Friday, July 18, 2003
By VINNY DiTRANI
The best shall be first.
Defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay becomes the first NFL team to report to training camp when the Bucs assemble today in Orlando, Fla. The Jets, Chiefs, and Packers - all of whom play the first preseason weekend - soon will follow. And by the end of next week, all 32 teams — 11 staying at their regular-season facilities rather than heading off to camp — will be working on answering questions that hound them.
Here are 64 of those questions for what promises to be an interesting 2003 NFL season:
Miami: Will the additions of QB Brian Griese and LB Junior Seau lift the underachieving Dolphins into Super Bowl contention? Do they have enough receivers?
Buffalo: Can LBs Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey strengthen the defense? How much will the Bills miss big-play WR Peerless Price?
New England: Can QB Tom Brady re-create the magic that carried the Pats to the Super Bowl XXXVI title? Will the Pats' revamped defense become another block in Bill Belichick's legacy?
Jets: Will they finally win a game in Oakland, regular season or postseason? Is QB Chad Pennington the real deal?
Pittsburgh: Will QB Tommy Maddox's golden carriage turn into a pumpkin? Is RB Jerome Bettis rejuvenated, or finished?
Cleveland: Who will be the quarterback, Tim Couch or Kelly Holcomb? Will the defense survive a change of all three linebackers?
Baltimore: Now that the Ravens have endured their belt-tightening, can they jump back into the Super Bowl picture? Will rookie QB Kyle Boller unseat shaky veteran Chris Redman?
Cincinnati: How long before Carson Palmer unseats QB Jon Kitna? Is Marvin Lewis the coach the Bengals have been seeking for years?
Indianapolis: How much will healthy RB Edgerrin James bolster the Colts? Can Tony Dungy get that defense together?
Tennessee: Can QB Steve McNair stay healthy for a full season? Has RB Eddie George taken one too many hits to remain effective?
Jacksonville: How will the Jaguars react to a coach other than the departed Tom Coughlin? Will new head man Jack Del Rio get anything out of QB Mark Brunell, or will rookie Byron Leftwich be rushed into the fray?
Houston: Can the offensive line keep QB David Carr (76 sacks as a rookie) vertical? Will OLB Charlie Clemons provide some pass rush for the solid Texans' defense?
Oakland: Do old gaffers like QB Rich Gannon and WRs Jerry Rice and Tim Brown have enough left for another Super Bowl push? Will that aging defense be left standing at year's end?
Denver: Can QB Jake Plummer reach the heights in the Mile High City after failing in the Arizona desert? Will well-respected coach Mike Shanahan be in trouble if Denver doesn't make the postseason again?
Kansas City: Is Dick Vermeil building another offensive juggernaut? Will RB Priest Holmes be healthy and wealthy enough to be part of it?
San Diego: What will life after Junior Seau be like? Can WR David Boston become the long-ball threat for the Chargers' offense?
Philadelphia: Did the Eagles miss their window of opportunity last season? Or will healthy QB Donovan McNabb lead them all the way in their new stadium?
Dallas: How much will Bill Parcells' presence improve a weak team? Can Chad Hutchinson or Quincy Carter play QB in this league?
Washington: Will 11 light bulbs go on in Steve Spurrier's offensive huddle in his second year? Will Patrick Ramsey develop in Spurrier's QB mold?
Giants: Can they stand the preseason plaudits (they haven't in the past)? Will someone step up on defense to take the pressure off Michael Strahan?
Green Bay: Can the Packers survive with surprise first-round pick Nick Barnett at MLB? Will QB Brett Favre's cadre of young wideouts continue to improve?
Minnesota: Will the Vikings build on that season-ending three-game winning streak? Is no-nonsense Mike Tice putting some gumption into what was the league's softest squad?
Chicago: Is Kordell Stewart the QB answer? Or will Rex Grossman be thrust into the Bears' offense?
Detroit: Can Steve Mariucci revive a decrepit program? Will Joey Harrington-to-Charles Rogers instill some life in a moribund Lions' club?
Tampa Bay: Will the defending champ Bucs stop here, or press on to another title? Can workaholic coach Jon Gruden take 10 minutes off during the season?
Atlanta: Will QB Michael Vick keep his head on straight and find new WR Price deep down the field? Could this be the last season of Dan Reeves' 23-year coaching career?
New Orleans: Can the Saints bounce back from last season's collapse (losses to Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Carolina)? Will QB Aaron Brooks make or break this pivotal season?
Carolina: Will two newcomers - QB Jake Delhomme and RB Stephen Davis - spice up the offense? Can John Fox's otherwise strong defense prevent those late-game meltdowns (five fourth-quarter losses last year)?
San Francisco: Will new coach Dennis Erickson better that .500 reputation he built in Seattle? Is the Niners' defense, with the same players, any better than it was a year ago?
St. Louis: Will coach Mike Martz become an offensive genius again with healthy QB Kurt Warner and RB Marshall Faulk? How will Jason Sehorn fare at free safety?
Seattle: Is this a do-or-depart year for Mike Holmgren? Will QB Matt Hasselbeck continue his improvement or will we see Trent Dilfer again?
Arizona: Why did Emmitt Smith decide to finish his career in the desert? Is there any hope for the Cardinals - ever?