Here's a quick look at some major issues for each team in the conference.
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Training camp is a time of optimism. Every team has a shot at the Super Bowl, and every question has an answer. Here are the biggest questions and answers each AFC team has heading into training camp.
Have the Buffalo Bills adapted to their new West Coast offense?
This system, installed by new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, should be beneficial for QB Trent Edwards, who needs to get his completion percentage above the 60 percent mark. Yes, he finished at 56.1 percent last year, but was also guilty of having games in the 30 percent range. Edwards lacks big-time arm strength, but he is a cerebral quarterback who makes good and quick decisions. This is a system that really benefits the Bills' personnel, from Edwards to WR Lee Evans, who can make plays with the ball in his hands, to rookie WR James Hardy, who is a big target and can work the middle of the field, to RB Marshawn Lynch, who will see more seven-man fronts from three-receiver sets. Along with a maturing defense, the ability for Edwards to run this new system will go a long way toward determining the Bills' playoff hopes.
Who is going to play quarterback for the Miami Dolphins?
This has been the question in most every Miami training camp since Dan Marino retired. Of the three options, veteran QB Josh McCown gives the Dolphins the best chance to win now. He has starting experience in Arizona and Oakland, but is also mistake-prone and hardly the future of the organization. Playing McCown wouldn't be worth the extra win or two he could give Miami because it still does not translate to a playoff berth. That means it should come down to second-year QB John Beck and rookie Chad Henne. Beck was drafted in 2007 as the future quarterback of the franchise, but that was by the previous personnel and coaching staff. He'll be given every chance to prove himself, but so far, Henne has looked the best in minicamps and OTAs. But playing a rookie has risks because history says he could get hit often and lose confidence. Still, this is a question Miami must answer early in camp to silence any controversy and allow the team to rally behind the player at the most important position on the field.
How will the New England Patriots protect the back end of the defense?
The Patriots come into training camp without even a quality No. 2 corner after losing No. 1 corner Asante Samuel to Philadelphia in free agency. Ellis Hobbs, last year's No. 2, remains but is coming off a miserable 2007 season. New England went out and combed the low-level free-agent market in the offseason and will need to find a starter among Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders and Fernando Bryant. But the fix is not going to come from the corner position itself. Instead, it will come via the blitz schemes and packages from coach Bill Belichick. Look for versatile linebackers Adalius Thomas and rookie Jerod Mayo to play pivotal roles within the blitz packages in an effort to help the outmanned cornerbacks.
What will the New York Jets do to improve the 19th-ranked run offense?
In the offseason, the Jets signed veteran G Alan Faneca from Pittsburgh and made him one of the highest-paid players in the NFL at his position. His presence will improve the play of third-year LOT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold. Although most teams are right-handed running the football, the Jets' focus has been running off tackle to their right but looking for the cutback lane behind this left side. Veteran RB Thomas Jones is a very good cutback runner with solid vision and run instincts. His ability to work behind that left side will control the clock, make the quarterback's job easier and keep the defense rested.
Can Cam Cameron develop the right system for the Baltimore Ravens?
Even though there will be a quarterback battle, it would be surprising if Kyle Boller does not emerge as the starter because he has the most experience, which is important on a veteran team still thinking about a title. One of the biggest issues for Boller in the past was the system and extensive playbook used by former coach Brian Billick. Cameron, the Ravens' new offensive coordinator, has had success working with Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in San Diego, and even though Boller is not in their class, a trimmed-down playbook that focuses on his strengths will help his on-field performance. Look for Cameron to add more motion to the offense and give Boller a better feel before the snap for the defense he's facing. Also expect more shotgun, which again will allow Boller to see the defense pre-snap and limit his drop-back footwork. This also will help Boller release the ball quicker, one of his biggest problems in the past. If Cameron can make Boller even 50 percent better, teaming him with a solid run game and stingy defense will keep the Ravens competitive.
Can the Cincinnati Bengals figure out how to stop someone?
The biggest challenge for the Bengals' defensive players will be erasing past vanilla defensive game plans from their minds and embracing the new schemes installed by new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Zimmer will bring an attacking style built around rookie OLB Keith Rivers, who will pay immediate dividends. The Bengals will attack, pressure and force the tempo, which plays into the strength of cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. The Bengals are not going to become an elite defense overnight, but they will create more havoc this season, which takes a little pressure off the offense.
Can the Cleveland Browns' defensive front adapt to a new, attacking style?
The Browns won't show much of this new scheme in preseason games, but how well they pick up this new scheme will be critical to their success. Cleveland spent second- and third-round picks and traded cornerback Leigh Bodden to acquire defensive linemen Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers. Although neither will be dominating as a rusher, the Browns will use the big bodies to eat up blocks, stunt and run games inside to ultimately free up OLB Kamerion Wimbley to get pressure on the quarterback. This is also key because the Browns have issues in the secondary, especially on the corners, where there is not a quality starter on either side. The only way to protect the Browns' back end this season will be with pressure up front, so the No. 1 goal will be to create havoc with the front seven.
What can the Pittsburgh Steelers do to solidify the offensive line?
Pittsburgh needs to get better play from its O-line, but that task became much harder with the loss of Faneca to the Jets. The Steelers will still open up the offense like last season, but expect them to get back to some of their two-RB, two-WR and two-TE packages as well this year. The Steelers ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks allowed last season and had trouble picking up the rush in their four-WR package. Moving to more of a two-TE look will allow backup Matt Spaeth to stay in and help tackles Marvel Smith and Willie Colon against edge pressure. Pittsburgh has the potential to have a high-flying offense, but it has to start with protection up front.
