10-Pack: Can Weis, Cassel coexist in Kansas City?

With training camps opening throughout the NFL, there are plenty of obvious story lines. So instead of breaking down the easy stuff like whether (or, more accurately, when) Brett Favre will return or who’ll start during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension or whether Jay Cutler will take aim at Mike Martz, let’s take a look at some more subtle things to watch as the 2010 season approaches.

Charlie Weis could have a rough ride in dealing with Matt Cassel (4).
Charlie Weis could have a rough ride in dealing with Matt Cassel (4).

1. Can Charlie Weis and QB Matt Cassel get along?

In Kansas City, Weis has assumed the duties of offensive coordinator, allowing Todd Haley to focus on coaching the team.

Many assume the relationship between Weis and Cassel will go swimmingly, given their mutual ties to New England.

But here’s the thing. Weis left the Patriots before Cassel arrived, and there’s no indication that the two men will click the same way Weis clicked with Tom Brady, or in the same way Cassel clicked with Josh McDaniels.

2. Will Roy Williams be asked to take less money?

If Roy Williams had fulfilled the potential that prompted the Cowboys to give up a lot more than a first-round pick in the trade, they wouldn’t have needed to devote another first-round pick to the position, especially with Miles Austin on the team.

So now that Dez Bryant is under contract, and assuming he and Austin stay healthy, the next question becomes not whether the Cowboys will cut Williams, but whether they’ll squeeze him into cutting his base salary of $3.45 million, with a threat of cutting him if he doesn’t.

If Bryant continues to perform like he has to start camp, the Cowboys could end up telling Williams that if he doesn’t accept a reduction he’ll be carrying his own shoulder pads — right out of the facility.

3. Can T.O. stay healthy?

Apart from the question of whether the Bengals can keep receiver Terrell Owens happy is the question of whether T.O. can keep himself healthy.

Last year, he showed signs of the beginnings of a physical breakdown. Owens injured a toe in the Hall of Fame game and missed a large chunk of training camp and the preseason. This year, he’s a year older (he’ll be 37 on Dec. 7) and a year closer to reaching the point where his spirit will still be willing but his body will have grown unacceptably weak.

So while we focus on whether he’ll find a way to remain content despite having $2 million tied up in an incentive-laden contract, it’s important to keep an eye on his ability to stay at 100 percent for all of training camp, the preseason and beyond.

4. How much work will Ben Roethlisberger get?

The biggest question facing the Steelers is whether veteran Byron Leftwich or the less experienced (but arguably more skilled) Dennis Dixon will secure the starting quarterback job for the first six (or four) games of the season, while Ben Roethlisberger serves a suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

But what about Roethlisberger? With limited first-team reps to get Leftwich and/or Dixon ready to play, how many chances will Roethlisberger receive to get himself ready to play when he returns from his suspension?

The Steelers could be inclined to give Roethlisberger limited work, in the hopes of reserving the primary reps for Leftwich and Dixon. But that will serve only to make it harder for Roethlisberger to be at his best in October, and it could mean the Steelers will hold him out for an extra game or two while he gets back up to speed, especially if the team is thriving without him.

5. What will the Vikings do at backup quarterback?

Everyone expects Favre to show up — eventually — and keep the Minnesota offense from sliding back into mediocrity. But who’ll be the guy to take his place, if the Saints defense does to him in Week 1 what it did to him during the NFC title game?

Presumably, Tarvaris Jackson will get the job. But Sage Rosenfels could make a push to save his roster spot by climbing the ladder in camp.

Then there’s Joe Webb, a rookie quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback who, in theory, could become the best option behind Favre — primarily since neither Jackson nor Rosenfels are all that good.

6. Will Cleveland have a workhorse at tailback?

The Browns enter the 2010 season with a passing game premised on a has-been (Jake Delhomme), a never-was (Seneca Wallace), and/or a may-not-ever-be (Colt McCoy). To make matters worse, they’ve also got a fairly bare cupboard at receiver and tight end.

So the running game will be very important, with fourth-year veteran Jerome Harrison and rookie Montario Hardesty jockeying for position.

It remains to be seen whether they share touches, or whether one of them becomes the primary option. While Cleveland will make whatever decision points toward the most victories, tons of fantasy football owners will be keeping a close eye on whether one or the other becomes the primary option for a Browns team that likely will be doing plenty of running, primarily because it won’t be able to do much passing.

7. Who will back up Drew Brees?

Last year, the Saints had aging veteran Mark Brunell as the primary backup to Super Bowl 44 MVP Drew Brees. This year, Brunell’s at camp with the Jets.

So who’ll be the insurance policy for Brees? For now, Tulane product Patrick Ramsey has the most experience in the league, but he has very little in the Saints’ offensive system. Behind Ramsey, the Saints have Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield.

If Brees gets hurt, the Saints are screwed.

