NFL: Examining the Top Position Battles Heading into Training Camp
With the 2012 NFL free agency frenzy and draft in the rear-view mirror, it's time for players to prove their worth to their respective franchises. Rookies and veterans will battle in training camp and offseason training activities to earn starting roles. This slideshow takes a look at the biggest position battles, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, to keep an eye on during training camps.
Feel free to comment with any players I may have missed!
QBs Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton
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Kevin Kolb was supposed to be the franchise quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals after the blockbuster trade that sent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for the former Houston quarterback.
However, Kolb struggled mightily before suffering injuries, leading the Cardinals to a 3-6 record, passing for 1,955 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.
When Kolb went down, fifth-round draft pick John Skelton took the reigns and played extremely well, posting a 5-2 record while passing for 1,913 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt stated that there would be an open competition for the starting role, crediting Skelton's solid play.
OLBs Courtney Upshaw vs. Sergio Kindle
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The Baltimore Ravens were dealt a major blow this week when outside linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball.
However, this opened the door for a major competition to take his place between rookie Courtney Upshaw out of Alabama, whom the Ravens selected with the No. 35 overall pick in the second round, and Sergio Kindle, a linebacker out of Texas who hasn't been able to see the field after suffering a skull fracture in his rookie season.
Upshaw was projected to be a Top-15 pick in the draft after a stellar career with the Crimson Tide in which he recorded 141 tackles (36.5 for loss), 17.5 sacks and six forced fumbles, but he slid to the second round due to questions regarding which position he could play.
Kindle is unproven at this point, but it will definitely be a competition to keep an eye on this summer.
DEs Shea McClellin vs. Isreal Idonije
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The Chicago Bears selected defensive end Shea McClellin out of Boise State with the 19th-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft so that he could compete with incumbent defensive end Isreal Idonije. With Julius Peppers holding down the opposite defensive end position, this will be a competition worth watching.
McClellin had an extremely productive collegiate career for the Broncos at linebacker, racking up 130 tackles, 20.5 sacks, four interceptions and six forced fumbles. Last season, Idonije had one of the best seasons of his career, getting to the quarterback five times and making 52 tackles.
While Idonije is currently No. 1 on the depth chart, McClellin's athleticism and plethora of pass-rush moves may push him up to be a Week 1 starter.
QBs Colt McCoy vs. Brandon Weeden
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It didn't come as a surprise to many that the Cleveland Browns selected Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, as Colt McCoy hasn't done much to solidify himself as a starting quarterback in the National Football League.
Last year, McCoy appeared in 13 games, passing for 2,733 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Browns had one of the league's worst offenses, and the 28-year-old Weeden will push McCoy early for the starting job.
While McCoy is only entering his third season in the NFL, the pressure is on him to beat out Weeden if he hopes to stay a starter in the league because the Browns didn't use a first-round draft choice for a quarterback to sit on the bench.
RBs Jahvid Best vs. Mikel Leshoure
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Heading into Detroit Lions training camp, there will be a battle at the running back position between two players the team invested high draft choices in: Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. Leshoure missed all of last year after tearing his Achilles tendon, but he is a big, strong back who can carry the load of 20 touches a game.
Best is injury-prone and coming off of a concussion. While he should be cleared for contact in June, the speedster out of California is hoping to regain his starting role. Last year he had just 84 carries for 390 yards, scoring twice in the six games he appeared in, while adding 27 receptions for 287 yards and a score.
Leshoure is more of a power back, and had an outstanding collegiate career, rushing for 2,557 yards and 23 touchdowns at Illinois.
QBs Matt Moore vs. Ryan Tannehill vs. David Garrard
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The Miami Dolphins used the eighth-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to select Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, with the hopes of him beating out incumbent starter Matt Moore and veteran David Garrard for the starting role under center.
The Dolphins have a new head coach in Joe Philbin, who is installing a west-coast offense, and he is looking for the man to run it. Fortunately for Tannehill, he has a head start on learning the playbook, as his former Aggies coach, Mike Sherman, is now the offensive coordinator in Miami.
Matt Moore played semi-decently last year in his 12 starts, passing for 2,497 yards, with 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions, but without Brandon Marshall it's unclear how he would perform—considering Marshall was the recipient of almost one-third of Moore's yards and touchdowns.
Garrard was cut by the Jaguars prior to last season, and the 34-year-old is coming off of surgery.
Tannehill was a former wide receiver as an Aggie, but he completed 62.5% of his passes for 5,450 yards with 42 touchdowns to 21 interceptions.
The main competition will be between Tannehill and Moore, and it's sure to be interesting.
Steelers Running Backs
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With running back Rashard Mendenhall likely to miss the 2012 season after suffering an ACL tear, there is a wide-open competition on the Pittsburgh Steelers as to who the starting running back will be.
Isaac Redman is the front-runner for the job after rushing for 479 yards and three scores last year, but Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey are also on the depth chart.
John Clay was a highly productive back at Wisconsin, gaining 3,413 yards for an average of 5.4 yards per carry while scoring 41 touchdowns, but with a new offensive coordinator in Todd Haley, it's unclear which direction the Steelers will go in terms of their run game.
QBs Tarvaris Jackson vs. Matt Flynn
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The Seattle Seahawks are another team with a brewing quarterback controversy after the team signed former Green Bay Packers signal caller Matt Flynn to a three-year, $19.5 million contract this offseason.
Tarvaris Jackson played in 15 games for the Seahawks last year, passing for just over 3,000 yards with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but didn't prove himself enough to make head coach Pete Carroll confident in the quarterback to lead the franchise to the playoffs.
Matt Flynn has a small resume of just two career starts, but has performed outstandingly in each, passing for 1,015 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions, including the stellar end-of-the-year performance in which he torched the Detroit Lions for 518 yards and six touchdowns.
Pete Carroll said that there is "no timeline" for when he will name the starter, but Jackson took the team's first rep in the voluntary offseason workouts, for what it's worth.
RBs LeGarrette Blount vs. Doug Martin
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When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Boise State running back Doug Martin with their second first-round selection, LeGarrette Blount probably punched somebody.
Martin is a complete back who rushed for over 3,000 yards while scoring 43 touchdowns as a Bronco. He runs with power and can break tackles just like Blount, but most importantly he isn't a liability in pass protection.
Martin's ability to pass protect is what might push him past Blount, who rushed for 781 yards and five touchdowns last year, on the depth chart.
QBs Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker
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Coming out of Washington, quarterback Jake Locker was highly touted as a signal caller who could be a franchise's star quarterback for years to come. The Tennessee Titans selected him with the No. 8 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but opted to sit him in favor of veteran Matt Hasselbeck.
However, Locker played in five games last year, passing for 542 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, and now there is a quarterback controversy brewing.
Do the Titans go with 37-year-old Hasselbeck, who is a proven veteran and leader? Or do they go with the youngster they drafted to be the quarterback of the future?
Head Coach Mike Munchak disclosed that there will be an open competition between the two in training camp, stating,
"So how do you make two guys happy that are that competitive? That is a tough part and neither one of those guys want the job handed to them, they want to compete for it... We’ll try and do the best we can and in May, June and in training camp, we’ll put them in a situation where they are competing and hopefully it will be obvious who should be the best guy to lead the team because you don’t want the quarterback question to be going on every week. 'Who’s the guy? Who’s the guy?'"