|With the loss of Laurent Robinson, who will be Tony Romo's third receiver in 2012? (Getty Images)|
Twenty-two NFL minicamps resume Tuesday, which is another way of saying: Get ready for the next wave of Andrew Luck, RG3 and Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow headlines. Indianapolis, Washington and the New York Jets hold their last minicamps of the offseason, and, just a hunch, quarterbacks will be the themes there.
In fact, they will in most places. But I said most; not all. With 22 positions and 22 camps (we're not counting OTAs, folks), there are storylines that involve quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, offensive linemen ... you name it, everything but Brett Favre -- at least for now.
This, then, is a look at burning questions at each of our 22 camps this week, with answers not revealed until mid-to-late August.
Who's the next starting quarterback? That's not going to be decided this week, but it will at training camp. Kevin Kolb is the holdover, but he didn't exactly distinguish himself when he wasn't hurt last season. Backup John Skelton did, going 5-2, and he's 7-4 in two years with the Cards. But there's one very important item to remember: The Cards passed on Peyton Manning because they decided to pay Kolb a $7 million roster bonus in March. Somebody must have a conviction about him.
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How difficult will it be to replace Terrell Suggs? I don't know, why don't you ask Paul Kruger? He's the guy manning his position, and it's Kruger who last year had 5.5 sacks as a defensive end. I said defensive end, not linebacker. Now, he starts at one outside position and rookie Courtney Upshaw at the other, and that could make Baltimore vulnerable. I mean, look what the Ravens sacrifice: The league's Defensive Player of the Year, with 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and a raft of big-game experience. And I haven't even mentioned the loss of Jarret Johnson.
How much should we expect from Thomas Davis and Jon Beason? The Panthers made tackling machine Luke Kuechly their first draft pick, but they still need these veteran linebackers. Both are playmakers, and both are coming off season-ending injuries in 2011. The plan is to ease them back into the lineup through training camp, though Beason was held out of last week's OTAs as a precaution. Beason is a load, and his return -- coupled with the return of Davis and the play of Kuechly -- should improve a defense that ranked 28th last season.
What happens with Matt Forte? Quarterback Jay Cutler said he would be "shocked" if Forte isn't in training camp -- signing his franchise tender by July 15 -- but I don't know. The guy's been working on a long-term extension since last summer, and he doesn't have one. Forte wants money the club won't pay, and Chicago gained leverage in the offseason with the addition of free-agent Michael Bush. The fallout could affect a team that seems poised for takeoff, especially with Cutler beginning to act and play like a quarterback with a clue.
Who is Andy Dalton's second wide receiver? We all know A.J. Green is Dalton's most dangerous receiver. But who's No. 2 on the outside? In OTAs, Brandon Tate was lining up opposite Green, and that's fine except ... except this is a guy who not only didn't have a catch last season but has 24 in his career. Armon Binns, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are in the mix, but Sanu and Jones will take time to develop. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said it's "neck and neck" between Binns and Tate, but it's also early June. Which means Cincinnati has three months to go before making a decision.
Who's the third wide receiver? When the Cowboys were penalized $5 million in cap space this spring, it prevented them from re-signing Laurent Robinson, and that was a significant penalty. Not only was he productive -- producing 11 touchdowns last season -- he was someone Tony Romo trusted. Now that he's gone, tell me who replaces him? Kevin Ogletree? Please. He's the reason the Cowboys signed Robinson a year ago. The best bets are rookie Danny Coale and Andre Holmes, and both are reaches. You need three wideouts to play in this league, and, for the moment, the Cowboys don't have a third.
How much does Peyton Manning have left? This won't be answered this week, but the Broncos invested their future in the guy, and he hasn't played in a year-and-a-half. So first impressions count for something. One GM who worked him out said his arm strength reminded him of Chad Pennington. That's not necessarily good. It was also several months ago. Plus, he also said he thought Manning would be himself by training camp. The Broncos better hope so.
Who's the Lions' next running back? When the team drafted Jahvid Best I said it was a risky choice because of one factor: concussions. He had one that ended his college career, then added a couple more last season. When you're a running back with a history of concussions, you start planning another career. Best missed half the season last year, while rookie Mikel Leshoure missed the entire year with a knee injury. The Lions need a solid back like Smith needs Wollensky, with Detroit finishing 29th in rushing in 2011. You want to protect Matt Stafford? Do it with an effective rushing attack.
Green Bay Packers
Is Marshall Newhouse the right guy at left tackle? Injuries thrust him into the starting lineup a year ago, and he struggled -- allowing a team-high 11.5 sacks in 13 starts (three at right tackle, 10 at left), according to STATS. But the Packers believe he's ready to protect Aaron Rodgers' back, and they demonstrated their confidence in him by releasing Chad Clifton -- the starter there for most of the past 12 seasons. The Packers have a surfeit of talent and a marvelous quarterback, but he must be protected -- and that's where Newhouse comes in.
How vulnerable is the Texans' offensive line? A year ago, it was one of the league's best, but it lost starters Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel and signed no veteran free agents to replace them. Instead, the Texans spent three of their eight draft choices on offensive linemen and signed two undrafted rookies. As it stands now, Antoine Caldwell replaces Brisiel at right guard and Rashad Butler replaces Winston, but tell me how they improve a line that was a vital part of the league's second-ranked rushing offense and that allowed 33 sacks.
