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The Biggest Spot Up for Grabs in Each NFL Training Camp

Jesse ReedCorrespondent IJuly 26, 2012

The Biggest Spot Up for Grabs in Each NFL Training Camp

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    John Skelton and Kevin Kolb are engaged in a full-fledged quarterback competition this summer in Arizona for the Cardinals, and nobody knows which player will come out on top. The Cardinals aren't the only NFL team with spots up for grab at training camp, though.

    Every team in the league enters training camp with positions that have yet to be determined. Many players will have to prove that they are the ones deserving of their coaches' trust rather than their competitors.

    This is the way it goes every year. 

    Not surprisingly, the NFL has a high turnover rate.

    Injuries and attrition eat away at rosters from one year to the next, and coaches are always looking to make their team better. This habitat of competition breeds ferocious battles in training camp that inevitably shape the landscape of every team and of the NFL, as a whole.

    With that in mind, let's take a look at the biggest training camp battles happening around the NFL this summer.

Buffalo Bills

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Wide Receiver.

     

    There's no doubt which player will be Ryan Fitzpatrick's No. 1 option on offense. Stevie Johnson is easily the team's best wide receiver, and he'll be the focal point of their passing attack. 

    What we don't know yet is which player will be lining up opposite Johnson when Week 1 rolls around.

    According to BuffaloBills.com's Jared Kracker, the team enters camp with four players who could earn that single spot: Marcus Easley, rookie T.J. Graham, Derek Hagan and Donald Jones. 

    The Bills would certainly be happy if Graham could somehow learn the offense fast enough to start, as he's a true deep threat who can take any pass on any given play for six.

    According to head coach Chan Gaily, via the report, Jones has the inside track for the roster spot, though. From my perspective, that makes perfect sense due to his experience with Fitzpatrick, and I see him being the one to take the spot.

Miami Dolphins

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Quarterback

     

    According to multiple reports, the Miami Dolphins are holding a three-way competition this summer between rookie Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore and David Garrard to see which one will be their starting quarterback in 2012. 

    The Palm Beach Post's Ben Volin reports that head coach Joe Philbin has set a preferred timetable for his decision. He wants to have his mind made up by the third preseason game. 

    Moore is the incumbent starter, but according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, Garrard has the early lead. Center Mike Pouncey said this about Garrard: “Garrard has been great, has been the main guy running with the first team. He brings leadership. Matt Moore did a good job last year but when Garrard is in, it’s a whole different tempo.”

    The funny thing is that Tannehill is the one teaching the vets Philbin's offense, according to Yahoo! Sports' Doug Farrar. Throw in the fact that HBO Hard Knocks is in Miami this year to tape the Dolphins, and you have yourself some high-quality entertainment.

New England Patriots

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Running Back

     

    The Boston Herald reports that Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley will compete for the starting running back spot. 

    I like Vereen. He's fast, shifty and tough, and he can catch. Ridley is more of a between-the-tackles guy, but he's capable of carrying the load. 

    Both players will likely play important roles for the Patriots' offense this year, but if Vereen can prove he's capable of staying healthy, his explosiveness will prove to be too good to keep him out of the game. 

New York Jets

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Right Tackle

     

    The New York Jets made a move to create some competition at this spot by bringing in Jeff Otah, according to the New York Daily News. He'll compete against Wayne Hunter, who was a disappointment last year in his first season as a starter.

    This move could also mean it's the end of the road for Vladimir Ducasse, who never lived up to expectations.

    The latest report from NFL.com is that Otah failed his physical and will be kept on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list until he passes the test. If he does, I predict that Otah will become the starting right tackle by the beginning of the year. 

Dallas Cowboys

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Middle Linebacker

     

    Dan Connor was brought in this year to compete with second-year man Bruce Carter for the right to play next to Sean Lee in the Cowboy's 3-4 defense. 

    According to the Dallas Morning News' Rainer Sabin, Lee thinks it'll be Connor lining up next to him: 

    He’s [Connor] 100 percent and he’ll be ready to go...They’re two great players. Whatever happens when it comes to the reps, we’ll see. I know both those guys are going to be involved greatly with our defense. And we’re going to need both of them to be involved because they can offer a lot to our team.

