Best Training Camp Battle for Every NFL Team
For NFL fans, one of the biggest reasons to get excited for training camp is to see which players on their favorite team win position battles to emerge as starters for the upcoming season. 2012 should be no different, as every NFL team has intriguing battles for spots that could go in at least two different directions.
Which position battle should you be keeping a close eye on with your favorite team? Check out the following slideshow to learn more about the top battles in each NFL training camp, along with projections as to who will emerge as the winner from each battle.
Buffalo Bills, Left Tackle: Cordy Glenn and Chris Hairston
The Buffalo Bills drafted Cordy Glenn with the No. 41 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft with the intention of him becoming the team’s long-term starter at left tackle. Glenn is expected to be exactly that, but he first must win a training camp battle over Chris Hairston.
As a rookie last season, Hairston was thrown into the fire, starting seven games at left tackle in place of injured starter Demetress Bell. He had a solid rookie season, but he did not perform well enough to prove that he can be the Bills’ franchise guy at the position.
Glenn is the more physically gifted offensive lineman in comparison to Hairston, but neither player is a natural fit to play left tackle. That said, while Hairston’s future seems best suited to be at right tackle or inside at guard, Glenn was selected with the intention of being the line’s anchor.
If Glenn performs well in training camp, he should get a chance to start immediately.
Glenn took all first-team reps at left tackle during OTAs (according to BuffaloBills.com)—which is a sure sign that he is in line to start with a strong camp—but on June 21, head coach Chan Gailey told the press (via BuffaloBills.com) that Glenn and Hairston will compete for the job in training camp and that he does not know who the winner.
If Gailey doesn't know then nobody knows, but there is reason to believe with confidence that barring a setback, Glenn will be starting at left tackle in 2012.
Miami Dolphins, Quarterback: David Garrard, Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill
The Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft to be their franchise quarterback, but the team also realizes that Tannehill needs time to develop, so they have not simply handed him the starting job. Instead, it appears most likely that he will spend his rookie season in a backup role to David Garrard or Matt Moore.
The Dolphins signed Garrard as a free agent in March and told him he would have an opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback job. Moore performed decently last season after taking over the starting job following a season-ending injury to Chad Henne, but the team’s decision to sign Garrard and draft Tannehill shows their lack of faith in Moore going forward.
Tannehill has the most talent of the three quarterbacks, but he is a raw talent who needs at least one season to develop before becoming a starter. According to the Palm Beach Post, David Garrard appears to be the current leader in the quarterback race, while Tannehill is expected to be the third quarterback.
It makes sense that Tannehill should not start this year, but Moore should still be very much a part of this race. He is the incumbent in the battle, and Garrard did not play a single snap last season. Garrard is the leader for now, but either veteran quarterback has a good chance to win in a battle that is likely to continue until the third preseason game, when head coach Joe Philbin intends to name his starting quarterback, according to the Post.
New England Patriots, Center: Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen
When Dan Koppen suffered a season-ending broken ankle last year, Dan Connolly took over the starting center role and performed quite well.
As a result, Connolly was re-signed to a three-year contract, which was expected to lead to Koppen’s exit and Connolly taking over as starter. However, Koppen was also re-signed to a two-year deal, and now both centers are back to compete for the starting job once again this year.
Koppen has been a great center over the years for the Patriots, but at 32 years old and coming off of an injury, his game is starting to decline. Connolly has proven himself to be a very solid starter, and he deserves to retain that role for the 2012 season.
If injuries hit, both players could end up being starters. Connolly is a versatile lineman who is also a very good guard, so if an injury occurs to either starting guard (Logan Mankins or Brian Waters) at any point, he is likely to be the first in line to take over with Koppen being able to step in at center.
Nonetheless, this should be the year Connolly does not have to wait for an injury to become a starter. If he performs well in training camp, he deserves to be the team’s new starting center, although Koppen would not have re-signed with the Patriots if he didn't feel he could continue to push for the starting job.
New York Jets, Quarterback: Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow
Unlike the other 31 training camp battles on this slideshow, this one may not actually be contested. The Jets made it clear that Mark Sanchez was their starting quarterback when they signed him to a three-year contract extension with $40.5 million in new money.
