Updated July 26, 2010 @ 2:29 p.m. ET
Fifth in a series of training-camp reports
Training-camp sites: Alamodome/Marriott Residence Inn, San Antonio, Texas (July 24-Aug. 12); Oxnard River Ridge, Oxnard, Calif. (Aug. 13-27)
Training-camp report date: July 24
Key veteran arrivals: OT Alex Barron.
Key veteran departures: OT Flozell Adams, LB Bobby Carpenter, FS Ken Hamlin.
Drafted rookies: (1) WR Dez Bryant; (2) ILB Sean Lee; (3) DB-RS Akwasi Owusu-Ansah; (6) OT Sam Young, CB Jamar Wall; (7) DL Sean Lissemore.
Offensive overview: The Cowboys are loaded on this side of the ball. QB Tony Romo is entering his prime years, having won his first playoff game coming off what some feel was his best season. WR Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten are Pro Bowl receivers, and rookie WR Dez Bryant has that potential. RBs Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice are a formidable trio. The line has a question at left tackle with Doug Free taking over for Flozell Adams, but it could be a strong unit. The biggest issues last season were in pass protection and on third downs, and it definitely hurt point production. Bryant could boost the latter area, though he'll have to pass Roy Williams on the depth chart. Coordinator Jason Garrett should have a top-five unit again, but the Cowboys must capitalize on more scoring opportunities with all this firepower.
Defensive overview: The Cowboys had some issues in pass defense last season but were a dominant group prior to the playoff loss to the Vikings. There haven't been a ton of personnel upgrades, but a few tweaks to the lineup and most of the players entering their prime should lead to very good results again. "We know what we have, and we can be one of the best defenses in the NFL," NT Jay Ratliff told PFW. Ratliff is one of seven projected starters entering their sixth to eighth seasons, and there's a sprinkling of terrific youth (OLBs DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and CB Mike Jenkins are young stars) and experience (13th-year ILB Keith Brooking was a revelation a year ago). Wade Phillips has his stamp on this group, and there are few glaring concerns outside of free safety, where CB-sized Alan Ball is the projected starter.
Battles to watch: Everyone wants to see if Bryant can unseat Williams for a starting spot. Bryant flashed his tremendous potential in minicamp before suffering a minor injury. Williams has been a major disappointment with Dallas to date but appears bent on proving his doubters wrong. At the very least, Bryant is expected to be a dangerous third receiver and possible punt returner. Given his incredible TD production at Oklahoma State (29 TDs in 28 college games), Bryant could aid a Cowboys team that was less than stellar in the red zone a year ago. Other battles that could emerge would be left tackle (Free is the big favorite), free safety (Ball leads over Michael Hamlin) and kicker (David Buehler is the favorite, but he will get competition).
Injury update: Bryant had a few minor injuries he tweaked this offseason as he tried to get into game shape. The Cowboys hope this isn't what they'll see through the season, believing he will be fine. The rest of the team is in remarkably good health heading into camp. ORT Mark Colombo had knee and ankle injuries end his '09 season early, but he should be ready to go. Three '09 rookies — LBs Brandon Williams and Stephen Hodge and OL Robert Brewster — are coming off season-ending ailments, but all could return by August at the latest. Brooking (offseason knee surgery) and Ratliff (surgery on both elbows) appear to be fine. CB Orlando Scandrick (broken finger) might miss a little time early in camp.
Fantasy sleeper: He might not be your traditional sleeper, but how about Williams? Most fantasy owners have given up on him ever being special, but he scored seven TDs last season and could be an end-of-draft pickup who surprises a bit this season.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Training-camp site: University at Albany, Albany, N.Y.
Training-camp report date: Aug. 1
Key veteran arrivals: LB Keith Bulluck, S Deon Grant, S Antrel Rolle, QB Jim Sorgi.
Key veteran departures: QB David Carr, CB Kevin Dockery, P Jeff Feagles, TE Darcy Johnson, ILB Antonio Pierce, DT Fred Robbins, S Aaron Rouse.
Drafted rookies: (1) DE Jason Pierre-Paul; (2) DT Linval Joseph; (3) SS Chad Jones; (4) ILB Phillip Dillard; (5) OG Mitch Petrus; (6) OLB Adrian Tracy; (7) P Matt Dodge.
Offensive overview: QB Eli Manning and the passing game proved their worth last season, and it raises an interesting question of offensive identity for the team heading into the season. Long known as a power team that ran the ball early, often and late in games, dictating the pace on the ground, the Giants may be undergoing a shift toward more of an airborne outfit. Young WRs Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham excelled in the rhythm passing game, and Nicks has a chance to be a star. With an aged offensive line that no longer can bully people up front, will the run game — led by Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw — remain the bread and butter? Don't be surprised if things shift even more.