    Carter has the speed advantage, but Connor should beat him out for the spot. He's a better all-around defender at this time, though it wouldn't surprise me to see Carter overtake him midway through the season.

New York Giants

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 3 Wide Receiver

     

    The New York Giants lost Mario Manningham—their clear-cut No. 3 receiver of a year ago—to the San Francisco 49ers in free agency. They drafted Rueben Randle out of LSU at the end of the second round, and he'll compete with Domenik Hixon for Manningham's old spot. 

    According to ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk, Hixon is "the front-runner entering camp as the third receiver."

    Hixon had a big year for the Giants in 2008, catching 43 passes for 596 yards and two touchdowns, but he's seen his numbers decline ever since. With the loss of Manningham, though, he'll likely see his role significantly increased this year, and I expect him to start over Randle. 

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Weakside Linebacker

     

    The Philadelphia Eagles are set up for a big battle between Jamar Chaney and incumbent starter Brian Rolle, according to the Inquirer's Les Bowen. 

    Both men played major roles in the defense last year. Rolle won the starting job in Week 3 and held the spot the rest of the way. Chaney played a couple of games on the strong side, and then he finished off the last 13 games in the middle for the Eagles. 

    The recent additions of Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans have shaken the roster up in a good way for the Eagles, but that means either Chaney or Rolle will become a backup in 2012.

    I predict that the Eagles will go with Chaney over Rolle. Rolle isn't as good against the run, and with Kendricks and Ryans on the field, the Eagles need physicality over speed at this spot.

Washington Redskins

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Running Back

     

    Roy Helu did a fantastic job for the Washington Redskins last year in place of an injured Tim Hightower, who tore his ACL. 

    The Redskins signed Hightower to a one-year deal back in April, and according to the Washington Times' Rich Campbell, he'll be the starter as long as he's healthy. 

    That's a big if, though, and Helu isn't going to just let Hightower take his spot. This battle is going to be heated throughout training camp and during the preseason. 

    Hightower is a better all-around back, though. He's more explosive in and out of his cuts, and he's one of the better pass-catching backs in the league. He will likely win back his starting spot before Week 1. 

Baltimore Ravens

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Defensive End

     

    Terrence Cody and Hiloti Ngata have two of the three defensive line spots on lockdown, but the Baltimore Ravens have a big battle brewing between Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee for the final spot, according to the Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston.

    The two players will both likely see plenty of snaps throughout the season, but only one can start. 

    Jones is more of a big-bodied guy who can clog up the middle, while McPhee has more quickness and an explosive first step. McPhee recorded six sacks as a rookie, and since Cody is already there in the middle, I give the edge to him if he stays healthy.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Wide Receiver

     

    A.J. Green is the undisputed No. 1 receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, but there are a handful or players fighting for the chance to line up on the other side on Sundays.

    According to Kris Knox of NationalFootballAuthority.com, rookie Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate are the two most likely to step in and take that spot. 

    Tate didn't see any action as a receiver last year, as he was used solely in special teams. He had a good season with the New England Patriots in 2010, though, catching 24 passes for 432 yards and three touchdowns. 

    I'm betting on Sanu to take the No. 2 spot, however. He has a prototypical frame for an outside receiver, and if he can show the strength and quickness needed to get off the line of scrimmage cleanly, he'll be the better choice. 

Cleveland Browns

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Free Safety

     

    Mike Adams is gone, and the Cleveland Browns are looking for either Usama Young or Eric Hagg to step up this year and take his place, according to Fox Sports' Peter Schrager.

    ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reports that Hagg, a seventh-round pick from a year ago, is the leader so far. He's been the one taking most of the first-team reps in OTAs and minicamps, and it's his job to lose.

    Both men have some big shoes to fill, as the Browns' secondary performed admirably with Adams last year, giving up 185 yards per game—second in the NFL. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Cornerback

     

    The Pittsburgh Steelers let William Gay go via free agency this year to the Arizona Cardinals. Ike Taylor will once again be a starter, but there are three candidates to replace Gay on the other side, according to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley.

    Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown are all being considered for the position. Hensley reports that Allen is one of the favorites of the coaching staff and is considered to be the dark horse to win the spot. 

    I'm betting on Lewis to finally show up big in 2012, and I'm picking him to start.

