Unanswered questions as NFL camps begin

Training camps are going on around the NFL, though it’s different than most years. We’re more than halfway through August and teams are just now having their first full-padded practices.

Preseason was supposed to start with the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 6, but the entire preseason has been wiped out due to coronavirus concerns.

The usual storylines for this time of year — here’s the veteran in the best shape of his life, the first-round pick is really picking up the playbook, the position battle we’ve been talking about all offseason is heating up, and so forth — aren’t what they used to be in this strange ramp up to the season.

That said, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered by Week 1. Here are the top five unanswered questions around the league:

How’s that Bears QB competition going?

As teams were reporting to camp, the Bears continued to say that the quarterback competition between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles was a true competition.

Bears coach Matt Nagy said everything the quarterbacks do in practice is evaluated, down to the checks at the line of scrimmage, but there will be far fewer chances to watch them. Nagy said the coaches are planning on as many competitive drills in practice as possible.

“And we feel confident that we believe it’ll all play itself out,” Nagy said according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’ll be completely open and we’re just going to take it day by day. And we’re excited to see that happen.”

Trubisky probably has the edge. He was throwing to his current Bears teammates in unofficial workouts this summer, while Foles is still learning the names of his teammates. And the Bears have more invested in Trubisky, the former No. 2 overall pick who was a Pro Bowler in 2018.

“I wouldn’t say ‘disadvantage’ is the right word,” Foles said, according to the Sun-Times. “I just say, ‘You know what, that’s just the situation.’”

Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky will compete with Nick Foles for the starting job. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Now that Seattle is out, where does Jadeveon Clowney land?

The Seattle Seahawks have finally moved on from Clowney, a prized free agent who is still unsigned, according to NFL Network’s Michael Silver. Clowney played for the Seahawks last season after a trade with the Houston Texans, but Clowney has high salary demands and continues to wait. The Seahawks are looking at Everson Griffen and Clay Matthews instead, Silver said.

It’s possible that’s a leverage ploy by the Seahawks to leak that they are not interested in Clowney anymore, but let’s say they’ve made up their minds. Clowney’s options might be limited.

Some teams have the cap space to make Clowney fit, but uncertainty about the 2021 cap might make them wary about a long-term deal. The Tennessee Titans have been the team linked to Clowney most often — and Vic Beasley’s unexcused absence creates some more urgency — but the team is clearly fatigued by the waiting game.

It’s hard to believe Clowney won’t sign at some point, but it’s hard to pinpoint a landing spot if it’s not Tennessee. Perhaps a surprise suitor will get the impulse to add a top-tier defender right before the season starts.

Is anyone going to sign Antonio Brown?

There’s a lot of amnesia when it comes to Brown. When the eight-game suspension for Brown was announced, the talk started about how he’d fit well with various teams. That seems to ignore that he went AWOL on the Pittsburgh Steelers at the end of the 2018 season, forced the Buffalo Bills to nix a trade, created a lifetime’s worth of headaches for the Oakland Raiders and only lasted one game before more bad behavior caused the New England Patriots to cut him. That all happened in about nine months’ time.

Yet, people think Brown isn’t going to be a problem for his next team?

The Seattle Seahawks are reportedly keeping an eye on Brown, and they have taken some chances in the past. What complicates matters is the suspension could be extended if further violations are found during his civil suit in Florida. Other teams in need of a receiver will be linked to Brown (the Ravens speculation just won’t go away), but those teams presumably understand the risk.

Brown’s name won’t go away, but good luck to anyone signing him.

How is first overall pick Joe Burrow doing?

In 2011, when a labor dispute wiped out the offseason, Cam Newton set rookie records for a quarterback and rookie starter Andy Dalton helped lead the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs.

Perhaps we underestimate elite players’ ability to ready themselves to play football. Still, Newton and Dalton at least had some preseason reps.

This year’s rookie quarterbacks are flying blind into Week 1. That could affect the chances that Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa start the opener for the Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins, respectively. No matter what, the Cincinnati Bengals are set on first overall pick Joe Burrow starting. Burrow doesn’t think it’ll be a problem. He told reporters he was unaware there was going to be no preseason (“I'm on a need-to-know basis right now,” he said), and has been doing what he can to be as prepared as possible. The Bengals understand the challenges but seem to believe it won’t take long for Burrow to get up to speed.

“He's really sharp. He has excellent retention of information. His process is very fast,” Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher said, according to the team’s site. “It's cliché, but he does see and understand the big picture of what a defense is trying to do. … It does take time. It does take reps. It's that way for everybody. It's not that it's not going to take him time, but he is just very well-suited with his intelligence and his ability to see it and understand it. He'll learn fast.”

How will Patriots look this season with Cam Newton and missing stars?

Honestly, this August isn’t much different in terms of Patriots news. Even in a normal preseason, we don’t hear a lot from Bill Belichick about how he’s feeling about certain players or who will start.

The Patriots have undergone more change than anyone this offseason. Tom Brady is gone, replaced by Cam Newton. They couldn’t be more different as players. Many defensive standouts left in the offseason, and that was before the Patriots had eight players opt out.

We won’t get to see the Patriots’ offense before the regular season, and that can give New England a bit of an edge. Their offense will be a mystery going into Week 1. Newton will not run Brady’s offense. The Patriots are smarter than that.

That assumes Newton starts. He’s the presumed favorite but in typical Belichick fashion, he kept people guessing on a competition between Newton and Jarrett Stidham.

“I think that spot’s the same as all the other spots on the team. We’ve got a long way to go and we’ll see how things turn out,” Belichick said, according to CBS Boston. “I can’t control how players perform; that’s up to them. We’ll give everybody an opportunity and we’ll see what happens. So … I don’t know.”

At least if there were preseason games, we’d get to see who started for the Patriots and how they did. Even if we wouldn’t get any confirmation from Belichick, which makes this August seem a little more normal.

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