However, while the Jets only invested two Day 3 draft picks in trading for Tim Tebow, the Jets are going to be hard-pressed to convince anyone that Tebow will have no chance to push Sanchez for the starting job. Even if Sanchez holds down the starting job comfortably through training camp, there may be no bigger story—not only in New York, but across the nation—throughout training camp season.
Tebow became an NFL star last season when he led the Denver Broncos to an incredible postseason run and a playoff victory. Meanwhile, Sanchez has failed to make consistent progress since his rookie season, and before he was re-signed, many speculated that the Jets would be looking in another direction, including potentially signing Peyton Manning (I was actually one of the main speculators of that match).
Do not expect any change to be made in training camp, as Sanchez will have to have a serious setback to lose his starting job before the season begins. However, Tebow could put some serious pressure on him, putting Sanchez’s starting job in jeopardy if he struggles early in the season.
Baltimore Ravens, Outside Linebacker: Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle
The Ravens thought they would only have to replace one starting outside linebacker this season. That player was Jarret Johnson, who left as a free agent for the San Diego Chargers, but the Ravens drafted his replacement in Round 2 of the 2012 NFL draft with Courtney Upshaw.
The Ravens defense suffered a huge blow, however, when star outside linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles, an injury that should sideline him for most if not all of the 2012 season.
Suggs’ injury all but assures that Upshaw will become an immediate starter, but has also opened up a competition between Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle for a temporary starting spot.
Like Upshaw, both Kruger (2009) and Kindle (2010) were second-round draft picks. Neither has been able to establish himself yet in the NFL, but both will have their best opportunity in Suggs’ absence.
Kruger has been a solid role player for the Ravens and should have the inside track on this starting spot. Kindle has higher upside and is the more gifted pass-rusher, but his first two NFL seasons have been derailed by injuries.
Both players should be expected to go all-in for this competition, knowing that it could be their last opportunity to prove themselves worthy of a key role for the Ravens. Kruger is the favorite, but although Kindle enters training camp as a complete wild card, he has a real shot to win this battle if he can rekindle his quality of play from his collegiate days.
Cincinnati Bengals, No. 2 Wide Receiver: 5 Candidates
Last season the Cincinnati Bengals found a player in A.J. Green, who should be their star receiver and one of the NFL’s best wideouts for many years to come. This season, following the free-agent departures of Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, the team's second starting wide receiver spot is wide open.
The two favorites to earn the starting spot are a pair of rookies. Mohamed Sanu was a third-round pick, but the better fit to be a No. 2 NFL sideline receiver is actually Marvin Jones, a fifth-round selection. Both young receivers, however, have a legitimate shot of winning the competition for the starting spot across from Green.
Assuming Jordan Shipley returns healthy from a torn ACL, he should remain the team’s primary slot receiver—but three other wideouts have a chance of emerging as dark-horse winners in the battle for the No. 2 spot: Brandon Tate, Armon Binns and Andrew Hawkins.
Of the veterans, the best bet to earn the starting role is Hawkins, an unheralded but fast receiver who performed well filling in for Shipley as the slot receiver last season. Binns did not appear in an NFL game last season, while Brandon Tate did not catch a pass last year.
This truly is a wide-open battle for the receiving job, and any of the five could emerge as the starter when the 2012 season begins. None of the players stand out as great candidates, but Jones’ biggest obstacle is his inexperience. He has the skill set to be a No. 2 wideout, and if he develops throughout training camp, the rookie may just win this job.
Cleveland Browns, Quarterback: Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden
Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden are expected to compete in training camp for the starting quarterback job, but it is unclear how long this will remain a battle. Weeden, who is already 28 years old, was drafted with the No. 22 overall pick in this year’s draft to start as soon as possible. If he performs well in training camp, he should earn the job outright sooner rather than later.
It is hard to argue that McCoy has been given his fair share of time to prove himself, but he failed to meet the Browns’ expectations regardless, and they seem set to replace him. As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Browns general manager Tom Heckert told reporters in May that "the best guy is going to play, and (the Browns) fully expect Brandon to be that guy."