Chicago Bears

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Left Tackle

     

    If you've watched many Chicago Bears games in recent years, then you know they struggle to protect the quarterback. Last year was no different, as J'Marcus Webb had some serious problems in this department.

    As a result, he'll be competing against Chris Williams this summer to see who will protect Jay Cutler's blind side, according to ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright and Jeff Dickerson.

    Neither player has been impressive in their careers to date, and I'm betting that Chicago will be looking for another left tackle in the 2013 NFL draft.

Detroit Lions

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Cornerback

     

    Chris Houston is the unquestioned No. 1 cornerback for the Detroit Lions. After him, though, the Lions are loaded with question marks.

    Aaron Berry was considered to be one of the top challengers for that spot, but his recent arrest has gotten him dismissed by the team (h/t ESPN.com, Detroit Lions.com).

    The most logical choice would be to turn Jacob Lacey into the second outside corner and make Alphonso Smith the nickelback, but the truth of the matter is that the team is seriously lacking in talent at this position. 

    Don't be surprised to see the Lions look to add some more depth before training camp is finished.

Green Bay Packers

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Cornerback

     

    Recent news of Tramon Williams' nerve-weakened right shoulder should give Green Bay Packers fans a bit of trepidation, especially considering the sad state of affairs the team's secondary was already in after the end of last year (h/t FoxSportsWisconsin.com).

    This news makes any Charles-Woodson-to-safety speculation null, at least for the time being. He'll certainly be the team's starting cornerback on one side. The question now becomes, which player will play on the other side?

    Davon House has been making strides for the past year, and the coaching staff is reportedly excited about his combination of size and speed, according to ProFootballWeekly.com. He'll fight with Sam Shields and rookie Casey Hayward for playing time this summer.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Cornerback

     

    Chris Cook is expected to become the team's starter at right corner, according to 1500ESPN.com.

    Antoine Winfield used to be one of the league's most physical corners, if not one of the best. Nowadays, he's not even sure how much he's going to play, according to an interview he did with TwinCities.com: "My goal is to play 16 games. I'm not sure if I'll be outside all 16. I'm sure I'll play (inside) in the nickel, too."

    That leaves the door wide open for some fierce competition this summer in training camp for the second corner spot.

    Chris Carr and Zach Bowman will compete with Winfield for this spot, and I expect Carr to overtake Winfield, with Winfield coming in as the team's nickelback.

Houston Texans

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Wide Receiver

     

    Kevin Walter has been the No. 2 wide receiver for the Texans over the past few years, but his age is catching up to him, according to the Houston Chronicle's Lance Zierlein, who reports he could lose some snaps this year.

    The likeliest player to overtake Walter in the lineup would be Lestar Jean, the second-year man out of Florida Atlantic. He'll compete with Walter, Keshawn Martin and Devier Posey for both the No. 2 and No. 3 receiver spots.  

    I have a hard time seeing Walter lose his spot just yet, though, and I'm betting on him holding onto his spot at least until midway through the season.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Wide Receiver

     

    Reggie Wayne is the undisputed No. 1 receiver for the Indianapolis Colts. Austin Collie was thought by many to be the logical choice for the No. 2 spot, but Donnie Avery could challenge him this summer. 

    According to the Indianapolis Star, via FootballFanSpot.com, Avery has been "one of the bright spots" for the Colts this offseason. He'll compete with Collie and rookie T.Y. Hilton for playing time at both the No. 2 and No. 3 receiver spots.  

    The way I see things playing out is that Avery will win the No. 2 spot, while Collie will come in to play the slot in three-wide sets.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Spot up for grabs: Starting Quarterback

     

    I'm aware that the Jacksonville Jaguars named Gabbert the starter earlier this year. I'm just not buying what they're selling.

    SI.com's Don Banks reported back in May about the Jaguars' possible attempts to land Tim Tebow:

    There were those inside the Jacksonville organization who were ambivalent about the move, believing that even with Tebow on board, Henne, the ex-Dolphins starter, would beat out both players by late August. Let's just say that sentiment hasn't changed with Henne now competing only against Gabbert, the team's first-round pick in 2011.

    I can't disagree with that sentiment. Gabbert has the physical tools to become a good player, but his psyche took a huge hit after last year's debacle of a season. 

