Let's get it started
The race for pro football supremacy in 2005 is officially on. Coming off two straight Super Bowl titles, the New England Patriots wasted no time getting this year's show on the road, opening their training camp four full days before any other team in the league.
Can the Pats make it three Super Bowl crowns in a row? Will Peyton Manning and the Colts finally find a way to win in Foxboro? Are the Eagles the team to beat in the NFC, with or without Terrell Owens? Pro Football Weekly begins answering all the NFL's most pertinent questions by thoroughly examining each team's training camp.
Additional training camp rundowns of each team's biggest positive, biggest negative and the most likely player on the verge are available on PFW's Web site.
Key veteran additions: OG Bennie Anderson; OT Mike Gandy; QB Kelly Holcomb; OT Greg Jerman; RB ReShard Lee.
Key veteran departures: QB Drew Bledsoe; RB Dante Brown; RB Travis Henry; OT Jonas Jennings; S Pierson Prioleau; FS Izell Reese; DT Pat Williams.
Most significant change: J.P. Losman is succeeding departed Bledsoe as the starting quarterback. The Bills became a run-oriented team as last season wore on, and that produced a 9-3 record in the last 12 games. The team relied on a strong defense and exceptional special teams play and asked the offense to just move the chains and not make mistakes. The Bills believe Losman is more than capable of filling that kind of role.
Reasons for optimism: After solid debut seasons, RB Willis McGahee and WR Lee Evans begin this season entrenched as starters. As those two players emerged in 2004, the Bills clearly became a better team. McGahee and Evans are playmakers who reach the end zone regularly, give the Bills a pair of home run threats and force opponents to keep track of them.
Causes for concern: Losman's inexperience as an NFL starter means no one really knows how he'll perform when the season starts. On a team with high expectations for this season, it will be interesting to see how quickly the Bills pull the trigger and go to veteran backup Holcomb if Losman falters. The DT spot has solid depth but is unproven after the free-agent departure of Williams.
Battle to watch: Gandy vs. other possible options at left tackle. After losing starter Jennings via free agency, the Bills are banking on ex-Bears reserve Gandy to hold his own as Losman's blindside protector. If Gandy falters, it could cause a domino effect that moves starting C Trey Teague to left tackle and inserts Ross Tucker into the starting lineup at center.
Don't be surprised if ... the Bills rely on defense and special teams to carry the offense early -- until Losman gets comfortable as the starter -- similar to the way the Steelers used Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
Key veteran additions: DE Kevin Carter; OG Damion Cook; CB Mario Edwards; FB Heath Evans; QB Gus Frerotte; DE Vonnie Holliday; S Tebucky Jones; OT Stockar McDougle; LB Donnie Spragan; S Travares Tillman; DT Keith Traylor; S Lance Schulters.
Key veteran departures: DT Tim Bowens; QB Jay Fiedler; S Arturo Freeman; QB Jason Garrett; LB Morlon Greenwood; OT Greg Jerman; SS Sammy Knight; FB Rob Konrad; DT Bryan Robinson; CB Patrick Surtain; DE Jay Williams.
Most significant change: Miami no longer will be playing the same kind of straight 4-3, man-coverage scheme that helped it rank in the top 10 defensively for the past seven seasons. First-year head coach Nick Saban will stick predominantly with the 4-3 alignment but has added a slew of zone coverages, new looks and a 3-4 package.
Reasons for optimism: The Dolphins shouldn't repeat as the NFL's 31st-ranked rushing attack because of the drafting of RB Ronnie Brown and the expected return of RB Ricky Williams from retirement. Saban has assembled one of the NFL's most impressive coaching staffs, spearheaded by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and OL coach Hudson Houck.
Causes for concern: Quarterback remains a major question mark, with journeyman Gus Frerotte battling A.J. Feeley for the starting job. Depth at defensive tackle is extremely thin, and the secondary is a question mark after the offseason departure of three starters (Surtain, Freeman and Knight).
Battle to watch: Vernon Carey vs. Damion McIntosh at left tackle. Carey finally appears to be living up to his status as a 2004 first-round draft choice, earning the starting nod ahead of McIntosh during the offseason. Improved play at left tackle is a must if Miami hopes to improve one of the NFL's worst lines from last season.
