I am leaving on Sunday morning for West Virginia to cover Texans training camp for the subsequent seven days, getting on that big bird to Charlotte, and then driving four hours through the backwoods of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia (an area of the country quite replete with roadside barbecue stands, and though it's not Texas BBQ, I am very excited) to White Sulphur Springs, the home of the Greenbrier.
I went last year for a week, and it was one of my favorite weeks of the year, not just because the weather was 25 degrees cooler than Houston's, but because we got to see the seeds of the Texans' 2017 storylines planted in that one week — Deshaun Watson flashing his stuff with the second team, DeAndre Hopkins just clowning a beleaguered Texans secondary, and the offensive allowing sacks like Oprah giving out cars.
As much as I wouldn't trade my annual Texans experience for anything in the world, I do think it's somewhat natural to look around the league and wonder what it would be like to cover some of the other training camps. So here are the ten that I identified as the most desirable and possibly fun to cover, if I were to be sent to another team's training camp in late July:
10. BALTIMORE RAVENS
To me, the biggest "quarterback battle" storyline of the preseason involves Joe Flacco trying to fend off first round pick and former Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson. The vultures are circling in Baltimore for both Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh, who made the playoffs in each of his first five seasons as Ravens head coach, and has made it just once in the last five. As a media member, I would be sure to bring a satchel full of Lamar Jackson questions for all of the players. (NOTE: Sometimes the best way to stir the pot in a Flacco-Jackson type situation is to ask their teammates about each guy.)
9. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Defending Super Bowl champions' camp is always a good choice, especially with a first time Super Bowl winner trying to adjust to the target on their back. Philly's offseason has been relatively quiet, outside of Lane Johnson's critiques of New England's culture, and former Texan Brandon Brooks revealing that Bill O'Brien is a big meanie. Carson Wentz takes the reins back in one of the oddest situations I can remember — an MVP candidate who is trying to live up to the postseason performance of his backup.
8. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots had among the most tumultuous offseasons, at least it's perceived that way. They allowed several of their free agents to walk, many who stayed behind (and left) complained about Bill Belichick's decision to bench Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl, and Tom Brady and Gronk both spent their offseasons seemingly trolling their head coach on social media. I'd like to see this family reunion up close just to see how closely reality matches the media hype over the internal divides.
7. TENNESSEE TITANS
It's Mike Vrabel's first training camp as a head coach. Vrabel got this gig largely based on his charisma, and Tennessee fans are completely on board, thus far, with his pandering to the city of Nashville as the dopest place on the planet. The play here would be to try to get Vrabel to say something inflammatory for the Week 2 matchup with the Texans.
6. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
What once appeared to be a dynasty in Seattle is now kind of falling apart at the seams. Some of the carnage is masked by the greatness of QB Russell Wilson, but how weird is it to see the collapse of the Legion of Boom? Kam Chancellor is retired thanks to neck injuries, Richard Sherman was released and is now a Niner, and Earl Thomas is a holdout. Watching the flowery persona of Pete Carroll try to hold this together up close would be fascinating.
5. NEW ORLEANS
There's really nothing about the Saints, as a team, that compels me, I would just want to spend a week in New Orleans, for all of the obvious reasons.
4. LOS ANGELES RAMS
The closest facsimile we can find in recent history to the Rams' offseason was the Eagles' back in 2011, when Vince Young infamously uttered the phrase "Dream Team" after the Eagles went bananas in free agency. For Rams fans' sake, hopefully, this works out better than it did for the Eagles, who went 8-8 that season. Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks, those are some big names, and big personalties. Wade Phillips' presence alone makes the Rams a top five team on this list.
3. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Andrew Luck's right shoulder is the most watched body part of the NFL preseason. Even if Luck's healthy, the Colts are probably still looking at last place in the AFC South, but having Andrew Luck around, even at partial strength, will give some juice to those two games on the Texans' schedule. (Also, the Texans have at least BEATEN Andrew Luck on occasion. Jacoby Brissett remains undefeated against them, as a starter. 3-0. And I'm joking. Sort of.)
2. CLEVELAND BROWNS
If it's good enough for "Hard Knocks", it's good enough for me! The quarterback battle between Tyrod Taylor and first overall pick Baker Mayfield should be fun, and it's the Browns, so something inherently HAS to go catastrophically wrong, right?
1. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Jon Gruden's return to head coaching (and, let's face it, his intro to de facto GM-ing) has been sketchy, at best, and is trending in a direction where this could be a real disaster for the Raiders. Here's the thing — aside from inheriting a ready made Super Bowl winner, who had the benefit of facing his old team in the Super Bowl, Gruden's record as a head coach is just average. I don't think his track record with young quarterbacks indicates that he is going to wave a magic wand over Derek Carr and make 2016 happen again. Also, the Khalil Mack holdout will be a cloud that Gruden will have to handle.
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