Thrown back into the pressure cooker

While federal investigators hone in on Michael Vick's alleged role in an illegal dogfighting operation and watchdog groups stand guard to ensure the NFL and Atlanta Falcons are ready to get tough with one of their stars, other more typical dramas are percolating throughout the league.

And, as teams open training camp this week, most of them even involve football.

In particular, three young quarterbacks will be operating under a microscope as they work to salvage their reputations and careers.

Whether it's that other Manning in New York, Eli, trying to escape his Super Bowl-winning brother's shadow; Tony Romo in Dallas, rebounding from fumbling away his team's playoff chances; or Rex Grossman in Chicago, who botched the Bears' Super Bowl hopes, pressure is pressure and possible redemption is but a few weeks of practice away.

This should be considered a make-or-break season for Eli Manning, who no longer has running back Tiki Barber in the same Giants backfield, and whose brother Peyton further fueled expectations by directing Indianapolis to a Super Bowl victory.

It's now up to Eli, in his third full season as a starter, to show why he was a No. — overall pick.

"I think you always look to find the right magic button that's going to get him to play the way we think he can play," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said recently. "Whether it's an adjustment to the way you communicate, whether it's an adjustment to the drills that you use, whether it's an adjustment to your approach in the meeting room.

"Whatever it is, as long as it works, that's the only thing that matters."

The Giants might be searching for that magic button, but they aren't alone. Among the other players &

and coaches &

on this summer's PUP (People Under Pressure) list:


162; Romo: He went 5-1 in his first six starts last season, wobbled like a two-legged stool as the season wore on, then crash-landed in a playoff game in Seattle when he bobbled the snap on the potential winning field goal. The Cowboys thought enough of him, though, to pass over Notre Dame's Brady Quinn in the draft. Despite his inconsistencies on the field, Romo is among the league's most marketable players. Now the Cowboys are looking for him to play that way.


162; Grossman: The Bears quarterback was wildly erratic during the season and just plain lousy in the Super Bowl, yet his coaches and teammates are still standing behind him. Well, sort of. While playing in Donovan McNabb's golf tournament this off-season, Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris said of the Eagles quarterback: "If he comes to Chicago, we'll definitely win the Super Bowl." Harris later explained he was only joking and didn't mean it as a knock on Grossman. What's that old saying: The truest things are said in jest?


162; Tony Ugoh, Indianapolis: With the sudden retirement of Pro Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn, Peyton Manning's blind-side bodyguard, things just got a lot more challenging for Ugoh, a 6-foot-5, 301-pound rookie from Arkansas. The initial plan was to try him at guard before moving him to tackle in 2008. It looks as if the Colts will have to tear up that blueprint and put him in the line of fire right away.


162; Joey Harrington, Atlanta: Now that it appears Vick is out of the picture in Atlanta, Harrington has another chance to prove he can win games. His supporting cast with the Falcons is much better than the one he had in Detroit. And, hey, this could be his summer for a stirring comeback.


162; Jon Gruden, Tampa Bay: Once the league's preeminent offensive whiz kid, Gruden has slipped to being just another coach scrambling to stay employed. His Buccaneers were 4-12 last season, bringing Gruden's post-Super Bowl record to 27-37. Maybe the addition of quarterback Jeff Garcia will help turn things around. For Gruden's sake, it better.


162; Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: He got off to a 13-0 record as a rookie starter, and in his second season became the youngest starting quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl. Then came the motorcycle accident, a string of uninspired performances last season, and now a mother load of expectations. Roethlisberger and Bruce Arians, the Steelers' new offensive coordinator, have designed a package that includes more use of no-huddle offense, and more use of three and four receivers on first and second down.


162; Randy Moss, New England: If he's still among the NFL's elite receivers &

maybe the best? &

Moss is in an ideal position to prove it. He's got a premier quarterback in Tom Brady, and won't be smothered by defenders when new teammates Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker are on the field. Corey Dillon rescued his career with the Patriots. Moss could do the same.


162; Norv Turner, San Diego: Will Turner's third head-coaching stint be the charm? He was a combined 58-82-1 in his previous top jobs, with Washington and Oakland. This time, he's coaching a group that includes LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo. ... In short, no team is better equipped to make a Super Bowl run.


162; Mario Williams, Houston: Had he merely been a first-round pick &

and not the player selected No. 1, ahead of Reggie Bush &

Williams' rookie season would not have been scrutinized so thoroughly. But Williams' 4 1/2 sacks, coupled with his various injuries, had to make the Texans gulp. After all, they're paying him $26.5 million over the first two years of his deal.


162; Ted Ginn Jr., Miami: With quarterback Quinn waiting in the Radio City green room and expecting to be picked, the Dolphins instead used the No. 9 selection on Ginn, a speedy receiver/returner from Ohio State. That was much higher than many predicted the injury-prone Ginn to go. If Ginn pans out, and Quinn struggles in Cleveland, new Dolphins Coach Cam Cameron will look awfully smart.

And if the reverse happens?

Look for Cameron on next year's PUP list.

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