Each NFL Team's Biggest Training Camp Battle

Wes StueveContributor IIIJune 28, 2012

Each NFL Team's Biggest Training Camp Battle

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    During training camp, NFL teams and fans learn a lot about their teams. Of the many things they learn, the most important is who will be starting during the upcoming season.

    Nearly every NFL team has an intense battle for a starting position, and those that don't have a battle at an important backup spot. There is no team without competition. 

    In fact, many teams have several battles, but there is always one that stands out from the rest as especially significant. 

    Which battle is your team's most important?

Cincinnati Bengals: Mohamed Sanu vs. Marvin Jones

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    Two rookie wide receivers drafted in the third and fifth rounds. This would seem to go to the third-round pick, Mohamed Sanu, but it isn't that simple. 

    Marvin Jones is renowned for his route-running and catching ability. Those are two qualities that earn early playing time. Though Sanu will probably win the competition, Jones won't go down without a fight.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Stevenson Sylvester vs. Sean Spence vs. Larry Foote

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    A fifth-round pick in 2010, Stevenson Sylvester is the front-runner at inside linebacker, but he will receive competition from long-time Steeler Larry Foote and rookie Sean Spence.

    Sylvester earned some playing time in 2011, but he isn't a superstar by any means. This is a battle that could go any of three ways.

Cleveland Browns: Eric Hagg vs. Usama Young

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    It was a surprise when Eric Hagg started minicamp as the first-team free safety. However, Hagg is not yet the official starter, and he will compete with last year's free-agent acquisition, Usama Young.

    Neither player is likely to be a superstar, but Hagg has youth on his side. Pat Shurmur seems to have no problem giving a job to a young player, and Hagg certainly has more upside than Young.

Baltimore Ravens: Cary Williams vs. Jimmy Smith

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    This spot will likely go to 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith, but Cary Williams played well in 2011 and won't fade easily. The loser will be Baltimore's nickelback, with Lardarius Webb filling in the team's other starting cornerback position.

    An outstanding talent, Smith has worked hard in the offseason and seems ready to start. The only question is whether Williams will let him.

Green Bay Packers: Charlie Peprah vs. Jerron McMillian

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    Last year's starting strong safety, Charlie Peprah, was far from spectacular, and the Packers drafted Jerron McMillian for a reason.

    However, McMillian was just a fourth-round pick, and with Green Bay likely starting Jerel Worthy and Nick Perry on defense, the team may opt to play the veteran Peprah.

Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff vs. Jeff Backus vs. Gosder Cherilus

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    Only two of these guys can start. Riley Reiff has impressed thus far, but he needs to unseat either Jeff Backus or Gosder Cherilus. At this point, Cherilus seems like the likely loser.

    Backus just received an extension in the offseason, and he has long been Detroit's left tackle. Cherilus isn't on nearly as solid of footing, and Reiff is the superior talent.

Minnesota Vikings: Chris Cook vs. Chris Carr vs. Josh Robinson

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    Chris Carr has jumped around a bit during his career; he's nothing special. Chris Cook is talented, but he's had off-the-field issues and needs refinement. Josh Robinson is the speedy rookie.

    Robinson has received some first-team reps, and he seems likely to claim the cornerback job opposite Antoine Winfield by the time training camp ends.

Chicago Bears: Devin Hester vs. Alshon Jeffery

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    There's no denying Devin Hester's speed and explosiveness, but his wide receiver skills are questionable. With Brandon Marshall locked in at one starting spot, Hester and Alshon Jeffery are in the midst of a competition.

    Jeffery has better wide receiver skills, but he needs to prove he can separate at the NFL level. In all likelihood, Hester will begin the season as the starter, but Jeffery will take the job before the year's end.

New York Jets: Demario Davis vs. Bart Scott

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    Lately, Bart Scott's play has declined, and his mouth has continued to run at the same mind-boggling rate. Demario Davis was just a third-round pick, but coaches have raved about his ability. He is a legitimate contender for the starting inside linebacker position next to David Harris.

    Davis is much younger and more athletic than Scott, and he could present the Jets with an excuse to dump the latter. Davis and Harris would form a young, potentially dynamic inside linebacker duo.

Buffalo Bills: Donald Jones vs. T.J. Graham vs. Marcus Easley vs. Derek Hagan

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    In 2011, Donald Jones started opposite Stevie Johnson, but he didn't set the world on fire. Third-round pick T.J. Graham has unquestioned deep speed and explosiveness.

    Though he has two years of experience and zero receptions, Marcus Easley is also in the competition. Even Derek Hagan has a shot.

