Training camp preview: AFC teams
Von Miller is back to lead Denver’s devastating defense. Still undetermined is who will direct the Broncos revamped offense.
Journeyman Mark Sanchez, rookie Paxton Lynch and the unheralded Trevor Siemian are in the mix at quarterback for the Broncos, who lost Brock Osweiler to free agency 48 hours after Peyton Manning’s misty-eyed retirement.
No team has successfully defended its Super Bowl title since the 2004 New England Patriots. The Broncos are the first team since the 2001 Ravens to try to go back to back after losing its top two quarterbacks.
After losing the bidding duel with Houston for Osweiler, Denver general manager John Elway acquired Sanchez from Philadelphia and outmaneuvered Dallas owner Jerry Jones to select Lynch out of Memphis in the first round of the draft.
Yet, it was Siemian, the 2015 seventh-rounder with one snap on his resume, who looked the sharpest in Denver’s drama-filled offseason, putting him in prime position to upset Sanchez for the starting job.
“I think they’re looking each other right in the eye throughout the whole course of the offseason as far as who is ahead and who is one or two,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “I think those two guys are right there with each other. I think it’s a very competitive situation.
“They’re obviously ahead of our young guy just from a mental standpoint as of right now.”
Ideally, Lynch would sit a season as he adjusts to the NFL after running the spread offense in college.
Both Sanchez and Siemian took the briefest of summer vacations before returning to Denver to continue their quest to take over an offense that features just four returning starters.
Open camp: Wednesday, Owings Mills, Md.
2015: 5-11 (3rd)
Additions: S Eric Weddle, WR Mike Wallace, TE Benjamin Watson, RB Trent Richardson, rookie OT Ronnie Stanley
Losses: OL Kelechi Osemele, LBs Courtney Upshaw and Daryl Smith, QB Matt Schaub, S Brynden Trawick, OT Eugene Monroe, DE Chris Canty
Needs: Most of all, the Ravens need to be healthy. QB Joe Flacco returns from knee injury that sidelined him the final six weeks and will be used sparingly during camp. The release of Daryl Smith leaves LBs C.J. Mosley and Arthur Brown competing for playing time inside. The secondary has a shortage of bodies.
Expectations: The Ravens don’t intend to endure a rebuilding season. Coach John Harbaugh will take it easy on the veterans coming back from injury, and the newcomers already have gone through the basics at minicamp. The hope is the additions outweigh the losses and Baltimore will avoid a rash of injuries that helped ruin 2015.
Open camp: Thursday, Cincinnati
2015: 12-4 (1st, l. to Steelers in wild card)
Additions: WR Brandon LaFell, LB Karlos Dansby
Losses: WRs Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, RT Andre Smith, S Reggie Nelson
Needs: TE Tyler Eifert had ankle surgery that will limit him during camp and could affect him this season, so the Bengals need to choose a temporary fill-in from a cast of backups with limited experience. Ken Zampese moved into the role of offensive coordinator when Hue Jackson became the Browns coach, so the offense will get used to a new play-caller. The defense has to get ready to play without MLB Vontaze Burfict for first three games (suspended, illegal hits).
Expectations: The Bengals are in uncharted territory when it comes to reaching the playoffs — and losing right away. Even though they won 12 games for the third time in franchise history, their playoff meltdown overshadows everything.
Open camp: July 29, Berea, Ohio
2015: 3-13 (last)
Additions: QB Robert Griffin III, LB Demario Davis, OL Alvin Bailey, DB Rahim Moore, LB Justin Tuggle, rookie WR Corey Coleman
Losses: C Alex Mack, OT Mitchell Schwartz, Ss Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson, LB Karlos Dansby, WRs Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe, QB Johnny Manziel, TE Jim Dray
Needs: Griffin is getting chance to resurrect his once skyrocketing career that crashed badly in Washington. A lack of playmakers were hurt last season, which is why the Browns used their first-round pick on speedy Coleman, who must develop quickly.
Expectations: Hue Jackson’s infectious enthusiasm has players excited about the possibilities. He doesn’t want a decision on a starting quarterback to be a distraction — it always is in Cleveland — and the Browns have to keep their fingers crossed that Griffin pans out and clearly wins the job over veteran Josh McCown.
Open camp: July 29, St. Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa.
