PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (16-3) OPEN CAMP: July 25, NovaCare Complex, Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (16-3)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, NovaCare Complex, Philadelphia
LAST YEAR: Won first Super Bowl title and franchise's first NFL championship since 1960, defeating Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Patriots. Overcame losing several key players to injury, including QB Carson Wentz, LT Jason Peters, LB Jordan Hicks and others. Backup QB Nick Foles led way after Wentz tore ACL in Week 14, earning Super Bowl MVP honors. Coach Doug Pederson's offense was balanced yet aggressive. Players bought into team-first attitudes. Defense thrived under coordinator Jim Schwartz. DT Fletcher Cox anchored deep line that included Super Bowl hero Brandon Graham. Special teams were solid despite losing PR Darren Sproles. Rookie K Jake Elliott showed strong leg.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE Michael Bennett, DT Haloti Ngata, WR Mike Wallace, LB Corey Nelson, TE Richard Rodgers, rookie TE Dallas Goedert.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Offensive coordinator Frank Reich, QB coach John DeFilippo, TE Trey Burton, RB LeGarrette Blount, DE Vinny Curry, CB Patrick Robinson, LB Mychal Kendricks, WR Torrey Smith, DT Beau Allen, TE Brent Celek, P Donnie Jones.
CAMP NEEDS: Wentz will be closely monitored but there's no urgency to rush him with Foles still on team. His rehab will be biggest story this summer. Other key players returning from injury include Peters, Hicks, Sproles, special teams ace Chris Maragos and DT Tim Jernigan. Defense needs LB to emerge as replacement for Kendricks and CB to replace Robinson at nickel spot. Both QBs need to build chemistry with new Nos. 2-3 TEs.
EXPECTATIONS: Trying to become first Super Bowl champs to repeat since 2003-04 Patriots, and anything less will be considered disappointment. Wentz, Peters and other star players who missed playoffs last year are determined to win it all and won't let teammates get complacent. Overall, team improved on paper but it'll be difficult to match unique bond last year's group had.
DALLAS COWBOYS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Oxnard, California
LAST YEAR: Cowboys missed playoffs year after dynamic rookie tandem of QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott fueled Dallas to NFC-best 13 wins. Elliott's six-game suspension during season over domestic violence allegations was big reason. Prescott's performance dipped after winning NFL Offensive Rookie of Year in 2016. Offensive line was less consistent than usual. Defense was solid but not spectacular.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Leighton Vander Esch, WR Allen Hurns, G Connor Williams, WR Tavon Austin, WR Michael Gallup, TE Dalton Schultz, T Cameron Fleming, secondary coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Orlando Scandrick.
CAMP NEEDS: Cowboys need to sort out jumbled picture at receiver and tight end after dumping Bryant in cost-cutting move and somewhat surprising retirement of Witten, who went into broadcasting. WR Terrance Williams broke foot and was arrested during tumultuous offseason when Cowboys needed to know if he could take Bryant's place atop receiving depth chart. Barring unexpected resurgence from six-year veteran, replacing Bryant will fall to Hurns and collection of rookies, other young players. Geoff Swaim likely to get first crack at replacing Witten, but Dallas likes Blake Jarwin. LB Jaylon Smith needs to show explosiveness in second season since recovery from major knee injury in college. Sean Lee needs to stay healthy. Without those developments, heavy responsibility could fall on Vander Esch as rookie.