McCoy has always been a gritty competitor, and as long as he still has a shot to compete for the starting job, he will give it his all. Unfortunately for him, it appears that he will need to do something spectacular to win this battle, as the job appears overwhelmingly to be Weeden’s to lose.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Defensive End: Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood
Brett Keisel is solidly entrenched as one of the Steelers’ starting defensive ends, but two former first-round picks are set to compete for the other starting spot following the retirement of Aaron Smith.
2009 first-round pick Ziggy Hood should be the favorite in the battle. While Hood has yet to live up to expectations through three seasons, he has done a solid job while starting 23 games over the past two seasons while Smith battled injuries and is capable of taking on the full-time starting role.
Cameron Heyward was just getting his feet wet last season as a rookie, but he is a talented defensive end who should make strides in his sophomore year. As a first-round pick, Heyward should have a very legitimate opportunity to win the training camp battle—if he shows significant development, he could beat Hood for the starting job.
Hood is likely to win this battle, but as both young defensive ends try to make names for themselves this season, expect both players to split playing time and for Heyward to make a serious push for a spot in the starting lineup.
Houston Texans, Right Tackle: Rashad Butler and Derek Newton
When the Texans released starting right tackle Eric Winston in March, a window of opportunity was opened on the offensive line for the 2012 season. Fortunately for the Texans, they have two talented potential new starters at the position in Rashad Butler and Derek Newton.
Butler is the favorite to take over the starting job, but he is a career backup who is going to be pushed by Newton, a talented second-year player with the potential to be a very solid starting right tackle.
Head coach Gary Kubiak told the Houston Chronicle that "Butler and Newton have a good battle going on, and that will work itself out." Given the coach’s uncertainty as to who will start at right tackle, it seems to still be a wide-open battle.
Butler may win the starting job on experience, but Newton has higher potential and is "doing really well" this offseason, according to Kubiak.
My hunch is that Newton will end up prevailing in this battle and take on the starting job at right tackle.
Indianapolis Colts, Running Back: Donald Brown and 3 Others
Considering that Donald Brown is the only running back on the Indianapolis Colts roster who ran for more than 400 yards last season, he would seem the obvious choice to be the team’s feature back for the 2012 season. However, Brown has been a disappointment since being a 2009 first-round pick, prompting the Colts to leave the door open to the other young running backs.
Colts running back coach David Walker (via Colts.com) said Brown should remain the No. 1 running back, but that every running back on the roster will have a chance to compete for the starting job. This leaves an opportunity open for rookie Vick Ballard and second-year backs Delone Carter and Darren Evans to become a surprise starter for the 2012 season.
Of any of the three other backs, Carter has the best chance to unseat Brown. After being a 2011 fourth-round pick, he ran for 377 yards as a rookie. He didn't have anything last season that showed he should beat out Brown, but he has a better chance than Ballard and Evans, neither of whom has taken an NFL carry.
Brown has yet to establish himself as a top back in three seasons. In this year’s training camp, he really needs to turn his first-round skills into the production he is capable of, or he could lose this battle.
Jacksonville Jaguars, Cornerback: Rashean Mathis and Aaron Ross
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed free agent Aaron Ross to a three-year contract worth up to $15.3 million, but if he is going to be a starting cornerback in his first season with the Jaguars, he is going to have to earn it. Derek Cox should have one starting spot locked up, leaving Ross to compete with Rashean Mathis for a spot in the starting lineup.
Mathis is a former standout who was once one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks, but his game and durability have started to decline with age. He is now coming off of a torn ACL, but if he can return to form healthy, he is still going to be tough to unseat as a starter.
That said, Ross is a talented cover corner capable of being a No. 2 starter, and as a healthy cornerback with a new contract, chances are good that he will end up coming away with the starting spot in training camp. Mathis is recovering from a serious injury and may be best suited to slide inside to nickel corner at this point in his career.
Tennessee Titans, Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker
Matt Hasselbeck had a strong first season with the Tennessee Titans in 2011, putting up his best passing numbers across the board since 2007. That said, the Titans drafted Jake Locker with the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft to be the franchise quarterback. The future can only wait so long, and the wait could come to an end this year in training camp.