2015: 10-6 (2nd, l. to Broncos in Divisional)
Additions: TE Ladarius Green, LT Ryan Harris, CB Artie Burns, S Sean Davis
Losses: TE Heath Miller, LT Kelvin Beachum, CB Cortez Allen, K Shaun Suisham, WR Martavis Bryant (suspended), QB Michael Vick, S Will Allen
Needs: They need to figure out who will protect QB Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side. RB Le’Veon Bell’s health coming off a second season-ending knee injury — as well as another suspension — will be the focus during camp.
Expectations: The Steelers were one of top teams in AFC before injuries to WR Antonio Brown and RB DeAngelo Williams slowed them. While they lost the ever-reliable Miller to retirement and a talented but troubled Bryant to a year-long suspension (substance), they splurged in free agency to bring Green over from the Chargers. There are plenty of questions on defense, most notably the backfield where first-round pick Burns and second-round pick Davis will be given every opportunity to play immediately.
Open camp: Thursday, Pittsford, N.Y.
2015: 8-8 (3rd)
Additions: LB Zack Brown, rookie DE Shaq Lawson, rookie LB Reggie Ragland, assistant head coach/defense Rob Ryan
Losses: DE Mario Williams, CB Leodis McKelvin, LB Nigel Bradham
Needs: The Bills need to stay healthy and out of trouble after an unsettled offseason began with RB LeSean McCoy being investigated for a role in a bar fight in Philadelphia. No charges were filed. In a matter of days this month, backup RB Karlos Williams was suspended by NFL four games (substance), and rookie RB Jonathan Williams was arrested for DWI. Starting WR Sammy Watkins (foot surgery) is expected to miss the beginning of camp, while top pick Lawson is expected to miss the first month (shoulder).
Expectations: High hopes that followed Rex Ryan’s hiring last year have been replaced by skepticism after the Bills lacked consistency and looked nothing like the so-called bully coach he proclaimed he would build.
Open camp: July 29, Davie, Fla.
2015: 6-10 (last)
Additions: DE Mario Williams, rookie G Laremy Tunsil, RB Arian Foster, LB Kiko Alonso, CB Bobby Maxwell, S Isa Abdul-Quddus
Losses: DEs Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby, CBs Brent Grimes, Brice McCain and Jamar Taylor, RB Lamar Miller, LB Kelvin Sheppard, WRs Rishard Matthews and Greg Jennings
Needs: New coach Adam Gase must find starters at both guard spots to solidify the perennially shaky line. Jobs also are open at cornerback, defensive tackle and running back, where Jay Ajayi will compete with newcomer Arian Foster, a four-time Pro Bowler who said he has recovered from a torn Achilles tendon. DE Cameron Wake also will test a surgically repaired Achilles tendon.
Expectations: The Dolphins were especially bad last year in the East, where they were outscored 74-31 by the Bills, 65-34 by the Jets and 46-27 by the Patriots. That’s a lot of ground to make up in one season.
Open camp: Thursday, Florham Park, N.J.
2015: 10-6 (2nd)
Additions: RBs Matt Forte and Khiry Robinson, LT Ryan Clady, DL Jarvis Jenkins, NT Steve McLendon, LB Bruce Carter, WR Jeremy Ross, rookie LB Darron Lee, rookie QB Christian Hackenberg, rookie LB Jordan Jenkins
Losses: LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, NT Damon Harrison, RB Chris Ivory, CBs Antonio Cromartie and Darrin Wells, LB Demario Davis, WR-PR Jeremy Kerley, P Ryan Quigley, TE Jeff Cumberland
Needs: The biggest question is whether QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, locked in contract stalemate, will re-sign before camp opens. After a solid offseason, QB Geno Smith will get another chance at starting if Fitzpatrick doesn’t return. Can Forte, coming off a career-low 898 yards with the Bears, replace Ivory as a three-down lead back? Clady is coming off torn ACL, but is expected to be ready to replace the retired Ferguson. CB Darrelle Revis should be back from offseason wrist surgery.
Expectations: Coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan insisted overall team speed was a key need — and addressed it in the draft on defense with Lee and Jenkins. The uncertain status of Fitzpatrick makes it difficult to gauge the potential of the Jets, who have difficult start (Bengals, Bills, Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers, Cardinals).