Don't be surprised if ... rookie Travis Daniels beats out veterans Reggie Howard and Edwards to be the opening-day starter at left cornerback opposite Sam Madison. A fourth-round draft choice, Daniels worked with the first-team unit during mini-camp and has familiarity with Miami's defensive system after playing for Saban at LSU.
New England Patriots
Key veteran additions: LB Monty Beisel; LB Chad Brown; WR-KR Tim Dwight; S Antuan Edwards; QB Doug Flutie; LB Wesly Mallard; RB-KR Chad Morton; CB Chad Scott; CB Duane Starks; WR David Terrell.
Key veteran departures: OG Joe Andruzzi; TE Zeron Flemister; WR Kevin Kasper; OT Adrian Klemm; CB Ty Law; QB Jim Miller; CB Earthwind Moreland; WR David Patten; LB Roman Phifer; DT Keith Traylor; LB Ted Johnson.
Most significant change: Both coordinators have departed. Defensively, Eric Mangini stepping in for Romeo Crennel should be a seamless transition since Mangini apprenticed under Crennel. On offense, Charlie Weis' old responsibilities are likely going to be shared among several coaches, including head coach Bill Belichick. Assistant head coach/OL coach Dante Scarnecchia appeared to do the lion's share of verbal coordinating during mini-camp (play-calling, formations, etc.), but other coaches and QB Tom Brady seemed to take on increased roles, too.
Reasons for optimism: LB Rosevelt Colvin, a big free-agent signing in 2003 who has slowly but surely recovered from a career-threatening hip injury, has had an outstanding offseason. He adds a playmaking, pass-rushing threat that can be a disruptive force. The team won Super Bowl XXXIX with a patchwork secondary. Now, the patches are back, better than before, while veterans Tyrone Poole (back from injury), Starks and Scott and rookie Ellis Hobbs have been added.
Causes for concern: Pro Bowl DE Richard Seymour, a mini-camp holdout, is looking for a long-term contract extension and could sit out for part or all of training camp. The Patriots have to be worried that he was unhappy enough to stay away from a mandatory team event. LB Tedy Bruschi is sitting out the season after suffering a stroke, and the Patriots must replace his amazing instincts in their 3-4 defense.
Battle to watch: Both CB spots. The Patriots are loaded with talent at the position with veterans Asante Samuel, Randall Gay, Starks, Scott and Poole, along with rookie Hobbs. Starks is the guy the Patriots are really excited about, after acquiring him from the Cardinals before the draft for a third-round pick. He should be a great fit for the New England defense. Samuel and Gay ended last season as starters and began mini-camp as starters. However, look for Starks to emerge as a starter by Week 1.
Don't be surprised if ... Morton supplants Bethel Johnson as New England's top kick returner. Johnson is recovering from offseason ankle surgery and is likely to be limited in camp. After grabbing just 10 catches last year, Johnson, the former second-round pick, needs to establish a role for himself on this year's team.
New York Jets
Key veteran additions: RB Derrick Blaylock; OT Ethan Brooks; WR Laveranues Coles; QB Jay Fiedler; LB Barry Gardner; CB Pete Hunter; TE Doug Jolley; RB Delvin Joyce; DL Lance Legree.
Key veteran departures: CB Donnie Abraham; TE Anthony Becht; PK Doug Brien; LB Sam Cowart; DT Josh Evans; NT Jason Ferguson; P Toby Gowin; RB LaMont Jordan; ORT Kareem McKenzie; QB Ricky Ray; WR Santana Moss; S Reggie Tongue.
Most significant change: New offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger's arrival from Tennessee promises a new offensive philosophy -- going from a high-percentage, conservative, running offense to a more aggressive, attacking, vertical-passing offense. The Jets' attack will still be predicated on the running game, but it will take more shots down the field.
Reasons for optimism: Despite the loss of two veterans, NT Ferguson and CB Abraham, the defense that carried the Jets for most of the 2004 season is mostly intact and poised for another solid season. After offseason surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder, QB Chad Pennington says that his arm feels better than it has in three years and that he expects to be fully recovered by opening day.
Causes for concern: What will DE John Abraham's mind-set be after what is expected to be a protracted contract dispute/holdout? Also, if Abraham misses training camp, how much will he be able to contribute early in the season? In addition, a team that, by all indications, is close to contending for an AFC title will be relying on a rookie kicker, Mike Nugent, in clutch situations. ORT Adrian Jones, whom the Jets like a lot, also has zero starts at the NFL level. He's replacing McKenzie, a guy who was one of the Jets' most reliable linemen and a key to Curtis Martin's success in the running game.
