Published July 23, 2012
Peyton Manning has changed his ride, from a Colt to a Bronco.
Tebowmania has moved from the Rocky Mountains to the Meadowlands.
Randy Moss is back. So is Jeff Fisher.
Al Davis is gone.
As NFL training camps open from Mankato to Metairie, from Flagstaff to Flowery Branch, the spotlight will shine most brightly on Denver, and a certain No. 18 at quarterback.
The indestructible Manning proved very human last year, missing the entire season after neck surgery. Not only did his consecutive starts string end at 227 — merely every game he's been a pro — but the Colts collapsed without the four-time MVP.
Soon after, as Indianapolis was preparing to take Andrew Luck at the top of the draft to succeed Manning, the Peyton Tour of America began. Following layovers in Miami, Nashville and Phoenix, he landed with the Broncos.
But is he the same player at age 36 and coming off the first major injury of his sensational career?
That's the juiciest topic as the sweatboxes that are training camps get under way.
"We're going full speed ahead. We're being aggressive with everything we're doing," Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said. "He's fine. We have no concerns right now. We're not worrying about it. We're moving forward."
Actually, the Broncos began moving forward immediately after signing Manning to a five-year, $96 million deal in March. They sent Tim Tebow, one of the heroes of their AFC West title run and first-round playoff victory over Pittsburgh, to the Jets to make sure there was no clutter — and no controversy — in Denver.
If Manning is vintage Manning, there will be no questioning of that move west of New Jersey. Look for Manning to get more work than usual this summer, the most important preseason of his career.
Don't look for the same from Tebow, no matter how loudly his legion of followers protests that he should be on the field ahead of incumbent Mark Sanchez. The Jets are adamant that Tebow is a backup, an option for the wildcat, not to mention the protector on punts.
That won't stop a mass of media from descending on the central New York college town of Cortland to chronicle the QB competition and controversy the Jets say doesn't and won't exist.
"I think we were the only people who never had a problem with it, it seemed like," coach Rex Ryan said. "We look at it as we're adding a good football player, which we did. Is he behind Sanchez on the depth chart? Yes. Just like every team has a guy behind their starting quarterback, but he brings so much more to the table."
Including Tebowmania, which won't subside even if Tebow messes up the many chances he — or any backup quarterback — gets to play in the preseason.
The quarterback carousel spun furiously in the offseason, with Manning, Matt Flynn (Seattle) and David Garrard (Miami) on the move among veterans. Luck, Robert Griffin III (Washington), Ryan Tannehill (Miami) and Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) are the rookie QBs who will get long looks in July and August, with all four in line to earn starting spots.
The quarterback situation was in flux in New Orleans before record-setting Drew Brees and the Saints agreed on a five-year, $100 million contract last week. The last thing the Saints needed was for their star passer and leader to miss time.
Then again, with all the bounties suspensions and litigation, nothing has gone easy this year in the Big Easy.
Moss could be motoring under passes from Alex Smith in San Francisco. The former game-breaking receiver who has worn out his welcome everywhere he's played. He didn't play at all in 2011. But the 49ers, desperate for help at the position, gave the 35-year-old Moss a one-year deal.
Also returning from a one-year hiatus is Fisher, whose 16-year run with the Titans included a Super Bowl loss to the Rams. Now, he's the head man in St. Louis, facing a massive rebuilding job for a team that has won a total of 12 games in the last four seasons.
"There's been a lot of changes since I've been here. This is by far the one I'm most excited about," defensive end Chris Long said. "I think we're all very excited about it. It's a new beginning for a lot of people and, in the same sense, you have to re-prove yourself."
Several teams and players have to prove that last season was no fluke — or that it was just that.
The Lions want to validate themselves as a consistent contender, not a one-year wonder after they broke their 11-season playoff drought. Houston grabbed its first AFC South crown in 2011, then won its first playoff appearance, and now expects to go much deeper in the postseason. Cincinnati tries to build off a wild-card season in which two rookies, QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green, were standouts.
Meanwhile, the Eagles long ago dropped the Dream Team persona, now hoping their collection of stars will reach the level expected and never attained last season. The Bears, on pace to make the playoffs before injuries ravaged their roster, believe good health will lead to great results this time.
Hopes are high in Buffalo after the Bills shelled out a nine-figure deal for defensive end Mario Williams in free agency. With Cam Newton coming off the most productive season for a rookie quarterback in NFL history, Carolina is thinking big. Not surprisingly, so is Green Bay, which went 15-1 behind MVP Aaron Rodgers but with little defense last year. The Packers feel they're significantly upgraded on D.
There's also uncertainty for two AFC powers: Pittsburgh, in transition with veterans Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith gone, and Baltimore, where Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs is sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury.
The most unsure situation probably is in Oakland, where for the first time in nearly a half-century, Davis no longer is running the Raiders. The organization swears the "Commitment to Excellence" remains. Without Davis' guidance and expertise, how close the Raiders get to carrying out that commitment is questionable.
Beginning this week, answers will come from across the NFL.