Hasselbeck proved last season that he can still be a solid starter, but at 36 years old, he is nearing the end of his rope as an NFL quarterback. Locker’s career, on the other hand, has barely begun, and he has immense potential to be a great quarterback.
To this point, the Titans have given no indication as to which way this quarterback battle will go. The Associated Press reported during OTAs that the Titans would split snaps evenly between Hasselbeck and Locker, giving each quarterback an equal opportunity to win the job.
If the Titans go with Hasselbeck, they will have a smart and steady leader who can win games for the team. However, Locker has much higher upside, and it is only a matter of time before the Titans decide it is time to work him into the starting lineup. That could very well be during this year’s training camp.
Denver Broncos, Outside Linebacker: D.J. Williams and Wesley Woodyard
D.J. Williams’ 2012 season got off to a very bad start when he was suspended for six games in March for a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. His season could get even worse if he loses his starting job for the rest of the season.
Considering that Williams is suspended for nearly half of the season, Wesley Woodyard should get every opportunity to take his starting job. Williams has started 114 career games while Woodyard has only started 16, but the latter was very impressive as a rotational player last season and is a younger player who may have better upside going forward for the Broncos.
Even though he primarily came off the bench last season, Woodyard was a dynamic difference-maker for the Broncos defense. Von Miller and Joe Mays should be set as two of the Broncos’ three starting linebackers, but Williams has left the door open for Woodyard to potentially win a permanent starting job that he should hold down for at least six games this season.
Kansas City Chiefs, Left Guard: Ryan Lilja and Jeff Allen
Ryan Lilja has started 89 career games—including 30 over the past two seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs—but he is at risk of losing his starting job to a rookie. After a subpar year for Lilja in 2011, the Chiefs drafted Jeff Allen in the second round to be the team’s future at left guard.
Allen’s game could certainly use some development, but becoming the starting left guard should be a matter of when rather than if for him. If Allen has a strong training camp, he could easily unseat Lilja right away, but if Allen struggles to adjust during the preseason, the Chiefs should stick with experience for the 2012 season.
Oakland Raiders: 4 Cornerbacks to Vie for 2 Starting Spots
The Oakland Raiders have a new head coach and general manager, and the team’s new management decided to take a completely new direction at cornerback. The Raiders released its incumbent starting cornerbacks, Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, while they did not re-sign Lito Sheppard, who filled in most of last season as a starter for the injured Johnson.
That leaves the Raiders with two new free-agent additions, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, to compete with two second-year cornerbacks, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa, for the team’s two starting spots.
Bartell is a solid all-around cornerback, but he is coming off of a serious neck injury suffered with the Rams last season. Spencer lost his starting job last season with the 49ers, but he has had decent success as an NFL cornerback, although he is best suited to play in the nickel or dime.
Chekwa did not play often last season, but he is an instinctive, physical cornerback with the potential to be a quality starter. Van Dyke is a very athletic cornerback whose game needs polish, but he has big upside.
This battle looks to be wide open, but if he returns to form after his serious injury, Bartell should have the inside track to being the No. 1 cornerback. The second cornerback spot could go any way, but Chekwa is the best suited for the position, as Spencer and Van Dyke are better off playing as nickel and dime cornerbacks.
San Diego Chargers, Defensive End: Vaughn Martin, Kendall Reyes, Luis Castillo
After drafting Kendall Reyes in Round 2 of this year’s NFL draft, the Chargers are loaded with depth at the defensive end position.
The Chargers also drafted a first-round defensive end, Corey Liuget, in 2011, and he should be in line for one starting spot. The other starting spot, however, should feature a three-way battle between Reyes, Vaughn Martin and Luis Castillo.
Castillo is a solid veteran with a good resume, but he is coming off of a broken leg. Martin took over as the starter for him last season and is more likely to continue starting going forward after performing quite well last year. However, both will face competition from Reyes, a rookie with big upside as a 5-technique defensive end.