8. Does anyone care about the Buccaneers?

The NFL has done an excellent job of creating a system that cultivates optimism in the offseason. Every team has a legitimate shot at climbing out of the valley of 0-0 and making it to the playoffs, especially with only four teams in each division.

Every team except Tampa Bay.

Eight years removed from a Super Bowl win, the team has regressed to the rag-tag Tampa teams that primarily resided in the basement of the old NFC Central through 1995. Everyone seems to accept the reality that the Bucs are bound once again for the bottom of the NFC South, and few if anyone in Tampa can plausibly piece together a scenario in which the overmatched franchise has any chance at overcoming the Saints and/or the Falcons.

Fortunately for the NFL, not many other teams fall into that same category in August.

9. Can Ken Whisenhunt coach the Cardinals into a contender?

Arizona’s unexpected success over the past two seasons can be attributed to Kurt Warner’s resurgence and just enough high-end players at other key positions. Not to mention the Cardinals play in one of the league’s worst divisions.

With those big-name players long gone, if the Cardinals are going to succeed this year, the success will flow from coach Whisenhunt.

It’s possible Whisenhunt had a lot more to do with the team’s recent run of success than people realize. After all, the team had won only one postseason game since the Truman administration before the buck stopped with Whisenhunt; in the last two seasons, the Cardinals have won four of them. And it was Whisenhunt who made the call late in the 2008 preseason to put Heisman winner Matt Leinart on the bench and dust off the graybeard who had seemed to lose his fastball somewhere between St. Louis and New York.

In the end, if Whisenhunt had a bigger hand than realized in the 2008 and 2009 editions of the team, then the 2010 Cardinals should contend in a still-weak NFC West. If they don’t contend, the bulk of the credit for the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl berth will go to the players — specifically those who are gone.

10. Can Perry Fewell fix the Giants defense?

With all the attention that has been paid to the Jets, it’s easy to forget the Giants’ fortunes have plummeted almost as far as the career of the guy who made the one-handed, helmet-aided catch that delivered the unlikeliest of Super Bowl victories.

The key to turning it around will come on the defensive side of the ball, where the Giants need to get back to putting high heat on the quarterback — and where they desperately need a capable replacement for Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker.

More importantly, they need new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to have the same kind of impact in his first year on the job that Steve Spagnuolo had in 2007, giving the side of the ball not featuring a member of the Manning family a kick in the pants, in the hopes of dropping many opposing quarterbacks on theirs.

Whether and to what extent Fewell can get it done will go a long way toward determining whether coach Tom Coughlin will be back in 2011.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

With training camps opening throughout the NFL, there are plenty of obvious story lines. So instead of breaking down the easy stuff like whether (or, more accurately, when) Brett Favre will return or who’ll start during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension or whether Jay Cutler will take aim at Mike Martz, let’s take a look at some more subtle things to watch as the 2010 season approaches.

Charlie Weis could have a rough ride in dealing with Matt Cassel (4).
Charlie Weis could have a rough ride in dealing with Matt Cassel (4).

1. Can Charlie Weis and QB Matt Cassel get along?

In Kansas City, Weis has assumed the duties of offensive coordinator, allowing Todd Haley to focus on coaching the team.

Many assume the relationship between Weis and Cassel will go swimmingly, given their mutual ties to New England.

But here’s the thing. Weis left the Patriots before Cassel arrived, and there’s no indication that the two men will click the same way Weis clicked with Tom Brady, or in the same way Cassel clicked with Josh McDaniels.

2. Will Roy Williams be asked to take less money?

If Roy Williams had fulfilled the potential that prompted the Cowboys to give up a lot more than a first-round pick in the trade, they wouldn’t have needed to devote another first-round pick to the position, especially with Miles Austin on the team.

So now that Dez Bryant is under contract, and assuming he and Austin stay healthy, the next question becomes not whether the Cowboys will cut Williams, but whether they’ll squeeze him into cutting his base salary of $3.45 million, with a threat of cutting him if he doesn’t.

If Bryant continues to perform like he has to start camp, the Cowboys could end up telling Williams that if he doesn’t accept a reduction he’ll be carrying his own shoulder pads — right out of the facility.

3. Can T.O. stay healthy?

Apart from the question of whether the Bengals can keep receiver Terrell Owens happy is the question of whether T.O. can keep himself healthy.

Last year, he showed signs of the beginnings of a physical breakdown. Owens injured a toe in the Hall of Fame game and missed a large chunk of training camp and the preseason. This year, he’s a year older (he’ll be 37 on Dec. 7) and a year closer to reaching the point where his spirit will still be willing but his body will have grown unacceptably weak.

So while we focus on whether he’ll find a way to remain content despite having $2 million tied up in an incentive-laden contract, it’s important to keep an eye on his ability to stay at 100 percent for all of training camp, the preseason and beyond.

