Preseason Watchlist - NFC East
By Jason Wood
July 24th, 2012

Dallas Cowboys

  • Link: http://www.visitoxnard.com/cowboys/
  • Location: River Ridge Playing Fields (Oxnard, CA)
  • Dates: July 30 August 17
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • The Cowboys head back to picturesque Oxnard, California ready to return to the playoffs after two unfulfilled seasons. Head coach Jason Garrett acquiesced to Jerry Jones' desire for an offensive coordinator and named Bill Callahan to the role and it will be imperative for Callahan to leverage his offensive line expertise on a unit that has many questions. On defense, Rob Ryan's reputation precedes him, but he must do better than last year's 16th place finish if Dallas is going to get back into the playoff hunt.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Mon, Aug 13 - @ Oakland - 8:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - @ San Diego - 9:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 25 - vs St. Louis - 8:00 PM
  • Wed, Aug 29 - vs Miami - 8:30 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is there anything Tony Romo can do in the regular season to change his reputation? Romo had an exemplary 2011 (4,184 yards passing on 66% completion with 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions) but is routinely questioned for his leadership and whether he deserves to be considered among the elite at his position. Essentially Romo is being blamed for the Cowboys inability to make a deep playoff run and nothing he does between now and January will likely change that but fantasy owners can be assured Romo will deliver fantastic value given his current ADP.

  • Is DeMarco Murray a workhorse? DeMarco Murray received his first start in Week 7 and led the league in rushing from that point through Week 12 when he broke his ankle against the Giants. Murray's 760 yards over that span were an indication of the dominance he's capable of, particularly when you consider he was running behind a subpar offensive line. Fully healthy, Murray will be given every opportunity to become the team's bell cow. Is he built for that kind of role? And if not, can Felix Jones work his way back into the coaches' good graces?

  • Replacing WR Laurent Robinson Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are set as starters, but the Cowboys have to find a viable third receiver to replace Laurent Robinson. Robinson led the Cowboys receivers in touchdowns (11) and yards per reception (15.9) but parlayed his breakout season into big dollars in Jacksonville. Entering camp, it's hard to imagine anyone on the roster filling the void as neither Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris nor Danny Coale fit the profile.

  • Rebuilding the offensive line The Cowboys are set at tackle, as 2nd year Tyron Smith and Doug Free are anchors (but they are switching sides) but the interior is an unsolved puzzle looking for answers during camp. Will free agent Mackenzy Bernadeau (hip surgery) be healthy enough to contribute? Is Nate Livings a major upgrade from last year's starters? Is Phil Costa who ranked as one of the league's worst centers able to hold off David Arkin and Bill Nagy?

  • Fixing the secondary All eyes will be on the defensive secondary as the team integrates high priced free agent CB Brandon Carr and 1st rounder Morris Claiborne into the starting lineup. The Cowboys ranked 23rd in passing yards allowed last season and the additions of the two corners should have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the defense as it will allow DC Rob Ryan to be more attacking with the front seven.
  • New York Giants

  • Link: http://www.albany.com/news/giants.cfm
  • Location: University of Albany (Albany, NY)
  • Dates: July 26 August 15
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • The Giants return to the University of Albany to prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. For a team coming off a title run, the Giants have plenty of unanswered questions on both sides of the ball including key questions on the offensive line, receiver, tight end and running back.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Mon, Aug 13 - @ Oakland - 8:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - @ San Diego - 9:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 25 - vs St. Louis - 8:00 PM
  • Wed, Aug 29 - vs Miami - 8:30 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is RB Ahmad Bradshaw ready to shoulder the load? The running game averaged a meager 3.5 yards per rush last year and must improve if the Giants are going to have the balanced attack head coach Tom Coughlin prefers. With Brandon Jacobs gone, Bradshaw is going to be given the opportunity to not only handle the lead role, but also get goal-line work. The issue is whether Bradshaw can stay healthy as he took the extreme step of having bone marrow injected into his troublesome feet in order to stimulate healing. Bradshaw is being drafted 16th among running backs, but should significantly exceed that ranking if he can play a full 16-game schedule.

  • What role will RB David Wilson play this year? The Giants used a first round selection on the powerful runner from Virginia Tech, and many believe he'll be the starter in years to come. For now, Ahmad Bradshaw remains the top dog but with the aforementioned foot issues, the Giants must have a viable second option. Wilson must prove he can handle blitz pickups and hold onto the ball but if he does, he has a rare combination of speed, power and vision to excel in Kevin Gilbride's offense.

  • Who steps in to fill the void at wide receiver while Hakeem Nicks rehabs? Hakeem Nicks (1,192 yards and 7 TDs) and Victor Cruz (1,536 yards and 9 TDs) form one of the better tandems in the NFC, but only if Nicks can stay healthy. Nicks broke his foot in the preseason and underwent surgery, and will likely miss all of training camp. The Giants need to find someone to step into his role and also handle the 3rd receiver slot vacated by Mario Manningham. A spirited camp competition between rookie Rueben Randle and veteran Domenik Hixon will likely settle the issue.

  • Settling the offensive line The Giants may have won the Super Bowl, but there are questions on the offensive line. Is LT Will Beatty healthy? Can David Diehl handle the right tackle role after playing guard inconsistently last year? Is 2nd year tackle James Brewer ready to push for a starting role? Can Mitch Petrus give Kevin Boothe a run for his money?