Reyes may be the most talented of the trio and will likely form a future starting tandem with Liuget, but for 2012, Martin has the inside track to the starting spot. Martin is a strong run-stopping end who started 15 games and played well last year, but this could be quite an interesting battle.
Dallas Cowboys, Center: Phil Costa and Bill Nagy
After five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, the Cowboys made a shocking decision to release center Andre Gurode last season. His replacement, Phil Costa, was far from being in Pro Bowl form, and it is necessary that the Cowboys’ interior line play improves this season.
Having started every game at center last season, Costa is the incumbent at center—no great replacement has been added to take his job away. He should face competition, however, from second-year offensive lineman Bill Nagy, who started four games at left guard last season prior to suffering a fractured right ankle.
Nagy may have been the Cowboys’ best interior offensive lineman early last season, but he has been replaced by free-agent addition Nate Livings at left guard. That leaves Nagy, who spent some time playing center at Wisconsin in 2010 when Peter Konz was injured, in a position to push Costa in training camp.
Costa may have held down the starting job last season, but his play was shaky throughout. Nagy played fairly well prior to injury last year, and with his background playing center for a collegiate offensive line powerhouse, he could very well be in line to take Costa’s spot in the lineup.
New York Giants, Cornerback: Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara
Terrell Thomas was a very solid starting cornerback for the Giants in 2009 and 2010, but coming off of a torn ACL last season, he is going to have to re-earn his spot in the starting lineup. The Giants did lose last year’s starter, Aaron Ross, to free agency, but 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara is waiting in the wings as a potential star.
The 2011 season did not go as planned for either Amukamara or Thomas. Amukamara battled injuries of his own and had a disappointing rookie season. Nonetheless, he was arguably the most talented cornerback in last year’s draft class and could emerge as a star if he puts it all together this season.
Thomas expressed no doubt that he will be a starter when interviewed by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, but I have my doubts. He is a skilled cornerback, but Amukamara is a bigger, more physical cornerback with the potential to be a star.
Corey Webster should be set as one starter, but if Amukamara actually performs up to his ability this year in training camp, he should emerge as a starter across from Webster and over the more proven Thomas.
Philadelphia Eagles, Defensive Tackle: Mike Patterson and Fletcher Cox
The Philadelphia Eagles have a solid veteran duo of defensive tackles in Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, but they drafted Fletcher Cox with the No. 12 overall selection this year for a reason. The Eagles needed to improve their interior run defense, and Cox has the potential to be a dominant force for the Eagles’ defensive line.
While Cox’s game does need some development, he has too much talent to keep out of the starting lineup for long. While all three defensive tackles should get significant playing time in the Eagles’ defensive line rotation, Cox may be able to move ahead of Patterson on the depth chart this training camp.
Patterson is expected to make a full recovery from offseason brain surgery, but he does not have the quickness and ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage that Cox does. Whether Cox wins the battle should depend on his readiness to take on that role—if his development comes along far enough in training camp, the Eagles should not hesitate to work him into the starting lineup.
Washington Redskins: 5 Safeties, 2 Open Starting Spots
Neither LaRon Landry nor O.J. Atgowe is with the Washington Redskins this season, and there is not one safety on the Redskins roster who is a clear-cut choice to be a starter next year. The Redskins brought in some intriguing veteran talent, but the team is in for a very interesting, five-headed battle for two starting safety spots.
Brandon Meriweather is a two-time Pro Bowl selection who could be on track to start at strong safety, but he is an overrated player who is best known for his hard hitting yet is actually weak in pass coverage.
Tanard Jackson is a very talented free safety, but his career has often been derailed by off-field issues and injuries. Madieu Williams also has a history as a starting free safety, but his play has dropped off sharply in recent seasons.
The two holdovers who will compete with the Redskins’ three new free-agent acquisitions are DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty. Gomes started five games as a rookie last season following Landry’s season-ending injury. Doughty is a solid run-support safety who started 11 games for the Redskins last year and has been productive—like Meriweather, though, he tends to be a liability in pass coverage.
Meriweather and Jackson will enter training camp as the favorites to earn the two starting spots, but these battles remain wide open. Gomes may actually be the Redskins’ best bet at strong safety and could end up unseating Meriweather for that spot. At free safety Jackson is the top talent, but he must prove his reliability or will likely be supplanted by either Williams or Doughty.
