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5 burning questions heading into 2019 NFL training camps

NFL training camps open across the league in less than two weeks. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five burning NFL questions, as we get one step closer to the 2019 season.

Can Daniel Jones challenge Eli Manning for the Giants’ starting QB job?

Eli Manning’s play has been trending downward for some time. He has not made the Pro Bowl since 2015 and has looked like a backup in recent seasons. The 38-year-old quarterback tossed only 21 touchdowns last year after throwing just 19 TDs in 2017. Furthermore, the Giants have won merely eight games over the past two seasons.

Looking to find Manning’s successor, the New York Giants selected Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. The coaching staff has heaped praised on the former Duke quarterback since general manager Dave Gettleman nabbed the 22-year-old in the draft. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said in May that Jones would be “ready to go” as the starting quarterback in Week 1, if need be.

Head coach Pat Shurmur echoed that same sentiment last month.

Odds are against Jones beginning the season as New York’s first-string signal caller. A recent report suggests there is not a real quarterback competition, indicating Manning’s job remains his to lose.

Still, Jones can put pressure on Manning with a strong training camp and preseason.

How long will Melvin Gordon’s holdout last?

Los Angeles Chargers star running back Melvin Gordon will not report to training camp and has threatened to sit out games if he’s not handed a new contract. His agent stated that Gordon will demand a trade, unless he is signed to a long-term extension. Gordon is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, a fifth-year option worth $5.6 million. The 26-year-old said he wants to remain with the Chargers, but not before inking a new deal.

Gordon, a two-time Pro Bowler, accumulated 1,375 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns in 2018. Since his sophomore campaign in 2016, he has piled up 4,372 yards from scrimmage, rushing for 28 touchdowns to go along with 10 receiving TDs.

While Gordon is a top-notch halfback, the Chargers have capable backups in Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. Both backs played well in the four games that Gordon missed last season, all wins for the Chargers.

Holding out would be costly for Gordon, who will be docked pay for every preseason and regular season contest he voluntarily misses.

How will Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur mesh?

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not have the best relationship with his former coach, Mike McCarthy.

There is already drama brewing between the two-time MVP and new head coach Matt LaFleur. Rodgers is not pleased with the lack of control he is given at the line of scrimmage in LaFleur’s offense.

“There’s stuff that not many people in the league can do at the line,” Rodgers told Adam Silver of NFL.com. “That’s not a humble brag. That’s just a fact.”

Rodgers clashed with McCarthy in recent seasons over the same issue, feeling he deserved more control of the playcalling at the line of scrimmage.

LaFleur recognizes the greatness of Rodgers, but is against the idea of giving entire freedom to the quarterback with regards to changing the play calls.

“We’re running a system I first picked up while working with Kyle [Shanahan] in Houston a decade ago, and we’ve never really had a quarterback who’s had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that’s not really the way the offense is set up,” LaFleur said to Silver.

“But, I mean, this is Aaron Rodgers. He’s had a lot of freedom to make those calls, and deservedly so. Now, how do we reconcile that, and get to a place where we put him in the best position to succeed?”

LaFleur and Rodgers must get on the same page or else it could be another long season for the Packers, who have not made the postseason since 2016.

Can Freddie Kitchens handle the Browns’ high expectations?

The Cleveland Browns are the favorites to win the AFC North. General manager John Dorsey has constructed a talented roster over the past few years. Now, the pressure is on first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens to guide the Browns to their first postseason appearance since 2002.

Baker Mayfield thrived under Kitchens — formerly the team’s offensive coordinator — in his rookie season. He set a rookie-record with 27 passing touchdowns, despite not seeing any action until Week 3 and not starting until the following game. Mayfield spearheaded the Browns to a 7-8-1 record after the team finished winless in 2017.

The Browns acquired All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham in a blockbuster trade this offseason, supplying Mayfield with another weapon to incorporate into Kitchen’s offensive scheme.  Beckham ranks second all-time in receiving yards per contest.

The Browns also added embattled Pro-Bowl running back Kareem Hunt, who is suspended for the first eight games of the 2019 season, to their talent-filled offense.

Kitchens has a lot more responsibilities as the head coach. He has a strong rapport with his young quarterback, which is crucial. But Kitchens’ decision-making skills will be put to the test this season and with that comes increased pressure, especially for a club with playoff aspirations.

Will Raiders live up to the ‘Hard Knocks’ hype?

The Oakland Raiders are the featured team of the HBO hit-series “Hard Knocks” this summer, much to the delight of many NFL fans. The season debuts on Aug. 6. There are are plenty of storylines surrounding the drama-studded Raiders, who had a busy offseason after finishing last in the AFC West with a 4-12 record a year ago.

Clelin Ferrell faces plenty of pressure heading into his rookie campaign. The Raiders nabbed the former Clemson star defensive end with the fourth overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, a surprising selection. Most pundits pegged Ferrell as a late first-round selection, not a top-five pick. Alas, the Raiders saw a superstar in the making and are counting on Ferrell to turn around their defense, which surrendered a league-worst 467 points in 2018.

All eyes are also on QB Derek Carr. The 28-year-old threw a career-low 19 TDs last season. The highly-paid quarterback needs a bounce-back year.

The Raiders landed Antonio Brown this offseason in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers, bringing one of the league’s premier stars to the ‘Black Hole.’ Brown led the NFL in receiving TDs (15) last season. The seven-time Pro Bowler, who has been named to the NFL’s All-Pro First Team four times and the All-Pro Second Team once, is a nearly-unstoppable force.

However, Brown comes to Oakland with a ton of baggage. There is a league-wide perception that he is the biggest diva in the NFL. (Thus, he is the perfect type of player for “Hard Knocks”).

Another terrific fit for the HBO show is Oakland head coach Jon Gruden. The charismatic Gruden, who is in his second stint with the franchise, signed a 10-year, $100 million deal before the 2018 season. Winning only four games in his first year back in Oakland was not ideal for Gruden, but now he has much more talent to work with. He should provide plenty of one-liners and funny moments over the course of “Hard Knocks.” But it remains to be seen if his old-school coaching approach can translate to success for the Raiders.