EXPECTATIONS: Coach Jason Garrett has two playoff appearances and one postseason win in seven full seasons. Elliott saga and untimely injuries, particularly to offensive line, gave him pass last season. Hard to imagine owner Jerry Jones sticking with him if Cowboys miss playoffs again, particularly after offseason overhaul of coaching staff. Healthy and eligible Elliott figures to be factor in NFL rushing race after leading league as rookie two years ago. Elliott still led league in yards rushing per game during suspension-marred season. Prescott wasn't as good at protecting ball year after rookie record for passer rating. Cowboys want him to feed off Elliott-powered running game. Dallas believes young talent in secondary can help defense make difference. Cowboys could use repeat from DeMarcus Lawrence, who finished second in NFL with 14½ sacks last season and will play on franchise tag. Lawrence needs help, and prime candidate would be Taco Charlton, last year's first-round pick.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Richmond, Virginia
LAST YEAR: Injuries, ineffective running game and porous run defense derailed playoff hopes. Nine starters were on injured reserve by end of season, including left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed, and linebacker Mason Foster. Quarterback Kirk Cousins surpassed 4,000 yards for third straight year, threw for 27 touchdowns and ran for four, but had three interceptions in season finale that turned out to be final game with team. Blowing 31-16 lead at New Orleans in November ended realistic postseason hopes before Thanksgiving. Receiver Josh Doctson showed hope for future with 35 catches for 502 yards and team-high six TDs. First-round pick Jonathan Allen flashed elite ability on defensive line before foot injury halted season five games in. Defense allowed 348 yards and 24 points per game. Offense couldn't keep up while down several key weapons.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, LB Pernell McPhee, CB Orlando Scandrick, rookie RB Derrius Guice, rookie DL Daron Payne.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Cousins, WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Ryan Grant, TE Niles Paul, C Spencer Long, LB Will Compton, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Bashaud Breeland.
CAMP NEEDS: Sort out crowded field of running backs that includes Guice, previous starter Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, and 2017 fourth-round pick Samaje Perine. Guice has talent and pedigree to emerge as feature back. Smith must get on same page with coach Jay Gruden and develop chemistry with Reed, Doctson, Jamison Crowder and rest of targets after years of them working with Cousins. Williams will get opportunity to show he's healthy after surgery to repair torn tendon in right knee. On defense, Scandrick will compete with Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar for starting spot along with Josh Norman. Three days of joint workouts with Jets after two camps without outside competition should help Redskins prepare better than years past.
EXPECTATIONS: Winning season is realistic if Smith is as good as or better than Cousins and running game gets on track. Defense should be better with Alabama products Allen and Payne and return of Brown. Best case is competition for playoff spot behind NFC East favorite Philadelphia, while worst case is significant step back that endangers Gruden's long-term job security.
NEW YORK GIANTS (3-13)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Quest Diagnostics Training Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey.
LAST YEAR: 2017 was fiasco one year after making playoffs. Opened season with five straight losses. Injuries to WR Odell Beckham Jr. and others, poor play, suspensions and disharmony lowlighted season. It was so bad second-year coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired in early December after QB Eli Manning was benched. Team could not win close ones it won previous season in ending four-year playoff drought.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS : GM Dave Gettleman, coach Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator James Bettcher (and 3-4 defense), No. 2 overall draft pick RB Saquon Barkley, OT Nate Solder, LB Alex Ogletree, LB Kareem Martin, G Will Hernandez, and P Riley Dixon.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, WR Brandon Marshall, LB Jonathan Casillas, LB Devon Kennard, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, G Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RB Shane Vereen, P Brad Wing.
CAMP NEEDS: After winning three games, much needs to be fixed. All eyes will be on Barkley, who can be game breaker, and Beckham, who is coming off broken ankle. Giants believe 37-year-old Manning still has gas in tank and can run Shurmur's offense, which was very successful in Minnesota. Will additions of Solder and Hernandez and switch of Ereck Flowers to RT fix bad O-line? Defense has talent with DE Olivier Vernon, S Landon Collins, DT Damon "Snacks" Harrison, LBs Martin and Ogletree, and CB Janoris Jenkins. Will 3-4 bring out the best?
EXPECTATIONS: Teams generally improve with new coaching staff. That said, Giants have long way to go. Much depends on how quickly they pick up new systems. Staying healthy and happy this year will help. If Barkley lives up to expectations, Beckham bounces back, and defense clicks, Giants can make playoffs. It's long shot, but don't forget this franchise won 11 games in 2016.