By Christian S. Kohl
This weekend witnessed its first preseason game, and in no time the bid for the Super Bowl will be well under way.
Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler is apparently adjusting to the new offense well, making good decisions and not risking turnovers deep. WR Alshon Jeffery is also evidently looking to take the next step as the Bears #2 WR, training hard to shake the perception he was too soft in his rookie campaign.
Detroit Lions: Ryan Broyles and Reggie Bush are both looking strong early in camp. Broyles appears to show no signs of his ACL injury a year ago. Meanwhile, Bush is impressing with his quickness and his receiving ability. The skills of neither is in question as contributors in the offense, it is their durability which will determine their success as supplemental weapons in the Detroit attack.
Green Bay Packers: Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley are not off to the starts they would prefer in the Green Bay camp. Finley is reportedly seldom if ever being targeted, while Cobb is struggling early with drop issues. Drops have been a critical weakness for the Pack late in the season and in the postseason, and these two recipients of Rodgers’ dimes will have to take it up a notch and secure the ball better for them to have a chance to return for a Lombardi bid.
Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder continues to battle with consistency issues this year. Meanwhile, DB Xavier Rhodes is emerging early as a potential impact player for the Vikings on defense. The first round picks of Minnesota will have to click and then some for the Vikings to give Adrian Peterson the supporting cast he needs to truly contend.
Atlanta Falcons: The big names are playing big early for Atlanta. Steven Jackson looks explosive at age 30, Julio Jones continues to improve on his already frightening skill set, and Roddy White is spending his days training alongside Larry Fitzgerald. Optimism is high in Atlanta, and they have every right to feel that way if these three deliver in a big way with Matt Ryan in 2013.
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers are looking to run an offense more closely resembling the latter half of 2012 than the former half in an effort to maximize the skill set of Cam Newton. While injuries and personnel moves are important factors for any team, for Carolina, Newton’s comfort level and ability to convert trump more or less all other issues combined. They need to find a way to optimize his abilities, or all else is irrelevant for the Panthers this season.
New Orleans Saints: Junior Galette is emerging as the best option for New Orleans at pass rusher. Any elite option for the Saints is invaluable, if it enables Brees to further dominate time of possession. To that end, Charles Brown reportedly has secured left tackle duties to spend the year protecting the priceless blind side of his quarterback. Should he fail or Brees finds himself injured, Seneca Wallace or Luke McCown will trade in their clipboard for the primary spot in the huddle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: An unofficial depth chart indicates Luke Stocker will start at tight end for Tampa. Meanwhile, Vincent Jackson continues to attempt to demonstrate more versatility in a wider range of packages to assist his inscrutable quarterback. Freeman is so difficult to assess, in fact, that Tampa appears content to wait until 2014 to address his contract issues.
Dallas Cowboys: The tandem of Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar were effective in the Hall of Fame game, rushing for a combined 81 yards and 1 touchdown on 14 carries on their way to a 4 point Dallas win. These two will need to be effective should DeMarco Murray not return to form. Romo did not play in the initial preseason game as expected, and a concussion this week sidelined third round pick Terrance Williams from the initial preseason contest.
Washington Redskins: The workload of both RGIII and Pierre Garcon is increasing steadily throughout camp. Griffin still looks on track to start week 1, and Garcon shows no lingering effects of his injury last year. It goes without saying that the health of both is beyond critical for Washington to compete at a high level this year.
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Vick took a step forward toward securing his starting job over Foles this week, as the full speed workouts seem to be stalling the progress of Foles. The comments of Riley Cooper dominated the headlines in an otherwise uneventful week of development for Philadelphia, who seems unimpressed by veterans Felix Jones and Arrelious Benn. Chip Kelly has left everyone with endless questions, but it seems clear Jones, Benn, Bryce Brown and others are almost certainly not the answer.
New York Giants: Hakeem Nicks is expected to return to practice this week after recovering from his groin injury. While not Bradshaw/Jacobs in their prime, the Giants look to continue their trend of multi-back systems with David Wilson and Andre Brown. Each can be a valuable supplemental piece, assuming Coughlin continues his trend of relying more heavily on Manning, Cruz and Nicks and less on run-first strategy circa 1985.
Arizona Cardinals: Both Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams underwent treatment for injuries this week, decimating their RB corps. Both are battling knee issues, and the emergence of one or both as healthy RB options is imperative for the Cards if they are to take any steps this year to remove themselves from the bottom of the scrapheap.
St. Louis Rams: Jared Cook has emerged as the favorite target of Sam Bradford so far. A reliable weapon working alongside Tavon Austin presents Bradford with potentially multiple reliable options, if Austin can meet expectations early. Meanwhile, the Rams appear headed toward a timeshare system at running back, with Daryl Richardson emerging as the likely starter.
Seattle Seahawks: Sidney Rice is expected to resume practicing this week, after undergoing a cutting-edge procedure in Switzerland. TE Zach Miller has not been so fortunate, expecting to be ready by the third preseason game after injuring his foot.
San Francisco 49ers: The Niners continue to aggressively sign free agents, this week acquiring head-injury-prone Austin Collie. Like many of the acquisitions of SF this offseason, they are buying at the bottom with a decent chance of upside if Collie can remain healthy. Another flier acquisition, Nnami Asomugha, is not impressing early and is battling hard for a roster spot.
That’s it for this week in the NFC. Enjoy the first week of preseason games, and be sure to come back again next week for all the updates around the league.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.