Chicago Bears, Left Tackle: J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams
There may not be another team in the NFL with a more disconcerting left tackle situation than the Chicago Bears. While the Bears’ best offensive tackle, Gabe Carimi, is being kept at right tackle, the Bears will be hoping that either J’Marcus Webb or Chris Williams can establish himself as a capable anchor for the offensive line.
Webb started all 16 games at left tackle for the Bears last season but was arguably the NFL’s worst starting offensive tackle. Williams was a 2008 first-round pick who was selected to be the Bears’ franchise left tackle, but injuries have been a problem for him, and moving him away from guard could be a mistake.
Williams has the more talent of the two offensive tackles, but a lack of durability is a real concern. He also had more success in the past playing guard than offensive tackle, so although Webb is quite unspectacular as the Bears’ starting left tackle, I think the incumbent will end up winning this battle, while Williams’ best role is to take a spot as a four-position backup for both tackle and guard spots.
Detroit Lions, Wide Receiver: Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles
The Lions made many draft prognosticators scratch their heads when they made the surprising selection of wide receiver Ryan Broyles in this year’s second round. Nonetheless, while Broyles is coming off of a torn ACL, he is expected to make an immediate push for Nate Burleson’s starting spot as the team’s slot receiver.
Titus Young should move up to being the Lions’ No. 2 receiver, which leaves the rookie Broyles, who is a well-rounded receiving talent and was very productive in his collegiate years at Oklahoma, to compete with Burleson, who had a very solid season last year with 73 receptions for 757 yards for the team’s slot receiver spot.
Burleson was productive as the Lions’ No. 2 wide receiver last year, but he is not a dynamic difference-maker, and being only a solid receiver could cost him his starting job this season. Broyles has a tough task to unseat Burleson while coming off of a serious knee injury, but if he returns to form, he is an athletic receiver with impressive route-running skills and could end up being a more dynamic playmaker for the offense than Burleson is.
Considering Broyles has the tough combined task of adjusting to an NFL offense while recovering from injury, I would expect Burleson to hold down his starting job in training camp while Broyles will likely end up as the team’s fourth receiver in his rookie season. That said, this should be an interesting battle to watch.
Green Bay Packers, Left Tackle: Marshall Newhouse and Derek Sherrod
The Packers released their longtime mainstay at left tackle, Chad Clifton, in April. A main factor that likely led to Clifton’s departure was last season’s play of Marshall Newhouse, who performed well after moving from guard to left tackle to fill in for Clifton while he was injured.
Newhouse, however, will not simply be handed the starting left tackle job. The Packers used their first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft to select Derek Sherrod to be the future of their franchise at left tackle.
Sherrod has big potential as an offensive tackle, but he is coming off of a broken leg of his own from last season. Meanwhile, Newhouse was a very pleasant surprise last season, meaning that the job will be his to lose in training camp.
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert reported that the Packers have endorsed Newhouse as a capable starting left tackle, and he seems to have the upper hand in this battle. Nonetheless, considering the Packers invested such a high draft pick just last year on Sherrod, he is going to get a fair crack at winning the job until Newhouse performs well enough to lock it up.
Minnesota Vikings, Wide Receiver: Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins
Behind Percy Harvin, the Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver depth chart appears to be wide open. Up to five wide receivers could end up factoring into the battle for the No. 2 spot on that chart, but the two best candidates to start are Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins.
Simpson displayed his ability to overcome hurdles last season (if you do not know what I mean, watch the video), but a significant obstacle in his path to potentially winning the starting job is a three-game suspension he will have to serve at the start of the year for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Jenkins was once a very solid No. 2 wide receiver, but his numbers have dropped for four straight seasons. His game appears to be on the decline, and retaining him as a starter would be a stretch.
Simpson had much better numbers than Jenkins last year, and even with his suspension he should be the odds-on favorite to win this training camp battle. The suspension could open the door, however, for further competition from a pair of rookies, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, along with Devin Aromashodu.