Defensive overview: Things couldn't have gone worse last season for this unit coming off a dominant stretch from the title run in 2007 to a tremendous all-around season in '08. Coordinator Bill Sheridan never found the right formula after Steve Spagnuolo's departure and was fired, replaced this offseason by Perry Fewell. Injuries also played a big role. Gone is MLB Antonio Pierce, leaving a hole inside, and FS Kenny Phillips' health is unknown. The team appears to be transitioning from the '07 title group, as players such as Osi Umenyiora have reduced roles, and is going with a younger group up front. Fewell says he wants to get back to pressuring with the front seven, a schematic departure from how he called defenses last season in Buffalo.
Battle to watch: The MLB job is up for grabs, though the recent signing of Keith Bulluck changes things. Jonathan Goff, rookie Phillip Dillard, Chase Blackburn and Gerris Wilkinson had been competing for the job all offseason, but none stood out enough. Enter Bulluck, who is coming off an ACL injury and mostly had played the "Will" LB spot in Tennessee, though he easly should be able to transition inside. Although many Giants fans would like to see fourth-rounder Dillard get a chance, he was working with the second team in OTAs. Goff has been with the first team most of the offseason practices and appears to have a shot at making the team, even if he loses the starting job to Bulluck, because of his special-teams potential. Blackburn and Wilkinson can play other positions but will be fighting for roster spots.
Injury update: Phillips has vowed to return by camp with what was said to be a career-threatening knee injury early last season. If he comes back healthy, the Giants should be in great shape in the secondary. Bradshaw had surgery on both of his feet and his ankle and appears to have healed well. Andre Brown, who could be the third back, is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury suffered during last year's training camp, and the coaches have said he has more work to do to get healthy. Third-round S Chad Jones was involved in a serious car accident in New Orleans and almost certainly won't play this season — if ever again.
Fantasy sleeper: With Brown not back to full health and TE Kevin Boss appearing to have peaked, we'll stretch the definition of "sleeper" just a bit. Nicks is a known commodity to fantasy folks, but let's go on the hook and say he will surpass Smith from a production standpoint with a full season as a starter. Nicks planned to spend his downtime in July before camp working on honing his timing with Manning, which was a big benefit to Smith last year.
Training-camp site: Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa.
Training-camp report date: July 26 (rookies), July 29 (veterans).
Key veteran arrivals: WR Hank Baskett, RB Mike Bell, LB Alex Hall, FS-CB Marlin Jackson, DE Darryl Tapp.
Key veteran departures: OT Shawn Andrews, DE Jason Babin, WR Reggie Brown, CB Sheldon Brown, DE Chris Clemons, WR Kevin Curtis, LB Chris Gocong, DE Darren Howard, S Sean Jones, QB Donovan McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook, LB Will Witherspoon.
Drafted rookies: (1) DE Brandon Graham (1); (2) FS Nate Allen; (3) DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim; (4) CB Trevard Lindley, OLB Keenan Clayton, QB Mike Kafka, TE Clay Harbor; (5) DE Ricky Sapp, WR Riley Cooper; (6) RB Charles Scott; (7) LB Jamar Chaney, DT Jeff Owens, FS Kurt Coleman.
Offensive overview: The system is in place, but one major change will be afoot. Kevin Kolb finally gets his chance to run the Eagles' offense now that Donovan McNabb has been traded to the Redskins. Kolb might not have McNabb's arm strength or escapability, but he is an accurate passer with a gambler's mentality who should be able to take advantage of the riches around him. WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are a fine, emerging pair, and TE Brent Celek is a first-rate first-down machine. LeSean McCoy is not yet the player Brian Westbrook was in his prime, but he has great upside and should be helped by RB Mike Bell and FB Leonard Weaver. The offensive line has some questions to answer, but there is ample depth and talent.
Defensive overview: Things didn't go as planned in coordinator Sean McDermott's first season replacing legend Jim Johnson, but there is enough young talent here to make this similar to the Eagles' attacking units of yore. Most of the two-deep players on the depth chart are under 30, including nine draft picks on this side of the ball in April. DE Trent Cole is a star, and he could have pass-rush help with DEs Darryl Tapp and rookie Brandon Graham. MLB Stewart Bradley is back to be the young leader of the defense. And the secondary features standouts in CB Asante Samuel and SS Quintin Mikell. But there are questions at a few spots, and there certainly will be some growing pains toward returning to being a top-10 unit.
Battles to watch: Rookie Nate Allen very well could take the battle at free safety and run with it now that Marlin Jackson is out for the season. But Allen will get competition from Macho Harris, a starter there last season, and Quentin Demps. Allen has received first-team reps in the offseason and is said to have CB-like coverage skills. But Harris might be a little more versatile and could factor in even if he doesn't win the starting job. Another battle will also be in the secondary, with Ellis Hobbs trying to win the RCB job over Joselio Hanson.
