I woke up this morning with butterflies in my stomach and giggles escaping with uncontrollable glee. And not because I greet each morning with a smile and a song, ala Snow White. I greet most mornings with decidedly un-Disney-esque sentiments. But this morning was different. Because this morning…Packers training camp begins.
Training camp is the pre-pre-season. It’s basically a really long audition for teams to figure out who makes the 53 man roster. It’s also the ultimate boot camp to get players back into football shape.
Because training camp marks the beginning of the football season and comes at the end of a 6 month football drought, it probably gets more hype than necessary. But really, enthusiasm is warranted after 6 months of racing, X games, and golf on Sunday afternoons. (My apologies to all of those sports and their fans…I just can’t handle it.)
Here’s what you need to know about the big training camp stories this season:
1. PEYTON MANNING AND THE…BRONCOS
Peyton Manning beginning his reign with the Denver Broncos is the biggest focus point of training camp this year. You may have seen Peyton Manning on any number of commercials for automobiles and/or sneakers and/or Oreos. He was the franchise quarterback* for the Indianapolis Colts for the past 14 years and is one the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. However, after sitting last year out to due injury, the Colts decided to move on with a spring chicken: Stanford’s stand-out prospect and first overall draft pick Andrew Luck. Because transitional quarterback moves can create controversies (like the 49ers Montana to Young transition and the Packers Favre to Rodgers transition), Peyton decided to leave the Colts and pursue greener pastures. He found them in Denver. All eyes will be on how he plays post-injury (he had a year-long rehab from neck surgery) and how he fits with a new organization. (Additional trivia: You may also know Peyton’s brother, Eli Manning, who is the quarterback for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.)
2. MUCH ADO ABOUT TIMMY
Peyton’s arrival in Denver displaced their starting quarterback, Tim Tebow. You may know Tim Tebow because you don’t live under a rock. Homeboy is everywhere, and he’ll be a huge story of training camp because, well, he’s a huge story no matter where he goes, on the field or off.
After Peyton decided to come to Denver Tim was traded to the New York Jets, a media-happy team on their quiet days. The Jets are known for being big talkers and attracting lots of media attention for their unconventional antics, so adding Tebow, who already draws plenty of media attention for completely opposite reasons (parents: if your kids need a role model, look no further!), might cause both the New York and national media outlets to explode. From a football standpoint, it will be interesting to see how the Jets use Tebow, who is currently slated to be the teams back-up quarterback. The Jets are talking about using him in a variety of quarterback and non-quarterback ways, but again, it’s the Jets. And the Jets talk. A lot.
3. OH WHEN THE SAINTS, COME TRUDGIN’ IN
New Orleans. Oh, New Orleans. You’ve probably heard something about the Saints this off-season, whether it’s regarding the bounty program or the Drew Brees contract negotiations. The drama that unfolded over the past 6 months is what multi-million dollar movies are made of, but in short: the NFL uncovered a substantial “bounty” program run by the organization in which players were paid extra to take out other players on the field. The Saints deny the existence of this system and say they had a “pay for performance” program like many teams do. But in the end their head coach, Sean Payton, was suspended for a year as a result, along with numerous other player and coach suspensions.
The good news is that after months of negotiations the Saints finally reached a deal with franchise quarterback* Drew Brees so he will be back in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. Their training camp story is interesting because they’ve basically been decimated during the off-season with suspensions and bad news. They will also be without their interim head coach for the first 6 weeks of the regular season due to the bounty suspensions, so everyone will be waiting to see how they pull it all together in spite of their circumstances.
4. NO MJD IN JAX
Training camp wouldn’t be training camp without a good holdout story. This season it’s Maurice Jones-Drew, who is “holding out” (not attending any team activities, including training camp) to try and get a better contract. The tricky part is that the Jaguars owner has already said that they expect Jones-Drew, the league’s premiere running back, to honor the last two years of his contract, and will not give him a long term deal. What happens next is a long, expensive stand-still to see who blinks first.
5. NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
Namely: Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III in Washington. Both will garner lots of debate. They are two of the most highly esteemed quarterbacks to enter the league in the past several years (or…ever), which is why they were picked first and second in this year’s NFL draft, respectively. Too much will be made of their training camp experience because, after all, it’s just camp. But it will be a big story nonetheless, especially for Andrew Luck, who is replacing aforementioned legend Peyton Manning.
6. SHUFFLE IN TO BUFFALO
Here’s a little hometown love for Buffalo! They did WORK over the off-season, bringing in much-needed big name free agents. The biggest of which is Mario Williams, who chose to sign with Buffalo after leaving the Houston Texans. He plays defensive end, a key position on any team, but his addition to the Bills makes them about 1,000,000 times better. If they can pull it together on offense they could be legit this season.
*a “franchise quarterback” is a team’s star player, the quarterback who they believe will lead their team for the foreseeable future