LOS ANGELES —With NFL training camps beginning this week, pro football has provided many more questions than answers. The picture will become clearer in the coming weeks.
Are the Seattle Seahawks poised to repeat as Super Bowl champions?
Is Johnny Football going to put the Cleveland Browns back in the win column?
What’s in store for Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck in this pivotal third season?
A look at these and other pressing questions:
Does Denver have the defense to make another run? The Broncos certainly look different on that side of the ball. Champ Bailey is gone. So are Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Philips. Players now in orange include pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. Everyone knows Peyton Manning and the Broncos can put points on the board. Manning threw for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in history last season. He still has plenty of offensive weapons, although receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno have moved on.
Is this Jim Harbaugh’s most daunting coaching challenge? With linebacker Aldon Smith and cornerback Chris Culliver facing legal problems, linebacker NaVorro Bowman still recovering from a brutal knee injury, a couple of disgruntled offensive stalwarts — tight end Vernon Davis and right guard Alex Boone — both wanting new contracts, and the Cleveland Browns trying to trade for Harbaugh this off-season, the 49ers begin camp with more than their share of distractions. John Madden says Harbaugh’s first year with the 49ers, in 2011, might have been the greatest coaching performance in NFL history, when Harbaugh took a left-for-dead franchise to the NFC title game. This year could be just as challenging. At least quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s contract is done, and the team has a dazzling new stadium in Santa Clara.
Can Jadeveon Clowney dominate at the highest level? The Houston Texans defensive lineman and No. 1 overall pick isn’t expected to get off to a quick start. He’s recovering from the sports hernia surgery he underwent in June, so that could complicate his transition to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s system. Still, the Texans have high hopes that Clowney will be a star, especially when coupled with dominant defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
Can Gregg Williams revive his career in St. Louis? Williams, the disgraced defensive coordinator in New Orleans who was suspended indefinitely for his role in the Bountygate scandal, is now in charge of the Rams’ defense. He’s back working with his pal, Rams Coach Jeff Fisher, who was head coach in Tennessee when Williams was the Titans’ defensive coordinator from 1997 to 2000. He was a senior assistant on the Titans’ staff last season, but this marks his return as a coordinator. The Rams are loaded with defensive talent, and they’ll need it, playing in the NFL’s toughest division.
Can San Diego’s workhorse put in another full season? Running back Ryan Mathews was key to the Chargers’ success last fall, when he made it through an entire regular season for the first time and rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards. Those aren’t LaDainian Tomlinson-type numbers, but they paved the way for San Diego to get back to the playoffs. And Mathews, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, was missed when sidelined by injury in a divisional playoff game at Denver.
Silver &Black, yes, but are the Raiders turning gray? The Raiders have always paid homage to the past, and now they’ve reached into it in hopes of getting back on track. Oakland is looking for help from a handful of players whose stars faded elsewhere — among them quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and defensive linemen Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley.
Will Philadelphia miss DeSean Jackson? The Eagles will see their erstwhile star receiver at least twice a year, because Jackson is now playing for division rival Washington. That’s an adjustment, but Philadelphia also gets receiver Jeremy Maclin back from a knee injury that sidelined him for last season. Speedy running back Darren Sproles will be a welcome addition.
What’s the most intriguing quarterback competition? That’s easy: Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel battling for the starting job in Cleveland. Hoyer, a hometown hero, played three games for the Browns last season before suffering a torn knee ligament. Manziel, a.k.a. Johnny Football, is the Heisman-winning star from Texas A&M whose spectacular scrambling made him college football’s most exciting quarterback … but whose love of night life has to make the Browns a little nervous.
Are the Pittsburgh Steelers going (back) to ground? The Steelers’ running game was missing in action for many years, but Pittsburgh looks to be getting back to that grind-it-out style. Le’Veon Bell gained 1,259 yards from scrimmage last season, the most by a Steelers rookie since Franco Harris in 1972. The team picked up a pounder in LeGarrette Blount, and rookie Dri Archer is among the NFL’s fastest players.
Does Michael Vick have anything left? The New York Jets hope so. They signed him to back up second-year quarterback Geno Smith, who was underwhelming last season with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. The move reunites Vick and Marty Mornhinweg, his old offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. Even though Smith enters camp as the starter, he has to be looking over his shoulder.
Will Darrelle Revis rediscover his greatness in New England? The All-Pro cornerback is playing for the Patriots now, and he’s looking forward to a much better experience than he had in Tampa last season. In his one season with the Buccaneers, his first after his anterior cruciate ligament was repaired, he was a misfit who played much more zone than he wanted. Now, he has a chance to make a huge contribution to a team that went 12-4 last season despite a lousy defense. So far, he has gotten rave reviews from his new teammates.
What happened to the Miami pound machine? After leading the league in sacks allowed and getting only two touchdowns from top rusher Lamar Miller, the Dolphins were due for an offensive line overhaul anyway. But last season’s bullying scandal involving guard Richie Incognito and others pretty much guaranteed a housecleaning. Now the team has a new left tackle in Branden Albert, and right tackle in rookie first-round pick Ja’Waun James. The only holdover from last season, center Mike Pouncey, could be months away from full recovery from hip surgery.
Is this the year for Luck and the Colts? Indianapolis was a scary team last season, the only NFL club to knock off Denver, San Francisco and Seattle. Now, in his third season, quarterback Andrew Luck is surrounded by his best supporting cast. Receiver Reggie Wayne is back from a major knee injury, and tight end Dwayne Allen too has returned from a hip injury that sidelined him last season. The Colts have added receiver Hakeem Nicks, as well, to a pass-catching corps that includes the excellent T.Y. Hilton.
Who will be on the other end of Cam Newton’s passes? There isn’t a wide receiver on Carolina’s roster who caught a pass from Newton last season. Steve Smith is gone, and so are Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon. Running routes for Newton this year are a collection of veterans who are more passable than premier: Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood. Maybe first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin will eventually step into that No. 1 role.
Do the Bucs start here? Lovie Smith takes over in Tampa, the third coach the Buccaneers have hired in an effort to end a playoff drought that has stretched six seasons. The former Chicago Bears coach assumes the top job at a franchise that went 11-21 in two seasons under Greg Schiano. Lining up at quarterback for the Buccaneers is 35-year-old Josh McCown, who is coming off his best season after filling in ably for an injured Jay Cutler in Chicago. He joins a quarterback-rich division that includes Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Newton.
Can the Seahawks do it again? The NFL hasn’t had repeat champions since New England won it all in 2004 and ‘05, but Seattle has put itself in good position to make another run. The Seahawks retained two of their biggest defensive stars, safety Earl Watson and cornerback Richard Sherman, by signing them to bank-breaking extensions. They also retained defensive end Michael Bennett. Keeping running back Marshawn Lynch happy will be expensive. He wants a raise from his current annual salary of $5.5 million. The team’s most significant losses have been along the offensive and defensive lines, and that could hurt. This much we know: Pete Carroll will have his team ready to play.