A map is always a good idea for anyone planning a road trip to NFL training camps.
The map we have in mind is not so much geographic or topographic. It’s a guide to the hot spots where the story lines are juicy, the position battles intense, the rosters in flux or being retooled.
Here’s a Pick 6 of the camp melodramas:
PATRIOTS, Foxborough, Mass.: For most franchises, undergoing so many roster changes while making so much news off the field could set up a distraction-filled buildup to a disappointing season. But these are the Patriots, and coach Bill Belichick doesn’t allow such things. He finished (in his mind, at least) addressing the Aaron Hernandez murder arrest on Wednesday, saying, “We’ll try to do a good job in bringing people into this organization in the future and try to learn from the mistakes that we’ve made along the way, of which there have been plenty.”
Even if the club won’t talk about Hernandez, this is a challenging preseason for New England. The Patriots need to reinvent their passing game — Tom Brady’s top five receivers from 2012, at least until star TE Rob Gronkowski is healthy, are gone — and upgrade their defense.
REDSKINS, Richmond, Va.: This camp is all about one guy: Robert Griffin III. It shouldn’t be, but when there are so many health questions about the dynamic Offensive Rookie of the Year and he plays quarterback, well, it will be RG3 24/7.
Coach Mike Shanahan won’t make a second mistake of playing RG3 when he isn’t up to snuff, and Griffin’s every practice move will be well-documented. But with the Redskins favored in the NFC East, keeping an eye on how their secondary and offensive line come together will be just as worthwhile.
EAGLES, Philadelphia: Welcome to the NFL, Chip Kelly. Now let us catch our breath while you run that up-up-up-tempo offense.
Kelly brings with him from Oregon the quintessential fast-paced, spread-’em-out, go-for-the-big-play attack. With the likes of Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, it will be exciting, don’t-blink stuff. Watching how it works, or how many kinks the Eagles must work out in the new system, will put Philly on the must-see list.
CHIEFS, St. Joseph, Mo.: No coaching change, not even Kelly to Philly, was as intriguing as Andy Reid immediately landing in Kansas City after his 14-year stint with the Eagles ended. The Chiefs were abysmal last season, going 2-14 yet having six players making the Pro Bowl.
Now they have a quality quarterback in Alex Smith, a perennially successful coach, an aggressive new general manager, and the look of a team that could soar in the standings.
SEAHAWKS, Renton, Wash.: Lots of reasons to journey to the Pacific Northwest, not the least of which is watching the further development of QB Russell Wilson. And Seattle’s defense yielded the fewest points in the league in 2012 and could be stronger.
But there also are storm clouds: LB Bruce Irvin’s four-game suspension makes five Seahawks players getting suspended for using performance enhancers since 2011. Does coach Pete Carroll have things under control on his supremely talented team?
CARDINALS, Glendale, Ariz.: At age 60, Bruce Arians finally has a head coaching gig. He earned it with a 9-3 record as interim coach for leukemia-stricken Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis last season. He brings an aggressive mindset and actually has a quarterback, Carson Palmer, who can get the ball downfield. He also will find ways to get star WR Larry Fitzgerald the ball. Often.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org