4. How much work will Ben Roethlisberger get?

The biggest question facing the Steelers is whether veteran Byron Leftwich or the less experienced (but arguably more skilled) Dennis Dixon will secure the starting quarterback job for the first six (or four) games of the season, while Ben Roethlisberger serves a suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

But what about Roethlisberger? With limited first-team reps to get Leftwich and/or Dixon ready to play, how many chances will Roethlisberger receive to get himself ready to play when he returns from his suspension?

The Steelers could be inclined to give Roethlisberger limited work, in the hopes of reserving the primary reps for Leftwich and Dixon. But that will serve only to make it harder for Roethlisberger to be at his best in October, and it could mean the Steelers will hold him out for an extra game or two while he gets back up to speed, especially if the team is thriving without him.

5. What will the Vikings do at backup quarterback?

Everyone expects Favre to show up — eventually — and keep the Minnesota offense from sliding back into mediocrity. But who’ll be the guy to take his place, if the Saints defense does to him in Week 1 what it did to him during the NFC title game?

Presumably, Tarvaris Jackson will get the job. But Sage Rosenfels could make a push to save his roster spot by climbing the ladder in camp.

Then there’s Joe Webb, a rookie quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback who, in theory, could become the best option behind Favre — primarily since neither Jackson nor Rosenfels are all that good.

6. Will Cleveland have a workhorse at tailback?

The Browns enter the 2010 season with a passing game premised on a has-been (Jake Delhomme), a never-was (Seneca Wallace), and/or a may-not-ever-be (Colt McCoy). To make matters worse, they’ve also got a fairly bare cupboard at receiver and tight end.

So the running game will be very important, with fourth-year veteran Jerome Harrison and rookie Montario Hardesty jockeying for position.

It remains to be seen whether they share touches, or whether one of them becomes the primary option. While Cleveland will make whatever decision points toward the most victories, tons of fantasy football owners will be keeping a close eye on whether one or the other becomes the primary option for a Browns team that likely will be doing plenty of running, primarily because it won’t be able to do much passing.

7. Who will back up Drew Brees?

Last year, the Saints had aging veteran Mark Brunell as the primary backup to Super Bowl 44 MVP Drew Brees. This year, Brunell’s at camp with the Jets.

So who’ll be the insurance policy for Brees? For now, Tulane product Patrick Ramsey has the most experience in the league, but he has very little in the Saints’ offensive system. Behind Ramsey, the Saints have Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield.

If Brees gets hurt, the Saints are screwed.

8. Does anyone care about the Buccaneers?

The NFL has done an excellent job of creating a system that cultivates optimism in the offseason. Every team has a legitimate shot at climbing out of the valley of 0-0 and making it to the playoffs, especially with only four teams in each division.

Every team except Tampa Bay.

Eight years removed from a Super Bowl win, the team has regressed to the rag-tag Tampa teams that primarily resided in the basement of the old NFC Central through 1995. Everyone seems to accept the reality that the Bucs are bound once again for the bottom of the NFC South, and few if anyone in Tampa can plausibly piece together a scenario in which the overmatched franchise has any chance at overcoming the Saints and/or the Falcons.

Fortunately for the NFL, not many other teams fall into that same category in August.

9. Can Ken Whisenhunt coach the Cardinals into a contender?

Arizona’s unexpected success over the past two seasons can be attributed to Kurt Warner’s resurgence and just enough high-end players at other key positions. Not to mention the Cardinals play in one of the league’s worst divisions.

With those big-name players long gone, if the Cardinals are going to succeed this year, the success will flow from coach Whisenhunt.

It’s possible Whisenhunt had a lot more to do with the team’s recent run of success than people realize. After all, the team had won only one postseason game since the Truman administration before the buck stopped with Whisenhunt; in the last two seasons, the Cardinals have won four of them. And it was Whisenhunt who made the call late in the 2008 preseason to put Heisman winner Matt Leinart on the bench and dust off the graybeard who had seemed to lose his fastball somewhere between St. Louis and New York.

In the end, if Whisenhunt had a bigger hand than realized in the 2008 and 2009 editions of the team, then the 2010 Cardinals should contend in a still-weak NFC West. If they don’t contend, the bulk of the credit for the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl berth will go to the players — specifically those who are gone.

10. Can Perry Fewell fix the Giants defense?

With all the attention that has been paid to the Jets, it’s easy to forget the Giants’ fortunes have plummeted almost as far as the career of the guy who made the one-handed, helmet-aided catch that delivered the unlikeliest of Super Bowl victories.

The key to turning it around will come on the defensive side of the ball, where the Giants need to get back to putting high heat on the quarterback — and where they desperately need a capable replacement for Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker.

More importantly, they need new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to have the same kind of impact in his first year on the job that Steve Spagnuolo had in 2007, giving the side of the ball not featuring a member of the Manning family a kick in the pants, in the hopes of dropping many opposing quarterbacks on theirs.

Whether and to what extent Fewell can get it done will go a long way toward determining whether coach Tom Coughlin will be back in 2011.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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