the Eagles' No. 1 quarterback going into the season. The Eagles signed Bradford to a two-year, $35 million contract earlier this year. That money spoke as loudly as Pederson’s words.
The three-year, $21-million contract given to Chase Daniel was just as clear a message: Daniel was brought here to be the No. 2 quarterback.
That leaves only one spot for Wentz, the quarterback the Eagles traded up to take with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.
This week, when the media began to use the quotes from Pederson's June session, several outlets made a headline of Pederson's comments.
“Typically, the third quarterback is down,” Pederson said. “It’s hard right now to look down the road, but if we had to play this week, Carson would be down. He’d be the third quarterback. He’d be deactivated.
“That’s probably the direction we’re heading, I would think, is going that route. Obviously, barring injury and, as you know, how this game is, but typically the third quarterback, whoever that is, is down on game day.”
That hardly seems earthshaking, as it is essentially what Pederson has been saying all along. But the implications of Pederson’s plan are worth discussion, because they do represent a change from Pederson’s acknowledged model for developing Wentz.
In 1999, when Donovan McNabb was the Eagles' rookie quarterback, NFL rules were slightly different. On game days, teams could dress three quarterbacks. One was designated the third, inactive quarterback. That QB could play only if both of the other QBs were injured. Once he entered the game, the other two quarterbacks were not allowed to return.
Andy Reid’s approach was for Pederson to be the starting quarterback. McNabb was the No. 2 quarterback. Koy Detmer was typically the inactive No. 3 quarterback.
The reason for that? Reid wanted to give McNabb playing time in small doses. McNabb made his debut in the Eagles' second game of the season, against Tampa Bay. McNabb completed 4 of 11 passes for 36 yards.
Overall, McNabb got playing time in six of the games Pederson started. He completed 22 of 51 passes for 166 yards and one interception.
So McNabb had some on-field experience to draw on when he became the starting quarterback in a Week 10 game against Washington. That was Reid’s plan all along, and he stuck with it. Start Pederson, bring McNabb along slowly, then make the switch when the time was right.
The change in rules throws a wrench into the works for Pederson as coach. Teams can dress as many quarterbacks as they want, but they all count against the 45-man game-day roster. There are no limitations on when or how they play.
So Pederson could dress Bradford, Daniel and Wentz and mix and match them as he wished. But that roster spot would leave the Eagles short-handed at another position, an expensive price to pay in order to dress a rookie No. 3 quarterback.
Under the current rules, it makes sense for Bradford to be the starter and for Daniel to dress as his backup. Given Bradford’s history of injury, it is reasonable to expect the backup to step in during a game. Daniel, who spent three years learning Pederson’s offense in Kansas City, would give the Eagles the best chance to win a game under those circumstances.
At some point, Pederson is likely to decide that he wants to ease Wentz into game action. At that point, he would have to decide whether to designate Daniel as inactive or dress all three quarterbacks. The other possibility, of course, is an injury to Bradford that would leave Daniel and Wentz as the only two quarterbacks. In that case, both could dress for games.
Now is the time Jones picks to be sensible with the salary cap? Over a $750,000 signing bonus?
If cap considerations are the reason McClain is still on the roster, Jones is contradicting what he did just two years ago when much more money was in play.
In the spring of 2014 Kyle Orton skipped the Cowboys’ offseason program and did not show up for the mandatory minicamp. He was leaning toward retirement. That was his plan, but the only problem was the fact he would have to repay the Cowboys some $3 million of the $5 million signing bonus he received in 2012 if he walked away.
And the Cowboys were not going to just let him go away kindly into that good night. That’s a good chunk of change in a salary-cap world. A couple of weeks before training camp Orton informed the Cowboys that he would show up for the flight to Oxnard, California.
Fearing the possibility of him getting hurt and being on the hook for his full $3.25 million base salary, the Cowboys cut Orton on July 15, 2014.
The comparison to McClain’s situation is not perfect. A case could be made that the structure of the deal Orton signed in 2012 was designed to help the Cowboys against the cap with the ability to spread the signing bonus out over a five-year period rather than three.
Let’s say that was the case. The Cowboys would have been able to still collect more from Orton than they would from McClain.
The Cowboys took a two-year cap hit on Orton with his release. He cost $2.25 million against their cap last year and $1.1275 million against the cap in 2014.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said McClain’s spot on the roster isn’t really costing the Cowboys anything. He’s right: Technically, McClain has yet to default because the suspension does not take effect until the start of the season.
McClain’s release, however, would show players the Cowboys are serious about their “right kind of guy” mantra. They made no attempt to re-sign Greg Hardy and, despite their current state of pass rushing, he remains off their list.
