Eyes Trained On Stars As NFL Camps Open
Beginning Friday and continuing through July 27, training camps will swing open their doors and welcome prospective players to a monthlong adventure that could be called ''Survivor: The NFL.'' Here's a look at 10 storylines of note, in no particular order, as the league prepares for the 2003 season, which kicks off Sept. 4 with the New York Jets at the Washington Redskins.
The Tuna and the sullied star
Three consecutive seasons with no playoff appearance was enough for owner Jerry Jones to promise to take an unprecedented step back from day-to-day football operations and thereby persuade Bill Parcells to coach the Dallas Cowboys. Having won everywhere he has been, Parcells is being counted on to restore luster to a franchise that will be without Emmitt Smith for the first time in 13 seasons.
Kurt's sleight of hand
Back in the day of Bobby Layne, Kurt Warner's downplaying his hand injuries would have been considered manly. But when the Rams started 0-5, he temporarily was forced to the sideline. A year removed from the Super Bowl, St. Louis wound up 7-9. The Rams still have loads of talent, but does Warner still have the tools that made him a two-time MVP?
Marvin Lewis had spent the last few seasons pining for a head coaching job. The Bengals had spent the last decade pining for something resembling a credible NFL outfit. Lewis finally got his wish and will try to grant Cincinnati's. He has hinted No. 1 draft pick Carson Palmer will receive every opportunity to unseat quarterback Jon Kitna, and that's likely to be one of the more interesting competitions to watch.
While the New England Patriots went through last season with something of a chip on their shoulder, no one believes Tampa Bay's Super Bowl win five months ago was a fluke. Even so, quarterback Brad Johnson and receiver Keyshawn Johnson wouldn't mind getting their share of props this fall. Although the Bucs had the league's seventh overall passing game, they were 24th in total offense and watched their top-ranked defense hog the attention.
One's entering his third season while the other his 13th. But if quarterbacks Michael Vick and Brett Favre meet again this season, it will not be until the playoffs. Last season's postseason game at Lambeau Field, won by the Atlanta Falcons, may well have signified Vick's official arrival and indicated Favre's Green Bay Packers days are dwindling.
Return of the living dead
Having expected to do all kinds of good things a year ago, five teams found various ways to collapse. So for the New England Patriots, Rams, New York Giants, Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears, the order of the day will be to figure out what happened and fix it.
Emmitt's new deck of Cards
Just as Johnny Unitas looked weird in a San Diego Chargers uniform and Joe Namath looked funny in Rams colors, so too will Emmitt Smith present an odd picture when he suits up for the Arizona Cardinals. His storied career in Dallas over, Smith wants to show he still can scoot with the best of them.
My Man Patrick
Patrick Ramsey has become Steve Spurrier's handpicked choice to bring back the Redskins. If he falters, the Ol' Ball Coach might begin to figure this grand NFL experience isn't nearly as easy as he thought it would be.
Last call is approaching
For the aging but still spry Oakland Raiders, their window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl is closing quickly. Nearly half their starters are in their 30s, and they already missed a prime chance by losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in February in San Diego.
Cue the Rocky theme
They've reached the last two NFC Championship Games and failed to advance. Frustration in Philadelphia is growing, but there's no reason to believe the Eagles aren't capable of finding some way to finally reach the Super Bowl.