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The First Read: Exploring eight burning questions from second -- and final -- wave of NFL minicamps

As the second wave of minicamps comes to a conclusion, the NFL's finally heading into its annual summer vacation. Ten teams completed their offseason workouts last week, with the remaining 22 following suit this week.

The previous edition of The First Read took a look at the biggest remaining offseason questions hovering around those teams that started minicamps early. Now it's time to concentrate on the major issues that revolve around some of the franchises finishing up a week later. As noted before, I'm not addressing every team in the league, but rather concentrating on the topics that will still be significant storylines when training camps begin.

So, let's get to it.

1) Have the Chiefs fixed their passing game?

It still feels weird asking a question that lingered throughout most of last season in Kansas City. After all, the Chiefs ultimately found a way to win their second straight championship -- and third in five years -- despite a down campaign from Patrick Mahomes, one that had plenty to do with the players tasked with catching his passes. General manager Brett Veach made it clear that he wasn't going to pray for better results from the incumbents this time around. Kansas City added blistering speed to the wide receiver position in free agency (Marquise Brown) and the draft (first-round pick Xavier Worthy). The plan is for Mahomes to start pushing the football down the field again -- the Chiefs surprisingly have been one of the worst teams in the league in that department of late -- and to also use that speed to open up more opportunities for tight end Travis Kelce to work underneath. Head coach Andy Reid already has intimated that he'll have to be more strategic in the usage rate for Kelce, who turns 35 in October. Just as critical is how much availability the Chiefs will have from Rashee Rice. The second-year wideout is subject to the NFL's personal conduct policy for his role in a drag-racing crash in Dallas earlier this offseason and could face suspension, which would be a major hit for an offense that relied on him heavily in the second half of last year.

Kansas City has the pieces to be prolific once again. It all depends on how quickly the new faces can acclimate and what Kelce has left in his tank.

2) Can Josh Allen thrive with this supporting cast in Buffalo?

The Bills knew this day was coming sooner or later. They would have to head into a season facing the consequences of having a highly paid franchise quarterback, which meant dealing with more questions about the players they could put around him. The first thing to understand here is that Allen is more than good enough to handle life without wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The more important topic to address here is whether the team can continue the evolution it displayed at the end of last season, when it rallied to win the AFC East again before narrowly losing to Kansas City in the Divisional Round. The Bills learned last year that running back James Cook is a legitimate weapon. The same is true of second-year tight end Dalton Kincaid. If rookie wide receiver Keon Coleman can be a difference-maker, then it's not hard to see this offense causing problems for plenty of defenses on the schedule.

There is enough talent in the remaining areas of the skill positions -- including tight end Dawson Knox, as well as wide receivers Curtis Samuel and Khalil Shakir -- that Allen will have a variety of options to utilize. The key is offensive coordinator Joe Brady having a full offseason to work with Allen and ponder the ways Buffalo needs to attack. The smartest thing Brady did last season was rely more on the run game and keep Allen from veering towards his hero-ball tendencies. Spreading the rock around even more this coming season should create more pleasant surprises from this offense.

3) How reliable will the Ravens' offensive line be?

Dominant O-line play has been the foundation of the Ravens' success in the Lamar Jackson era, resulting in two league MVP awards for the star quarterback. But at present, it's hard to know what that unit will look like in the coming season, thanks to a series of departures up front. The Ravens lost both starting guards (Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson) along with right tackle Morgan Moses earlier this offseason. They still have Pro Bowl center Tyler Linderbaum and ninth-year veteran left tackle Ronnie Stanley in place, but there's a lot of work to be done.

The good news is the Ravens have a history of resolving their offensive line problems regardless of the challenges that come with that. They've done it multiple times since John Harbaugh became the head coach in 2008, and they've made 11 playoff appearances in that time (winning the Super Bowl in the 2012 season). Baltimore has been especially good at developing quality O-linemen selected in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft (including former Ravens like Ryan Jensen, Orlando Brown Jr. and Ben Powers) and identifying veterans who can fill major voids (like Zeitler). The presence of Jackson also makes life a little easier for blockers because he's both slippery and explosive as a runner and off-script passer.

So yes, the Ravens have a lot of offseason battles to sort out along the offensive line. It's also a safe bet that they'll find a way to field an effective unit.

4) How big an issue will Tee Higgins be in Cincinnati?

It's not surprising that Higgins skipped the Bengals' minicamp. The star wide receiver has been unhappy about his contract situation -- and the fact that he's now been slapped with the franchise tag -- so staying away from practice is a way he can emphatically voice his discontent. It wouldn't even be a shock to see him missing when training camp begins, since there are no penalties involved in missing those practices until Higgins actually signs the tag. We've seen the story before, and we know how it usually ends: with the player eventually signing and playing on the tag.