    Chad Henne is an experienced vet who isn't afraid to stand tall in the pocket. If he starts showing Gabbert up in camp, the Jags will have no choice but to put him in as the starter or risk losing the locker room.

Tennessee Titans

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Quarterback

     

    The Tennessee Titans face the age-old dilemma this summer: Do they keep going with their proven vet, or do they turn the reins over to their unproven, yet highly talented youngster?

    Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck will be given equal chances to earn the starting spot, and according to offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, via the Tennesseean, they head into camp on equal footing. 

    It's truly a tough decision. The Texans have the division on lockdown. But the Titans just missed out on making it into the playoffs as a wild card last year, and they will have a good chance to do so again this year. 

    My two cents is that the Titans will let Hasselbeck continue to do what he does, while Locker simmers, a la Steve Young, on the sidelines for another year.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Left Tackle

     

    According to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal's Daryl Ledbetter, head coach Mike Smith has declared an open competition at left tackle. 

    The left tackle is the guy that is responsible in most protections to protect the blindside of your quarterback. First and foremost, it's being able to pass protect. You've got to pass protect, and most of the time you are drawing the most efficient pass rusher.

    Ledbetter projects Sam Baker to win the job over Will Svitek and Lamar Holmes. Baker is coming back from back surgery, but he hopes to return to the form that won him the starting job in the first place, according to ProFootballWeekly.com.

    I'm going with Baker here. He was really solid before his injury, and all signs point to him being healthy this year.

Carolina Panthers

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Middle Linebacker

     

    Luke Kuechly has impressed so far this offseason for the Carolina Panthers.

    According to Jon Beason, via the Charlotte Observer, who was asked about what position he'd play in 2012: "I don't know. But wherever it is, I'll be making a lot of plays and hopefully I don't hit anybody too hard that first day of pads."

    He'll be giving Kuechly a run for his money in the middle, of that there's no doubt. The intriguing thing about this battle is that there really isn't going to be any loser. The player that loses the middle linebacker spot will likely start on the weak side anyway.

New Orleans Saints

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Running Back

     

    The New Orleans Saints have a problem. They have four running backs that are good enough to start. I bet it's a problem they don't mind having, though. 

    Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are all excellent in their own right. All four will likely see the field this year, but only one will be No. 1 on the depth chart.

    It should be time for Ingram to shine, but so far things aren't looking good. He was highly touted coming out of Alabama, but so far he hasn't lived up to expectations. Making matters worse, he may not be quite ready to roll at the beginning of training camp, according to NOLA.com.

    I see Thomas taking the starting spot with Sproles coming in on nickel packages and on third downs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Running Back

     

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent LeGarrette Blount a wake-up-call when they drafted Doug Martin in the first round this past offseason. The two of them will compete for the starting running back spot in training camp.

    According to head coach Greg Schiano, via PewterReport.com, he doesn't have a favorite heading into camp.

    Blount has reportedly responded well to the challenge, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Schiano said: 

    LeGarrette has bought into what we’re doing, he’s working incredibly hard, and if you watch and you see the things he does from time to time, it’s great—really great running back play. It’s just we need to put those things together consistently.

    Martin is waiting in the wings, though, and the two of them will be engaged in one of the most tightly contested battles in the NFL, in my opinion.

Denver Broncos

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Strong Safety

     

    The Brian Dawkins era is now over, and the Denver Broncos need to find his heir.

    Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter will compete to determine which player starts out the season at strong safety, according to CBS.com's Andrew Mason

    Moore has greater range and better ball skills, but his flighty play last year led to Carter overtaking him on the roster. Carter plays with more discipline but has less "talent." 

    If Moore can learn to play within the constructs of Jack Del Rio's defense, he'll win the job. If he continues to play undisciplined, Carter will win. 

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Wide Receiver

     

    Assuming Dwayne Bowe signs his franchise designation and plays for the Kansas City Chiefs this year, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin will compete for the right to play opposite Bowe in the starting lineup.

    Baldwin has reportedly been a model citizen this offseason, according to KCChiefs.com: "Baldwin emerged from the offseason program as one of the team’s biggest winners. The next step is from him to keep that progress going in St. Joseph."