Battle to watch: With SS Tongue having been released, the starting safety spot opposite Erik Coleman will be contested by Jon McGraw and rookies Andre Maddox and Kerry Rhodes. McGraw has the advantage because of his experience, but his past injury problems make him less than a lock to earn the starting job.
Don't be surprised if ... Heimerdinger's offense isn't as wide open as advertised. With Pennington coming off shoulder surgery, it won't be surprising if the coach lets his star quarterback ease into things.
Key veteran additions: WR Derrick Mason; LB Jim Nelson; LB Tommy Polley; CB Samari Rolle; OG Keydrick Vincent.
Key veteran departures: OG Bennie Anderson; CB Gary Baxter; LB Peter Boulware; OT Ethan Brooks; LB Cornell Brown; DE Marques Douglas; DB Corey Fuller; LB Ed Hartwell; WR Kevin Johnson; C Casey Rabach; WR Travis Taylor.
Most significant change: The move from the 3-4 to the "46" defense. The hope is that Ray Lewis, who will play middle linebacker in the scheme made famous by the Bears of the 1980s, will be free to make plays sideline to sideline.
Reasons for optimism: The addition of offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, for one. Can he be the difference for QB Kyle Boller? That's what the Ravens are banking on. Ravens observers also point to the end of RB Jamal Lewis' legal woes, a cloud that hung over the team all of last season.
Causes for concern: If Boller doesn't improve in his third season, the offense could continue to be stuck in neutral. Boller must play with confidence, and he must do a better job of hitting his targets. Also, there is some concern about Baltimore's defensive line, which is a bit on the small side.
Battle to watch: At right tackle, veteran Orlando Brown and rookie Adam Terry will compete for playing time. But Brown's knee problems concern the team and Terry will be learning on the job. This could be a platoon situation throughout the season.
Don't be surprised if ... a refreshed Lewis is among the league's rushing leaders. Although the Ravens have made it clear they will throw more this season, their strength still lies in the run game. When healthy, Lewis is the AFC North's best back and a difference-maker for the Ravens.
Key veteran additions: DT Bryan Robinson.
Key veteran departures: S Rogers Beckett; LB Frank Chamberlin; LB Kevin Hardy; P Kyle Richardson; OG Alex Sulfsted; DT Tony Williams.
Most significant change: It comes at defensive coordinator, with Chuck Bresnahan replacing Leslie Frazier. Bresnahan's task: to get more out of a young, talented defense that has struggled with mental lapses and run stopping.
Reasons for optimism: QB Carson Palmer's final three starts were filled with highlights. He threw nine TD passes and got the best of the fine defenses of Baltimore and New England. The anticipation of what he can do in his second season as the starter has been the buzz of the offseason. Palmer's supporting cast also seems poised to break out. The Bengals have standouts in WR Chad Johnson and RB Rudi Johnson and enviable depth behind those players.
Cause for concern: Sorry to sound like a broken record to Bengals fans, but here we go: Can the defense stop the run? Bresnahan shuffled the defensive line, and DT Robinson was brought in to provide toughness in the middle. But will those changes prove fruitful? And can the LB corps, which might have two rookie starters (SLB David Pollack and MLB Odell Thurman), also prove it's up to the task?
Battle to watch: A pair of veterans will fight it out at strong safety, with Kim Herring taking on Anthony Mitchell. The winner must be a sure tackler, or head coach Marvin Lewis will keep looking for options.
Don't be surprised if ... the Bengals' decision to shorten training camp results in an uncharacteristic fast start to the season.
Key veteran additions: OG Joe Andruzzi; CB Gary Baxter; OG Cosey Coleman; QB Trent Dilfer; RB Reuben Droughns; DT Jason Fisk; QB Doug Johnson; P Kyle Richardson; FS Brian Russell; OT L.J. Shelton; OT Marcus Spears; LB Matt Stewart.
