Breaking Down the NFC's Biggest Position Battles
At various points next week, training camps for all 32 NFL teams will begin. By Sunday, each of the 32 teams will be back playing football for the 2012 season.
Of course, with the start of training camp also comes the heat of positional battles.
In the NFC, several big competitions loom large over the dog days of summer.
Over the following five slides, we breakdown five of the biggest positional battles.
Seattle Seahawks: Quarterback
No quarterback competition—whether in the NFC or AFC—is as compelling as the one about to take place in Seattle.
Incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson has done just enough in his NFL career to convince coaches to keep starting him, and he was serviceable for long stretches of last season after the Seahawks gave him two years and $8 million to be No. 1 last summer.
Meanwhile, free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn impressed in two starts with the Green Bay Packers, but has limited experience. Last season, he broke the Packers' franchise record for yards (480) and touchdowns (six) in a Week 17 win over the Detroit Lions, and the Seahawks gave him a contract ($24 million, $10 million guaranteed) that makes him the front-runner for the starting job.
However, there's also rookie Russell Wilson to remember. Wilson caught the eye of the Seahawks' coaching staff in minicamps and OTAs. Despite being drastically short for the position, Wilson has all the tools—both physically and mentally—to be an NFL starter.
That being said, he may be a year out from truly competing.
Despite the money, Flynn won't be handed the job. He'll need to beat out both Jackson and Wilson to get the call in Week 1.
Washington Redskins: Running Back
The Redskins finally found their franchise quarterback after trading up to No. 2 overall and selecting Baylor's Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL draft.
The receiver position was also solidified when management spent money on Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan in free agency.
With that being said, running back should be the position to watch in training camp.
Roy Helu rushed for 640 yards and caught 49 passes last season, but he faded down the stretch.
Tim Hightower looked like he could be Washington's answer at running back early last season, but a torn-up knee ended his season and makes him a shaky option early in 2012.
There's also Evan Royster, who gained 5.9 yards per carry last season and finished the year with back-to-back 100-yard games.
Washington will need a strong running game despite the addition of Griffin III, and all three options present interesting options for coach Mike Shanahan. There could be a back-by-committee approach, but Shanahan would probably prefer to have a clear No. 1 before Week 1.
San Francisco 49ers: Running Back
Is there a more talented backfield than the one built in San Francisco?
Most franchises would be completely content with a trio of Frank Gore (legitimate starter), Kendall Hunter (exciting change-of-pace back) and Anthony Dixon (bruiser who can play special teams), but not the 49ers.
This offseason, San Francisco drafted Oregon's LaMichael James, a burner scat-back. The team also signed former Giants bowling ball Brandon Jacobs, who could provide the 49ers with some punch in short-yard situations.
That's a lot of mouths to feed, but the 49ers were a committed running team in 2011. With Gore, 29, likely taking less carries as the starter, more touches should be available. How those opportunities are spread out should be decided in camp.
Chicago Bears: Left Tackle
The Bears did just about everything this offseason to improve their team, with the noticeable exception of the left side of the offensive line.
There, Chicago is expecting improvement from within.
J'Marcus Webb is the incumbent starter, and at the very worst, he's a guy the Bears can plug in at left tackle for 16 games and feel in okay shape. Having said that, he's had his share of problems protecting the passer, and Webb will need to improve in that area for him to stick as the starter again.
Chomping at his heels will be former first-round pick Chris Williams, who is making the move back out to tackle after experimenting inside.
The Bears are likely hoping Williams unseats the inconsistent Webb at left tackle.
Green Bay Packers: Left Tackle
The Packers released long-time left tackle Chad Clifton early this offseason, but Green Bay played the majority of last season without the veteran in the starting lineup.
While Clifton rehabbed a torn hamstring, former fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse held down the fort. He was surprisingly efficient in the role, even if there were inconsistencies. For a young player in a pass-heavy offense, inconsistencies were to be expected.
Newhouse leads the battle to be the left tackle in 2012, possibly by a wide margin. However, you can never discount a former first-round pick, and 2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod could be a factor if he's recovered in time from a broken leg he suffered late last season.
Newhouse is the clear favorite here, but Sherrod could make it very interesting with a healthy camp.
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