Open camp: Wednesday, Foxborough, Mass.
2015: 12-4 (1st, l. to Broncos in AFC Championship)
Additions: TE Martellus Bennett, G Jonathan Cooper, WR Chris Hogan, LB Shea McClellin, DT Terrance Knighton, CB Cyrus Jones, QB Jacoby Brissett
Losses: DE Chandler Jones, DTs Akiem Hicks and Dominique Easley, WR Brandon LaFell
Needs: Despite having his “Deflategate” punishment reinstated, QB Tom Brady will participate in all camp practices and exhibitions. Still, the team will need to balance how he splits reps with backup Jimmy Garoppolo and Brissett. The readiness of RB Dion Lewis (torn left ACL) is a focal point.
Expectations: New England has been a juggernaut in the East since it became Brady’s team. Whether it has the chance at another division crown could depend on how its record looks when he’s eligible to return Oct. 3.
Open camp: July 31, Houston
2015: 9-7 (1st, l. to Chiefs in wild card)
Additions: QB Brock Osweiler, RB Lamar Miller, rookie WRs Will Fuller and Braxton Miller, rookie OG Nick Martin, OG Jeff Adams
Losses: QB Brian Hoyer, C Ben Jones, RB Foster, TE Garrett Graham, S Rahim Moore
Needs: Osweiler needs to show he’s mastered coach Bill O’Brien’s offense and develop a rapport with WR DeAndre Hopkins as well as rookie WRs Fuller and Miller.
Expectations: After spending $72 million to lure Osweiler from Denver and adding Miller from Miami, Houston’s offense appears upgraded. Osweiler, however, is a bit of an unknown commodity after starting seven games in four years. If he proves he was worth the investment, the Texans should be much improved.
Open camp: Tuesday, Anderson, Ind.
2015: 8-8 (2nd)
Additions: C Ryan Kelly, CB Patrick Robinson, RB Robert Turbin, QB Scott Tolzien, OL Le’Raven Clark
Losses: TE Coby Fleener, LB Jerrell Freeman, S Dwight Lowery, CB Greg Toler, QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Andre Johnson, C Khaled Holmes
Needs: The top priority hasn’t changed — finding an offensive line combination to reduce the number of hits QB Andrew Luck takes. Indianapolis also believes Luck can help himself by taking fewer chances. Camp will be the first time players will see how the philosophies of defensive coordinator Ted Monachino and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski work.
Expectations: Though the goal hasn’t changed, nobody is talking Super Bowl. Coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson even downplay expectations. If Luck stays healthy, the Colts could be a championship contender
Open camp: Thursday, Jacksonville, Fla.
2015: 5-11 (3rd)
Additions: DT Malik Jackson, S Tashaun Gipson, RB Chris Ivory, OT Kelvin Beachum, CB Prince Amukamara, P Brad Nortman, rookie CB Jalen Ramsey, rookie LB Myles Jack
Losses: C Stefan Wisniewski, DE Chris Clemons
Needs: After committing more than $120 million to defensive starters Jackson and Gipson in free agency, and then drafting Ramsey and Jack, the main priority is to have them jell. Throw in the return of highly touted DE Dante Fowler Jr. (knee), and the Jaguars could have five or more new starters on that side.
Expectations: Despite signs of progress, the Jaguars haven’t improved much in the win column. Coach Gus Bradley probably needs to finish near .500 to stick around.
Open camp: July 29, Nashville, Tenn.
2015: 3-13 (last)
Additions: RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, C Ben Jones, RT Jack Conklin, QB Matt Cassel, S Rashad Johnson, WR Rishard Matthews, CBs Brice McCain and Antwon Blake, LB Kevin Dodd
Losses: QB Zach Mettenberger, CB Coty Sensabaugh, LB Zach Brown
Needs: The Titans need to prove they finally have fixed the offensive line after investing three first-round picks in RG Chance Warmack, LT Taylor Lewanand Conklin. They have to keep QB Marcus Mariota healthy after an impressive rookie season, while opening holes for Murray and Henry. Someone other than rookie Tajae Sharpe must step up at wide receiver.
