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Five things: Luck's going to be great, but Peyton's Broncos will be a threat


After changing horses in mid-career, Peyton Manning is ready to be a winner again in Denver. (AP)  
After changing horses in mid-career, Peyton Manning is ready to be a winner again in Denver. (AP)  

The camp tour we do each summer for CBSSports.com is always packed with interesting adventures, loads of great football, wide-eyed kids trying to make rosters, plenty of stimulating football conversation and, of course, irritating travel issues.

And none of us would trade it for anything else we do.

In the summer, as we make the camp circuit, there are no bad players, no fatties, no problems, no issues for any of the teams we see.

Everything is wonderful.

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Only it really isn't.

It just seems that way because football is back. Summer is a time for optimism.

Fall brings reality.

My camp tour started in June with a trip to spend a few days with the Denver Broncos for Peyton Manning's first minicamp and ended with a couple of preseason games.

In the process, I saw 12 teams live: the Broncos, Saints, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Bengals, Colts, Falcons, Titans, Panthers, Dolphins, Texans (twice actually) and 49ers.

Along the way, I interviewed a lot of intriguing players, spent hours watching practices and had a blast, even if the morons who put their seat back on planes somehow always seem to sit in front of me.

So to sum up my weeks on the road, I thought I would give you a quickie look at several categories involving the 12 teams I saw firsthand.

One more thing: Summer camps are great, but please let the regular season begin.

Five best teams I saw

1. Atlanta Falcons: Their new-look offense will be explosive and their defense, thanks to Asante Samuel, will be better.

2. Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning is back. He will have Denver pushing for a division title.

3. Houston Texans: They are deep and talented, but they have to hope the right side of the offensive line can hold up.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: Don't laugh. This is a young team that made the playoffs last year with a rookie quarterback. Andy Dalton will be even better.

5. San Francisco 49ers: Why so low? I just don't like their passing game. And I think there will be more issues than you think on defense.

Five worst teams

1. Indianapolis Colts: They won't be as bad as I initially thought, but they have issues at key spots.

2. Miami Dolphins: Who is left? This is a team in clear rebuilding mode.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They are a year away from being a division contender. Josh Freeman has struggled in the preseason.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: They might be better, but can they get to .500?

5. Tennessee Titans: Playing Jake Locker is the right thing for the future, but it might mean a step-back year from 9-7.

Five players I saw who really impressed

There are big expectations for Julio Jones. (Getty Images)  
There are big expectations for Julio Jones. (Getty Images)  
1. Falcons WR Julio Jones: If he doesn't catch 85 passes for 1,500 yards, I will be shocked.

2. Colts QB Andrew Luck: He makes everything look so easy.

3. Bengals DT Geno Atkins: He is stronger and looks quicker. Good luck blocking him.

4. Broncos T Ryan Clady: He was miscast in the gimmicked-up crap they ran with Tim Tebow. Now back in a more conventional offense, he looks back to his Pro Bowl ways.

5. Bengals WR A.J. Green: He's stronger, knows the offense more and should be even better in the Cincinnati passing game this season.

Five players ready for breakout seasons

1. Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon: He can do it all. He can run. He can cover. He just needs to get more sacks.

2. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas: Manning will love this guy. He is big and fast and will be Denver's deep threat.

3. Titans LB Colin McCarthy: He was impressive as a rookie, but McCarthy now understands his assignments much better. He will pile up a ton of tackles.

4. Texans S Glover Quin: He did some really good things in 2011, but he looks much more sure of himself now.

5. Jaguars DT Tyson Alualu: He is healthy for the first time in his career. He played much better in 2011 than most give him credit for playing. He played the entire year on bum knee.

Five (non-QB) rookies who impressed

Lavonte David, already a starter for the Bucs. (Getty Images)  
Lavonte David, already a starter for the Bucs. (Getty Images)  
1. Bucs LB Lavonte David: I loved this kid coming out of Nebraska and he's already in the starting lineup. He knows how to find the football.