    Graham has the most upside of the options, and Buffalo will want the speedster on the field as much as possible, so he seems likely to win the job.

Miami Dolphins: David Garrard vs. Matt Moore vs. Ryan Tannehill

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    At this point, Ryan Tannehill is the underdog. Matt Moore and David Garrard appear to be in a dead heat, however. The quarterback job could go to either of the three.

    Moore may have the slight advantage, as he started for the Dolphins for much of 2011. The team is now running a new offensive scheme, but Moore is still familiar with most of Miami's offensive players.

New England Patriots: Shane Vereen vs. Stevan Ridley

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    As he is the more complete running back, Shane Vereen seems likely to beat out Stevan Ridley. Ridley received more action than Vereen in 2011, however, so he definitely has a shot.

    In all likelihood, Vereen will receive the majority of snaps with Ridley coming in for power situations. The two will definitely be splitting carries in some way.

New York Giants: Domenik Hixon vs. Rueben Randle

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    Though he produced little in 2011, Domenik Hixon is ahead of Rueben Randle in knowing the Giants offense and the players on it. Randle, however, is considerably more talented.

    In Mario Manningham's absence, New York needs a new slot receiver, and the team's second-round pick, Randle, seems likely to win the job. The LSU product is too talented not to.

Dallas Cowboys: Dan Connor vs. Bruce Carter

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    Sean Lee has one inside linebacker position under wraps, but Bruce Carter and Dan Connor are battling it out for the other spot. Carter is the younger, more athletic player, but Connor is more talented and instinctive.

    Connor has never before played in a 3-4 scheme, and the transition could be an adjustment for him. He's still probably a better run defender than Carter, though, so he has that on his side.

Washington Redskins: Santana Moss vs. Josh Morgan vs. Leonard Hankerson

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    It's hard to imagine Santana Moss not starting for the Redskins, but that just might happen. Washington signed Josh Morgan for a reason, and 2011 second-round pick Leonard Hankerson is in the mix.

    Pierre Garcon would seem to have the No. 1 spot, so these three are left competing for the only remaining starting spot. With his new contract, Morgan seems likely to win.

Philadelphia Eagles: Riley Cooper vs. Marvin McNutt

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    Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant won't be losing their jobs, so Riley Cooper and Marvin McNutt are left to battle for the No. 4 spot. Cooper is more experienced and is a great blocker, but McNutt might be a better receiver.

    Out of Iowa, McNutt was known for dropping few passes, but in Philadelphia's speedy offense, he should be able to separate. The rookie has a shot at unseating Cooper.

Indianapolis Colts: Antonio Johnson vs. Josh Chapman vs. Brandon McKinney

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    Antonio Johnson seems the favorite to start at nose tackle, but head coach Chuck Pagano brought Brandon McKinney with him from Baltimore for a reason. Josh Chapman is probably the most talented of the bunch, but he's coming off a torn ACL.

    Johnson isn't a great player by any stretch, and he's never played in a 3-4 before. Regardless of who wins (unless Chapman comes back healthy), nose tackle is likely to be a rough spot for Indianapolis. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Aaron Ross vs. Rashean Mathis

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    Derek Cox will start at one cornerback spot, so Aaron Ross and Rashean Mathis are left to battle it out for the other one. Ross, a career nickelback, seems likely to lose the competition.

    Mathis has been with the Jaguars for a long time now, but he is still a better player than Ross is. Ross will likely fill in as Jacksonville's nickelback.

Tennessee Titans: Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker

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    The veteran versus the young talent. Matt Hasselbeck clearly isn't the player he once was, but he played decently in 2011 while the Titans waited for Jake Locker to develop. 

    In 2012, though, Locker just might be ready, and he is clearly a more dynamic player than Hasselbeck is. Locker can better throw vertically and is much more mobile.

    Hasselbeck may be a more sound decision-maker with slightly better accuracy, but the Tennessee offense would be more limited with him at the reins. 

Houston Texans: DeVier Posey vs. Keshawn Martin vs. Lestar Jean

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    Third-round pick DeVier Posey seems likely two win this battle, but fourth-rounder Keshawn Martin isn't exactly a scrub, either. 2011 undrafted free agent Lestar Jean is the dark horse, as he has yet to contribute anything.

    All three players have potential, but Posey is the most talented. After a year off, Posey may not quite be ready, though, and Martin has a legitimate shot at the job.

Atlanta Falcons: Peter Konz vs. Mike Johnson

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    2012 second-round pick Peter Konz will probably eventually play center, but for now, he's competing with Mike Johnson at right guard. Konz has been praised for his intelligence, so he probably doesn't need much time to develop.

