25 things to keep an eye on once NFL training camps open

The 2021 NFL season is set for a more conventional training camp after major changes last year due to COVID-19. With another wild offseason, there are still some big questions to be answered as training camp opens in about one month.


1 of 25

Was Josh Allen’s breakout real?

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Seemingly overnight, Allen became one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL during his third season, helping lead the Bills to the AFC Championship. We often see regression from sudden breakout players like Allen, but he’s hoping to build on his first Pro Bowl season and lead Buffalo to even greater heights.


2 of 25

Big Ben’s optimism

Big Ben's optimism

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Roethlisberger had a sub-par 2020 season, but he’s now more than a year removed from elbow surgery and with the addition of first-round running back Najee Harris. The Steelers also promoted Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, and the players sound optimistic about the new offense. The bigger concern now is the offensive line after several personnel losses.


Tom Brady at age 44

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Brady did the impossible, going south to Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl at age 43 last season. He’s now had unsurpassed success both for his entire career and in his 40’s. Repeating will be the next challenge, with the Bucs bringing back all 22 starters from last season.


4 of 25

Joe Burrow’s knee (and protection)

Joe Burrow's knee (and protection)

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Burrow is still getting back to full strength after suffering a torn ACL in his rookie season. He showed flashes of very good play, and the team drafted first-round pick and former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase to help him. The bigger concern is the team’s lack of proven offensive line help, putting Burrow in a scary position coming back from surgery.


5 of 25

Cleveland a legitimate contender?

Cleveland a legitimate contender?

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Cleveland finally made a jump forward last season with head coach Kevin Stefanski, making the playoffs and seeing Baker Mayfield rebound. The roster remains loaded with talent at every position, and there’s reason to be optimistic about the offense with Odell Beckham returning from injury. Still, the team is in a tough AFC North and will have to show further improvement to exceed last year’s success.


6 of 25

Cowboys defensive woes

Cowboys defensive woes

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Last season was a nightmare for Dallas, with a defense that couldn’t stop anyone and Dak Prescott‘s early-season ankle injury. Prescott is healthy and with an enviable set of weapons, but the defense only made a few noticeable additions due to cap issues. They’re hoping new coordinator Dan Quinn to work some magic after Dallas allowed a franchise-worst 473 points.


Justin Fields approaching the inevitable

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Bears Nation is dancing in the streets following the addition of Fields in the first round of the draft, but head coach Matt Nagy still claims that veteran Andy Dalton is the starting quarterback. That’s hard to believe given how much Dalton has struggled over the last two seasons with Cincinnati and Dallas, as well as Fields’ multi-dimensional ability.


Justin Herbert ready for stardom?

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Herbert won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 with a surprising and fantastic season, but the Chargers surprised by hiring former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley instead of an offensive-minded coach. Herbert also lost tight end Hunter Henry, but the Chargers have drastically improved the offensive line. Herbert is hoping to build on last season, which won’t be easy after throwing for over 4,300 yards and 31 touchdowns.


The elite Lamar Jackson?

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After winning MVP in 2019, Jackson’s play regressed last year with his numbers declining in nearly every major category. His lack of receiving weapons has been one of the issues, and Baltimore addressed that by adding first-round pick Rashod Bateman and veteran Sammy Watkins. Jackson will soon get a huge contract, regardless, but the jury is out on if he can be a consistently elite signal-caller.


Jimmy Garoppolo or the future in the San Fran?

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Garoppolo was plagued by injury, like many of the other key 49ers players last season, but enters training camp as the team’s starter. It still remains to be seen if Garoppolo will remain the starter for the bulk of 2021, or if San Francisco will turn to third overall draft choice Trey Lance. It’s clear Lance is the team’s long-term hope at quarterback, but he might not be their best quarterback this season on a team just one year removed from a Super Bowl berth and with the talent to return.


11 of 25

Houston, we have many problems

Houston, we have many problems

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The Texans cleaned house over the last year, though much of that wasn’t by choice. Bill O’Brien’s horrendous personnel moves put the team in salary cap purgatory and without the draft picks to build for the future. J.J. Watt got his wish of a trade, and Deshaun Watson desired the same before his off-field issues. It’s set to be a long year in Houston, but new head coach David Culley does have the NFL experience as a long-time assistant to make the most of it.


Daniel Jones' last shot?

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Jones has been a turnover machine in his first two NFL seasons, and the Giants are 8-18 with him under center, as a result. The organization couldn’t have helped him much more this offseason, adding Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph, along with the return of Saquon Barkley from injury. If Jones can’t improve with this group, the Giants will likely be forced to move on in 2022.


Julio Jones offsetting Titans' other losses?

