Training days

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The start of training camp this week gives rise to the belief that anything is possible in the NFL, even the Super Bowl. After all, who would have predicted the past three league champions - the New England Patriots, Ravens and St. Louis Rams - at the start of camp those years?

Inspired by the Patriots' improbable ascension last year, 11 teams have already opened camp and seven more check in today. Every team will be on the practice field by Monday.

The NFL's reshuffled deck includes seven new head coaches plus the debut of the expansion Houston Texans, coached by Dom Capers. The league's realigned look features eight divisions of four teams each and the pooling of the visiting gate receipts. The most prominent changes send the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks to the NFC West.

Heading into two-a-days, this is how those divisions shape up, with the teams listed strongest to weakest.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh

Where: St. Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa.

Key imports: LB James Farrior (Jets), WR Terance Mathis (Falcons), K Todd Peterson (Chiefs), WR Antwaan Randle El (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Steelers are fine-tuning after nearly making the Super Bowl. They must replace leading tackler Earl Holmes at ILB with either Farrior or John Fiala.

Cleveland

Where: Browns training facility, Berea, Ohio

Key imports: OT Ryan Tucker (Rams), DE Kenard Lang (Redskins), S Robert Griffith (Vikings), LB Earl Holmes (Steelers), RB William Green (rookie), WR Andre Davis (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Browns need Green to balance the offense and Davis to provide a complement to No. 1 receiver Kevin Johnson. That's asking a lot of rookies. Tucker will be critical to the running game.

Cincinnati

Where: Georgetown College, Georgetown, Ky.

Key imports: QB Gus Frerotte (Broncos), WR Michael Westbrook (Redskins), OT Levi Jones (rookie), S Lamont Thompson (rookie).

Pressing issue: A quick resolution to the quarterback competition between holdover Jon Kitna and Frerotte would be helpful. The Bengals need a more productive passing game.

Ravens

Where: McDaniel College, Westminster

Key imports: QB Jeff Blake (Saints), S Ed Reed (rookie), DT Tony Weaver (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Ravens must find replacements for seven starters on their once-dominant defense. On offense, they need a healthy RB Jamal Lewis to take the load off new starting QB Chris Redman.

AFC EAST

New England

Where: Bryant College, Smithfield, R.I.

Key imports: WR Donald Hayes (Panthers), TE Christian Fauria (Seahawks), CB Tom Knight (Cardinals), DE Rick Lyle (Jets), TE Daniel Graham (rookie), WR Deion Branch (rookie).

Pressing issue: Coach Bill Belichick made a concerted effort to upgrade the skill positions around QB Tom Brady, including the addition of three tight ends. The speedy Hayes could help most, however.

Miami

Where: Nova Southeastern University, Davie, Fla.

Key imports: RB Ricky Williams (Saints), DE Rob Burnett (Ravens), DE Jay Williams (Panthers), DT Larry Chester (Panthers), offensive coordinator Norv Turner (Chargers).

Pressing issue: The Dolphins will emphasize the run this year. They shored up their 17th-ranked run defense, and they hope to become a run- oriented team on offense behind Williams.

New York Jets

Where: Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.

Key imports: LB Sam Cowart (Bills), S Sam Garnes (Giants), CB Donnie Abraham (Bucs), CB Aaron Beasley (Jaguars), DT Larry Webster (Ravens), DT Josh Evans (Titans), DE Bryan Thomas (rookie).

Pressing issue: Rebuilding an offensive line that lost two starters and won't have Pro Bowl C Kevin Mawae (shoulder) back until mid-August is vital. QB Vinny Testaverde, 38, is coming off foot surgery.

Buffalo

Where: St. John Fisher College, Rochester, N.Y.

Key imports: QB Drew Bledsoe (Patriots), LB London Fletcher (Rams), TE Dave Moore (Bucs), OT Trey Teague (Broncos), K Mike Hollis (Jaguars), OT Mike Williams (rookie), offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

Pressing issue: Does Bledsoe have anything left? He hadn't played well for the Patriots before his injury and benching. If he can still play, the Bills are much improved.

AFC SOUTH

Tennessee

Where: Baptist Sports Park, Nashville, Tenn.

Key imports: S Lance Schulters (49ers), FB Greg Comella (Giants), DT Albert Haynesworth (rookie), S Tank Williams (rookie).

Pressing issue: After QB Steve McNair's big year (21 TD passes, 3,350 yards) and RB Eddie George's injury-marred season, the Titans have an identity crisis. Are they a passing team or a running team?

Indianapolis

Where: Rose-Hulman Technical Institute, Terre Haute, Ind.

Key imports: Coach Tony Dungy (Bucs), WR Qadry Ismail (Ravens), CB Walt Harris (Bears), LB Greg Favors (Titans), DE Dwight Freeney (rookie), DT Larry Tripplett (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Colts are counting on Dungy's presence to revive their moribund defense. They will go as far as the defense allows them to go.