How much will these guys miss Peyton? We found out a year ago when they bottomed out, finishing with the league's worst record. Now, for the first time since 1997, there's no Manning in the Colts' future. But there is Andrew Luck, and this could be Peyton Manning all over again. Some people say he's the best prospect since Manning. Others say he's the best since John Elway in 1983. All I know is that he's the most prepared quarterback to step in an NFL huddle. Granted, the Colts are a notch above an expansion team, but they loaded up on offensive weapons for Luck and, if nothing else, should be intriguing on one side of the ball.
Can Mike Mularkey get something out of Blaine Gabbert? Gabbert was the second-best quarterback in the 2011 draft, but too often last season he looked like the 32nd best quarterback in the league. He was inaccurate. He appeared indecisive. And he took a lot of hits behind a porous offensive line. But he was a rookie, and rookies can struggle. Mularkey was hired to make him more like a quarterback than a piñata, and I don't know what he has in mind. But that's why we watch.
Kansas City Chiefs
How much do the Chiefs get from Jamaal Charles? People tell me they can't win with Matt Cassel at quarterback, but they did in 2010 when they had Charles running for 1467 yards and averaging 6.4 yards a carry. Yet, when he was shelved a year later the offense collapsed, and it wasn't so much Cassel who was to blame; it was the absence of Charles. The Chiefs led the league in rushing in 2010; they were 15th a year later and tied for 30th in yards per attempt. Connect the dots, people. Kansas City's return is predicated on Charles' return.
New England Patriots
Is Brandon Lloyd the deep threat Tom Brady has been missing? Not since the departure of Randy Moss has Brady had someone who can stretch the field, but Lloyd might be the solution. I look what he did for Josh McDaniels, now the offensive coordinator, when he coached at Denver and I see career numbers across the board. That was with Kyle Orton. Now he has Brady, and if Brady can thrive with Moss he might with Lloyd. All I know is that the Patriots may have found the threat they've been missing the past two years.
New York Giants
How secure are they at running back? Their running game ranked dead last in 2011, but it perked up in the playoffs, and it perked up because Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs started running to daylight. Jacobs is gone, Bradshaw is recovering from foot surgery and that could be a problem. The Giants go nowhere if they can't run, one reason they used their first draft pick on Virginia Tech's David Wilson. They also have D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott. But is that enough? Stay tuned.
New York Jets
How exactly does this Sanchez-Tebow Tag Team deal work? Good question. It's been kicked around a lot already, and it will be kicked around a lot more this week. Not only is it the story of minicamp; it's the story of training camp, with each quarterback evaluated daily by snaps, hits, misses, interceptions and quotes. If that wears you out, think what it does for the people involved.
Is Carson Palmer the answer? Hue Jackson thought so, one reason he paid a huge ransom for the guy. But Jackson got canned, and it's up to Palmer to prove the Raiders knew what they were doing when they went to the mat for him. When he was good last year he was vintage Carson. But he wound up with more interceptions than touchdowns and lost four of his last five starts. Palmer joined the Raiders in mid-season after getting off a couch, and that was a factor. He didn't have an offseason of workouts or experience with the system. Now he does, and maybe that makes a difference.
Is Demetress Bell the answer at left tackle? The Eagles are locked and loaded at virtually every position, but left tackle is the exception. All-Pro Jason Peters suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, then re-injured himself after an initial surgery, and if you're concerned about keeping Mike Vick upright -- and the Eagles should be -- yeah, that's a big deal. Bell replaced Peters in Buffalo and might have developed if he could stay healthy. But he couldn't, and people there tell me they'd be surprised if he holds up for a full season.
San Francisco 49ers
What, if any, impact does Randy Moss make? The 49ers' wide receivers had one catch for three yards in the NFC championship game, so they had to upgrade the position. But I don't know if Moss is an upgrade. First of all, he sat out last year. Second, he didn't do squat the last season he did play. Third, he's 35. The 49ers need someone to stretch the field, and maybe he's the guy. But if he were, would New England, Minnesota and Tennessee have given up on him -- in the same season?
Who quarterbacks these guys? You say it's Matt Flynn. I say it's Matt Flynn. But it's what coach Pete Carroll says that matters. For now, he's saying it's an open competition at quarterback, and that's what you'd expect. But the Seahawks didn't invest $26 million in the guy to have him compete with Tarvaris Jackson. I mean, if they had a conviction about Jackson they wouldn't have gone shopping. But they did, and for the right reason: Because Flynn is better. Sooner or later, Carroll announces him as his starter.
St. Louis Rams
What's next for Sam Bradford? As a rookie, he was a star waiting to happen. As a second-year pro, he was a shell-shocked target looking for cover. Bad enough that Bradford played behind an offensive line that leaked like the Costa Concordia; worse, his receivers looked as if they were auditioning as backboards. So the Rams go out and draft ... Brian Quick? ... and think he makes the difference. Call me cynical, but it sure looks like Bradford still doesn't have a go-to receiver.
How do we rein in expectations for RG3? Answer: We don't. I just heard cornerback DeAngelo Hall say his new quarterback is "light years ahead" of Michael Vick when Vick was a rookie, and that only makes Redskins' fans wonder if they just landed the next Cam Newton or Andy Dalton. Me? I'm not sure. What I do know is that Washington needs a lot of help, and I don't see great skill-position players around RG3. Plus, there's this: Washington hasn't made the playoffs the past four years and is 11-21 under Mike Shanahan. Talk about pressure. It's all on RG3's shoulders.