The Cowboys signed veteran Justin Durant on Monday to a one-year deal. He can serve as protection for McClain’s absence and beyond. However, his injury history should not make him a starter. The Cowboys gave him just an $80,000 signing bonus on a veteran minimum salary benefit contract.
By releasing McClain, the Cowboys can send a stronger message to the players that being the “right kind of guy” matters more than just cap considerations.
The Philadelphia Eagles open training camp on Monday at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia. Here's a closer look at the Eagles' camp, which wraps up on Aug. 16.
Top storyline: Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks. There's no getting around it. While it will be compelling to watch as Doug Pederson creates a new culture and Jim Schwartz does a makeover on the defensive side of things, the preseason will revolve around quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz and Chase Daniel. Pederson's plan is to start Bradford and let Daniel aid in the grooming of Wentz. But the first-year head coach will be performing that balancing act while millions of fans evaluate the quarterback play with their own eyes. Should be interesting.
If Bradford doesn't perform like a starting quarterback: This is where it gets thorny. If Bradford performs as he did at the end of the 2015 season -- or even as he did in the preseason last summer -- fans will be more willing to accept Pederson's plan to let Wentz develop. But if Bradford can't perform at a high level, the clamoring for Wentz will begin pretty quickly. And there probably won't be much patience from the fans if Chase Daniel gets the call.
Player who will have the fans buzzing: Wentz is the obvious and correct answer. Even if he isn't starting, his development is the key to Pederson's attempt to recreate Andy Reid's heyday. Other than the rookie QB, fans will be keeping their eyes on rookie running back Wendell Smallwood, defensive end Vinny Curry, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Position battle worth watching: It is easier and more entertaining to watch competitions at quarterback (Bradford vs. Wentz) and wide receiver (Rueben Randle, Nelson Agholor, Chris Givens). It is not so easy to judge how the left guards are playing, but the battle between Allen Barbre and rookie Isaac Seumalo will tell us more about the team's potential and about the way Pederson handles his players.
That rookie should start: Cornerback Jalen Mills wasn't selected until the seventh round of the draft because of a leg injury and concern about an allegation of assault. But Mills was considered a second- or third-round talent at LSU and he looked like that during OTAs and minicamp. The 6-foot, 196-pound Mills might not be in the starting lineup right away, but it won't be surprising if he commands playing time as a nickel corner.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: Pederson used the phrase "my guy" separately to describe Bradford and Barbre. Both are in the starting lineup as camp opens, but Wentz and Seumalo were drafted with an eye toward replacing them. Bradford might get more time because of the learning curve for quarterbacks, so Barbre is probably the Eagles' most endangered starter.
All the hits: Chip Kelly's practices were much more about tempo than impact. The Eagles rarely made contact during Kelly’s training camps. Pederson is planning a return to the way Reid did things, although NFL rules have limited how much hitting a team can do. Reid opened camps with "three days of hell" -- two full-contact practices each of the first three days. Pederson can't do that, but expect the players to be tested in the first few days of camp.
The Schwartz Factor: It shouldn't be surprising that Pederson, a first-time head coach, would hire an alpha-male coordinator to run his defense. That's what Reid did in 1999, and Jim Johnson was a vital part of the team's success for the next nine years. Schwartz coaches the kind of aggressive, intimidating 4-3 scheme that Eagles fans prefer, and that gives him a chance to become a local folk hero.
What fans will be saying after camp: "Pederson picked the wrong quarterback." They will be saying that because that's what fans do, not necessarily because Pederson will actually make the wrong decision at quarterback. The idea is that Wentz will be better over the long term if he has a chance to get his bearings before having to face NFL defenses. So even if Wentz looks great in the preseason, Pederson is likely to go with Bradford at the start of the season. The fans, impatient to get the new era underway, probably won't hold their tongues.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Philadelphia Eagles clubhouse page.
The New York Giants report for training camp on July 28 at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Here's a closer look at the Giants' camp, which wraps up on Aug. 15.
Top storyline: How healthy will they be? Unlike last year, when the Giants lost their starting left tackle and best defensive lineman to freak spring/summer injuries, the Giants have made it through the offseason relatively unscathed. So all eyes will be on Jason Pierre-Paul to see how he looks following a full offseason and without that big, ugly club on his right hand. And many of those same eyes will be on wide receiver Victor Cruz to see whether he can make it through camp healthy and return to the field for the first time since October 2014. The Giants carry many question marks as they try to finish at .500 or better for the first time since 2012, but health has been their biggest issue in recent years.
If Eli Manning... just stays the same, that puts the Giants' offense in the best position to succeed. Manning has done well in two years with Ben McAdoo as his offensive coordinator, and the offense will stay the same with McAdoo moving to the head coach's office. With major question marks at wide receiver, tight end, running back and on the right side of the offensive line, Manning is one of the few steady pieces in the Giants' plans.
