By Steve Silverman
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Jets fans saw it firsthand last night.
No, not the Tim Tebow show. Tebow got his first taste of action in a Jets uniform and was just the kind of running fool at quarterback that he had been in Denver.
But the main story last night was the Cincinnati Bengals, and the disasters that loom for all teams in preseason.
Before the first quarter of the first preseason game of the season was five minutes old, the Bengals had lost three players to injury.
Starting guard Travelle Wharton had to be carted off with a right knee injury that may knock him out for the majority of the season. Linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive end Carlos Dunlap followed with knee injuries. Maualuga was not injured seriously, but Dunlap was limping on the sidelines.
The Bengals, who have designs on moving up in the AFC and becoming a prime contender, were dealt a serious blow. The injuries become the story of their training camp.
Here’s a look at five of the most crucial training camp stories around the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers made a huge jump up the NFL ladder and became the dominant team in the NFC West –- not a huge accomplishment in such a weak division –- because their defense was overpowering and quarterback Alex Smith did not make many mistakes.
However, for the 49ers to continue their improvement, they have to find a solid downfield passing game. They have tight end Vernon Davis, but the wide receiver position is shaky. They have added Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins.
Jim Harbaugh knows that the 49ers can’t simply play conservative football and get it done. They don’t have to turn into the Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints, but they have to improve their weak passing game.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have been hit hard by “Bountygate” punishments and they deserve it. While Jonathan Vilma is trying to fight his year-long ban for trying to inspire his teammates with cash payments for committing mayhem on his opponents, the Saints are a team that will be substandard when it comes to playing defense this year.
That means even more pressure will be on quarterback Drew Brees’ head, and he may try to force throws that came easily to him in the past because he wants to keep his team in the game. The offensive juggernaut may run out of steam by midseason.
The Texans believe they have a team that is capable of playing consistent football and dominating in the AFC. They finally got over the hump last year and made the playoffs for the first time in their history. They did it with Matt Schaub on the sidelines due to a foot injury. They have to keep Schaub healthy this year if they want to advance in the postseason.
Gary Kubiak has stayed the course and may get rewarded this year –- but only if Schaub finishes the season upright.
Green Bay Packers
It’s all about defense this summer for the Packers. They were the best team in the league for 90 percent of the regular season, but they picked the wrong time to fall apart when they lost their divisional playoff game to the Giants. The defense was lousy.
In particular, the 27th-rated pass rush let the team down when it was needed the most. The Packers hope that rookie Nick Perry from USC will have the speed and athleticism to get this unit turned around. A return to form of Clay Matthews will also take the pressure off of the explosive offense.
John Elway knew last season that the Tebow show could not go on. The Hall of Famer knew that Tebow’s lack of accuracy was just too much of a factor for the team to overcome two years in a row, so he rolled the dice and has gambled on the neck of Peyton Manning.
For years, Manning was the steadiest quarterback in the game, but now he must show that he can come back from a severe neck injury that forced him to miss the 2011 season. So far, so good for Manning, who looked decent throwing the ball against the Chicago Bears in the first preseason game. However, he’s going to have to stand up to far more pressure as the summer moves along and the season kicks off next month.
Do you think that there should be less preseason games to prevent injury, or is each game critical for players to get ready? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…