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Tennessee’s offseason looked bleak with the losses of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Corey Davis, and several prominent defensive players before the late addition of Jones from Atlanta. Suddenly, the Titans look like contenders again, with enviable talent at the skills positions. It’s still worth keeping in perspective that Jones is 32, and played only nine games last season due to injury. The Titans have exciting talent but are far from a sure thing to improve.


Life in Arizona after Larry Fitzgerald

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Nothing is official, but the speculation remains that Fitzgerald will retire after 17 years in Arizona. The Cardinals replaced him early in the offseason with veteran A.J. Green, and also made other roster improvements like center Rodney Hudson and defensive end J.J. Watt. The team is hoping that Kyler Murray can take yet another step forward in his third season, albeit without Fitzgerald, and lead the Cardinals to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.


The magic of Patrick Mahomes

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Even when he was running for his life in the Super Bowl, Mahomes made miraculous plays that will be remembered for years. The Chiefs enter the season as the favorites to win the Super Bowl again after remaking their offensive line, and Mahomes had his toe issue corrected surgically in the offseason. With potentially more time in the pocket to find open receivers, Mahomes could be set for his biggest year yet.


Urban Meyer in Jacksonville

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Meyer finally made the jump to the NFL after great college success at Florida and Ohio State, as well as some time off. He’s made some unorthodox and controversial decisions already like bringing in Tim Tebow to compete at tight end and will be leading a young team with No. 1 overall draft choice Trevor Lawrence starting at quarterback. Jaguars fans just hope Meyer can add some excitement after a lackluster few years.


17 of 25

New COVID-19 protocols

New COVID-19 protocols

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The NFL did a great job getting through the 2020 season despite challenging circumstances due to COVID-19. Some players (Bills wideout Cole Beasley, for one) have come out adamantly against vaccination, but the league’s 2021 protocols seemingly make life difficult for players who don’t get vaccinated. We’re likely to hear more from players and teams about the changes as training camp opens.


Cam Newton vs. Mac Jones

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Newton struggled as New England’s starting quarterback last year, which he partially blamed on missing time due to COVID-19. The Pats brought him back but also drafted Jones in the first round. It looks like a quarterback competition already, with a vastly improved roster after the team was aggressive adding players in the offseason. It seems almost inevitable that Jones will start this season, but it remains to be seen when that will happen.


Aaron Rodgers saga

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The media reports about Rodgers’ dismay with the Packers front office continue to roll in, but it sounds like the superstar will either play for Green Bay or nowhere in 2020. The situation might not even be resolved as training camp opens, but Packers faithful are hopeful he still has at least one year left with the team.


Robert Saleh working miracles in New York

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After he did a terrific job as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator, Saleh was an acclaimed hire to be the head coach of the Jets this offseason. He has a very tough job ahead with a rookie quarterback in Zach Wilson, but the Jets made several other personnel additions this offseason that indicate they’d like to win sooner than later. How long will it take for Saleh to turn the futile Jets organization around?


21 of 25

Saints quarterback battle

Saints quarterback battle

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Things will certainly be different in New Orleans without Drew Brees. The team will turn to either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill in 2021. The quarterbacks have very different skillsets, so Sean Payton‘s offense could go in a variety of directions this year.


Matthew Stafford the answer in LA?

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The Rams moved on from Jared Goff after the offense sputtered for the second consecutive year, and used huge capital to acquire Stafford from Detroit. Stafford has put up big numbers during his career, but his team success in Detroit was limited. LA is banking on Stafford being the missing piece as they try to get back to the Super Bowl.


23 of 25

Russell Wilson’s morale

Russell Wilson's morale

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Wilson made headlines early in the offseason when he demanded better protection from Seattle’s offensive line, and there were even whispers that he wanted to be traded. The Aaron Rodgers controversy has stolen much of the thunder since then, but Wilson’s mood in training camp could be telling for Seattle’s season ahead.


24 of 25

Veteran quarterbacks in new places

Veteran quarterbacks in new places

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It was an offseason of major quarterback movement. In addition to the aforementioned Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff finding new homes, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, and Ryan Fitzpatrick are a few more of the notable veteran quarterbacks wearing new uniforms in 2021. Each veteran has high expectations with their new teams.


25 of 25

Mike Zimmer’s final chance?

Mike Zimmer's final chance?

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Minnesota had a very disappointing 2020 season at 7-9, and their defensive issues were most of the reason. The Vikings’ secondary was in shambles, and Danielle Hunter’s injury doomed the pass rush. Minnesota’s defense needs to rebound for the team to return to contention, or the Vikings could move on from Zimmer after his eighth season.

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