Expectations: New GM Jon Robinson traded for Murray and swapped the No. 1 overall pick to boost the talent level. Coach Mike Mularkey is pushing the Titans to compete at everything, and a franchise that last reached playoffs in 2008 believes it has the quarterback and roster to move closer to ending that drought.
Open camp: Thursday, Englewood, Colo.
2015: 12-4 (1st, d. Panthers in Super Bowl)
Additions: QB Mark Sanchez, rookie QB Paxton Lynch, LT Russell Okung, RT Donald Stephenson, FB Andy Janovich, RB Devontae Booker, TE Garrett Graham, rookie TE Henry Krieger Coble, rookie SS Will Parks and Justin Simmons
Losses: QBs Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, DL Malik Jackson, ILB Danny Trevathan, S David Bruton Jr., TE Owen Daniels
Needs: Coach Gary Kubiak plans to throw lots at Sanchez, Lynch and second-year pro Trevor Siemian early to determine a starter. Sanchez has the most experience and Lynch the most potential, but it was actually Siemian who looked the best during the offseason. Despite taking one snap as a rookie, Siemian is the only veteran of Kubiak’s offense and clearly paid attention backing up Manning and Osweiler. LBs Todd Davis and Corey Nelson are vying to replace Trevathan.
Expectations: Now that Von Miller signed the biggest contract by a non-quarterback in history, the Broncos are planning to lean on the defense again as they try to become the first team since the 2004 Patriots to defend their title.
Open camp: July 29, St. Joseph, Mo.
2015: 11-5 (2nd, l. to Patriots in Divisional)
Additions: OT Mitch Schwartz, WRs Rod Streater, rookie WR Demarcus Robinson, LB Jonathan Massaquoi, DT Chris Jones, OL Parker Ehinger
Losses: FS Husain Abdullah, SS Tyvon Branch, DT Mike DeVito, OG Jeff Allen, OT Donald Stephenson, QB Chase Daniel
Needs: The health of RB Jamaal Charles and OLB Tamba Hali (knee surgery) and progress of Justin Houston (torn left ACL) is critical. The Chiefs also must identify a backup quarterback after Daniel’s departure from among Aaron Murray, Tyler Bray and Kevin Hogan.
Expectations: The Chiefs believe the Broncos are vulnerable, but the loss of OLB Houston for the start of season hurts. A second straight year of a wild card would be another sign coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey have the Chiefs on track for sustained success.
Open camp: July 29, Napa, Calif.
2015: 7-9 (3rd)
Additions: OL Kelechi Osemele, CB Sean Smith, LB Bruce Irvin, S Reggie Nelson, rookie S Karl Joseph
Losses: S Charles Woodson, DE Justin Tuck, OL J’Marcus Webb, LB Curtis Lofton
Needs: After filling most of their needs with a productive free-agent haul, the Raiders enter camp with few glaring holes — for a change. The biggest questions will be figuring out whether Austin Howard or Menelik Watson will start at right tackle, whether rookie RB DeAndre Washington can emerge as a capable backup to 1,000-yard RB Latavius Murray, and who will play slot cornerback and inside linebacker.
Expectations: The Raiders actually have legitimate ones. Oakland has gone 13 straight seasons without a winning record or playoff berth, and most of those seasons started with little reasonable hope. With a young core led by QB Derek Carr, DE Khalil Mackand WR Amari Cooper, and offseason upgrades with the signings of proven winners such as Osemele, Smith, Irvin and Nelson, the Raiders seem to have pieces needed to make a run.
Open camp: July 30, San Diego
2015: 4-12 (last)
Additions: C Matt Slauson, WR Travis Benjamin, NT Brandon Mebane, FS Dwight Lowery, CB Casey Hayward, rookie DE Joey Bosa, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
Losses: S Eric Weddle, TE Ladarius Green, DE Kendall Reyes, WR Malcom Floyd
Needs: Bosa needs to show up. He missed mandatory minicamp in June (contract dispute) and it’s unclear how long he might sit out. RB Melvin Gordon must have a strong recovery from microfracture knee surgery in January. And offensive line needs to jell after a miserable 2015.
Expectations: The Chargers should be better, but still might not be a playoff team. They will need a winning record Nov. 8, when voters will be asked to OK an increase in hotel tax to pay approximately $1.1 billion of $1.8 billion for a downtown stadium complex.