Posted: Friday May 12, 2006 4:37PM; Updated: Monday May 15, 2006 11:47PM
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer throws at Paul Brown Stadium as he tries to work his way back from a severe knee injury he suffered last season.
All but two of the NFL's 32 teams will have had their first official minicamp by the weekend, and already controversies and intriguing questions abound. Let's take a tour around the league and examine the one burning question that each team faces as it begins offseason practices.
BUFFALO BILLS Key question: Did they screw up the draft? Critics continue to rip the Bills for passing on Matt Leinart and taking safety Donte Whitner at No. 8 , so keep an eye on the quarterback battle between J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb and Craig Nall. The only interesting prospect of that trio is Nall, who could follow MattHasselbeck's lead and go from being BrettFavre's backup to the Pro Bowl. Sounds far-fetched, but he's got a better shot at going to Honolulu than either Losman or Holcomb.
MIAMI DOLPHINS Key question: How's Daunte doing? How can fans be confident when the organization keeps saying quarterback Daunte Culpepper will be ready near the beginning of the season? And you have to love the potential drama of newly acquired Joey Harrington having an impressive offseason and providing a legitimate challenge to Culpepper. It's not like this team needs a passing game to win, since the running game and defense are its strengths.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS Key question: Has the destruction of the dynasty begun? Remember how the mid-'90s Cowboys started bleeding talent to free agency and the Super Bowl runs abruptly stopped? It feels like that process is well under way in New England. There's been some grumbling from key players about losing veterans, and unless coach Bill Belichick imposes a gag order, it could continue this offseason.
NEW YORK JETS Key question: How's Chad doing? Quarterback Chad Pennington told the New York media he's "full go" and making all the throws. Considering he could barely make long passes when he was fully healthy, we remain skeptical. Only rookies appeared at the Jets' first minicamp, but Pennington will have a chance to air it out at a passing camp at the end of the month.
BALTIMORE RAVENS Key question: Is the D still dominant? They lost DT Maake Kemoeatu, DE Anthony Weaver and S Will Demps to free agency, and there's reason to be nervous about EdReed's and RayLewis' health. Keep an eye on the young defenders throughout minicamp because they could be getting a lot of playing time. And even if the Ravens do get SteveMcNair, it all comes down to defense if they want to get back to the playoffs.
CINCINNATI BENGALS Key question: How's Carson doing? Of all the rehabbing quarterbacks, Carson Palmer deserves the most scrutiny because you have to consider the Bengals a Super Bowl threat if he's 100 percent. Everyone around the Bengals is talking positively about Palmer's recovery from a left knee injury and we could see him in pads sooner than expected.
CLEVELAND BROWNS Key question: How are the receivers rehabbing? No other team in the NFL has two more intriguing pass-catchers trying to get healthy than the Browns, with Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. Winslow is closer to returning after tearing his ACL last May in a motorcycle accident than Edwards, who injured his ACL in December. It will be interesting to see how much physical activity they can handle during minicamps. If neither is at full strength by the beginning of the season, it's hard to get excited about the Browns' offense.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS Key question: What got into Hines? Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward had some interesting words on coach Bill Cowher in this week's Sports Illustrated: "I don't have anything to say to him. After what he did to me, after how he treated me, no. The numbers I put up? The seasons I had, for them to keep on bringing in guys ... ?" Ward's a pro and this will blow over, but it should make for fun copy.