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Posted: Monday July 27, 2009 11:27AM; Updated: Wednesday July 29, 2009 8:10PM
John P. Lopez John P. Lopez >
INSIDE THE NFL

Ten training camp storylines that have nothing to do with Favre, Vick

Story Highlights

On heels of playoff appearance, Ravens still face lots of questions

How will Peyton Manning handle the shifting pressure in Indianapolis?

Five out-of-work coaches will make current crop's hot seat heat up quickly

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Darren McFadden ran for 499 yards on 113 attempts, with four touchdowns, in 2008.
Brad Mangin/SI

Read all about it: Michael Vick is feeling sorry for himself. Brett Favre is done ... for now. Enough already. The only thing certain about the Vick and Favre departures is that there is more, and more, and more, to come. I'm guessing about 11 billion of my closest football-following friends have had it up to HERE with both quarterbacks. Let's move on, shall we?

Here then are 10 training camp stories better than Vick's; 10 football headlines fresher and more compelling than Favre's.

1) Darren McFadden: Fourth overall pick a third-stringer?

When the Raiders signed McFadden to a six-year, $60 million contract in 2008, apparently McFadden did not believe part of the job description was running between the tackles. In his rookie season, he became -- and this is not a compliment -- a poor man's Reggie Bush. He was explosive on the edge and showed brilliant ability and potential, but consistently left Raiders fans wanting more.

The Raiders need and want more for their money after McFadden's erratic, injury-plagued rookie season. Yes, he showed great flashes, but more often than not left Raiders coaches wondering if he was durable enough to handle the demands of being the featured back. As camp begins this week, it remains a big question. It is the biggest question.

The Raiders have three potential featured backs in Justin Fargas, Michael Bush and McFadden. They obviously want McFadden to be the man, as they ran him with the first-team throughout mini-camp. And certainly McFadden wants to prove skeptics wrong. But can he?

Fargas, who has 1,862-yards rushing the past two seasons, is a hard runner, unafraid of contact and a coach Tom Cable-favorite. It may be that Fargas did not run with the first unit during mini-camp because the Raiders were saving wear on the veteran's legs. Meanwhile, Bush may be the most physically gifted of the three.

The Raiders have done all they can trying to clear a path for McFadden to take the job. It's all up to him now. Al Davis isn't going to pay $60 million for a role player.

2) The $4.4 million question?

The Baltimore Ravens seem to be walking a delicate line between Super Bowl contender and the team most likely to disappoint in 2009. All things considered in the NFL's grand scheme, Derrick Mason's possible return in Baltimore could have a much bigger impact than Favre's possibly landing in Minnesota.

The Ravens are a hugely talented and proven team, but there are changes on the coaching staff, questions in the backfield, a young quarterback in need of his go-to man and a $63 million man that now must live up to expectations.

Who knows if Greg Mattison can fill Rex Ryan's shoes as defensive coordinator? Who knows if Ray Rice can steal carries from Willis McGahee? Will quarterback Joe Flacco suffer through a sophomore slump without Mason? And can Terrell Suggs live up to the richest contract (six years, $63 million) a linebacker has ever received?

It all gets better if Mason returns. He has that kind of an impact on the field and in the locker room. He commands that kind of respect.

Mason announced his retirement July 13. It was widely considered an emotionally-charged retirement, in the wake of the death of Mason's dear friend, Steve McNair. As Mason wrestled with shock and grief, he perhaps over-reacted announcing that he would leave the game, because he clearly has more left in the tank.

The Ravens hope Mason will return. Coach John Harbaugh put on a big recruiting pitch over the weekend. And Mason stands to make $4.4 million this year if he returns.

Tick, tock. The Ravens' season is waiting.

3) Wade "Mr. Mean" Phillips

Wade Phillips has been in coaching for about as long as Fred Rogers had his PBS Neighborhood. Mr. Phillips and Mr. Rogers forged reputations of being similarly likeable and kind, too. So would you really have expected Mr. Rogers to suddenly become W.C. Fields after 32 years of wearing the sweater and speaking with that soothing voice?

Get outta here, kid, you bother me.

That kind of transformation, in essence, is what Phillips promises in 2009. He will be meaner. Tougher. More Bill Parcells-like. And if you believe that, you're living in the Neighborhood Of Make Believe. After 32 years, people don't change. But that's what Phillips, in the final year of his contract, must at least try to do to save his job.

After the most disappointing and disjointed of seasons for the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, the football world fully expected owner Jerry Jones to change coaches. Instead, his head coach promised to change his style.

So far Phillips has held players more accountable and been stricter when it comes to making players sit out if they make mistakes. Phillips also says he will wield a bigger stick when it comes to fines.

It should be quite the soap-opera drama, as usual, in Jerry World as Phillips tries to be something he's not. Camp fun opens this week. Jones surely will be asked about his head coach soon thereafter.

Mr. Phillips as Mr. Mean? Not likely, but it will be fun to watch.

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