Daily Six-Pack: NFL Preseason Friday

NFL preseason action continues tonight with four games on the schedule. Below are six quick-hit thoughts and things to watch for during tonight’s slate of games.

1. Are the reports true about Palmer?
All indications from Bengals camp is that Carson Palmer is in the best shape of his career after missing virtually the entire 2008 season with a right elbow injury. Palmer is expected to get 12-15 snaps tonight when the Bengals travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Just as the Patriots were hoping for a strong showing from Tom Brady last night (he threw for 100 yards and 2 TDs, by the way), Cincinnati is hoping that Palmer flashes the arm strength that once made him the top overall pick. Another thing to keep an eye on is how the young Cincinnati offensive line looks in protecting Palmer. The Bengals have a physical unit in Andrew Whitworth, Anthony Collins, Kyle Cook, Nate Livings and Bobbie Williams, but they’re an inexperienced unit on a whole and Cincy would love to see some cohesion from the group tonight.

2. The starting quarterback battle for the Vikings begins tonight.
Head coach Brad Childress reported that Sage Rosenfels will get the start Friday night against the Colts, which isn’t a huge surprise considering Tarvaris Jackson missed some time in camp with a sprained knee. Still, Rosenfels getting the starting nod tonight may be an indication that he’s pulled ahead in the race for the Vikes’ starting quarterback job. Rosenfels doesn’t have a high ceiling in terms of potential, but he’s steady and could be a good game manager for a Minnesota team that is expected to keep the ball on the ground a lot with Adrian Peterson. While Jackson will certainly get his opportunity to start in preseason, a strong first impression tonight would go a long way for Rosenfels.

3. It’ll be a light debut for Sanchez.
Mark Sanchez is expected to play in the Jets’ preseason opener against the Rams, but with O-linemen Nick Mangold, Damien Woody and Alan Faneca all sidelined with various injuries, New York isn’t going to risk playing their rookie quarterback extensively on Friday night. Instead, Erik Ainge will probably get the bulk of the work, while Kellen Clemens (who is competing with Sanchez for the starting job) will also see some action as well. Sanchez reportedly has a decent lead over Clemens in the starting quarterback race, which is even more reason for the Jets not to risk a potential injury in their first preseason game.

4. Keep an eye on Moreno.
Former Georgia Bulldog Knowshon Moreno has turned heads so far in Broncos camp and will get the start tonight against the 49ers. While he wasn’t the most explosive running back prospect in April’s draft, Moreno has excellent vision and could turn out to be a future NFL star. These aren’t your father’s Denver Broncos, where Mike Shanahan used a slew of backs to get the job done in his rushing offense. With Josh McDaniels now in charge, if Moreno dazzles in preseason, he’ll win Denver’s starting running back job and receive the bulk of the carries this season. He’ll benefit from running behind one of the best offensive lines in football and could be in for a big season. Outside of Sanchez and maybe the Vikings’ Percy Harvin, Moreno is easily the most intriguing rookie to watch tonight.

5. Will this be the year that the Saints put it all together defensively?
While the threat of losing defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant for four games at the start of the season is a major concern, the Saints defense finally has the makings of a productive unit thanks to a couple of key offeason moves. New Orleans signed veterans Paul Spicer, Darren Sharper and Jabari Greer this winter, and also re-signed Jonathan Vilma and selected cornerback Malcolm Jenkins in the first round of April’s draft. Those moves, coupled with the ongoing development of young players like Sedrick Ellis and Tracy Porter, have seemingly set the Saints’ defense up for a good season. And with the offense expected to once again be highly explosive, New Orleans could be a sleeper Super Bowl contender if the defense is finally up for the challenge.

6. It’s now or never for Alex Smith
Some within the Niners organization still have high hopes for former first overall pick Alex Smith. But others believe that Smith will never be able to make the throws necessary in the passing game in order to take the next step as a pro quarterback. With Shaun Hill breathing down his neck, this appears to be Smith’s last chance to prove he isn’t a bust. He’ll need a solid preseason to stave off Hill and ensure he’s a starter this season. Of course, it would help if he had first round pick Michael Crabtree to throw to in the passing game, but the receiver and his agent are entrenched in an ongoing battle with the team over his contract and it’s uncertain when he’ll sign. Either way, Smith will have no excuses this preseason – he must shine.

Friday night’s NFL preseason lineup (all times EST):
Rams at Jets, 7:00PM NFL Network
Vikings at Colts, 7:30PM
Bengals at Saints, 8:00PM
Broncos at 49ers, 10:00PM NFL Network

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