Aromashodu is a solid young receiver who had similar numbers to Jenkins last season, but starting would be a stretch for him. Childs and Wright both have big potential, but Wright is best suited to play the slot while Childs is still regaining form after two injury-riddled seasons.
This could be a very interesting training camp battle that could go more than two-deep, but it is most likely Simpson who will win the battle while Jenkins starts the first three games of the season in his place.
Atlanta Falcons, Right Guard: Peter Konz and Mike Johnson
Peter Konz was the best center prospect in the 2012 NFL draft class, but in his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons, he is not expected to line up as a center. With Joe Hawley set to start at center, Konz will battle Mike Johnson for the starting right guard spot.
Konz is a very skilled interior lineman who should have the edge over Johnson, whose failure to emerge thus far has been a disappointment.
Johnson was a third-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft and was a very solid guard at Alabama, but his skills have yet to translate to the next level. It is unlikely he will win a battle over the young, talented Konz, who should be ready to start right away after being the Falcons’ first 2012 draft pick.
Carolina Panthers, Cornerback: Captain Munnerlyn, Brandon Hogan, Josh Norman
Captain Munnerlyn was very shaky last season as a starting cornerback for the Carolina Panthers, so the team should be expected to ramp up the competition in this year’s training camp. Brandon Hogan and Josh Norman are expected to provide that competition.
Hogan did not play much last season as he recovered from a torn ACL, but now that he is fully healthy, he is an instinctive cover corner who could prove to be an upgrade over Munnerlyn. Norman is a talented incoming rookie with the instincts and physicality wanted from an NFL starting cornerback, but coming from Coastal Carolina, he would have to make a very tough and quick adjustment from playing FCS football to an NFL starting role.
Hogan may be the Panthers’ best bet to unseat Munnerlyn, but if he is not ready, the team’s best bet may be to ride forward with Munnerlyn holding onto his starting role. Although his play regressed from 2010 to 2011, he is a solid playmaker.
Munnerlyn’s competition may come in the form of young and unproven players but, nonetheless, he will have to step up in training camp to keep his starting job.
New Orleans Saints, Running Back: Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas
The Saints made one of the best free-agent signings of the 2011 offseason with the acquisition of running back Darren Sproles, who set the NFL record for all-purpose yards in his first season with the team.
Sproles is primarily a change-of-pace back as a runner, but with his role having expanded in the Saints offense, earning the feature back role is very important for any other Saints running backs who want significant carries. That battle should come down to Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas.
The Saints traded back into the first round of the 2011 NFL draft to select Ingram, but he failed to live up to expectations as a rookie, with a disappointing average of only 3.9 yards per carry. Thomas has been a solid back for five seasons with the Saints but has yet to run for 800 or more yards in a season.
Ingram will enter training camp with the expectation of becoming the feature back, but he must step up his game significantly. If he does not, Thomas and even Chris Ivory are going to give him a big run for the starting role, with Thomas becoming the favorite.
In the end, I do believe Ingram will have a solid training camp and a much stronger sophomore season as the team’s primary runner. But with all three running backs knowing that they must win this battle in order to become the team’s primary back splitting time with Sproles, it should be a very intriguing competition.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Defensive Tackle: Brian Price, Amobi Okoye, Roy Miller
When the Buccaneers drafted Gerald McCoy and Brian Price in the first two rounds of the 2010 NFL draft, they looked set to have a star duo of defensive tackles for many years to come. However, both players have battled injuries and performed disappointingly when they have been off the field.
Although McCoy has been a disappointment to this point, his starting spot should be safe as long as he bounces back in full health from a torn bicep suffered last year. Price’s spot, however, could be in significant jeopardy in training camp.
One source of training camp competition will be veteran Amobi Okoye, who signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent this offseason. He has also been a disappointment after being a top-10 pick in the 2007 draft, but he has enough talent to challenge for this starting defensive tackle position.
Roy Miller is another player who has had his share of ups and downs on the field for the Buccaneers, but he could also be in the mix of the competition with Okoye and Price.
Price, who started 14 games last season, is the definite favorite to win this training camp battle, but any of the three have a chance. If injuries come into play again for either McCoy or Price, this battle could really get interesting.