Houston

Where: Reliant Park, Houston

Key imports: OT Tony Boselli (Jaguars), LB Jamie Sharper (Ravens), WR/KR Jermaine Lewis (Ravens), DT Gary Walker (Jaguars), CB Aaron Glenn (Jets), LB Kailee Wong (Vikings), C Steve McKinney (Colts), WR Corey Bradford (Packers), K Kris Brown (Steelers), LB Keith Mitchell (Saints), QB David Carr (rookie), WR Jabar Gaffney (rookie).

Pressing issue: With a good start in player acquisition, the expansion Texans must decide how quickly to install Carr as their quarterback. Probably right away.

Jacksonville

Where: ALLTEL Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

Key imports: WR Darnay Scott (Bengals), CB Ike Charlton (Seahawks), LB Wali Rainer (Browns), DT John Henderson (rookie), OT Mike Pearson (rookie).

Pressing issue: Having solved their salary-cap crisis, the Jaguars are paper-thin at most positions. Staying healthy is their most important concern. AFC WEST

Oakland

Where: Napa Valley Marriott, Napa, Calif.

Key imports: DT John Parrella (Chargers), LB Bill Romanowski (Broncos), S Rod Woodson (Ravens), CB Phillip Buchanon (rookie), LB Napoleon Harris (rookie).

Pressing issue: A team of aging stars gets one more chance at the Super Bowl. How new coach Bill Callahan handles this savvy group will be telling.

Kansas City

Where: University of Wisconsin-River Falls, River Falls, Wis.

Key imports: WR Johnnie Morton (Lions), OT Willie Roaf (Saints), K Morten Andersen (Giants), DT Ryan Sims (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Chiefs need better production from QB Trent Green (24 interceptions); Morton should become his go-to receiver.

San Diego

Where: University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, Calif.

Key imports: Coach Marty Schottenheimer (Redskins), LB Donnie Edwards (Chiefs), DT Jason Fisk (Titans), C Cory Raymer (Redskins), TE Stephen Alexander (Redskins), CB Quentin Jammer (rookie), G Toniu Fonoti (rookie), WR Reche Caldwell (rookie).

Pressing issue: The competition at quarterback between Doug Flutie and Drew Brees is the most compelling of camp. Flutie couldn't capitalize on a 5-2 start a year ago.

Denver

Where: University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colo.

Key imports: TE Shannon Sharpe (Ravens), OT Blake Brockermeyer (Bears), OT Ephraim Salaam (Falcons), DT Lional Dalton (Ravens), WR Ashley Lelie (rookie), RB Clinton Portis (rookie).

Pressing issue: Four years after his 2,008-yard rushing campaign, RB Terrell Davis is down to one last comeback attempt with the Broncos. They've got potential replacements lined up. NFC NORTH

Green Bay

Where: St. Norbert College, DePere, Wis.

Key imports: DE Joe Johnson (Saints), LB Hardy Nickerson (Jaguars), WR Terry Glenn (Patriots), RB Ki-Jana Carter (Redskins), WR Javon Walker (rookie), S Marques Anderson (rookie).

Pressing issue: Glenn gives QB Brett Favre a big-play weapon he has been missing. If Glenn plays as he did in his rookie season of 1996, the Packers could have a big year.

Chicago

Where: Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Ill.

Key imports: QB Chris Chandler (Falcons), LB Mike Caldwell (Eagles), DE Keith McKenzie (Browns), S Damon Moore (Eagles), OT Marc Colombo (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Bears lost their starting left tackle off one of the NFL's best offensive lines. They're hoping Colombo, a RT in college, can fill the void.

Minnesota

Where: University of Minnesota-Mankato, Mankato, Minn.

Key imports: DE Kenny Mixon (Dolphins), DE Lorenzo Bromell (Dolphins), CB Corey Chavous (Cardinals), LB Henri Crockett (Falcons), S Ronnie Bradford (Falcons), WR Derrick Alexander (Chiefs), WR Sean Dawkins (Jaguars), OT Bryant McKinnie (rookie), LB Raonall Smith (rookie), S Willie Offord (rookie).

Pressing issue: New coach Mike Tice has overhauled the defense, the first step in making the Vikings competitive again.

Detroit

Where: Lions training facility, Allen Park, Mich.

Key imports: WR Az-Zahir Hakim (Rams), WR Bill Schroeder (Packers), S Corey Harris (Ravens), S Brian Walker (Dolphins), QB Joey Harrington (rookie).

Pressing issue: How soon will Harrington be ready to take over for Mike McMahon?

NFC EAST

Philadelphia

Where: Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa.

Key imports: S Blaine Bishop (Titans), MLB Levon Kirkland (Seahawks), RB Dorsey Levens (Packers), LB Shawn Barber (Redskins), CB Lito Sheppard (rookie), S Michael Lewis (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Eagles were soft against the run last year and lost their middle linebacker. Kirkland is a short-term answer. They also need a running game from Duce Staley or Levens.

