Football

A cynic's guide to NFL training camp

Training camp is football's version of spring training, where seldom is heard a discouraging word even if the skies aren't cloudy enough to keep the heat index to a tolerable level in full pads.

All 32 teams have dreams of being in the Super Bowl, and are surely exalting the historically inept New Orleans Saints as an example that it's worthwhile to bond in July and August with the hope of cashing in on Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium.

So enjoy the rose-colored view of the football world before the NFLPA-management labor Armageddon that could destroy the 2011 camp, but keep in mind a handful of these training camp feel-good stories will morph into something else entirely.

Or have you forgotten about how JaMarcus Russell was to build upon a promising finish to his 2008 season and take his place among the NFL's elite quarterbacks in 2009?

So while you'll be reading plenty of optimistic story lines in the coming weeks as the NFL goes camping, here is how some of them could go wrong:

■ Offensive coordinator Mike Martz repairs quarterback Jay Cutler and gives Chicago an explosive offense worthy of competing with Minnesota and Green Bay in the NFC North.

Isn't this the same Martz who hasn't had a great offense in nearly a decade? Martz may be brilliant, but he's caustic, sarcastic and miserable to quarterbacks who are resistant or don't catch on quickly. Cutler is no joy to deal with, either.

Maybe it works. Or it could be a train wreck. Think Jeff George and June Jones.

■ Seattle Coach Pete Carroll, having latched on to a multimillion-dollar lifeboat while USC goes glug, glug, glug to the south, makes the Seahawks an NFC West contender with his relentless enthusiasm.

Carroll's rah-rah act didn't play in the NFL as a head coach before, and there's no reason to think it will now. He won big at USC because he had far superior talent.

Besides, trading for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and giving him $10 million over two years (for two career pass attempts) was just plain weird.

■ Denver Coach Josh McDaniel's steadfast belief in quarterback Tim Tebow will show in a rapid ascent from project to mainstay.

It's great that Tebow is a leader, but he has two other qualities that too often spell trouble in the NFL — a mechanically flawed, occasionally inaccurate throwing arm and a propensity for running the ball.

That means a lot of stalled drives and, eventually, an injured quarterback. Let's see how Tebow leads from the bench in a sling.

■ Rex Ryan's New York Jets, who will be must-see TV on HBO's Hard Knocks, make good on the brash boasts of Buddy's son and become the beast of the AFC East.

Off-season acquisitions included character risks in wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, plus an over-the-hill LaDainian Tomlinson. Meanwhile, Thomas Jones, the team's conscience, was released after a 1,402-yard season because of a $3 million bonus in a year with no salary cap.

Cornerback Darrelle Revis, coming off one of the best seasons any cornerback has ever had, wants Nnamdi Asomugha money.

A circus is fun, but it also leaves a mess in its wake.

■ The 49ers finally will be rewarded for taking Alex Smith No. 1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Smith has taken charge this off-season, finally given his second season in a system. But there are no guarantees of success, and if Smith isn't the answer, the 49ers wasted another year getting on with the rest of their life at quarterback when Donovan McNabb was on the block.

In that way, the Raiders had it easy — dumping Russell was a no-brainer. It's the biggest piece of addition-by-subtraction in recent years — maybe ever.

■ McNabb becomes Mike Shanahan's new John Elway and Washington makes Philadelphia regret turning to Kevin Kolb.

McNabb has long been one of the NFL's class acts, but there's no evidence Washington can protect him. He's an erratic, back-footed thrower in the face of a constant rush. Kolb is a better system fit in Philly.

Albert Haynesworth's reluctance to play in a new alignment after cashing a $21 million option bonus is a bad start for the Shanahan regime.

■ Under Mike Holmgren's guidance, the good name of the Cleveland Browns is finally restored.

Holmgren was an elite coach in Green Bay and a better coach than general manager in Seattle. Now he's running the Browns, where one of his first moves was to bring in Jake Delhomme, dumped by Carolina after a torrent of turnovers.

The control-freak executive retained control-freak coach Eric Mangini. That can't be good.

■ Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rebuilds his image with his teammates during camp and has a smooth transition emerging from his four- to six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

There's already some grousing about Byron Leftwich being elevated to temporary starter over Dennis Dixon, and if the Steelers are in a big hole by the time Roethlisberger returns, they aren't likely to forgive him so easily.

■ Brett Favre decides not to retire and makes a triumphant return to the Vikings. Yawn.

■ The party rages on in New Orleans, which is business as usual in the French Quarter. Drew Brees deserves all the accolades, but he never makes the Super Bowl if his team doesn't score eight defensive touchdowns, and doesn't win it if not for a 75-yard touchdown return by Tracy Porter against Peyton Manning.

That kind of magic has the shelf life of a year.

  Comments