Ah, the pleasantries of training camps. The oppressive heat. The two-a-day practices. The stuffy dorm rooms.
With the exception of the rookies and the obscure free agents looking to catch on, do any NFL players enjoy the grind they are about to endure? Unless they are masochists, probably not.
That's one of the many reasons commissioner Roger Goodell wants to shorten the preseason. Still, there are incentives for just about everyone over the next six weeks - and dozens of questions to answer.
Yes, even the Pittsburgh Steelers, fresh off a record sixth Super Bowl title, have enough uncertainties that they'll need much of August to answer.
At least they are doing it from the top.
"The organization keeps it level and with a tone that keeps distractions to a minimum," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "Coach (Mike Tomlin) does a great job of coming in and doing that and we've got some veteran guys who know what it takes coming off the last Super Bowl. He has experienced Super Bowls and we have experienced Super Bowls, and that's a good mix."
But the Steelers aren't mixed up about what lies ahead. Their offensive line was a source of concern last season and hasn't been upgraded that much. They lost two key defenders in linebacker Larry Foote and cornerback Bryant McFadden. Reliable Nate Washington is gone as the third receiver.
And there's the distinct and distasteful memory of how the Steel Curtain was shredded in 2006, the season after Pittsburgh's previous Super Bowl win - the one for the thumb.
"It is a different time, a different place, a different set of circumstances," Tomlin said. "On a personal note, my approach and mentality in regards to some of the things I can pull from, I'm sure I will."
Different circumstances, accompanied by tons of question marks, abound in the NFL. Such as:
Chicago and Denver. The Bears have a franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler, for the first time in decades, although his targets might not measure up to his talents. The Broncos no longer have Mike Shanahan at the helm after 12 years. He was fired following Denver's monumental late-season collapse, and his replacement, Josh McDaniels, alienated Cutler before dealing him. McDaniels, 33, also brought in a score of free agents, likely increasing the adjustment time for everyone.
New York (Jets), Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Tampa, Seattle, St. Louis and Detroit. Like the Broncos, each of those teams has a new head coach.
Can Rex Ryan inspire a squad that folded (some say quit) at the end of 2008? Does Eric Mangini, who went from the Jets to the Browns, bring with him the touch that made the Jets contenders, or the heavy hand that helped them fall apart?
Are McDaniels and the Buccaneers' 32-year-old Raheem Morris too green to be in total charge at this point in their budding careers?
Does anyone have a tougher act to follow than Jim Caldwell as he succeeds Tony Dungy in Indianapolis? Well, perhaps Jim Mora in Seattle as he takes over for Mike Holmgren.
Jim Schwartz can't do any worse than Rod Marinelli did in going 0-16 in Detroit, yet how much optimism can Lions fans have when they look at the roster and that the Lions are 200-1 shots to win the Super Bowl, according to BetUS.com? Better they have patience, lots of it.
Ditto in St. Louis, where Steve Spagnuolo will look at his defense and wonder where the pass rush will come from. That unit sure won't resemble what he had with the Giants; there are no Osi Umenyioras or Justin Tucks on the Rams.
Todd Haley goes from leading one of the most prolific and exciting offenses in the league in Arizona to one of the NFL's most inept attacks in KC. And while Haley doesn't have a Kurt Warner to lead his team, he does have Matt Cassel, who parlayed a superb season filling in for the injured Tom Brady in New England into a massive contract with the Chiefs. But Cassel hasn't been a starter at the outset of a season since, well, high school.
Speaking of Brady, he's back and, considering that the Patriots have no backups with experience, apparently ready to go full throttle. Dismissing his short stint in the 2008 opener before tearing up his knee, Brady still has the glow of that record-setting 2007 campaign and a perfect regular season. And the Patriots are the second choice behind Pittsburgh to win the championship, according to BetUS.com.
"This spring, he was out there. He's probably a little rusty, but at the same time he was Tom Brady," star receiver Wes Welker said. "He's making all the right reads, all the right throws. He's excited and he's ready to be back, and he's hungry."
Will Brady even see the field in any of New England's exhibition games? Bill Belichick is too secretive a coach to give any of that away now, but it's difficult to fathom Brady basically going blind into the opener against Buffalo.
Buffalo. Isn't that the new stomping grounds of that reality show star, Terrell Owens?
The reality with Owens is that things go well in his first year in a new setting, and he has just a one-year contract with the Bills. So maybe T.O. will make nice with developing quarterback Trent Edwards and his new teammates.
"I miss Dallas, but I have a new team," Owens said. "It's already behind me."
Ahead for 30 teams are four preseason games (Buffalo and Tennessee get five because they meet in the Hall of Fame match on Aug. 9) in which few starters play and the results matter little. Answering as many questions as possible matters most.
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