The Bengals obviously are preparing for the reality that they can only give a massive extension to one of their stud wideouts, and that person is going to be Ja'Marr Chase. There haven't been any reports of serious negotiations happening with Higgins and his representatives. The Bengals also have drafted mid-round receivers in each of the last two drafts (Jermaine Burton and Charlie Jones), so there are other options in place.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean Higgins is going to be a problem. He's been a big part of this offense over the last four years and he's only 25 years old. Picking up $21.8 million for this season's franchise tag isn't a bad deal, especially if Higgins balls out and stays healthy. He's in line to land his own huge contract after the season, so making the most of this year is in his best interest.

5) Can the Packers trust their defense?

Green Bay is hoping new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley can create more consistency in a unit that endured its up and downs under his predecessor, Joe Barry. There's certainly excitement about a shift to a 4-3, one-gap system that should allow Packers defenders to play faster. More importantly, there's renewed optimism about the upgrade in talent. The free-agent signing of safety Xavier McKinney is already drawing rave reviews from Hafley, who loves the leadership the veteran provides. (McKinney was one of the players excused from this minicamp on the strength of his earlier offseason efforts.) Rookie safety Javon Bullard also has impressed throughout offseason workouts, which means the Packers should have more playmakers in those spots than they've had in some time. If Hafley can optimize the potential in a deep defensive line -- where he figures to have a steady rotation -- this unit should be more disruptive, as well.

With the way quarterback Jordan Love improved in the second half of last season, it's already a given that Green Bay will be scoring a lot of points. All this defense has to do is deliver on its end, which seems more than likely to happen.

6) Are the Panthers in a better position to help Bryce Young succeed?

The top pick in last year's draft is entering a pivotal point in his career, even if it has arrived much earlier than expected. Chaos drenched Carolina last season, so the Panthers started over this season. New head coach Dave Canales was hired to help Young in the same ways the coach previously aided Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield in their own improvements. The offensive line has been upgraded (with new guards Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis), as has the receiving corps (with the arrival of veteran Diontae Johnson and first-round pick Xavier Legette, who's been nursing a hamstring injury). You have to credit the Panthers for this much: They recognize that they created a lot of problems for Young, who was sacked a whopping 62 times in 2023 and operated with an underwhelming set of receivers.

It's still too early to know how much the quarterback will grow in Year 2, but it feels like he has a better opportunity. Canales was especially happy with how Young operated the offense in the first day of minicamp, as the 22-year-old displayed more comfort with what the coaches want. That may be the typical happy talk that happens at this time of year. It also might be a real sign that the Panthers are moving their quarterback in the right direction now.

7) Will Browns QB Deshaun Watson finally live up to that contract?

Cleveland is doing everything possible to make sure Watson returns smoothly from the season-ending shoulder surgery that was conducted last November. Watson didn't start throwing until March. He didn't attempt a pass in 7-on-7 drills until the first day of this week's minicamp. There will be more work for him when training camp starts in July, but the Browns are comfortable with the cautious pace of this rehabilitation process. After all, Watson is entering the third year of his fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract and the results have been quite underwhelming thus far. He's only played in 12 games with the franchise -- he missed the first 11 of the 2022 season while serving a suspension -- and he wasn't that good when he was on the field last year. To make matters worse, the Browns reached the playoff behind an inspiring performance by Joe Flacco, who was sitting at home most of the season before the Cleveland called to sign him. Flacco displayed more comfort in the Browns' offense than Watson has ever shown. That means there's more pressure on Watson than ever before this season.

There are other high-profile quarterbacks returning from significant injuries, like the Bengals' Joe Burrow and the Jets' Aaron Rodgers. However, Watson is the one who has to prove he still can impact the game in the way he once did.

8) How will new Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh help Justin Herbert?

We get it: The Los Angeles Chargers have a wide receiver problem. They don't have Keenan Allen or Mike Williams anymore and there is a lot of inexperience at that position on the roster. It's a major weakness on paper ... until you realize Harbaugh's history with improving the quarterbacks he's coached. Harbaugh always has found a way to help his signal-callers thrive, regardless of who's catching the passes. Harbaugh never had a 1,000-yard receiver during his nine years coaching Michigan, a run that ended with a national championship. He also only had two players (Michael Crabtree once and Anquan Boldin twice) surpass that mark during his four years coaching the San Francisco 49ers before that. What he did do was turn J.J. McCarthy into a top 10-pick in April's draft, resuscitate the career of Alex Smith in San Francisco and turn another 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, into a star.

You want to know how Harbaugh will help Herbert, who is as talented as any signal-caller in the league? By doing what the coach always has done: providing his quarterback with better offensive line play, running the football more effectively and implementing a system that will spread the ball and utilize the tight end position more consistently. Herbert improved last season with Kellen Moore running the offense. He'll be even better with Harbaugh and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman in his ear.

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