NFC East training camp preview

The Dallas Cowboys will get a head start on the rest of the division by opening camp Saturday. The Eagles will have rookies and selected veterans show up next Tuesday, but the full team will have its first practice July 31. The Redskins open camp July 29, and the Giants get things going in Albany, N.Y., on Aug. 1.

Keep your eye on the Dez Bryant contract situation. The early start means the Cowboys won't have many first-round contracts to use as a point of reference.

With the Giants starting a week later than the Cowboys, I think New York general manager Jerry Reese will have plenty of time to take care of his top picks.


Dallas Cowboys: Is Doug Free up to the task of replacing Flozell Adams at left tackle?

The Cowboys had better hope they have the answer to this question. Adams may have been in his twilight football years, but he was still one of the better offensive tackles in the NFC.

Free has limited game experience on the left side, but he displays excellent footwork and that should serve him well against speedy pass-rushers such as Brian Orakpo, Trent Cole and Justin Tuck.

Some of the Cowboys -- notably DeMarcus Ware -- were caught off guard by Adams' release, and they didn't immediately endorse Free. But I think those comments were made out of respect to the perennial Pro Bowl player. As camp approaches, Free's teammates are saying all the right things about him.

All the games he played at right tackle last season for an injured Marc Colombo gave him a tremendous amount of confidence. And offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who once tutored Larry Allen, raves about Free. It's a risky move by Jerry Jones, but it's one he didn't have to contemplate for long.

New York Giants: What is Osi Umenyiora's mindset heading into camp?

All eyes will be on the defensive end rotation early in Giants camp. Umenyiora was humiliated by his demotion last season and, he spent the first part of the offseason yapping about the slight. Reese does a nice job tuning that stuff out and he expects Umenyiora to bounce back with a strong season. But you can't demote Mathias Kiwanuka simply to assuage Umenyiora's massive ego.

We'll arrive in Albany for the Giants' first practice, so I'll keep you posted on that front. New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is off to a good start in terms of gaining his players' trust. It will be interesting to see how many changes he makes to the Giants' 4-3 scheme. I don't think the changes will be dramatic, but expect to see a lot more pressure. Fewell's specialty is in the secondary, and that's where New York had a miserable time last season. I think the pass coverage will be vastly improved. If it's not, the Giants could be in for another long season.

Philadelphia Eagles: Can Kevin Kolb quickly take command of this team?

Young stars such as DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek couldn't wait for the Kolb era to begin, so now we'll find out what that looks like. He's an accurate quarterback who has an excellent grasp of the offense after watching Donovan McNabb for three seasons. He'll make some mistakes, but he'll be helped by perhaps the best receiving corps in the NFL.

So far, Kolb's done an outstanding job of handling the spotlight. Now, things are going to get much more hectic. His every word and training camp pass will be analyzed. Kolb doesn't seem fazed by all of the attention at this point. Let's see how he responds the first time he has a lousy training camp practice as the starter.

I'm looking forward to watching Kolb in the first couple of preseason games. He'll get plenty of reps. The Eagles need to see how he responds when he gets popped in the mouth. And that's going to happen at some point.

Washington Redskins: Can Donovan McNabb take these pedestrian receivers to the next level?

The good sign is that McNabb elevated some mediocre receivers in Philadelphia over the years. I think Devin Thomas is on the verge of being a consistent threat and McNabb will give him every opportunity to become a playmaker. With no appreciable depth along the offensive line, the Redskins will need some luck. Jason Campbell played behind arguably the worst offensive line in the league last season.

It would only take an injury or two to basically have that same line again. McNabb needs to be on the same page with his offensive line coming out of camp. Even with all of the Albert Haynesworth drama, McNabb will be the most compelling storyline.


Cowboys: Marion Barber. He's dropped about 10 pounds and looks much quicker than last season. But Felix Jones is poised to replace him as the feature back -- if he hasn't already. I could've gone with Roy Williams, but that almost seems redundant at this point. It's hard to say someone's on the hot seat when everyone's pretty much given up on him anyway. Unless he has some type of breakout season (12 TDs), then he'll be long gone in 2011. Barber has a legitimate chance to turn things around this season, so I'm putting him on the hot seat.

Giants: Brandon Jacobs. I could've easily gone with Tom Coughlin because his job will be on the line if he misses the playoffs again. But from a player standpoint, all eyes will be on Jacobs. He took some advice from Tiki Barber to heart and stopped trying to bang his body into everyone. But he may have taken things too far because he looked tentative at times last season. If he doesn't produce early in the season, Ahmad Bradshaw will be ready to replace him as the starter.

Eagles: Andy Reid. If the Eagles make the playoffs with Kolb, then it will be another feather in Reid's West Coast hat. But if the young Eagles flame out, there will be some backlash. It's rare to see such a wildly successful coach take such a huge risk. We'll know a lot more about Reid's legacy after this season. Too dramatic for you? Maybe so, but it's certainly a big season for him.

Redskins: Haynesworth. He'll be the focal point of the first few days of training camp. I'm not holding my breath that things are going to work out between Haynesworth and coach Mike Shanahan. If the defensive tackle pouts openly about his role in the 3-4 defense, Shanahan will be tempted to send him home. Should be fun to watch.


Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden. The guy basically took over training camp last season, but he wasn't ready to contribute on special teams. I think Barden will emerge as a weapon in the red zone. He has more length than Plaxico Burress and makes plays in traffic. The Giants have to find a way to get him on the field. I wouldn't be shocked if he finished the season with seven touchdowns. That would be a big leap, but it's something Barden's capable of accomplishing.


Cowboys: Safety Alan Ball will lead the division with seven interceptions.

Giants: Hakeem Nicks will have 1,250 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Seriously.

Eagles: Jeremy Maclin finishes this season with more yards and TDs than DeSean Jackson.

Redskins: Clinton Portis will go to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,280 yards and 12 TDs.