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NFL camp preview: Injury concerns hurt NFC contenders

The SportsXchange

While it is popular to claim sports media focuses on negatives, just ask NFL coaches what they are thinking as training camps near. Those who are truthful won't mention the excitement about team strengths and stars.

At this time coaches are focused on their concerns -- the issues they must address immediately in training camp.

The most popular concerns among NFC teams are centered on the health or abilities on defense, based on a survey of team correspondents by The Sports Xchange.

Defensive injury issues were prominent on four teams, topped by Tampa Bay's worries over the surgically-repaired knee of expensive free-agent cornerback Darrelle Revis and including Carolina, Detroit and the New York Giants.

The Green Bay Packers are worried about defense in general and the New Orleans Saints are seeking linebackers that fit defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense.

Offensive line issues are key to four teams -- Arizona, Chicago, St. Louis and Seattle.

And the all-important quarterback position will drum up the usual drama in Dallas, Minnesota, Philadelphia and, of course, the Washington Redskins and their surgically-repaired star, Robert Griffin III.

Here is a closer look at key causes for concern for NFC teams as they prepare for training camp (teams listed alphabetically):

Arizona Cardinals -- Offensive line.

Opinions differ on whether their offensive tackles are a strength or weakness, but until there is unanimity, new quarterback Carson Palmer will certainly be concerned. Left tackle Levi Brown gets wildly mixed reviews and right tackle Bobby Massie was horrible during the first half of his 2012 rookie season, improved near the end but is being challenged by Nate Potter, who looked good in his underwear at OTAs.

Carolina Panthers -- Secondary.

Going into training camp, the Panthers have only 25 percent of their secondary starters in place. Free safety belongs to Charles Godfrey, but strong safety and both cornerback spots are question marks. Captain Munnerlyn is the team's most talented defensive back, but his size is best suited for nickel back. Free agent Drayton Florence is vying for a corner spot against Josh Norman, Josh Thomas, and former Bear D.J. Moore.

Chicago Bears -- Offensive line.

Although improved, this offensive line is still a question mark. J'Marcus Webb must be better at right tackle than he was the past two seasons at left tackle. Rookie Kyle Long, who started only five games in college, must use his physical gifts and intangibles to solidify the right guard spot. And, at 34 years old, center Roberto Garza should be monitored.

Dallas Cowboys -- Quarterback Tony Romo's health.

Romo missed OTAs and minicamp rehabbing from back surgery. Only one quarterback has missed OTAs and minicamp and then led his team to the conference title game -- Brett Favre with the Vikings in 2009. Favre already had a Super Bowl title and several league MVPs on his resume, but Romo has just one playoff win ... ever. Another concern regarding Romo's health is the offensive line, which must improve if the Cowboys hope to launch a consistent passing game.

Detroit Lions -- Health of safety Louis Delmas.

Delmas had surgery on each knee in the last two years and still needs to show he can participate. Said coach Jim Schwartz: "He's got an incredible amount of toughness. It took a lot of discipline, for him and for us, to sit him out this whole offseason. But the No. 1 thing for him is to get that knee right."

Green Bay Packers -- Defense.

Pass rush, which had little beyond Clay Matthews, should be helped by rookie defensive end Datone Jones. Leadership was lost with the departure of safety Charles Woodson and there are battles at both corners and safety. Rushing defense was a shambles, especially late last season, although a lot of teams yielded yards to Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and San Francisco's multi-talented quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The erratic kicking of Mason Crosby (league worst 63.6 percent on field goals) gave rise to competition from left-footed Giorgio Tavecchio.

Minnesota Vikings -- Quarterback Christian Ponder.

Ponder is wildly inconsistent despite having the great Adrian Peterson to balance the offense, and then some. The Vikings need better than a Jekyll and Hyde quarterback performance to go deep into the playoffs and Ponder will need to improve while getting to know new receivers Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson now that Percy Harvin is with Seattle.

New Orleans Saints -- Linebackers in a new defense.

When outside linebacker Victor Butler tore his ACL in OTAs, the new-look defense took a big hit. He was expected to start in the new 3-4 defense installed by coordinator Rob Ryan. Now that role is up for grabs with former defensive ends Junior Galette and Martez Wilson battling to start opposite Will Smith, also a former defensive end.

New York Giants -- Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul's health.

Pierre-Paul underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc, but coach Tom Coughlin didn't sound optimistic about projections that Pierre-Paul will be ready for the season opener. "I'm hoping, but I wouldn't say that," Coughlin said when asked if Pierre-Paul will be ready when the season begins. Meantime, Mathias Kiwanuka is playing Pierre-Paul's spot. Another concern is whether post-operative offensive linemen David Baas and Chris Snee will be ready for training camp.

Philadelphia Eagles -- Somebody to run Chip Kelly's offense.

There is more curiosity than ever -- and that is saying a lot -- over who will play quarterback. Part of the intrigue is trying to grasp exactly what will be expected of the quarterback in Kelly's offense, which was literally run at a breathtaking pace when he coached Oregon. Candidates are 33-year-old Michael Vick, second-year pro Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley.

St. Louis Rams -- Overall blocking for QB Sam Bradford.

The loss of tough running back Steven Jackson, a battle at left guard and nothing for sure as a blocking tight end means the Rams cannot assume they can protect the quarterback. The Rams re-signed Chris Williams for left guard after Rob Turner went to Tennessee. Williams will compete with Shelley Smith and Rokevious Watkins. Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are leading candidates at tight end.

San Francisco 49ers -- Depth at wide receiver.

With Michael Crabtree recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, former Ravens star Anquan Boldin is the only proven, healthy wide receiver. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are fighting back from knee injuries and 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins was almost a no-show as a rookie. Stories about swift tight end Vernon Davis moving to wide receiver are overstated, although don't be surprised to see him line up here, there and everywhere.

Seattle Seahawks -- Offensive guard.

Although the Seahawks have Pro Bowl players in tackle in Russell Okung and center Max Unger, both guard spots are unsettled in an offense that likes to pound the ball. Former first-round pick James Carpenter has yet to come back from offseason knee surgery and will compete for the left guard job with Paul McQuistan. At right guard, second-year pro J.R. Sweezy is battling third-year pro John Moffitt.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Cornerback Darrelle Revis' knee.

If Revis is unable to start the regular season, the Buccaneers might again be a house of cards at cornerback. Veteran Eric Wright signed a redone contract but has struggled with consistency and staying healthy. Johnthan Banks is a rookie, probably suited for nickel duty. After that, the cupboard is bare. All-Pro safety acquisition Dashon Goldson cannot be expected to raise the level of play significantly if Revis is not part of it.

Washington Redskins -- RG3.

Probably the most dramatic concern in the entire NFL -- for those who bother to be concerned about league-wide player impact -- is whether quarterback Robert Griffin III can recover from major knee surgery and be the dynamic player he was as a rookie. The Redskins are also concerned about safety Brandon Meriweather (three knee injuries, one game in 2012) and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (three pectoral injuries, two games since the 2011 finale).
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