The best thing about NFL training camp is that everything looks perfect. Receivers are running crisp routes, quarterbacks rarely miss, safeties cover plays with textbook perfection and all 32 teams inch their way closer to a division title.
Try to save some of that optimism for January, when the contenders of August get an early start on setting their draft board. This handy guide is here to help you sort through the real and the ephemeral training camp tales. Below are some of the most oft-told misconceptions and outright lies trotted out in talking points this time of year. Some of these notions will prove true, most will not and others will fall into more of a gray area.
We also need your help, dear readers. Tell us what our B.S. detectors missed for this report. What other tall tales out training camp should be aware of this year?
Rebound Season Ahead
The NFL loves to feed Horatio Alger stories to fans. In August, the bootstrap narrative changes a little bit as promises of big rebounds headline each and every camp postcard.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew told the media on Wednesday about big steps forward for his team. Detroit made it clear in 2011 that they have the talent to post double digit wins every year, so long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy.
"I think we're a better football team for all the reasons we talked about before. The continuity, the maturity of our football team, all those factors come into play."
Maturity? Maybe his newspaper subscription ran out and missed the off-field shenanigans from his players. Maybe even more notable was his confidence in the Lions' secondary, the kind of certainty that can only be found in August.
Randy Moss is ready to return to super star status this year, or at least that's what we have been told. Peter King, who lost the batteries for his training camp hyperbole detector years ago, was the latest pundit promising a new Randy Moss. While I have no doubt the catering services in the Bay Area top those of the Twin Cities, Moss' problems in 2010 had more to do with a lost step than missing decorum.
When A Position Battle Is Not Really A Position Battle
Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden are battling it out in Cleveland, except everybody already knows who the winner will be.
One of the more important position battles happening in the NFL right now is supposed to be the contest for the Chicago Bears' left tackle job. One of the league's worst offensive lines over the last two seasons, incumbent J'Marcus Webb is facing off against Chris Williams, who played guard last year. Mike Tice believes in Webb, and Chicago beat writers are already calling this one for the holdover who allowed 12 sacks last season. Williams probably does give Chicago a better fit on the inside, but given they really owe it to Jay Cutler to at least try and find the best possible solution.
Staying in the NFC North, Donald Driver, 37, spent the bulk of early practices as the starting slot receiver in Green Bay. Pushing him for playing time is second-year speedster Randall Cobb, who proved that he can do more than just return kicks last season by catching 22 passes, with an 87 percent catch rate, to go with 375 yards and a touchdown. At some point, the Packers will have to give Cobb more of Driver's snaps, getting his dynamic playmaking ability in the lineup on Green Bay's hunt for another Super Bowl.
The Best Shape Of His Life
This is what I tell my doctor every time something forces me to pay a visit. In his eyes, I drink socially, have never smoked anything and exercise only slightly less than an Olympic athlete. It holds about as much water as those reports out of training camp.
Lions running back Kevin Smith just so happens to be in the best shape of his life these days. Smith is working as the team's top running back while Jahvid Best waits for medical clearance so that he too can be in the best shape of his life. Talent is not an issue for Smith, fragility is. Smith hasn't played more than seven games in his last two seasons. If the other Detroit backs can get healthy, Smith might have some staying power as part of a rotation.
New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, added as a free agent from the Cowboys, tipped the scales at 290 pounds over the summer. He blamed his recovery from a hamstring injury, and did manage to make weight upon reporting for training camp. He also happens to be, yep, fit as a fiddle.
Listen to Bennett describe himself to the Bergen Record on Wednesday:
"I'm in the best shape I've ever been. Ask any of the guys in the camp," Bennett said. "I'm stronger than I've ever been. I'm faster than I've ever been. I could run all day. I'm kind of like a black unicorn out there. It's amazing to watch."
The Giants are sure hoping that Bennett is right, especially with Travis Beckum on the shelf indefinitely.
The Stud Rookie
Just a week into training camp, the rookie awards race is already heating up in the media. Draft picks are fulfilling their limitless promise with just a day or two in pads so far.
On Wednesday, ESPN's Adam Schefter took to the airwaves to note Janoris Jenkins' "Pro Bowl potential." The St. Louis Rams' second-round pick was widely lauded for his talent leading up the draft, and most believe that the team got a steal on him when character concerns pushed him down draft boards.
Talent or not, Wednesday was the first day the Rams had pads on, and even then it was only for special teams. Jenkins gets thrown into the fire in Week 1 when the Rams play the Lions and Calvin Johnson. It might be best to wait and see how he looks when the games matter before sending him to Hawaii.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is another rookie ready to break records and send his team to postseason glory this year. He opened camp working with the starters when the offense went to a three-receiver set, and earned glowing reviews for his work. The Browns' official website had this to say about Gordon on Thursday:
Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin have performed exceptionally well through the early part of camp. It wouldn't be a stretch to say they have been the Browns' best two receivers to date.
Gordon already has established himself as the Browns' most physically gifted pass-catcher. His combination of exceptional size, strength, and athleticism is mostly unmatched by any other receiver on the team.
It does not take much to be the Browns' best wide receiver, and Gordon, a second-round pick in the NFL Supplemental Draft, does have natural talent. To his credit, head coach Pat Shurmur has taken on a more realistic view of the rookie who did not play football at all in 2011.