    Johnson, a third-round pick himself, has a legitimate shot at the job. He doesn't have much more playing time than Konz, though, as he has yet to start a game in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers: Captain Munnerlyn vs. Josh Norman vs. Brandon Hogan

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    Captain Munnerlyn hasn't been great as a starting cornerback, and 2011 draft pick Brandon Hogan and 2012 draft pick Josh Norman are locked in a competition. At this point, there isn't a favorite.

    None of the three is likely to dominate, and the position will likely be a weakness opposite Chris Gamble.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LeGarrette Blount vs. Doug Martin

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    LeGarrette Blount has shown flashes of potential, but he doesn't look like an every-down back. Doug Martin, on the other hand, might be exactly that.

    Unlike Blount, Martin can catch and block. These two attributes—and his ability to not fumble—could help him take the starting job from Blount.

New Orleans Saints: Johnny Patrick vs. Marquis Johnson vs. Elbert Mack

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    This probably isn't much of a competition, but Johnny Patrick hasn't locked up the job yet. New Orleans only recently picked up Marquis Johnson and Elbert Mack as depth, so the two aren't likely to win the nickelback job.

    Patrick, a third-round pick in 2011, is a good athlete with the ball skills and hips to cover the slot. He should be fine playing next to Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson. 

Denver Broncos: J.D. Walton vs. Philip Blake

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    J.D. Walton has been one of the NFL's worst centers, and rookie Philip Blake seems likely to unseat him. The 26-year-old Blake is old for a rookie, but he's more talented than Walton.

    With Peyton Manning at quarterback, the Broncos need an intelligent center, and Blake should be capable of handling the team's line calls as a rookie, which isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Kansas City Chiefs: Jeff Allen vs. Ryan Lilja

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    Ryan Lilja disappointed in 2011, and second-round pick Jeff Allen has a shot to win the job. However, Allen played tackle at Illinois and may need some time to adjust to left guard.

    Allen is probably more talented, but in the past, Kansas City has had no problem allowing rookie linemen to sit, as the team did with both Jon Asamoah and Rodney Hudson.

San Diego Chargers: Kendall Reyes vs. Vaughn Martin vs. Luis Castillo

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    Luis Castillo was, at one point, an excellent player, but he has declined in recent years and is no longer a lock to start. In fact, second-round pick Kendall Reyes is probably the favorite to start at defensive end opposite Corey Liuget.

    Reyes is a versatile player with the ability to penetrate the backfield or hold strong against the run. He may never be a star, but he's San Diego's best option. 

Oakland Raiders: Brandon Myers vs. David Ausberry vs. Richard Gordon

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    After releasing Kevin Boss, the Raiders were left with a bunch of nobodies at tight end. Brandon Myers had 16 catches in 2011 and is considered the favorite.

    All three players are young, and the Raiders are hoping one of them busts out in training camp. At this point, it's impossible to say who that might be.

San Francisco 49ers: LaMichael James vs. Kendall Hunter

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    With Frank Gore starting at running back, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are left to compete for the backup job. The two undersized backs are similar players, as they use their speed and shiftiness to make plays.

    Though Hunter performed well as a rookie, the 49ers used a second-round pick on James for a reason. The Oregon star will likely receive the bulk of playing time behind Gore. 

Seattle Seahawks: Tarvaris Jackson vs. Matt Flynn vs. Russell Wilson

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    Despite signing Matt Flynn to a reasonable free-agent contract, the Seahawks insist that there is a three-way quarterback competition. Tarvaris Jackson seems the least likely to win the job.

    Russell Wilson is undersized, but he is undeniably talented, and Seattle spent a third-round pick on him for a reason. However, Wilson is still just a rookie, and Flynn has experience on his side. 

St. Louis Rams: Austin Pettis vs. Greg Salas vs. Brandon Gibson

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    The Rams have a ton of wide receivers bunched together with only one starter, Brian Quick. Greg Salas is the expected No. 2 wideout, but Austin Pettis and Brandon Gibson also have shots at the job. Even Denario Alexander has a shot at playing time if he somehow stays healthy.

    Gibson is the most athletic of the group, but Salas offers the best combination of athleticism, size and catching ability. He will likely start opposite Quick.

Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton

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    At this point, no one really knows who is going to start. Arizona traded a second-round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kevin Kolb a year ago, but he didn't play well in his first season with the team.

    Former fifth-round pick John Skelton is more physically talented than Kolb is, and he arguably played better throughout the 2011 season.

    This competition could go either way, but the Cardinals will probably side with their bigger investment in Kolb.