With NFL OTAs wrapping up and Minicamp set to begin next week, there are plenty of storylines to monitor as the 2015 NFL season approaches. Here are seven I think are worth following.
1.) Gary Kubiak and Peyton Manning’s Relationship In Denver
Since the overhaul job John Elway did with the coaching staff in Denver all I’ve heard from Broncos’ camp is how everyone is on board with the scheme Kubiak is bringing to Denver. One thing I hope fans truly understand is what Kubiak is actually bringing to Denver:
Run. First. Offense.
Kubiak has made Arian Foster, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson, and a host of other running backs 1,000 yard/7+ touchdown commodities in the NFL(Fantasy Hint: Broncos running backs C.J. Anderson and Montee Ball should be on your radar); That means the days of Manning throwing 550+ times a season are over. So how does Manning feel about this? As of right now he’s “all in” and he should be as the breakdown he experienced last season can’t happen again. Still something tells me all won’t remain quiet on the Broncos’ front as the season approaches.
2.) The San Francisco 49ers Continued Spiral
I’ve written about how much I didn’t like the 49ers draft this year; As well as their roster exodus of many key contributors on both sides of the ball. Then in the last few days Offensive Lineman Anthony Davis retired (but only for a little while?), and reports have surfaced that Free Safety Eric Reid considered retirement this offseason as well.
Like most teams this time of year, you will hear reports of how this team is going to “surprise” some people and “prove” some people wrong. Let me put it to you like this: the 49ers have lost over a dozen players to free agency or retirement, the head coach who led them out of the doldrums is in Ann Arbor, the franchise quarterback (improved motion and all) is working with a depleted offensive line and a second year starting running back, and the Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals have all improved. A lot.
Monitor and make your own judgement.
3.) The New England Patriots On The Football Field
No Brady. No Vereen. No Revis. Problem? That will be determined soon enough. Brady is facing a four-game suspension so that means Jimmy Garoppolo gets his regular season opportunity to show the franchise he is their man going forward. He performed great during the 2014 preseason, but regular season play as defending Super Bowl champs is a different animal.
The defense will take a step back with Darrelle Revis now (again) a Jet and Vince Wilfork in Houston. Last year’s Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was just suspended during OTA’s for arriving late to practice (that’s on top of the other issue he and the Patriots are involved in). Brandon Spike’s latest Patriots tenure lasted 23 days before he was released following recent investigation into his involvement in a hit and run accident on I-495 near Foxborough. That tells you all you need to know about the defense and where it stands.
It will be interesting to see how the regular season product lines up amid all of these problems.
4.) NFLPA v. NFL
A lot is going on behind the scenes between the NFL and the NFLPA and at the center of it is Roger Goodell and how much power he wields when it comes to discipline.
One of the major issues revolve around uniformity of punishment levied against players and who hears those appeal processes. A huge upcoming appeal that should be monitored is that of Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady. I think Robert Kraft backing off his aggressive stance so quickly is a bigger deal than people realize. His recent responses regarding the process show this will go one of two ways: the suspension will get reduced or thrown out altogether, or widen the NFL/NFLPA gap further.
5.) Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota Transition To The NFL
Reports out of Tampa Bay and Tennessee are that Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston remain in line to lead their teams under center Week 1. Winston, most expected, would be the unchallenged starter coming out of OTA’s. Mariota has impressed with his ability to play under center (an overrated critique) and his accuracy (which was always there). Games in pads still need to be played, but their play in the preseason will be must see television.
6.) Running Back Issues For Contenders
The Steelers will, tentatively, be without Le’Veon Bell for the first three games. Dallas has to replace over 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns that Demarco Murray took with him to Philadelphia. Feature backs are hard to come by in today’s NFL so get to know names like Julius Randle, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman. They could be the difference between Playoffs/Super Bowl and a long season for hopeful contenders.
7.) Raiders Quietly, Intelligently Building A Contender
In case you haven’t noticed, the Raiders have had two very good drafts in a row.
That’s significant for a team that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since 2002 and haven’t finished a season above .500 since that very same year. Their poor draft history has been well documented, but in 2014 they may have found their franchise Quarterback in David Carr and their defensive anchor of the future in Khalil Mack. Latavius Murray (a sixth-round pick in 2013) replaces Darren McFadden at running back and, finally, should deliver on the promise that some of us saw from him when he came out of Central Florida.
The hiring of Jack Del Rio and the selections of Amari Cooper and Mario Edwards, Jr. in this year’s draft further show the Raiders are pulling the right strings in building this team back to prominence. Are they Super Bowl winners this year? Absolutely not. But they will be much better than a four-win football team.