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NFL Training Camp Battles That Could Surprise

Thomas ConroyCorrespondent IMay 25, 2012

NFL Training Camp Battles That Could Surprise

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    The end of May is truly the holiday season for football fans, as the 2012 season officially begins with organized team activities (OTAs), which is a politically correct term for offseason practice. 

    Coaches believe that OTAs are a great opportunity for young players to stake their claim into earning a starting position, and it’s important for them to show their development.

    Here are five training camp battles that could surprise you.

New York Giants: Ramses Barden vs. Rueben Randle

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    The departure of wide receiver Mario Manningham via free agency to San Francisco has created a void at the New York Giants' third wideout position. Currently, Ramses Barden is penciled in at No. 3, but that could all change come training camp.

    Barden’s overall production numbers have been disappointing, partly due to injuries and the coaching staff's lack of confidence of putting him on the field. Head coach Tom Coughlin envisioned Barden being a weapon in the red zone, but the former third-round pick has been MIA in heavy traffic.

    In OTAs, Rueben Randle has been very smooth in all of the catching drills, and in college he showed the ability to take an apparent interception and turn it into a reception at LSU. If Randle continues to improve in all areas, then he will be a major upgrade over Barden in the lineup.

Seattle Seahawks: Kellen Winslow vs. Zach Miller

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    Since Pete Carroll became the main decision-maker in Seattle, the Seahawks haven’t quite found their ideal tight end.

    Last offseason, they signed tight end Zach Miller away from the Oakland Raiders, as he was one of the NFL’s more talented young TEs. His final numbers were down due to an assortment of injuries to his head and neck.

    This offseason, Carroll tried the trade market to acquire a tight end, as he dealt a low-level draft pick to Tampa Bay for TE Kellen Winslow.

    Chronic knee issues have limited Winslow's time on the field, but when healthy, Winslow is too fast and athletic for linebackers to man in the open field, and too physical for small DBs to cover in the end zone.

    Miller has great hands but lacks the speed to gain separation. This competition will come down to which tight end can gain chemistry the fastest with the starting quarterback in training camp.

    Miller has a distinct advantage having gained experience with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson last year, but neither is familiar with free-agent signing QB Matt Flynn. 

San Diego Chargers: Antonio Gates vs. Ladarius Green

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    This is a make-or-break season for TE Antonio Gates, as San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner proclaimed him fully healed from last year's foot injury.

    Personally, I don’t think Gates will ever be fully healthy, as plantar fasciitis is more of a degenerative disorder that can last forever. He’s a big body that takes plenty of hits, so it’s highly doubtful that Gates can get through a season without sustaining injury.

    Fourth-rounder Ladarius Green will be given an opportunity to make an impact in this high-powered offense. His size is perfect to utilize QB Philip Rivers’ arm strength and could become a star in Turner’s passing scheme. Green has decent downfield speed and is a definite vertical threat for the long ball.

    Gates doesn’t have to play every down, but the feeling is that he can still be productive with a quality backup. Eventually, Green will be expected to become a difference maker in the Chargers offense. 

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