Key veteran departures: LB Kevin Bentley; DE Courtney Brown; OG Damion Cook; RB Adimchinobe Echemandu; DE Ebenezer Ekuban; QB Jeff Garcia; LB Barry Gardner; OG Kelvin Garmon; OL Joaquin Gonzalez; S Robert Griffith; CB Anthony Henry; QB Kelly Holcomb; LB Warrick Holdman; S Earl Little; QB Luke McCown; DT Michael Myers; CB Lewis Sanders; OT Ross Verba; DT Gerard Warren.
Most significant changes: Romeo Crennel replaces Butch Davis as head coach, and new general manager Phil Savage leads a revamped scouting department.
Reasons for optimism: Crennel's presence will help a defense that was soft vs. both the run and the pass in 2004. The offense has a tough leader in Dilfer and good depth at running back and wide receiver.
Causes for concern: There are quite a few. Can Shelton hold up at left tackle? Can Dilfer, a backup in Seattle, prove he still has the stuff to be a full-time starter? The team's depth at defensive line and linebacker leaves something to be desired. Also, Crennel doesn't yet have ideal personnel for the 3-4 defense. Outside linebacker and defensive end are positions to watch.
Battle to watch: The competition between RBs Droughns and Lee Suggs will be fierce. Suggs could hold a slight edge entering camp, but Droughns has thrived when he plays with something to prove.
Don't be surprised if ... rookie WR Braylon Edwards emerges as the team's go-to receiver right from the start of the season.
Key veteran additions: WR Cedrick Wilson.
Key veteran departures: LB Kendrell Bell; WR Plaxico Burress; DT Kendrick Clancy; TE Jay Riemersma; OT Oliver Ross; CB Chad Scott; OG Keydrick Vincent.
Most significant change: The Steelers decided against re-signing Burress in the offseason. Burress was a lightning rod for criticism in Pittsburgh, but he was QB Ben Roethlisberger's friend and favorite deep-ball threat. The Steelers are asking WRs Antwaan Randle El and Wilson to pick up the slack. How this affects the offense remains to be seen.
Reasons for optimism: It's Roethlisberger's second season as starter. That's one reason for Steelers supporters to smile. Roethlisberger was outstanding as a rookie with poise and accuracy beyond his years. Another reason: the return of NT Casey Hampton and ORG Kendall Simmons from knee injuries that ended their 2004 seasons prematurely.
Causes for concern: Although Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis proved an effective power-running duo in '04, both backs are 30 or older. Also, the depth on the offensive line is a concern. Overall, though, this is a team with less to worry about than most squads.
Battle to watch: Randle El vs. Wilson. Randle El knows the offense, but he has shown a tendency to put the ball on the ground. Wilson, a former 49er, has good speed. The loser of this battle figures to fit in as the third receiver.
Don't be surprised if ... reserve OLB James Harrison becomes the team's top pass-rusher. He impressed the team last season and figures to be put in position to get after the quarterback.
Key veteran additions: CB Phillip Buchanon; LB Frank Chamberlin; LB Morlon Greenwood; WR Kevin Kasper; LB Zeke Moreno; OT Victor Riley; TE Marcellus Rivers; CB Lewis Sanders; DT Daleroy Stewart; WR Reggie Swinton.
Key veteran departures: S Eric Brown; LB Jay Foreman; CB Aaron Glenn; DB Marlon McCree; WR-KR J.J. Moses; LB Jamie Sharper; OT Marcus Spears; CB Kenny Wright.
Most significant change: The Texans made several moves at linebacker. Former Dolphins LB Greenwood will play inside in the 3-4 scheme. Kailee Wong, who has played outside 'backer in recent seasons, will line up inside next to Greenwood. Antwan Peek, who has flashed potential in his first two seasons, takes Wong's role at right outside linebacker.
Reasons for optimism: QB David Carr, RB Domanick Davis and WR Andre Johnson -- those are three reasons for optimism right there. They form the core of a young, improving offense. The defense, meanwhile, has a young, quick pair of starting corners -- Buchanon and Dunta Robinson -- as well as scrappy, playmaking No. 3 cornerback Demarcus Faggins.
Causes for concern: The offensive line was among the league's worst at protecting its quarterback, and the OLT spot is unsettled entering camp. Another potential offensive problem could materialize if no receiver steps up to take pressure off Johnson. On defense, the primary worry is the pass-rush; Peek and LOLB Jason Babin need to wreak more havoc off the edge.
