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Ask a former NFL player: Which teams will be surprise disappointments in 2019?

In this week’s mailbag, Geoff Schwartz tells us which teams are primed to take a step back, and what the experience of training camp is like for rookies vs. veterans.

It’s time for the weekly mailbag! All NFL teams have reported to camp and we are off. Everyone is in the best shape of their lives and preparing for the season.

If you have any questions for next time, you can hit up my DMs on Twitter or Instagram.

In last week’s mailbag, I talked about which team could be a surprise contender. This week, I start off with a question about which teams could disappoint.

During training camp each year, it seems like all but 2-3 fan bases thinks their team is winning the division and going 11-5. What are a few teams you think will finish last in their division that would be a surprise to their fans?@markbrown247

Great question. I can’t remember entering a season with more teams that believe they can win. That’s due to the fact we have a bounty of good quarterbacks around the league. Just look toward next year’s draft. How many teams will need to draft a quarterback? Miami, but only if Josh Rosen is awful. The Bengals, Raiders, Bucs, and Titans? Maybe?

There’s so much talent at the position in the NFL, and therefore it’s hard to predict who’s going to finish last in their division. The easy answers are Washington, the Cardinals, and Dolphins.

However, you want surprises, so here goes: the Texans.

Their offensive line is still a mess. I know they drafted Tytus Howard in the first round, but he’s a project right now. Yes, the Texans have Deshaun Watson at quarterback, some weapons on offense, and a tough defense. But it’s hard to win many games with a poor offensive line.

Plus, as Warren Sharp notes in his 2019 preview, the Texans played by far the worst group of starting quarterbacks last season. Just to name a few: Brock Osweiler, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Colt McCoy, Case Keenum, and Nathan Peterman. This season, their schedule is upgraded. They move to the fifth-toughest schedule against passers, the biggest jump in strength of schedule in the league. So, they won’t win as many games as they did in 2018 (11), just based on their schedule.

Considering their division — where the Colts are strong, the Jaguars will be better with Nick Foles, and the Titans will be solid — and I could see the Texans finishing last in the AFC South.

I think now I’m stretching a bit, but the Rams are prime for a decline. We’ve seen other Super Bowl losers in recent years, like the Panthers and Falcons, take massive steps back the following season. I don’t believe the Rams will fall too far, but they won’t be as good as they were last season.

First off, their offensive line is going through changes. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is still there, but he’s getting older. They lost their left guard and center (Rodger Saffold and Jonathan Sullivan). Right guard Austin Blythe is OK, but nothing more as of now. He’s young and can still improve. Right tackle Rob Havenstein is good.

Their offense concerns me more than their offensive line, though. We saw a blueprint on how to stop their run game. It started against the Lions later in the season and continued to the Super Bowl. Cover 4 is a coverage with the four defensive backs, two corners, and two safeties; each take a fourth of the field. This allows the safeties to play much lower in the box and trigger quicker in the run game. They are unaccounted for often in the Rams’ zone run attack.

We saw the Patriots use this coverage in the Super Bowl. The Patriots, and other teams, hammered the edges to force the ball back inside when the Rams ran. When you stop the Rams’ run game, you take away the play-action and force them into third-and-long situations, which they don’t excel at. The Rams love being ahead of the chains and using that opportunity to play action and move the pocket.

Of course, Sean McVay knows this as well, so I expect some changes to the offense, but will they be enough? The Rams are too talented and too well coached to be bad, but I think they take a step back.

I have seen a lot of tweets/articles from former players talking about how they don’t miss training camp and how brutal it is. Are those feelings any different for guys during their first few years in the league?@NewEraTaker

I’m not sure anyone who’s in training camp has different feelings about the brutality of the experience, no matter your years of service, but most former players went through a different style of training camp. Most of us had at least some experience with two-a-days and no limits on the amount of contact, types of drills, or length of practices. All of that is regulated now for player safety, and the experience of camp has changed.

For example, in the old style of practice with two-a-days, I might get 50-60 team reps in a day, maybe more. Now, you might get 30. There are “deload” days, where pads are taken off and reps cut down. That never happened pre-2011. Today, there are mandated off days. Back then, we got a night off after a week, but we still had a curfew. It’s just different now. It’s more of a mental grind, rather than a physical one.

What’s the biggest difference of being at camp (off the field) as a rookie vs. as a vet? I know you’ve talked a lot about on the field/fighting for roster spots, but I’m asking more about the off-field stuff. Tips and tricks, relationships with teammates, using time better, etc. Thanks! @SquintsPalledo1

The biggest difference is confidence in knowing the routine of camp, plus having a solid routine of your own to recover. There’s just a general ease in understanding the process, how practices are scheduled, why you are doing drills, how the installs are supposed to look, what to take away from those installs, and knowing one bad play or practice isn’t going to get you cut.

Older players have better coping or relaxing methods for the rough parts of camp, whether that’s just talking to your family, knowing your role on the team, and/or being able to recover from practice. That’s often overlooked by young players because their bodies naturally recover on their own. Eventually, your recovery stops happening on its own. When that happens, young players either turn to veterans or need to figure out their own routine for that recovery process.