Position Battle Buzz: Updates on the NFL's Most Heated Competitions

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 13, 2012

Position Battle Buzz: Updates on the NFL's Most Heated Competitions

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    The first week of the 2012 NFL preseason is in the books, and with it came the NFL debuts of quarterbacks Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins, both of whom had strong showings in their first game action as professionals.

    We also got our first glimpse into how some of the NFL's most heated position battles could be breaking down, including no fewer than four battles under center as teams search for their starting signal-caller in 2012.

    Here's a look at what we learned.

Miami Dolphins Quarterback

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    The race to be the Week 1 starter at quarterback for the Miami Dolphins may have already lost one of its competitors, as veteran David Garrard underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week that may have effectively removed him from the running.

    Should that prove to be the case, then rookie Ryan Tannehill may have gained a leg up on incumbent Matt Moore.

    The Dolphins' first-round pick in April's NFL draft was much more effective than Moore, completing 14-of-21 passes for 157 yards and Miami's only touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Granted, Tannehill did most of his damage against second-stringers, but his command of the offense and poise under center still left a very favorable impression on head coach Joe Philbin according to The Palm Beach Post.

    “It was a quick decision. No hesitation,” Philbin said. “He saw it, clearly, and got the ball out and he got a seven, eight-yard gain. Those kinds of things you like to see from a rookie quarterback in the first game, that he’s not just kind of blindly handing the ball off and not really recognizing front coverages and those types of things.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Back

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    On the opposite side of that same game there may not be a question as to who will start at quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that doesn't mean that the Buccaneers don't have some position battles of their own this season.

    In the battle to see who will line up at tailback for Tampa Bay, both 2011 starter LeGarette Blount and rookie Doug Martin saw seven carries in Friday's 20-7 win over the Dolphins.

    Each back also found the end zone, with Blount out-gaining Martin 30 yards to 21 on the ground and each back pitching in a short catch.

    The game did very little to settle things as to who the lead back for the Buccaneers will be, and in fact it may have increased the possibility that we could be looking at a backfield committee in Tampa.

    That's just fine with Blount, who told The Tampa Bay Times after the game that he and Martin can "can definitely be the best duo in the NFL."

Arizona Cardinals Quarterback

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    The battle to be the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals may be the war that no one wants to win.

    The Cardinals played their second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs Friday, and neither Kevin Kolb nor John Skelton played well, combining to go 4-of-11 for 56 yards with an interception.

    However, the bigger issue facing the Cardinals may be the offensive front, as any quarterback would be hard-pressed to succeed behind a unit that has looked absolutely awful in the preseason.

    With that said, neither passer has distanced himself through two games, although the poor play of his offense is already wearing thin with head coach Ken Whisenhunt, according to The Arizona Republic.

    "We had some one-on-one matchups with receivers down the field tonight and we didn't get to them," Whisenhunt said. "We didn't throw them. Those are things that are frustrating."

Seattle Seahawks Middle Linebacker

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    Most of the position battles that are grabbing headlines this preseason involve offensive players, but at least one NFL team is searching for a new heart for its defense this year.

    After watching middle linebacker David Hawthorne depart for New Orleans in free agency, the Seattle Seahawks are trying to decide whether it will be veteran Barrett Ruud or newcomer Bobby Wagner in the middle of their 4-3 defense this year.

    With Ruud sitting out Saturday's win over the Tennessee Titans, Wagner got the chance to put some distance between himself and Ruud and acquitted himself fairly well, notching four total tackles.

    That performance alone may not have been enough to win Wagner the job, but it's going to be awfully hard for Ruud to make his case if he's not on the field.

Seattle Seahawks Quarterback

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    It was believed to be a two-horse race in Seattle for the Seahawks' starting quarterback job, but if Saturday's preseason game was any indication, then the waters may just have gotten murkier.

    With 2011 starter Tarvaris Jackson sitting out the game, Matt Flynn, who was acquired in free agency, got the start for the Seahawks.

    Flynn played fairly well, completing of 11-of-13 passes for 71 yards with an interception.

    However, it was the play of rookie Russell Wilson that was the story of the evening, as Wilson threw for 124 yards and a touchdown while adding another score and 59 yards on the ground.

    Granted, Wilson had this success against reserves, but as Danny O' Neill of The Seattle Times points out, the performance made an impression with Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who said of Wilson, "I am interested to see what he's going to do next time. It was really fun watching him."

San Francisco 49ers Wide Receiver

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    To say that the San Francisco 49ers took steps to address the wide receiver position in the offseason would be an understatement.

    After adding veterans Mario Manningham and Randy Moss in the offseason and selecting Illinois wideout A. J. Jenkins in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, the next step for head coach Jim Harbaugh would seem to be figuring out who starts opposite Michael Crabtree.

    Unfortunately for Harbaugh, Friday's preseason win over the Minnesota Vikings shed very little light on the subject.

    Of the trio only Jenkins caught a pass in the game, and his night was far from spotless, with a pair of drops that continued the rookie's rocky preseason.

Tennessee Titans Quarterback

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    The Tennessee Titans are yet another NFL club trying to decide whether the future is now at the quarterback position.

    The team is left with the decision of whether to go with 14th-year veteran Matt Hasselbeck under center for one more year or hand the reins over to youngster Jake Locker.

    Both quarterbacks saw between 15 and 20 snaps in the Titans' 27-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

    From a statistical standpoint it would appear that Locker took the first round, as Hasselbeck threw a pair of interceptions, while Locker completed 7-of-13 passes for 80 yards.

    In fact, as Brian McIntyre of NFL.com reports, even Hasselbeck concedes that Locker likely outplayed him Saturday, and the veteran told KJR-AM that he's been impressed by the progress Locker has displayed this year.

    "We're all probably a little bit surprised and impressed with how quickly Jake has picked up the mental side of it, the decision-making side of it, because he is so young," Hasselbeck said. "He's done a wonderful job with that. He's great in the classroom; you can tell he's been well-coached. So there's all good things there, obviously he's got great athletic ability and that kind of thing. So again, it's my job to just play the best that I can try to win football games for us. And if and when that time comes, it comes, and it's going to be my job again to be ready to do the same thing."