Battle to watch: Seth Wand and Chester Pitts could both get a shot at offensive left tackle. If Pitts wins, C Steve McKinney could move to left guard, Pitts' position in 2004, and veteran Todd Washington could move to center.
Don't be surprised if ... early-season games vs. Buffalo and Pittsburgh prove to be tough tests for the offensive line.
Key veteran additions: None.
Key veteran departures: FS Idrees Bashir; OLG Rick DeMulling; S Anthony Floyd; LB Jim Nelson; ORG Tupe Peko; TE Marcus Pollard.
Most significant changes: Head coach Tony Dungy wants his team to be faster and more physical on defense. As many as six of the Colts' back-seven starters might be different from this time last year. The secondary has a new look; rookie CB Marlin Jackson is expected to start along with Donald Strickland outside while Bob Sanders and Joseph Jefferson -- moved from cornerback because of Mike Doss' suspension -- play inside. The Colts have replaced starting OGs DeMulling and Peko, as well.
Reason for optimism: An offense spearheaded by multiple Pro Bowl players returns eight starters. Status quo means more than 32 points per game and 12 regular-season wins, the latter a feat the Colts have completed in back-to-back seasons. There is no imminent threat within the AFC South, and as long as Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison are healthy, so are the Colts' playoff hopes.
Cause for concern: Having heavily invested in offensive talent, the Colts' only method of adding personnel on defense was through the draft, and they used six of their first eight picks on defensive help. As long as the offense put up plenty of points, the defense wasn't an issue in 2004. But in tightly contested, playoff-type games, the Colts' defense was exposed.
Battles to watch: WLB Cato June started all 16 regular-season games in 2004, while MLB Rob Morris started 15 games. Both of them are fighting to keep their jobs in camp. Morris is officially listed as the backup to Gary Brackett, and June must hold off challenges from second-year players Gilbert Gardner and Kendyll Pope. After some consideration, DE Robert Mathis, who tied for third in the AFC with 10½ sacks last season, will not be moved to weakside linebacker.
Don't be surprised if ... the Colts tweak their roster if the right players shake loose before the start of the regular season. Not expected to overpay for CB Ty Law, Indianapolis does remain interested in finding defensive help at the right price.
Key veteran additions: DT Martin Chase; CB Terry Cousin; DE Reggie Hayward; LB Nate Wayne; DE Marcellus Wiley; DT Tony Williams; CB Kenny Wright.
Key veteran departures: CB Juran Bolden; FB Marc Edwards; LB Tommy Hendricks; CB Dewayne Washington; OT Bob Whitfield.
Most significant changes: Jacksonville has a new offensive coordinator, former USC QB coach Carl Smith, and intends to put the powerful throwing arm of Byron Leftwich to good use by implementing parts of the system that made Leftwich a hit at Marshall. First-round pick Matt Jones adds a playmaker to the mix at wide receiver, but questions abound regarding the role of the running back and the health of starter Fred Taylor. Taylor is less than 100 percent and still rehabbing a knee injury suffered last Dec. 19 at Green Bay.
Reasons for optimism: The Jaguars, who finished 9-7, made considerable strides in head coach Jack Del Rio's second season with the team. Leftwich and DTs Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are the talented foundation for the future and have enough seasoning to carry the club for stretches in 2005. Jacksonville's defense was formidable last year. If the team is going to continue that trend, the secondary and pass rush must show vast improvement.
Causes for concern: Taylor has been the focal point of the Jacksonville offense but might not be ready for the opener, and LaBrandon Toefield hasn't proved capable as a starter. That limits the offense and handicaps Leftwich, who won't survive in a one-dimensional offense behind a milquetoast offensive line. Opposing quarterbacks fared quite well against the Jaguars in 2004, and there is no reason to believe they'll fear facing Jacksonville in '05, given the holes in the secondary and doubts about a rebuilt defensive line.
Battle to watch: Rashean Mathis has a firm grasp on the LCB job, but just who will join him in the starting lineup remains to be seen. Rookie third-round pick Scott Starks is smaller than the Jaguars would like in a starter but impressed in mini-camps. Cousin and Wright, both veterans, are in the mix, as is dark horse David Richardson. Richardson (6 feet, 204 pounds) played in just two games as a rookie last season but has been a favorite of Del Rio's.
