It's mid-July, which means NFL players are reporting to training camp. The entire Broncos roster reported on Wednesday, as did rookies for the Ravens, Seahawks and Cardinals. Jets rookies report on Friday, with veterans arriving on Thursday, July 24. Giants rookies report on Monday, July 22, and veterans show up two days later.
Here are 10 storylines to watch across the NFL during training camp and the preseason, as well as players with Long Island ties to keep an eye on this summer.
A new era for the Jets
Things are very different this year in Florham Park, New Jersey, from the front office to the coaching staff to the roster to the jerseys. Sam Darnold enters his second season with the rookie speed bumps behind him, a quarterback-friendly head coach in Adam Gase and a star running back in Le’Veon Bell. The defense brought in an impact linebacker in C.J. Mosley and one of the draft’s top players in Quinnen Wiliams to add to a young core of Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams and Marcus Maye. Joe Douglas replaces Mike Maccagnan as general manager and hired some veteran executives as his top lieutenants. Is this the year Gang Green dethrones the Patriots atop the AFC East?
Is the Giants’ future now?
All eyes will be on the Giants’ quarterback position as 38-year-old Eli Manning and 22-year-old Daniel Jones, the sixth overall pick in April’s draft, battle for the starting job. Head coach Pat Shurmur was a bit cryptic about the competition during OTAs, saying that “Eli is getting ready to have a great year and Daniel is getting ready to play.” It seems unlikely that Jones would win the starting job right out of training camp, but a particularly strong preseason by the rookie paired with any early-season offensive struggles by Manning may lead the Giants to make their future into their present.
OBJ in CLE
The Browns’ offense already was trending upward before the blockbuster trade that sent Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland. Now, Beckham Jr. – who had 1,000 receiving yards in four of his five seasons with the Giants – will get to play alongside college teammate and best friend Jarvis Landry, tight end David Njoku and running back Nick Chubb, in an offense quarterbacked by the ascending Baker Mayfield and led by new head coach Freddie Kitchens. (They'll also have Kareem Hunt, the former Chiefs running back who is suspended for the first eight games). Yup, the Browns are a long way from the hapless squads of just a few years ago.
The coaching carousel
Gase and Kitchens aren’t the only coaches that are getting used to new surroundings (even though the Browns technically promoted Kitchens from offensive coordinator). Kliff Kingsbury is in Arizona, where he’ll work with Heisman winner Kyler Murray – a player he coveted during his college coaching years. Former Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur gets a chance to help Aaron Rodgers return to form in Green Bay. Bruce Arians is back from the broadcast booth and joins the Bucs, where he’ll try to work his QB magic on Jameis Winston. Zac Taylor, a Sean McVay disciple, takes the reins in Cincinnati and will aim to get the most out of Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense. The Broncos (Vic Fangio) and Dolphins (Brian Flores) bucked the recent trend of offensive-minded head coaches, hiring former coordinators with strong defensive backgrounds.
New passers in new places
Joe Flacco was traded to Denver after Lamar Jackson turned the struggling Ravens around and got them into the playoffs. Josh Rosen, a first-round pick of the Cardinals last year, gets a fresh start in Miami after Arizona drafted Murray No. 1 overall, though he may face competition from well-traveled veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Case Keenum and first-rounder Dwayne Haskins will battle in Washington for the starting job, and former Eagles Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles was paid handsomely to try to turn things around in Jacksonville.
A Hard Knock life in Oakland
It just feels right that a team with Jon Gruden as its head coach, Mike Mayock as its GM and an influx of big-name stars – headlined by mercurial former Steelers wideout Antonio Brown – would be the subject of HBO’s award-winning training camp documentary series. The question is, can the Raiders follow in the footsteps of last year’s "Hard Knocks" subject, the Browns, and put together a promising season once the camera crew is gone?
Will Zeke and Gordon show up?
Ezekiel Elliott isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2020 season, but he reportedly is considering skipping Cowboys training camp until he gets a new deal, one that’s in line with what the Rams’ Todd Gurley and the Cardinals’ David Johnson signed last year, or the one that Bell inked with the Jets in March. He’s not the only Cowboy looking to get paid, as quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper also are looking for new contracts. Meanwhile, Gordon’s agent told ESPN’s Adam Schefter last week that the 26-year-old running back would not only sit out of Chargers camp, but also would demand a trade if he didn’t get a new deal.
Is it ‘Showtime’ again?
Patrick Mahomes dazzled in his first year as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, winning the MVP after throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. The Chiefs couldn’t keep it going in the playoffs, though, losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Can Mahomes change that this year? He'll have his top target in wideout Tyreek Hill, who was not suspended by the NFL after a child abuse investigation over the offseason.
Rob Gronkowski retired after the Super Bowl and the Patriots lost two other key players in free agency, but as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in New England, the Patriots still are in the mix. First-round wide receiver N’Keal Harry will be Brady’s new big-bodied target opposite the shifty Julian Edelman, Michael Bennett replaces Trey Flowers along the defensive line and Isaiah Wynn – one of last year’s two first-rounders – is expected to step in for departed left tackle Trent Brown after missing his rookie season with a torn Achilles.
Pass interference rules
After the debacle that was the end of last year’s NFC Championship Game, the NFL made pass interference reviewable after the two-minute warning in each half and during overtime, for the 2019 season only. Officials can review both offensive and defensive interference, and there doesn’t have to be a flag on the play for it to be reviewable, but there’ll be stricter criteria to force a stoppage than there are for other reviewable plays, and there must be “clear and obvious visual evidence” to overturn a call. Will there be a learning curve this preseason as players and officials get used to the new changes?
LIers to watch
Jake Carlock, linebacker/long snapper (Babylon/LIU Post): Giants
Tariq Cole, offensive lineman (Long Beach): Cardinals
Chris Cooper, safety (Stony Brook University): Falcons
Rasul Douglas, cornerback (Nassau CC): Eagles
Ethan Greenidge, offensive lineman (Riverhead): Saints
James O’Hagan, center (Seaford): Giants
Timon Parris, offensive lineman (Floral Park): Redskins
Malcolm Pridgeon, offensive lineman (Central Islip): Texans
Greg Senat, offensive lineman (Elmont): Ravens
Shamar Stephen, defensive tackle (Long Island Lutheran): Vikings
Ian Thomas, tight end (Nassau CC): Panthers
Will Tye, tight end (SBU): Eagles
Greg Van Roten, offensive lineman (Chaminade): Panthers