Christmas Comes Early For NFL Fans

It's that time of year again, my favorite time of year ... "Christmas come early," as Jeremy Grey might say. Training camps are opening and NFL news takes over the sports pages in a dominating fashion, further establishing itself as the new American pastime.

Growing up as a Redskins fan, this was always one of the more exciting parts of the year for me. I guess that would be because it was a time when all of the new free agent signees the Redskins had picked up during the offseason would first be seen wearing the burgundy and gold. Of course, things would all go downhill from there (see: Jeff George, Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd).

But now, things have changed for me — and seemingly for the Redskins, who showed restraint this offseason. While I wont pretend that I'm not excited to see LaRon Landry and London Fletcher out at Redskins Park, I am just as excited to see what other story lines will play out during this NFL season.

But first let me explain why the start of training camps and all the "things to watch" are even more important than usual this summer. For the last two weeks or so, I'd have to say that as an avid sports fan and aspiring sports journalist I have been let down by the world of American sports. It seems that everywhere I turn there is a scandal — whether it be Barry Bonds' ruthless and steroid-tainted assault on Hank Aaron's all-time home run record or Tim Donaghy's shameless gambling on basketball games that he refereed — the sports world seems more negatively-charged than ever.

And the negativity did not avoid the NFL. The story that hit closest to home for me was Michael Vick's alleged dog fighting charges. As a native of Virginia and the brother of a Virginia Tech Class of 2005 graduate, I had watched Vick energize the Hokie Nation as a quarterback in 2000 and 2001 as my sister prepared to head off to school. And in the wake of the tragedies in Blacksburg, VA, I felt that the shadow cast by Vick's alleged involvement was just plain disappointing.

It's difficult to hear the alleged monstrosities that occurred on Vick's land and regardless of how often Vick was present (and according to Lester Munson on, and a former professor of mine, things don't look good for the Falcons QB), the mere indictment of the NFL star simply piles on to what has to be considered one of the worst summers in sports history.

At a time now where Vick's case has been covered and covered (as it should be), the question of what the Falcons should do has been established as one of the top stories to watch this year. It is also the reason why things as trivial as whether Tom Brady gets along with Randy Moss or what impact Trent Green will have on the Dolphins or how Vince Young will look in his sophomore campaign will have the utmost importance. It gives us a break from the current depressed state of sports.

For me, the opportunity for some solace will be embraced. And some of the stories I'll be keeping my eye on are:

NY Giants Minus Tiki Barber = Uh oh?

Eli Manning surely hasn't developed as fast as many scouts predicted he might and as the New York media and fans demand. And it isn't going to get any easier on him now with the absence of RB Tiki Barber. Of course, by absence, I mean on-field. I have a feeling Barber's presence will be felt in the Giants locker room every time he opens his mouth at his new gig at NBC. Regardless, Giants fans will have to keep an eye on whether RB Brandon Jacobs is ready to take the reigns as a feature back. I, for one, believe he is. He has shown the ability to make plays and is obviously a true scoring threat anytime the Giants are in the red zone. Still, Manning's play this year will be one topic that is truly worth watching.

San Fran Back in the Picture?

It's been a while since the days of Steve Young and Jerry Rice, but I have a feeling that the 49ers might be a major player in the NFC West. I love the work they've done building this team and the results started to show last year. Now with the addition of Nate Clements and Michael Lewis in their secondary and the continued development of RB Frank Gore and QB Alex Smith, I think the Niners will be one of the teams to watch this year.

Can Arizona Finally Break Through?

They have all the weapons offensively, Matt Leinart will be in his second season after picking up valuable experience, and they've been the upset special pick for the last few years. What could put them over the edge this year? When I was at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, I had a chance to speak with coach Ken Whisenhunt and there is a definite manner about him that makes you feel like he is a winner. He is one of the top offensive minds in the league and with all the talent around him in Phoenix, I can't help but think that he will help the Cardinals pick up a few more wins this year.

Will Detroit's Offense Lead Them to the Playoffs?

You have to love Detroit's weapons and ability to go four wide and make opposing defenses shudder with the talent at WR. You've got Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson split out with Mike Furrey in the slot and Shaun McDonald across from him. So basically, either Williams or Johnson will get single coverage. Gotta love that if you're Jon Kitna, right? And who better to lead such a dynamic offense then Mike Martz, the innovator of the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis. I like Detroit this year to surprise people.

Sexy Rexy and Hester on Offense

Another NFC North team to watch is the defending NFC champion Chicago Bears. Rex Grossman's ability to play more consistently will be key for the Bears this year if they want to take the next step to elite team and really challenge for a Super Bowl title. But for me, one of the most fun things to watch will be Devin Hester's adjustment to the offensive side of the ball. The dynamic kick returner, who wowed fans last year with his ability to turn nothing into something whenever he had his hands on the ball, will get a chance to do so even more this year. The Bears expect to use Hester in the mold of a Reggie Bush, giving the playmaker a chance to do just that: make plays. I definitely don't think it'd be a bad fantasy pickup at the very least.

So there you go: five things to distract you from dog fighting and tainted refs and juiced home run kings. Of course, those are just five small examples out of many story lines. There's oh so much to watch. From Matt Schaub in Houston to L.T.'s continued dominance in San Diego to Thomas Jones impact in New York to the return of Donovan McNabb. And that's what there is to love about sports. With all the bad that can seem at times to drown out the beauty of games, there's plenty of good to keep an eye on, too.

Merry football season to all.

Comments and Conversation

July 30, 2007


Uhhhh, it’s ROY Williams. Mike Williams’s lazy ass got shipped off to Oakland.

July 30, 2007

Paul Tenorio:

Yep sorry about that. I’ll fix it.

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