Don't be surprised if ... the Jaguars, stymied in their attempt to secure a veteran backup to Taylor thus far, pay for a solid No. 2 runner before the end of camp. Sources say the team might look toward Denver or Cleveland to find a match, but team officials have said they won't seek a trade for a running back.
Key veteran additions: RB Travis Henry; PK Ola Kimrin; DE Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Key veteran departures: WR Eddie Berlin; DT Kevin Carter; CB Andre Dyson; DE Carlos Hall; WR Darrell Hill; RB Robert Holcombe; QB Doug Johnson; WR Derrick Mason; OL Jason Mathews; WR Jason McAddley; TE Shad Meier; OT Fred Miller; PK Joe Nedney; CB Samari Rolle; S Lance Schulters; RB Antowain Smith.
Most significant changes: The release of seven respected veterans -- Carter, Holcombe, Mason, Miller, Nedney, Rolle and Schulters -- and the failure to re-sign several other key players left the team extremely young and thin at several positions. Though management and coaches are excited about the potential of the past two drafts' players, the Titans will field one of the youngest teams in recent NFL history. Guiding the offensive unit will be longtime college (though NFL neophyte) coordinator Norm Chow. This might be Jeff Fisher's toughest coaching chore to date.
Reasons for optimism: There's a sense of rebirth in Nashville, with a young core of talent that will be molded under the watchful eyes of Fisher, Chow, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and QB Steve McNair, who returns to the team -- some say -- in the best shape he has been in for the past five years. The former co-MVP will have a young, tall group of receivers, a strong running game with the recent addition of Henry and an offensive line that could be better than most think. On defense, LB Keith Bulluck is one of the best playmakers in the game.
Causes for concern: With a dozen or so roles to be hashed out, camp will be extremely busy. So many rookies and second-year players are being counted on for key spots that it's impossible to think they can all contribute significantly and effectively. With all the recent P.R. problems this team has had, first-round draft pick Adam "Pacman" Jones' antics have been a unwanted distraction.
Battle to watch: Though several positions are up in the air, everyone wants to see how the RB position will shake out. Henry adds a more dependable option than fumble- and injury-prone Chris Brown. Though Brown showed glimpses of brilliance in his first year of starting, he was far too inconsistent for Fisher and Chow to depend on alone. The combination of Brown and Henry, the club hopes, could make this a more steady and strong running attack by taxing neither runner too much.
Don't be surprised if ... DT Randy Starks emerges in camp as a dependable starter next to Albert Haynesworth. Starks showed some flashes of future stardom in his rookie season and is only beginning to grow into manhood at age 21.
Key veteran additions: TE Stephen Alexander; DE Courtney Brown; LB Keith Burns; OT Anthony Clement; RB Ron Dayne; DE Ebenezer Ekuban; DE John Engelberger; LB Ian Gold; DT Michael Myers; WR Jerry Rice; P Todd Sauerbrun; OG Cameron Spikes; DT Gerard Warren.
Key veteran departures: P Jason Baker; RB Reuben Droughns; DE Reggie Hayward; CB Kelly Herndon; S Kenoy Kennedy; CB Willie Middlebrooks; OG Dan Neil; LB Donnie Spragan.
Most significant change: The offseason revamping of the defensive line was rather thorough, as the Broncos raided the Browns' cupboard of Brown, Warren & Co., then added former 49ers DE Engelberger in a trade.
Reasons for optimism: Jake Plummer has shown signs of becoming a more complete quarterback and even broke some of John Elway's passing records in only his second season in Denver. The defense finished fourth last season and managed to upgrade virtually everywhere except safety.
Cause for concern: Head coach Mike Shanahan took a fair number of chances this offseason in regard to adding players who have dramatically underachieved, as well as some of questionable character and advanced age, and his reputation is on the line as a result. If Brown and Warren don't pick it up a notch and they fail to live up to their potential in Denver, the Broncos' defense as a whole will suffer.
Battle to watch: Running back, where speedy second-year option Tatum Bell likely will be given first crack at the starting job, but Mike Anderson, Quentin Griffin, Maurice Clarett and even Dayne could prove to be capable alternatives should Bell falter.
Don't be surprised if ... the new-look defensive line emerges as one of the league's best during the preseason.
Kansas City Chiefs
Key veteran additions: CB Ashley Ambrose; LB Kendrell Bell; DE Carlos Hall; RB Robert Holcombe; S Sammy Knight; WR Freddie Mitchell; CB Patrick Surtain.