Injury update: C Jamaal Jackson is coming off a season-ending ACL injury, and replacement Nick Cole looked far more comfortable at right guard. Having Jackson healthy would allow the team far more versatility up front. TE Cornelius Ingram lost all of last season with a torn ACL but has looked impressive this spring and summer, running around in shorts. He's someone to keep an eye on. Bradley has taken ample reps this summer and appears all the way back from his ACL injury. Hobbs suffered a serious neck injury last season, but the fact that the Eagles traded Sheldon Brown likely means they are comfortable with Hobbs' health.
Fantasy sleeper: There are no obvious candidates, but Ingram could be interesting. Although Celek is the starter, coming off a fine breakout season, Ingram could be a valuable second tight end who makes some big plays. Other sleepers include rookie WR Riley Cooper, who could win the No. 4 job, and RB Charles Scott, who could win a goal-line role if Bell falters there.
Training-camp site: Redskins Park, Ashburn, Va.
Training-camp report date: July 29.
Key veteran arrivals: P Josh Bidwell, OT Jammal Brown; CB Phillip Buchanon, DL Adam Carriker, QB Rex Grossman, OL Artis Hicks, DE Vonnie Holliday, RB Larry Johnson, DT Maake Kemoeatu, QB Donovan McNabb, RB Willie Parker.
Key veteran departures: RB Ladell Betts, QB Jason Campbell, RB Rock Cartwright, QB Todd Collins, DT Cornelius Griffin, WR Antwaan Randle El, OT Chris Samuels, CB Fred Smoot, OG Randy Thomas.
Drafted rookies: (1) OLT Trent Williams; (4) ILB Perry Riley; (6) TE-FB Dennis Morris; (7) WR-RS Terrence Austin, OL Erik Cook, OT Selvish Capers.
Offensive overview: A sea change has hit D.C. as Mike Shanahan has taken over the team and QB Donovan McNabb will be his triggerman. The Redskins have gone with age before beauty, trading for McNabb and signing RBs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker (joining the old-before-his-time Clinton Portis) to try to make a quick rebound to respectability. Although the run game will have questions and the pass receivers must help McNabb out to make this offense hum, most observers believe the offensive line holds the key. A poor unit last season, the line received major help with the drafting of first-rounder Trent Williams and trading for Jammal Brown, both of whom will man the OT spots. If the offense is to improve on its 16.6 points per game from '09 and meet Shanahan's expectations in Year One, the rebuilt line must do a far better job.
Defensive overview: New coordinator Jim Haslett has designs on shifting this unit from primarily a 4-3 group to a 3-4 scheme. Although the unit will feature multiple looks, expect more odd fronts from a roster that has some, but perhaps not all, of the pieces in place to make the move. But is Albert Haynesworth one of them? Haynesworth's relationship with the team — and vice versa — has soured significantly since last year, when he signed a megadeal to become a Redskin, and it's not clear if he's on the same page with the coaches. Although he doesn't want to play in a 3-4, Haynesworth could help the transition for a unit that has some good talent in OLB Brian Orakpo, ILB London Fletcher and others.
Battle to watch: The backfield battle will attract the most attention through August. Portis is not ready to give up his perch as the starter, but he'll have competition from Johnson, Parker and Ryan Torain. Portis and Shanahan have history, but the coach hasn't exactly tossed bouquets Portis' way since arriving in D.C. That said, Portis has been a regular participant at OTAs (something that didn't happen often previously) and has vowed to prove his critics wrong. He also appears to have the edge as the third-down back, which could give Johnson more first- and second-down carries. Johnson has fallen off the past two seasons, as has Parker, so it's difficult to call a favorite this early. In fact, there are some who quietly think Torain, who was with Shanahan in Denver, might be the ultimate sleeper in this race. A committee approach is certainly possible.
Injury update: TE Chris Cooley's ankle, which prevented him from finishing last season, should be ready at the start of camp. NT Maake Kemoeatu (torn Achilles tendon) was signed in the offseason and will compete for the starting job inside, especially with Haynesworth's status up in the air. But Kemoeatu might have some work to do before he's in game shape, much less 40-play game shape. Veteran Mike Williams, who had been expected to compete for a starting job at right guard, was found to have blood clots near his heart and will likely miss the entire season. Reserve OG Chad Rinehart (broken leg) should be back, ready to compete for a roster spot. Most of the major injured players the Redskins had last season either have healed or no longer are on the team.
Fantasy sleeper: Now that TE Fred Davis is heavily in the mix with Cooley, having played well the final half of last season, we'll go with Torain, who has a chance to at least be a decent part-time back. The early feeling is that Parker's speed has been sapped and that Torain will add the dimension that neither Johnson nor Portis will have. He's a player to watch through training camp, though it's too early to get too excited about him yet.
Other training-camp reports: AFC West | AFC South | AFC North | AFC East
You can learn even more about each team in the Volume XXV, Issue 6 print edition, with training-camp previews that address additional topics, such as juiciest story line, burning questions and fearless prediction for every team. The Issue 6 print edition is on sale at retail outlets, or you can buy a PDF or print copy online at PFWstore.com.