The Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints will play the Hall-Of-Fame game on August 5th. The preseason schedule begins in earnest the following week. And before you know it, the regular season will be placed on the tee.
For the next month, answers will start to trickle down regarding rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. And how the Saints will fare with coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma sitting out because of Bountygate. Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow have found new homes. There were the offseason arrests of star running backs Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) and Marshawn Lynch (Seattle). And, of course, the San Francisco 49ers, with homegrown Ute Alex Smith at quarterback. Can they make another run to the NFC title game?
The NFL as a league has taken off in popularity because anything can happen in any given season. Where the NBA, major league baseball and the NHL is somewhat predictable with its contenders in each year, there are often surprises in pro football.
Last season, the Detroit Lions came out of seemingly nowhere to make a playoff run behind its duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. The 'Niners nearly took a ball-control offense and an overwhelming defense to a Super Bowl.
So what's in store this time around? Nobody really knows.
But it's about to all unfold. Top camp storylines
What's in a bounty?
Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma are gone, suspended for the season in the wake of Bountygate. A host of others are suspended for significant lengths of time. Commissioner Roger Goodell promised to come down hard on the offenders, and the New Orleans Saints are weakened severely as a result. How does the organization bounce back? Will the Saints suffer on the field? Or can they maintain their level of excellence?
Manning the ship in Denver
Maybe the best storyline of the offseason. Peyton Manning took his rocket arm to the Denver Broncos. And he has a lot to prove. Is he the player he once was before the neck surgery? Can he be the cool customer he once was in the pocket? Is he still a franchise player? We all know he's being paid like one. But Broncos fans will expect a lot from Manning. Can he still deliver?
The rookies are in the building
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are the two most talked-about quarterbacks entering the league in years. Playing for the Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins respectively, the two are potential franchise-changers. Both will be starters from the first day of camp. Which one flourishes? Which one falls on his face? Or will both play as well as the Panthers' Cam Newton and Bengals' Andy Dalton did a season ago?
Harmony inNew York?
Quarterback Matt Sanchez said all of the right things during the offseason. He painted a sweet portrait of his relationship with new rival Tim Tebow. Still, the Jets starter has to be looking over his shoulder, and will certainly do so at the first sign of trouble during the regular season. Sanchez doesn't have the best reputation for performing under pressure. Now, he has more pressure than he's had in his career.
Were Ninersa fluke?
The San Francisco 49ers were as good as any team in the league last season, and, barring special teams disasters, could have beaten the New York Giants and made it to the Super Bowl. Can coach Jim Harbaugh's team sustain its success? San Francisco's very public courting of Peyton Manning raised eyebrows. Does the organization really think Alex Smith will lead them to the ultimate prize? Top local storylines
How good is Haloti Ngata?
A case can be made that the former Highland High star is the best defensive player in the NFL. He's certainly one of the highest paid players in the league, and he is without peer as a defensive tackle. Ngata is at his peak right now for the Baltimore Ravens. Last season, he registered a career-high 61 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles and made his third Pro Bowl appearance. Ngata, along with Ray Lewis, leads a Ravens defense that is consistently one of the best in the league. And he's only getting better.
Have we seen the last of John Beck?
Well, no. But Washington Redskins fans are not unhappy that the former BYU star is no longer quarterbacking in the nation's capital. Beck's days as a full-time starter are likely finished. But he signed with the Houston Texans in May and will probably be a backup there. In his stint with the Redskins, Beck proved to be turnover-prone, and lacked arm strength to make plays down the field. Other than that? He was fine.
Seattle's USU connection
Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner and running back Robert Turbin are still teammates, drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the second and fourth round respectively this spring. They may still be starters as well. Wagner has impressed with his speed and is the favorite to get the nod at middle linebacker. With Marshawn Lynch facing discipline from the league for his recent DUI arrest, Turbin might start until Lynch gets back into the lineup. Not bad for players who received relatively little fanfare during their college careers.
Ex-Ute Beadles joining the elite?
Former Ute Zane Beadles is one of the best young offensive linemen in the NFL, an emerging star at guard who will have a ton of responsibility. He's one of the players tasked with keeping Peyton Manning upright and healthy. Beadles has started 30 of a possible 32 games during his two-year pro career. This looks to be the biggest season of his Broncos tenure.
Does Smith have more to prove?
Alex Smith had by far the best year of his career last season, leading the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC title game and resurrecting his reputation while doing so. Now, he has to take it another step. The organization made a very real, if unacknowledged, run at Peyton Manning. So, on some level, there is still some uncertainty about the former Ute. But he can bury that forever with another stellar season.