Key veteran departures: LB Monty Beisel; RB Derrick Blaylock; FB Omar Easy; DE Vonnie Holliday; WR Johnnie Morton.
Most significant change: The Chiefs put their focus squarely on the defense in free agency and the draft, and the additions -- CBs Surtain and Ambrose, LBs Bell and first-round pick Derrick Johnson, SS Knight and DE Hall -- serve as an immediate upgrade over what the Chiefs trotted out on the field a season ago.
Reasons for optimism: The defense has more speed and the difference-makers coordinator Gunther Cunningham has long been wishing for; and the offense, led by QB Trent Green, is consistently one of the league's best.
Causes for concern: The defense, despite improvements, still needs to prove it can hold down the high-powered offenses within the division. It will be without suspended starting CB Eric Warfield for the first four games. The Chiefs also lack experience at wide receiver.
Battle to watch: The competition for that second WR spot opposite Eddie Kennison should be the most interesting one to watch in August. Samie Parker, Dante Hall, Marc Boerigter, Mitchell and Craphonso Thorpe are among those squaring off for playing time.
Don't be surprised if ... rookie Johnson raises some eyebrows with his athleticism and awareness, no matter which LB spot he plays.
Key veteran additions: DE Derrick Burgess; FB Omar Easy; LB Jay Foreman; CB Renaldo Hill; DT Ed Jasper; RB LaMont Jordan; WR Randy Moss; DT Kenny Smith.
Key veteran departures: DB Ray Buchanan; CB Phillip Buchanon; LB Napoleon Harris; TE Doug Jolley; OG Frank Middleton; DT John Parrella; RB Tyrone Wheatley; TE Roland Williams.
Most significant changes: As if adding the game's pre-eminent playmaker on the outside, Moss, weren't enough, the Raiders addressed the need for a full-time bruiser in the backfield by signing former Jets backup Jordan.
Reasons for optimism: The offense, with an impressive vertical passing game and what should be more balance now with a capable runner, looks as though it can score with anyone in the NFL. The kicking department, with PK Sebastian Janikowski and P Shane Lechler, is arguably the best in the league.
Cause for concern: The Oakland defense looked awfully out of sync in Rob Ryan's first year as coordinator, and sloppy tackling and general confusion were commonplace. The Raiders filled some holes in the offseason, but did they use enough mud to stand up to a talented AFC West?
Battles to watch: Conceivably, anywhere at linebacker, where Danny Clark is probably the only guaranteed starter. The CB spot opposite Charles Woodson is also up in the air, likely between Nnamdi Asomugha, Hill and Fabian Washington.
Don't be surprised if ... SS Derrick Gibson, a former first-round pick, becomes a roster casualty. Injuries and a lack of awareness have put him on the bubble, and the Raiders have a newfound willingness to rid themselves of failed top picks.
San Diego Chargers
Key veteran addition: S Bhawoh Jue.
Key veteran departures: WR-RS Tim Dwight; DT Jason Fisk; QB Doug Flutie; LB Zeke Moreno.
Most significant change: Having come out of nowhere to win the AFC West last year, the Chargers enter their 2005 training camp with a target on their backs for the first time in ages, and it will be interesting to see how they handle the added pressure of living up to high expectations.
Reasons for optimism: QB Drew Brees' stock soared with a career year, and his confidence came along for the ride. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips made his impact felt immediately with a 3-4 scheme that turned San Diego into a staunch unit, one that should be better in terms of getting after the passer this fall.
Causes for concern: Brees must show he can get it done for more than just one season. First-round pick Shawne Merriman, represented by the infamous Poston brothers, likely will hold out, preventing him from getting up to speed with his teammates and the system. The Chargers have a much more difficult schedule facing them and lack proven depth at wide receiver.
Battle to watch: Free safety and possibly Ben Leber's OLB spot, whenever Merriman reports, could be interesting, but the WR spot alongside Keenan McCardell is of more importance. Expect Eric Parker and Reche Caldwell to vie for the opportunity, but keep an eye on rookie Vincent Jackson down the road.
Don't be surprised if ... Merriman misses a good portion of camp in an ugly contract stalemate with the front office.
Material from Pro Football Weekly.
Visit the PFW Web site at http://www.profootballweekly.com