Ten camp storylines (cont.)
4) It's Geaux Time for Reggie Bush
It's now or never, Reggie. You've heard all the criticisms: Can't run between the tackles. Not an effective every-down player. Glorified punt-returner. The fact is, Pierre Thomas is a better running back than Bush. While four of Bush's nine touchdowns came on punt returns in 2008, Thomas entrenched himself in the backfield with a 4.8 per-carry average and nine touchdowns.
But that does not mean Bush cannot become a huge contributor and factor on every snap. The investment in the No. 2 overall pick of the 2006 draft is too big. The impact Bush could have on a much-hoped-for return to power for the Saints is even bigger. And yet questions abound -- none looming larger than Bush's durability issue. This is a huge camp for Bush.
His career has been remarkably inconsistent. Never has he rushed for as much as 4.0 yards per-carry. In three full seasons, Bush has had a TOTAL of seven carries of more than 20-yards. He has been electric at times returning punts and is a threat as a game-breaking-type receiver. But the Saints expected and need much more consistency. Bush went 14 games over the past two years without scoring a touchdown. He also missed 10 games over the same span because of injury.
Oh, by the way. Bush had microfracture surgery in the offseason on his knee. It's the kind of surgery that has ended some NFL careers. It may end this one sooner than the Saints expected.
5) Colts ... out to pasture?
Betting against Peyton Manning is like taking butter in a hot knife fight. Yet there are so many reasons the Colts could be the team most likely to take significant steps backward this season.
It will be one of the most compelling stories of 2009, watching a healthy and more-dedicated-than-ever Manning trying to keep the beat going, after the heartbeat and so much more has left Indianapolis.
Tony Dungy, the brilliant leader and calming influence, is gone. No matter how solid the organization -- and it is under Jim Irsay and Bill Polian -- that is a severe hit.
Dungy's replacement, Jim Caldwell, has no head-coaching experience. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd, reliable friends and confidants of Manning's, have had their roles reduced to consultant status. Longtime favorite target Marvin Harrison is gone.
The rest of the AFC South clearly has caught up to the Colts, with the Titans going 13-3 last year with Kerry Collins at quarterback and the Texans fancying legitimate plans of a playoff run. The Colts became one-dimensional last season with the league's 31st-ranked rushing offense, making things even more difficult on Manning.
And yet ... no one figures to be better equipped to should the load than Manning. He has had a healthy offseason and, by all accounts, has worked harder than ever. Manning is entering his 12th season. After a nine-game undefeated run at the end of the 2008 season, when he reached an even higher level of play, Manning may well be on the verge of redefining his own greatness.
He enters training camp with Indianapolis on his shoulders. He may be one guy who can handle it.
6) Is Ochocinco picking on a Tomato Can?
Chad Ochocinco is high on Twitter, if not brains. He's spent much of the offseason engaging in a war of words, picking a mega-pixel fight via Twitter with San Diego Chargers linebacker, wildman and sack king Shawne Merriman.
Why Ocho is doing this, is anyone's guess. I mean, Merriman's nickname is "Light's Out." As in, goodnight. But it does lead to a very big question hovering over San Diego as camp begins. Does Merriman have any NFL fight left in him? Or is he the proverbial Tomato Can opponent, coming off a serious knee injury that could hinder his speed and effectiveness?
Merriman is still just 25. But if you connect the dots and remember his four-game suspension in 2006 for steroids, which have been known to lead to repeated injuries and shortened careers, Merriman's return to full strength could be iffy.
All indications are Merriman has returned in terrific shape and looks healthier than ever as the Chargers enter camp. A fully-healthy and lights-out Merriman is pivotal to all Chargers hopes. But it's one thing to look great when no one's wearing shoulder pads. It's quite another to actually be great when the game becomes violent, the cuts are quicker and the physical demands brutal.
There clearly is concern within the organization over exactly which Merriman they will get this year. The Chargers drafted pass-rushing specialist Larry English this year, presumably as protection behind Merriman.
For the record, Ochocinco's Bengals face the Chargers on Dec. 20. The tweet battle between these two is sure to escalate. But maybe Ochocinco is banking on the same thing others worry about: Merriman may be out by then, anyway.
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