2. Colts TE Coby Fleener: He is smooth in his route running. The blocking side needs work.

3. Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon: He snatches the ball out of the air and he's strong running his routes. He's already their No. 1 receiver.

4. Titans WR Kendall Wright: He isn't big, but he knows how to get open and he can run.

5. Texans WR Keshawn Martin: He's already in the rotation as the No. 3 receiver. He is smooth.

Five late-round fantasy guys I would take

1. 49ers RB Kendall Hunter: He looks quicker, and I think he takes carries from Frank Gore.

2. Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers: He should be much more of a factor in the team's up-tempo offense.

3. Colts WR-returner T.Y. Hilton: This little receiver can fly and he will also get points as a return man.

4. Dolphins TE-FB Charles Clay: He can do a lot of things and they will figure out a way to get him the football.

5. Texans TE Garrett Graham: You know Owen Daniels, but this kid has impressed this summer.

Five best interviews

Andrew Luck, capable of filling big shoes. (Getty Images)  
Andrew Luck, capable of filling big shoes. (Getty Images)  
1. Peyton Manning: Every time I sit down with him I learn something about the game. He is a pro's pro.

2. Sean Weatherspoon: He is confident, funny and loves the game. And he has a good time doing it.

3. Broncos CB Champ Bailey: He has been one of the best to sit down and talk with for a long time. He's insightful and candid.

4. Andrew Luck: The guy handles himself like a pro. He is destined for greatness.

5. 49ers TE Vernon Davis: Even after a game, he was fun and willing to talk about his team's offense.

Five most improved players

1. Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert: Go ahead and laugh. But he looks like a different guy.

2. Titans OLB Akeem Ayers: This second-year player can fly to the football. Impressive.

3. Falcons DT Peria Jerry: This 2009 first-round pick suffered a bad knee injury in his rookie season and has been a backup since. But he's having an impressive summer.

4. Saints CB Patrick Robinson: I think he's in for a big season on the corner in New Orleans.

5. Bengals T Andre Smith: His weight is in check and he finally looks like the guy the Bengals picked in the first round in 2009.

Best units

Patrick Willis leads a fearsome foursome in S.F. (Getty Images)  
Patrick Willis leads a fearsome foursome in S.F. (Getty Images)  
1. 49ers linebackers: Patrick Willis is the best inside linebacker in the game and NaVorro Bowman, who plays next to him, isn't far off. Add in Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks and you have a special four.

2. Falcons receivers: Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas give the Falcons a heck of a group. Matt Ryan has to be happy.

3. Texans running backs: They have Arian Foster, Ben Tate and they love rookie Jonathan Grimes. Where do they grow their backs?

4. 49ers down three: In Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga, this unit is top of the line across the board.

5. Bengals front four: They are full of talent and can come at you in waves. Oh, and they have Atkins.

Five interesting things from my travels

1. I heard my first tornado siren in Anderson, Ind. Luckily it was a test -- even though there were tornados in Indianapolis that day.

2. I went and watched two innings of Padres-Reds afternoon game in Cincinnati. First MLB game I've watched as a fan in 15 years. Good thing: Saw Johnny Cueto pitch. Bad thing: Watched a six-run inning for the Reds.

3. I spent the night in Dalton, Ga., the carpet capital of the world. That's where I watched the Titans-Falcons scrimmage. Doubt any other writer has ever done this double in camp: Anderson, Ind. and Dalton, Ga.

4. Rice University track is no longer open to public use. I got locked in and told that after I used it one day. Is it any wonder the country is facing an obesity problem?

5. Saw that huge Honda plant driving from Cincinnati to Anderson. That thing is like a city in itself. Good to see.

Five best things about camp

1. No games: Coaches, general managers and players are loose. That changes come the regular season.

2. Teams working against each other: I think teams should have joint workouts. It ups the intensity.

3. Seeing young players surprise their teammates: I love when vets alert me to a kid playing well.

4. Open practices: Fans get an up-close-and-personal experience in watching their favorite players practice. I love that.

5. Loud coaches: Is there anything better than hearing an offensive line coach rip his group for all to hear?

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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