Player who will have fans buzzing: Rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard. The Giants' second-round pick looks like a sure bet to see a lot of action in the team's preferred three-receiver sets, especially because there's no way to know how much Cruz will be able to offer. Shepard is a sharp route runner who impressed the team in organized team activities and minicamp and will be fun to watch on the field during practices and preseason games.
Position battle worth watching: It's not necessarily a "battle," but it will be worth watching how first-round pick Eli Apple's role develops. The Giants' starting cornerbacks are Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins. They need a slot corner, but that's not a natural fit for Apple. It might take a while (or an injury) for Apple to get into the mix, and the Giants have to figure out the best way to use and develop him as a rookie.
That rookie should start: How about third-round pick Darian Thompson? The Giants still don't have a natural free safety to pair with Landon Collins, and Thompson got some run there in the spring as part of an inexperienced group of candidates. It shouldn't be hard for him to rise above the likes of Nat Berhe, Cooper Taylor and Mykkele Thompson if Darian Thompson shows he can make the calls on the back end.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: The Giants aren't deep, and they aren't loaded with established veterans, so this one is tough. And I still doubt they'd give up on a draft pick after only two years. But the running back room is extremely crowded, and if third-year back Andre Williams doesn't show he has advanced from last season's disappointment, he could lose his spot to someone such as Orleans Darkwa or Bobby Rainey.
Can Larry Donnell bounce back? The tight end position is up in the air. Will Johnson came over from Pittsburgh as a versatile H-back type, but Donnell, Will Tye, Matt LaCosse and sixth-round pick Jerell Adams all are in the mix for serious playing time. Donnell was the starter last season, but Tye performed well after Donnell hurt his neck. Who will emerge from this group?
Watch the right side of the line: The Giants left minicamp with John Jerry and Marshall Newhouse still projected as the starting right guard and tackle, but they were talking with free-agent tackle Eugene Monroe and clearly are open to other options. Can 2015 seventh-rounder Bobby Hart work his way into the mix? Will they continue to look outside for help? Are they as satisfied with Jerry and Newhouse as they say they are?
What fans will be saying after camp: "The Giants' pass rush is back!" The starting four defensive linemen absolutely look like a strength of the team on paper, and if Pierre-Paul looks as good as he has so far, that will only help newcomer Olivier Vernon on the other side. As long as those two and defensive tackles Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins can stay healthy, Giants fans will enter the season fired up about the defensive line.
For daily updates at camp, check out the New York Giants clubhouse page.
The Dallas Cowboys open training camp on July 30 at the River Ridge Residence Inn in Oxnard, California. Here’s a closer look at the Cowboys’ camp, which wraps up on Aug. 18:
Top storyline: The returns to health of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are at the top of the priority list. If they are good to go then the Cowboys will be good to go. But can the defense hold up its end? They will be without DeMarcus Lawrence, who led the team in sacks last season with eight and Randy Gregory, a projected starter and one of their best pass rushers, for the first four games because of suspension. They will also be without starting linebacker Rolando McClain for the first 10 games because of suspension. Coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to scrape it all together early, but his job will be made a little easier if the offense can score a lot of points and hold on to the ball. Coming out of training camp in 2014 there were similar gloomy thoughts about the defense and they were able to hold up well enough for a 12-4 finish.
If Romo stays healthy the Cowboys will make the playoffs. He is operating the offense at a high level, and the unit has a chance to be devastating with its ability to run the ball and pass. Romo believes he is playing the best football of his career. If he is on the field, he will prove it.
Player who will have fans buzzing: In most cases, this would be Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ first-round pick, but the return of Bryant could be breathtaking. He is itching to go after being limited to nine games last year because of a broken right foot. Bryant undoubtedly will make some plays in camp that will make teams shake their heads at his athleticism.
Position battle worth watching: Brandon Carr remained a Cowboy thanks to a big pay cut. Morris Claiborne re-signed with the team on a one-year deal. In 2012, they joined the Cowboys in hopes of securing the cornerback spots for years to come. This year they could be fighting for the same starting spot. Carr has started every game of his career. Claiborne had a good offseason but has yet to stay healthy for a full season.
That rookie should start: The only answer at the start of camp is Elliott. Second-round pick Jaylon Smith is not expected to play this year because of a serious knee injury. Third-round pick Maliek Collins missed all but one organized team activity with a broken foot. Fourth-rounder Charles Tapper could win a job along the defensive line, but it’s too soon to say he should start.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: J.J. Wilcox has been a starting safety for most of the last three seasons, but he is coming off a poor 2015 season in which he had just one interception and missed far too many tackles. With Byron Jones moving to safety full time and Barry Church more reliable, Wilcox’s $1.8 million cap figure might be too much for the Cowboys.