Arizona Cardinals, Quarterback: Kevin Kolb and John Skelton
Last July the Arizona Cardinals traded a second-round draft pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Kevin Kolb, then signed Kolb to a five-year, $63.5 million contract with $21 million guaranteed. Less than one year later, however, Kolb is not even assured to keep his starting job with the team.
Kolb had a disappointing first season with the team last year. Skelton did not necessarily perform better when Kolb was out due to injuries, but the Cardinals were 6-2 when he played last season as opposed to 2-6 in the other games under Kolb.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt told Jim Rome (as reported by Pro Football Talk) in May that the competition between the two quarterbacks was starting out "as even as it possibly can." Kolb certainly has the money advantage in his corner, but that does not mean that Skelton cannot win this job.
My hunch is that Kolb, who the Cardinals will want to try to take advantage of their investment in, will end up winning this battle, but Skelton is certainly going to have his shot to establish himself as the team’s starting signal-caller in a battle that may be far from over.
St. Louis Rams, Cornerback: Janoris Jenkins and Bradley Fletcher
Janoris Jenkins did not even play FBS football in college last season, as he spent one season at North Alabama after being dismissed from Florida following multiple arrests. Nonetheless, Jenkins showed in his time at Florida that he has the potential to be a star cornerback. As a result, he will have an opportunity to immediately compete for a starting cornerback spot in the Rams secondary.
The Rams added a star cornerback to be their No. 1 in Cortland Finnegan, but the window of opportunity is open for Jenkins to seize the second starting spot. His toughest competition should come from Bradley Fletcher, who is a solid cornerback and capable starter but is coming off of a torn ACL.
This battle will likely come down to which player has returned to his best form by the end of training camp. If Jenkins proves he can overcome his off-field issues and be the dominant cornerback he once was at Florida, he is the more talented cornerback and should win the starting job. That said, he is inexperienced and faces many questions, but Fletcher also must be fully healthy after his serious knee injury.
Jerome Murphy and rookie Trumaine Johnson could also factor into the battle for the second starting cornerback spot, but Jenkins and Fletcher are the top candidates.
San Francisco 49ers, No. 2 Running Back: Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James
The 49ers have had a solid feature back for years in Frank Gore but added a very effective change-of-pace back last season in Kendall Hunter. Hunter, a small but fast and quick back, had a productive rookie season, rushing for 473 yards.
That is why it came as a surprise when the 49ers drafted a very similar running back, LaMichael James, in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. Like Hunter, James is a very undersized back, but he makes up for it with his dynamic speed, quickness and ability as a receiver out of the backfield.
Now the two running backs will be competing to be Gore’s primary backup. Hunter is a talented back who had a solid rookie season, but he is not quite as dynamic as James, who should be able to make an immediate impact with his speed and agility. This battle could easily go either way, but I think James will emerge ahead of Hunter on the depth chart.
Free-agent acquisition Brandon Jacobs could also factor into the equation for the No. 2 running back, but the 49ers will likely keep that role for a change-of-pace speed back, while Jacobs, if he makes the team, can be the third-string running back as a second power back behind Gore.
Seattle Seahawks, Quarterback: Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson, Russell Wilson
When the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million deal, it was certainly anticipated that Flynn would start the 2012 season. This, however, may not be the case, as head coach Pete Carroll has left the starting quarterback job open to a three-way battle between Flynn, incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson.
Taking into account the considerable amount of money that Flynn received, and his very impressive showings in his lone two starts with the Packers, he is expected to eventually emerge from this battle as the starter. However, Carroll has insisted that the Seahawks are giving all three quarterbacks "an even shot," according to the Seattle Times.
As the incumbent starter, Jackson has the most familiarity with the Seahawks offense, which gives him an advantage in the battle. Flynn is the most talented of the trio, but he remains unproven while learning a new offense. Wilson is a talented rookie, but it would come as a real surprise if he emerges as the starter over the two veterans.
I expect that Flynn’s talent and the team’s financial investment will eventually cause him to prevail in the battle, but Jackson should give him tough competition through training camp.
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