    I'm betting on Baldwin to win the No. 2 spot. Breaston will still be a valuable member of their offense as the third wide receiver, and if all three receivers play well, Matt Cassell will have no excuses, much like Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers.

Oakland Raiders

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Cornerback

     

    The Oakland Raiders are incredibly thin at the cornerback position. They lost Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt, and now they're relying on guys like Shawntae Spencer, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Ron Bartell to do the job in 2012.

    This is pure speculation on my part, but I believe both starting spots are up for grabs.

    Van Dyke has reportedly made significant strides this past offseason, according to CSNBayArea.com's Paul Gutierrez, and he's looking to continue improving throughout training camp. 

    I'm putting my money on Spencer and Van Dyke to be the two starters in Week 1. 

San Diego Chargers

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Strong Safety

     

    The San Diego Chargers have been looking for a suitable strong safety to team with Eric Weddle for a couple of years now. They struck out last year when they brought in Bob Sanders, so they gave it another go this year by drafting Brandon Taylor out of LSU and signing Atari Bigby to a two-year deal. 

    According to the North County Times, Bigby has been taking reps with the first team so far this offseason. His experience and knowledge of the NFL game gives him a big advantage over the rookie.

    That said, Taylor's athleticism and big hitting may trump Bigby's experience if Taylor picks up the defensive assignments in short order.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Quarterback

     

    Kevin Kolb or John Skelton? That is the question. 

    According to Willie McGinest, via ProFootballTalk.com, some of the players on the Cardinals prefer Skelton over Kolb: 

    Talking to some of my buddies down there, it seems like they’re gravitating toward Skelton a little bit more...He didn’t get a huge contract like Kolb did, and he’s one of those guys that can command a huddle, can come in there, and guys just like his attitude.

    It wouldn't surprise me one bit if this were true. 

    Skelton was phenomenal in his time as the starter last year for the Cardinals, compiling six fourth-quarter or game winning drives, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. He has a bigger arm, too, and can get Larry Fitzgerald the ball more regularly down the field.

    I've been saying he'll win this battle all offseason, and I'm not changing my tune now.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Cornerback

     

    Carlos Rogers is the team's clear-cut No. 1 corner. After him, though, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver will be competing this summer for the No. 2 spot.

    There were multiple reports in the winter about how the 49ers believed Culliver would be ready to take over for Brown, one of which comes from CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco. What's interesting about Maiocco's report is that he contradicts himself.

    On Brown: "At 27 years old, Brown figures to be a starter at least through the 2013 season, when his contract is set to expire."

    On Culliver: "The 49ers believe with a full offseason program to get better and tighten up his technique, he would be ready for a starting role in 2012."

    Both players are excellent cover corners, and the 49ers will have a solid secondary regardless of which one earns the starting role this year. That said, I'm expecting Culliver to overtake Brown this year.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Spot Up for Grabs: Starting Quarterback

     

    It's no secret that Pete Carroll is holding an open competition for the starting quarterback spot this summer. What we don't know is who will come out of it with the job. 

    Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson have all received good reports throughout the offseason. ESPN's Chris Mortensen isn't sold on Jackson, though:

    RT @Reaves9 You buying that Tavaris Jackson is front runner for QB over Flynn in Seattle? > no. check NFL Insiders Special Tues night #ESPN

    — Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) July 24, 2012

    Flynn will likely win the job. That's my take. He has a big arm and a quick release, and from what I've seen, he doesn't take long to make decisions. That's crucial in the NFC West, where some of the toughest defenses in the NFL make their homes.

St. Louis Rams

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    Spot Up for Grabs: No. 2 Cornerback

     

    Cortland Finnegan is the best corner on the St. Louis Rams roster, and he'll be the No. 1 guy. 

    Newly-signed rookie,Janoris Jenkins will compete with Bradley Fletcher for the second starting spot, according to StLouisRams.com, and this competition will be hotly contested throughout the summer.

    Jenkins is undeniably talented, but Fletcher is no slouch, either. He played well in 2010 for the Rams, and he was having a good season in 2011 before he tore his ACL for the second time in three seasons. 

    I'm buying Jenkins here to start. He's simply too good to keep off the field, and with Fletcher coming back from injury, the safest thing might be for him to come along slowly, anyways.

     

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