NFL: Five questions that training camp could answer

NFL teams have reported for training camp, which provides an opportunity for us to cut through offseason hype to see what's really gong on...


Can Andrew Luck still throw a ball?

It’s annoying enough that the Colts got 13 seasons of Peyton Manning, stunk for a year, and then got Andrew Luck, but watching them mismanage a generational quarterback is a real sickener.

It’s over 18 months since Luck attempted a pass in a meaningful game due to an injured shoulder, picked up in 2015, that could’ve been managed better.

All the signs point to a return this season, but Indianapolis made the same noises last year and the Stanford product was nowhere to be seen when games started.

OAKLAND, CA – DECEMBER 24: Outside linebacker Bruce Irvin #51 of the Oakland Raiders puts quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts flat on his back in the endzone at the start of the fourth quarter on December 24, 2016 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Raiders won 33-25. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

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Jacoby Brissett’s gutsy play in near impossible circumstances last season was admirable, but the AFC South residents finished 4-12 because they couldn’t score enough points to cover for their rough-as-Jim-Irsay’s-Sunday-mornings defence.

As ever, they’ve made some moves to address the worst defence in the league, but the quarterback’s damaged labrum will decide if they can compete for an AFC playoff spot or not.

If they’re being cautious with him in camp, take note.

How are those knees?

Philly flew past Carson Wentz’s ACL-MCL double tear last season to secure their first ever Super Bowl, so it wouldn’t be right to say their hopes entirely rest on the third-year QB’s health, but it’s worth remembering how bad they were in some of their Wentz-less games – the Atlanta Falcons could’ve easily clipped the Eagles in a grizzly 15-10 Divisional round encounter – before they got their act together.

Encouragingly, he has not been held out of the training camp, so that suggests they think he’ll be good to go early in the season, if not week one.

in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 13, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

There’s similar concern in Houston, though they do not have someone good enough to step in if Deshaun Watson doesn’t heal as hoped. His seven-game firecracker of a debut season – he averaged a passing TD once every 6.63 completions – is unrepeatable, so, whatever way he looks when he returns, he’s going to be a disappointment to some.

But there is a bigger issue than statistical outliers. Namely, how much will the ligament snap impair his play going forward? And will he get protection from an offensive line that some see as the worst in the league?

We should get pointers in the next few weeks.

Philadelphia can relax a bit as they still have Nick Foles on the books. Houston have Tom Savage.

How much rope is Joe Flacco going to get?

Joe Flacco has been put on notice by the Ravens’ front office.

Lamar Jackson’s reputation among draft analysts is so high it’ll be a disappointment if he doesn’t look like peak Michael Vick whenever he gets on the field. How soon that will be is the question everyone’s been asking since Jackson went 32nd overall in the 2018 draft.

Flacco was the definition of an acceptable though unspectacular starting quarterback for years, and led the Ravens to their second ever Super Bowl in 2013. He locked up a blockbusting contract off the back of that, but hasn’t looked like recreating his playoff run form since his knee gave way in 2015. Since then, he’s been tentative and cautious with the ball in hand, and it also looks like he just can’t throw it as far as he once did.

CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 17: Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Raven congratulates Joe Flacco #5 after a Ravens touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter Ravensson November 17, 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

It won’t be easy for John Harbaugh to persist with the veteran if he continues his anaemic play in the early weeks of the season. It doesn’t even sound much like he really wants to when he talks about Jackson.

This preseason Jackson will get snaps. If he looks as good as everyone says he’s going to be, pressure will mount and Flacco could be yanked very quickly.

Will Russell Wilson live to see 2019?

The Legion of Boom’s gradual dismantling in recent years marks the end of a cycle that promised so much more.

Everything seemed to turn with Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception of a Russell Wilson slant in Super Bowl XLIX that really, really, really should have been a Marshawn Lynch run. With that the Seahawks saw a second consecutive title snatched away, and a further step towards dynastic immortality was missed.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – FEBRUARY 02: Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks looks on against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Their core of defensive talent, and Russell Wilson’s playmaking ability and super cheap rookie contract gave them an air of inevitable domination that’s gone now, along with many of the names that defined that team. Richard Sherman is a 49er, Michael Bennett an Eagle, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril have been released and Earl Thomas looks like he’s going to strike.

Some dubious draft decisions, an offensive line as realiably bad as privatised rail networks and a receiver corps that, Doug Baldwin excepted, reads like the dregs of your fantasy league waiver wire, and you can see why there are a lot of questions about this team’s future.

If they do anything this year, it’s going to be down to Russell Wilson’s insane disregard for his own personal well-being even more than it has been in the past.

At some point, he’s going to be broken, and so are Seattle.

Can Josh Allen really be as bad as people think?

Things were bad enough – no receivers, no starting qyuarterback, offensive line losses, secondary depleted, questionable pass rush – before LeSean McCoy became embroiled in a case involving a brutal assault on his former partner. The details – and consequences – of that situation remain to be seen, but, purely from a football perspective, it makes things look so much tougher for everyone involved in Buffalo.

at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

That includes seventh overall pick Josh Allen, who will likely start the season on the bench, AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman (no really) still on the roster in northwest New York state.

Plenty of people liked Allen coming out of college, but just as many were mystified as to why. His record isn’t all that impressive, and much of the love for him seems to be based on his physical attributes and inoffensive personality in brief meetings rather than his play.

There were similar doubts about Mitch Trubisky last season, and many other QBs before have been selected like Allen, to grow into the role given some time and the opportunity to learn. However, the level of scepticism about his viability as a quarterback in the league is striking and makes watching the early reports of his struggles – predictable as they may be – as grimly fascinating as a roadside collision.

By the end of training camp we should have a better idea about the former Wyoming signalcaller and how bad things could get for one of last season’s AFC Wildcard teams.

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