Dallas

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

Key imports: LB Kevin Hardy (Jaguars), DE La'Roi Glover (Saints), CB Bryant Westbrook (Lions), QB Chad Hutchinson (rookie), TE Tony McGee (Bengals), S Roy Williams (rookie), WR Antonio Bryant (rookie), offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet.

Pressing issue: The Cowboys are banking on inconsistent Quincy Carter at quarterback. Hutchinson, the backup, hasn't played since his sophomore year at Stanford in 1997.

Washington

Where: Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.

Key imports: Coach Steve Spurrier (Florida), defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis (Ravens), LB Jeremiah Trotter (Eagles), LB Jessie Armstead (Giants), DE Renaldo Wynn (Jaguars), DT Santana Dotson (Packers), QB Shane Matthews (Bears), QB Danny Wuerffel (Texans), WR Jacquez Green (Bucs), OT Rod Jones (Rams), QB Patrick Ramsey (rookie).

Pressing issue: Spurrier must find a reliable quarterback from his Florida alums or second-year man Sage Rosenfels. Is the system bigger than the player?

New York Giants

Where: State University at Albany, Albany, N.Y.

Key imports: TE Jeremy Shockey (rookie), WR Tim Carter (rookie).

Pressing issue: QB Kerry Collins signed a two-year extension yesterday, but DE Michael Strahan, the team's leader on the other side of the ball, is in the final year of his contract.

NFC SOUTH

Tampa Bay

Where: Disney Wide World of Sports, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Key imports: Coach Jon Gruden (Raiders), WR Keenan McCardell (Jaguars), WR Joe Jurevicius (Giants), TE Ken Dilger (Colts), RB Michael Pittman (Cardinals), QB Rob Johnson (Bills), CB Terrell Buckley (Patriots), WR Marquise Walker (rookie).

Pressing issue: Did Gruden make enough changes to invigorate the Bucs' lame offense? How quickly the offense jells will determine the Bucs' success.

New Orleans

Where: Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, La.

Key imports: WR Jerome Pathon (Colts), OT Victor Riley (Chiefs), LB Bryan Cox (Patriots), DT Grady Jackson (Raiders), WR Donte Stallworth (rookie), DE Charles Grant (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Saints played like dogs last December, quitting on coach Jim Haslett. A housecleaning followed, but are they any better?

Atlanta

Where: Furman University, Greenville, S.C.

Key imports: WR Willie Jackson (Saints), RB Warrick Dunn (Bucs), OT Todd Weiner (Seahawks), LB John Thierry (Packers), RB T.J. Duckett (rookie), LB Will Overstreet (rookie), defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Pressing issue: It's QB Michael Vick's team now, but he could use an upgrade in receivers. Without more help, he might be on the run all season.

Carolina

Where: Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C.

Key imports: Coach John Fox (Giants), DT Shane Burton (Jets), LB Mark Fields (Rams), CB Terry Cousin (Dolphins), RB Lamar Smith (Dolphins), DE Julius Peppers (rookie), RB DeShaun Foster (rookie).

Pressing issue: Fox and new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio (Ravens) must restore some pride and confidence to the league's worst defense.

NFC WEST

St. Louis

Where: Western Illinois University, Macomb, Ill.

Key imports: WR Terrence Wilkins (Colts), LB Jamie Duncan (Bucs), LB Robert Thomas (rookie), DB Travis Fisher (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Rams need to find a right tackle after losing their top two in the off-season. The choices are John St. Clair, who didn't play a down in the regular season, or former guard Cameron Spikes.

San Francisco

Where: University of Pacific, Stockton, Calif.

Key imports: S Tony Parrish (Bears), DT Jim Flanigan (Packers), G Ron Stone (Giants), CB Mike Rumph (rookie), LB Saleem Rasheed (rookie).

Pressing issue: Improving pass coverage to cope with the Rams' prolific passing game. Toward that end, the 49ers drafted Rumph, a 6-2 CB, as their nickel back.

Seattle

Where: Eastern Washington University, Cheney, Wash.

Key imports: CB Doug Evans (Panthers), DT Brandon Mitchell (Patriots), TE Jerramy Stevens (rookie), RB Maurice Morris (rookie).

Pressing issue: Relocated to the NFC, the Seahawks must prepare to face the Rams' Kurt Warner and the 49ers' Jeff Garcia four times in their new division. The Seahawks ranked 23rd in pass defense last season.

Arizona

Where: Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Key imports: CB Duane Starks (Ravens), TE Freddie Jones (Chargers), DT Wendell Bryant (rookie), LB Levar Fisher (rookie), DE Dennis Johnson (rookie).

Pressing issue: The Cardinals need to come up with a pass rush in this division. Their 19 sacks were last in the league a year ago.

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