Don’t trade him: There could be temptation on the Cowboys’ part to deal guard Ronald Leary for some potential defensive help. Leary is a starting-caliber player but does not have a starting spot on the line. Keeping Leary to push La'el Collins is the smarter play. If they deal him then their depth takes a hit.
On the lookout: The Cowboys will be active over the summer in finding pass-rushing help. Having an early slot in the waiver process will help as well. In 2013, they added George Selvie during camp and he finished with seven sacks that year. In 2014, they added Jack Crawford, who is a valuable part of the rotation. Last year, they added David Irving, who could be a starter this year.
What fans will be saying after camp: Elliott will be the offensive rookie of the year. Some might be saying this before camp, but the real evidence will come when he is in pads and on the field in Oxnard and in the first four preseason games. He has a chance to put up big numbers on the ground and as a pass catcher.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Dallas Cowboys clubhouse page.
The Washington Redskins open training camp on July 28 at the Bon Secours facility in Richmond, Virginia. Here’s a closer look at the Redskins’ camp, which wraps up on Aug. 14 (or 15):
Top storyline: Kirk Cousins' contract and whether he can duplicate his 2015 success. Let’s say this right away: Cousins believes he can and others have seen his confidence level and leadership skills grow since last season. But he’s playing under the franchise tag because the Redskins aren't yet sure that he’s a top-tier quarterback. What sort of impact will this have on him? What if he struggles early? His preparation suggests his focus has been on this season rather than his finances. Another storyline involves whether last season was a bit of a fluke and the product of a weak division, or the start of something bigger. The Redskins haven’t posted consecutive winning seasons since 1996-97 and haven’t made the playoffs in back-to-back years since 1991-92. Will they be a team to watch for the next few years or the same old Redskins who revert to losing? This season will go a long way in revealing that answer.
If the starting QB doesn’t revert to costly interceptions ... The Redskins’ passing game will flourish. There’s a lot of talent around Cousins, starting with tight end Jordan Reed, and receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson. There’s no need to force the ball; keep finding the mismatch and be smart.
Player who will have fans buzzing: Outside linebacker Junior Galette. He’s returning from an Achilles injury, which can be problematic for those relying on explosive get-offs. But we’re taking a leap of faith here and saying Galette will be close to how he looked last summer. If that’s the case, he'll help the Redskins’ pass rush tremendously. The plan, if he’s back to himself, is to start him opposite Ryan Kerrigan, with Preston Smith playing in nickel packages.
Position battle worth watching: Left guard. Shawn Lauvao was playing well before suffering a season-ending ankle injury and being replaced by Spencer Long. This is more about Lauvao’s health than anything, as he's endured multiple surgeries on both feet in the last eight months. Long and second-year pro Arie Kouandjio both will compete for the job, too. Also, if Lauvao can’t help and he’s cut, the Redskins would save $4 million against the cap this year and next.
That rookie should start: It’s hard to imagine this being said about any of the Redskins’ rookies, as their top three picks either play positions of strength (receiver Doctson, corner Kendall Fuller) or are more suited initially for specific roles in sub-packages (nickel linebacker Su'a Cravens). But all three should have an impact; Doctson’s talent could have some saying by season’s end that he should be a starter.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: Linebacker Perry Riley Jr. He’ll be an interesting one to watch as he could end up starting or out of a job. The Redskins liked how Riley played in three games alongside fellow inside linebacker Will Compton. But they also have a cheaper alternative in Mason Foster, whom they thought played well when Riley injured his foot and was lost for the season. Riley was hampered by his foot issue in the offseason and did not practice in the spring.
Most improved position: Cornerback. Receiver is the strongest position, but that would have been true even without the addition of Doctson. But signing Josh Norman, drafting Fuller and developing Quinton Dunbar -- and the continued improvement of Bashaud Breeland -- makes corner a position group much better than it was in 2015. There’s talent, depth and youth. It’s a good mix.
Position facing the most scrutiny: Running back. There are no proven 16-game performers, starting with top back Matt Jones. The Redskins liked how he ran this spring – obviously there was no contact, but they saw an improvement in knowing where to run and at what depth. After him the Redskins have Chris Thompson, who has struggled with durability issues, and rookie Keith Marshall, who was a part-time back at Georgia in part because of a knee injury (and also because of other talent at the position).
What fans will be saying after camp: Let’s get started. It’s been an unusual offseason for Washington, which has received something fans aren’t used to: praise. Training camp usually doesn’t drown out the optimism. So fingers, and toes, will be crossed for this season as it has been a while since the fan base can fully trust this organization. This year will set the tone for the next several.
For daily updates from camp, check out the Washington Redskins clubhouse page.