Super Bowl hopefuls focus on weak areas from last season
Pass rush. After racking up 16 1/2 sacks in '08, defensive end John Abraham drew much more attention last year. And with no consistent force opposite him, his total dropped to 5 1/2 in '09. Considering '07 first-round pick Jamaal Anderson has only 2 1/2 sacks in 44 career starts, the Falcons must find another young pass rusher. Two intriguing candidates to watch in camp are Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury Jr.
Secondary. With Haloti Ngata on the three-man front and Ray Lewis anchoring the linebacker corps, there are few questions about the front seven, especially against the run. The defense, however, must be steadier in pass coverage and force more turnovers. Sure, safety Ed Reed must stay healthy, but the team needs to find some solid players among youngsters and newcomers such as cornerbacks Travis Fisher and Walt Harris and safety Ken Hamlin.
Green Bay Packers
Offensive line. The team's struggles to keep QB Aaron Rodgers upright have been well documented, and there also has been a power drain in the running game. With a healthy tackle Chad Clifton, some shuffling among the interior veterans and the use of a first-round pick on tackle Bryan Bulaga, the correct adjustments seem to be in order.
New York Jets
Passing game. Neither Santonio Holmes nor Braylon Edwards were Jets this time last year, and during his Year 3 tight end Dustin Keller will be counted on more as an intermediate threat. LaDainian Tomlinson also will bring his great savvy in backfield receiving situations. It will be interesting to see how these pass-catching threats play off the league's most dominant running game, and how much of a second-year leap Mark Sanchez takes with an improved supporting cast.
Front seven. They put a pretty good defense on the field last season, but there were some notable lapses in allowing big plays to develop in the running game and on short-to-medium passes. The Eagles loaded up on defensive depth in the draft, injecting youth to help themselves on the outside. It will make a big difference to have a healthy Stewart Bradley back roaming the middle.
San Francisco 49ers
Offensive line. It's not guaranteed that both first-round picks, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis, start right away. Joe Staley quietly has become one of the league's better left tackles, and QB Alex Smith has sped up his delivery. Iupati and Davis mesh well with Mike Singletary's desire to be a more physical, run-heavy team, and that should bode well to reestablish Frank Gore as the core of the offense.
San Diego Chargers
Running game. Norv Turner's history with talented power runners and the fresh legs of rookie first-rounder Ryan Mathews should have the Chargers believing their rushing attack can work its way back to Martyball levels. The line also can perform better as a whole, and having an elite passing game will keep defenses from stacking the line to stop Mathews. His presence also will allow Darren Sproles to again become the ultimate change-of-pace back.