Can Alex Gibbs whip the Houston Texans' offensive line into shape?
In an effort to jump-start the running game, Houston hired former Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. Gibbs was instrumental in teaching the zone-blocking scheme in Denver and succeeded with a somewhat unknown offensive line. The Broncos lived by the motto that the system is more important than the back. However, Houston has spent high draft picks on four of its top five offensive linemen, and it's time for those picks to start paying dividends. They should do so under the tutelage of Gibbs. This will be a new-look training camp for Houston fans. The emphasis with the line will be on quickness, agility and adjusting in space. Houston tried to implement these concepts before in the Gary Kubiak era, but Gibbs is the coach who can actually pull it off and, ultimately, give the Texans some semblance of a consistent running game.
How do the Indianapolis Colts work Marvin Harrison back into the passing game?
Surprisingly, there are more questions on offense than defense this year for the Colts, the biggest being with Harrison's return. The passing game was limited at times last year with Harrison's knee injury, and roles changed in the system. Reggie Wayne emerged as the go-to guy in the offense and one of the league's best wideouts. That won't change, but the Colts will want to integrate Harrison back into the offense without limiting the development of young WR Anthony Gonzalez, who showed promise last season with Harrison out. All of this will be done while Peyton Manning misses most, if not all, of training camp. The Colts expect him back for the season opener, however, and the focus will then turn to how quickly the passing offense, which thrives on timing, clicks.
Can the Jacksonville Jaguars finally find a No. 1 wide receiver?
Even though the Jaguars have spent first-round picks on guys such as Reggie Williams and Matt Jones in recent years, they just can't find a No. 1 target in the passing game, something that has been absent since the retirement of Jimmy Smith. They also signed Jerry Porter and traded for Troy Williamson in attempts to fill that role. And although Williams finally dropped the bust tag last year and could potentially be that go-to guy, Jones is likely to be released after his recent arrest on drug charges. The biggest challenge for the Jaguars is finding a player who will open the passing game and take pressure off their exceptional ground attack. All the top quarterbacks in the league have a guy they can rely on. All of them except Jacksonville QB David Garrard. Although Garrard does an excellent job of spreading the ball around, he needs a go-to target in the offense, and establishing that guy will be the team's ultimate training camp goal.
Can the Tennessee Titans find a go-to guy for QB Vince Young?
Young played last season with one of the weakest WR units in the NFL, and the team has done nothing to bolster that group in the offseason. And no, signing Justin Gage doesn't count as giving Young an explosive receiver. Young will rely on TEs Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler in the short to intermediate zones, but until the Titans find a legitimate No. 1 threat outside, it is hard to put a grade on Young's development. Young has a way of making miracles happen -- and the Titans seem to expect him to do just that on a regular basis since they won't give him any help. Now, he must build a rapport with one of his limited targets during training camp.
Will the Denver Broncos figure out how to stop the run?
The first step in that process has to be getting LB D.J. Williams back on the weak side. Williams moved inside last season, and though he led the team in tackles, they often came downfield and well past the line of scrimmage. Williams is a playmaker, not a player who takes on blocks. He needs his room to roam on the weak side. Another key will be getting former Seattle special-teams standout Niko Koutouvides acclimated to the starting lineup. His ability to take his game to the next level as the Broncos' middle linebacker will go a long way toward determining whether this team can improve one of the worst run defenses in the NFL.
Can the Kansas City Chiefs re-establish their dominance on the ground?
Despite having one of the most feared running backs in the game in Larry Johnson, the Chiefs finished dead last on the ground last season. Although Johnson did miss the last eight games of the season, he struggled when healthy behind a patchwork offensive line that couldn't open any holes. With the addition of first-round pick Branden Albert at tackle and a healthy Brian Waters at guard, this unit will not be dominant but should be better. Simply put, the offensive line will be the main focus of camp. A solid ground game, backed by a good defense, will make QB Brodie Croyle more successful.
What can the Oakland Raiders do to make QB JaMarcus Russell better?
The Raiders worked hard in the offseason to fill holes on both sides of the ball, but Russell has to play better to make it worthwhile. It's not as if Russell, who struggled late last season when he finally got his chance to play, is in a battle for the job. He is the quarterback. The question is whether he's up to the challenge to improve. Last season was tough to evaluate. Even though Russell throws a very good deep ball and owner Al Davis has coaches emphasize the vertical passing game, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp uses a West Coast system based more on ball control. That will mean using RBs out of the backfield as well as TE Zach Miller and WR Ronald Curry in the short to intermediate area. This means Russell will spend a lot of the preseason working on accuracy and throwing to spots.
Can the San Diego Chargers find a playmaker on the outside?
The Chargers have two of the top playmakers at their positions, RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates, but the missing ingredient has been that guy on the outside to take pressure off those two superstars. Never was it more evident than last season when both superstars were out and the Chargers could not find anyone to make a play. The focus this preseason for the Chargers is QB Rivers' developing a rapport with his receivers and finding a No. 1 target. The likely candidates are veteran Chris Chambers and inconsistent Vincent Jackson, and look for Chambers to emerge as the go-to outside player for Rivers. Acquired in a midseason trade, Chambers knew the offense, but it took time to develop chemistry and timing with Rivers. They've had the offseason to build a rapport, and look for it to continue in the preseason and beyond.