  • Can the Giants pull a TE rabbit out of their hat in consecutive seasons? The Giants entered last year without a clear answer at tight end, but then rookie Jake Ballard filled the void. Unfortunately, Ballard was waived due to his injury and now the Giants must hope a starter emerges from the motley trio of free agent Martellus Bennett, rookie Adrien Robinson, and blocking specialist Bear Pascoe.

  • Middle linebacker auditions The Giants are going to let 2nd year Mark Herzlich and offseason acquisition Keith Rivers compete against Chase Blackburn for the starting job. The three way battle should be one of the better camp battles.
  • Philadelphia Eagles

  • Link: http://www.philadelphiaeagles.com/news/training-camp.html
  • Location: Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA)
  • Dates: July 23 August 14
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • The Eagles have been going to Lehigh University for 17 years, and will be among the first teams to get camp underway. The team has a collective chip on its shoulder after last year's unfulfilled aspirations. No more talk of "Dream Teams," instead Andy Reid and his staff is focused on building on the momentum the team had in winning its final four games a season ago.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Thu, Aug 9 - vs Pittsburgh - 7:30 PM
  • Mon, Aug 20 - @ New England - 8:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 24 - @ Cleveland - 7:30 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - vs NY Jets - 6:35 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Can QB Michael Vick learn to better protect himself? Michael Vick regressed last year for many reasons, not the least of which was nagging injuries from taking an undue pounding. He and the coaches have committed to Vick making better decisions and not throwing his body around, but can he stick to the plan when instincts and adrenaline take over?

  • How can the Eagles replace Jason Peters? Left tackle Jason Peters is one of the league's best blockers but will miss the 2012 season with a torn Achilles tendon. It's impossible to replace someone of Peters' caliber, but the Eagles have to try to stabilize the position in training camp by letting free agent Demetress Bell compete with 5th year veteran King Dunlap.

  • Who backs up RB LeSean McCoy? McCoy is one of the league's top running backs (and a top 3 fantasy selection in most leagues), but the backup roles are wide open entering camp. 2nd year Dion Lewis should be considered the favorite but a pair of rookies Chris Polk and Bryce Brown have more than enough ability to make the decision difficult for Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg.

  • Are WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin back to form? For different reasons, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson both fell short of expectations in 2011. This year, both seem to be ready to re-assert themselves. Jackson has a new contract and a new attitude, and Maclin is healthy and back to his 2010 playing weight. Maclin (WR20) and Jackson (WR25) are being drafted several rounds later than they should be if you expect both to return to their 2010 forms.

  • How does the revamped linebacking corps look? Eagles' fans have been longing for a dominant linebacker corps for years, and 2012 may finally answer their wishes. Rookie Mychal Kendricks is being inserted as the starting strong side linebacker and former Pro Bowler DeMeco Ryans will man the middle after an offseason trade from Houston. Ryans, in particular, can be the difference maker as the quarterback of Juan Castillo's attacking defense, but has to answer questions about his health first.
  • Washington Redskins

  • Link: http://www.redskins.com/news-and-events/training-camp/schedule.html
  • Location: Redskins Park (Ashburn, VA)
  • Dates: July 26 August 14
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • The honeymoon is over for Mike Shanahan and his staff, and owner Daniel Snyder no doubt expects major improvement in their 3rd season. As the team descends upon Redskins Park for training camp, expectations have skyrocketed thanks to an aggressive offseason most notably a move up in the draft to select Robert Griffin III. Both the offense (26th in points scored) and defense (21st in points allowed) have room for improvement.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Thu, Aug 9 - @ Buffalo - 7:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - @ Chicago - 8:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 25 - vs Indianapolis - 4:00 PM
  • Wed, Aug 29 - vs Tampa Bay - 7:30 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is Robert Griffin III ready to make a major impact as a rookie? In a way, Robert Griffin III should be upset with Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Both excelled (in their own ways) as rookie starters and have completely reshaped the way we think of rookie quarterbacks. Griffin will be asked to start immediately, and nothing short of immediate success will satisfy fans and fantasy owners. Griffin's mobility will help him maintain fantasy value even if his passing is erratic, but he will have very little room for error as he's being drafted 12th among quarterbacks.

  • Who starts at running back, and does it matter? Tim Hightower was the starter in 2011 before going on Injured Reserve, and then Roy Helu rattled off a bunch of 100-yard games until getting hurt, and then Evan Royster rattled off a pair of 100-yard starts. All three return which means the situation is as clear as fog. Fantasy owners are betting on Roy Helu (RB22) while Hightower (RB51) and Royster (RB68) are afterthoughts. Don't be surprised if expectations change as training camp unfolds.

  • Who starts opposite Pierre Garcon? Washington made a major financial commitment to Pierre Garcon, but it's not clear who starts opposite him. Local beat writers speculated that 2nd year Leonard Hankerson was the favorite, provided he could return from hip surgery. But veteran Santana Moss has looked great in mini-camps and OTAs, and could make it hard to keep him out of the lineup. Josh Morgan another free agent signing hopes to compete for the role, as well.

  • Kicker competition Graham Gano will need to hold off Neil Rackers in camp. Whoever wins the job offers intriguing value to those who wait until the last round to draft a kicker.

  • Will the best five offensive linemen be on the field? The Redskins projected starting five has plenty of questions, in no small part related to the health of guard Kory Lichtensteiger and tackle Jammal Brown. Trent Williams has a lot to prove (on and off the field), as does center Will Montgomery. Given the importance of this season, don't be surprised if rookies Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis are given an opportunity to compete along with veteran Tyler Polumbus.
  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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