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NFL training camps opening for business

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FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2012, file photo, Commissioner Roger Goodell gestures to fans before an NFL football game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys in East Rutherford, N.J. The NFL and referees' union reached a tentative agreement on Wednesday, Sept. 26, to end a three-month lockout that triggered a wave of frustration and anger over replacement officials and threatened to disrupt the rest of the season. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

By Tony Jones

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 17 2013 12:55PM
Updated Jul 17, 2013 11:08PM

The Buccaneers are getting things under way in Tampa and the Saints open their training camp on Thursday in Mentairie, La.

Over the next eight days, the NFL’s remaining 30 teams will open their camps at various sites.

The summer is nearing an end and dawn is breaking for fans of the most popular sport in the nation. Once camps begin in earnest, things will move quickly. The annual Hall of Fame game — this year pitting the Dallas Cowboys against the Miami Dolphins — is less than three weeks away — signaling the start of the preseason. And finally, the regular season begins in the first week of September.

In these next eight weeks, there is much to talk about and even more to analyze. The questions are big. Are the depleted New England Patriots finished? Can Robert Griffin III rebound from a nasty knee injury that wrecked the Washington Redskins’ playoff hopes? Can the Baltimore Ravens successfully defend their Super Bowl title after decimating their roster? Can the San Francisco 49ers take the final step toward a championship?

"Excitement’s in the air. Our team got bigger and there’s more of us and these guys got really good," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters last month. "We’re ready to get started and we’re ready to take the first step."

When last seen, the NFL was coming off one of the most exciting postseasons in recent memory.

There was Ray Lewis and the Ravens making a triumphant run to a championship. There was Colin Kaepernick coming off the bench for the Niners and turning himself into a star. There was Peyton Manning leading the Denver Broncos to the edge of glory, only to give a game away to Baltimore in heartbreaking fashion.

And there were the locals making names for themselves: Bobby Wagner going from Utah State to the Seattle Seahawks and becoming one of the better middle linebackers in the league in his rookie season; Paul Kruger and Sean Smith finally capitalizing on their vast potential, turning in career years and carrying the Utah flag to free agent riches.

"I wanted to come to a team that was excited about me," Kruger said in his introductory Cleveland news conference. "I feel strongly about being a part of something and I feel I can help this team become better."

So how will it all spill into the upcoming season? The year should yield more exciting and competitive football. The beauty of the NFL — as opposed to baseball and the NBA — lies in the competitive balance. In most seasons, a true upstart emerges and becomes one of the best teams in the league. Last season, it was the Seahawks, who combined a great defense and the emergence of Russell Wilson to make the playoffs and register a win over the Redskins.

Who will make a name for themselves this season? We will all soon find out.

tjones@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tjonessltrib

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