Can you feel it in the air? Football is back. Training camps are underway, reporters are drinking too much coffee at any given moment of the day, video game enthusiasts are already pissed off about the yet-to-be-released new game “Madden” – the season is here. Before the games begin, there are a handful of questions about the league that need to be answered in both training camp practices and preseason games. Here are some stories to remember as we fully enter the 2023 preseason.
What’s next for the 49ers quarterback situation?
One of the biggest questions of the offseason will start getting answers in the coming weeks. The 49ers looked to have their preferred long-term starter locked out in Brock Purdy, but an elbow injury he suffered during the NFC title game could affect his ability to perform in training camp. Trey Lance, who the 49ers haven’t seen play much since trading three first-round picks for him, will have a chance to show where he’s coming from a broken ankle that ended his season in early 2022. Then there’s Sam Darnold, who is coming off one of the best stretches of football in his career with the Panthers. Given the 49ers’ recent injury history as a quarterback, ruling out Darnold as a potential starter this season might be a bit rash.
Even with the quarterback ratchet, the 49ers managed to reach several NFC championship games under head coach Kyle Shanahan. This team still has Super Bowl aspirations and their quarterback situation is in flux until they get a little more clarity on Purdy’s health.
How fast Aaron Rodgers hits the ground running
The Jets opened their Super Bowl window by trading for Aaron Rodgers, but the window may not stay open for long considering Rodgers’ age. This isn’t a groundbreaking statement by any means, but the Jets need to hit the ground running on offense – there really aren’t many games they can waste trying to figure out their timing on offense with the Bills, Dolphins and Patriots all set to be competitive in their own division.
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In part, that’s why it was important for the Jets to familiarize Rodgers with hiring Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive coordinator. Even though Rodgers is no longer in his physical prime, he will still be the best quarterback the Jets have had in decades. This reality needs to be updated immediately, and it starts with boot camp.
Patriots revamping their offense
Matt Patricia and Joe Judge leading the Patriots offense in 2022 gave some predictable results – they were unattainable on that side of the ball. The offense was uneventful, they struggled to move the ball consistently and Mac Jones statistically regressed in style. To correct this, the Patriots hired Bill O’Brien for his second stint as the team’s offensive coordinator and hired JuJu Smith-Schuster to bolster their ample receiver room. O’Brien may not be Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay, but his offensive mind is certainly an upgrade from what they had last season. How quickly they’re able to hit the ground could decide how well they can compete in an AFC East, which must have three of the best offenses in the league across the aisle.
DeMeco Ryans impact on Texans defense
Houston had a big problem, well, everywhere last season, but fixing the defense will be one of the first focuses for rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans. Ryans has done very well coordinating the 49ers defense over the past two seasons, albeit with the luxury of elite talent across the field. Houston has some promising pieces, but it’s going to take a while for a top defense to take shape here. The first order of business will be to release talented cornerback Derek Stingley, who was a little under-drafted in Lovie Smith’s defense last year. Safety Jalen Pitre and defensive end Will Anderson are also strong building blocks for the Ryans and his team to build on. This season will immediately test the Ryans’ acumen as a defensive player and his ability to match a youthful defense with the scheme he helped orchestrate in San Francisco.
Who will step up the Rams’ defense?
The Rams are feeling the effects of going all-in on the Super Bowl right now, with a shaky, shaky roster maintained by a few stars at the top. This is especially true on defense, where the only proven commodity they really have is Aaron Donald, who is starting to hit nine points in his career. The Rams are in a strange place where their aging stars at the top should want to win as many games as they can, but the rest of the team deserves a rebuild. The Rams will find out very quickly in August if someone on defense is available and ready to rise to the challenge of giving Donald some help.
Will the Falcons defense keep its end of the deal this year?
Different year, same question for the Falcons: Will the defense finally do its share of the work this year? The Falcons’ offense was able to move the ball fairly consistently last year, even with up-and-down quarterback play and a handful of injuries, but the defense was porous once again. The Falcons spent money in free agency on Jessie Bates, David Onyemata and Calais Campbell, traded for Jeff Okudah and spent picks on Zach Harrison and Clark Phillips. They’ve certainly devoted resources to not having one of the worst defenses in the league this year.