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9 Most Controversial Training Camp Battles This Year

Matt SteinCorrespondent IIJanuary 10, 2017

9 Most Controversial Training Camp Battles This Year

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    With NFL training camps beginning this week, it's time for controversies to begin dominating the headlines. 

    While controversy is usually viewed as a negative, it can be a good thing for some NFL teams. It can force players to play their best or cause a team to rally around an underdog on the preseason roster.

    Of course, it can also have the opposite effect by bringing unwanted attention to a team.

    Controversy can arise from a team drafting a rookie to compete with a proven veteran, a player with character concerns looking to push for a starting job, or a number of other reasons.

    Let's look at the nine most controversial NFL training camp battles about to get underway.

Honorable Mentions

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    Before we get into the most controversial training camp battles, here is a brief look at some battles that barely missed the cut.

     

    D.J. Williams vs. Jon Bostic, Chicago Bears

    The Bears brought in Williams during free agency and then went out and drafted Bostic in the second round. While that raised some eyebrows, the real reason it was such a big deal is that the winner of this battle has the fill the huge void left by recently retired Brian Urlacher.

    Those won't be easy shoes to fill for either player. Look for the ultra-athletic Bostic to ultimately win the starting job and be crowned the heir to Urlacher.

     

    Vick Ballard vs. Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts

    All Ballard did as a rookie last year was gain 814 yards on 211 carries while providing the Colts with a consistent running game. It certainly looked as if Ballard was going to be the back of the future for Indianapolis by the end of the season.

    However, the Colts made a late signing with Bradshaw and now Ballard's immediate future is in trouble. In fact, Mike Chappell of The Indianapolis Star thinks that Bradshaw will start, with Ballard as the backup.

    This battle could ultimately come down to Bradshaw's health, but it'll be interesting to see just how the Colts handle their loaded backfield.

     

    Erin Henderson vs. Desmond Bishop, Minnesota Vikings

    When healthy, Bishop has proven to be a very effective linebacker against both the run and the pass. Last year, Bishop was graded as the ninth-best 4-3 outside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Henderson, on the other hand, graded out as the No. 17 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. What really makes this such a controversy is that Bishop is a former member of the Green Bay Packers. From Brett Favre to Ryan Longwell to Darren Sharper, the Vikings have had quite a bit of success with former Packers.

    Look for Bishop to ultimately get the nod for Week 1.

     

    Matt Flynn vs. Tyler Wilson, Oakland Raiders

    The only reason that this battle didn't make the final list is because it's the Raiders. Whether Flynn or Wilson starts won't make much of a difference in the final outcome of the Raiders' season.

    Don't be surprised if Flynn wins the job at the start of the season before Wilson replaces him around Week 8.

Dan Carpenter vs. Caleb Sturgis, Miami Dolphins

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    We might as well start with a little fun because kickers are football players, too.  

    The Miami Dolphins drafted Caleb Sturgis in the fifth round of this year's NFL draft. However, the fact that Dan Carpenter is still on the roster brings up all sorts of controversy.

    For starters, why would the Dolphins use a fifth-round pick on a kicker if they don't plan on starting him from Day 1? Furthermore, why is Miami wasting draft picks on replacing a decent kicker? It's not like Carpenter was the worst kicker in the league. In fact, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as the No. 16 kicker in the league last year.

    This certainly isn't the most controversial training camp battle, but if the Dolphins start Carpenter over Sturgis, it has the possibility of causing a tiny uproar among fans.

     

    Winner: Sturgis

Yeremiah Bell vs. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals

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    There is no doubt that Tyrann Mathieu was one of the most intriguing and controversial draft picks of this year's draft.

    He's an incredible playmaker who can completely change games in a number of ways, but his questionable past has to be concerning in Arizona.

    However, the Cardinals used a third-round pick on Mathieu and are giving him a chance to win the starting job at free safety. Currently slotted in that spot is veteran Yeremiah Bell, who played for the New York Jets last year.

    Bell finished the 2012 season rather unimpressively as the No. 55 safety overall, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). While Mathieu may be undersized for the position at 5'9" and 186 pounds, his ability as a game-changing defensive player can't be overlooked.

    The Cardinals also gave Mathieu time with the first-team defense at nickel cornerback this summer, so it's clear that they will do whatever is necessary to get him on the field.

    In the end, it'll be hard for the Cardinals to not give Mathieu the starting spot at free safety because of the way he can impact a game.

     

    Winner: Mathieu

Kevin Kolb vs. EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills

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    The Buffalo Bills originally signed quarterback Kevin Kolb to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick in new head coach Doug Marrone's offense. However, they then went out and used their first-round draft pick on EJ Manuel.

    While the Bills are insisting they won't rush Manuel along, he'd have to be really far behind in his development to not win the starting job for this season.

    Over the past few seasons, we've seen other teams have success with raw college prospects such as the Miami Dolphins and quarterback Ryan Tannehill last year.

    Using a first-round pick on a quarterback is a big investment, but throwing him into the fire too soon could be detrimental to his development. With that said, putting Manuel on the Buffalo bench while peddling mediocrity with Kolb at quarterback is also a risky situation.

    Needless to say, Marrone doesn't have an easy job ahead of him. Chris Brown, of BuffaloBills.com reported that Marrone wants to make a decision at the team's most important position sooner rather than later.

    With Manuel's potential, it'll be hard for the Bills to not get started on building towards the future right away.

     

    Winner: Manuel

Blaine Gabbert vs. Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The 2013 season will be a make-or-break season for quarterback Blaine Gabbert's career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That's the main reason why there is so much controversy surrounding this specific camp battle.

    Gabbert is expected to be the starter come Week 1 unless he has a horrific offseason, according to Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times Union. The problem, O'Halloran also noted, is that Gabbert's offseason has been filled with struggles.

    With veteran Chad Henne proving to be a capable replacement for a while last year, the Jaguars don't have to feel pressured to start Gabbert if he isn't improving. Of course, doing so ultimately means that Gabbert is an absolute lost cause and that the Jacksonville is nowhere near putting a capable franchise on the field.

    Unless Gabbert takes major steps back this year, look for the Jaguars to start their former first-round pick for one last season.

     

    Winner: Gabbert

Pierre Thomas vs. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

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    It's been two years since the New Orleans Saints drafted running back Mark Ingram in the first round. Since then, Ingram has only had 278 carries, 1,076 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns to his name.

    Ingram was running with the second-team offense during OTAs this offseason while Pierre Thomas had time with the first-team offense. This ultimately isn't evidence that Ingram will once again be a backup, but the Saints clearly still have questions about whether or not Ingram can be an every-down back in this league.

    The fact that the Saints traded up to draft Ingram makes this battle even more intense. If they continue to give the majority of the workload to Thomas again this year, then what was the purpose of drafting Ingram in the first place?

    With the Saints looking to run the ball more in 2013, it's possible that both Ingram and Thomas will play even parts in the offense. However, don't be surprised if Thomas gets more of the carries to start the season, forcing Ingram to the bench.

     

    Winner: Thomas

Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith, New York Jets

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    All I'd like is for there to be one offseason where there aren't any controversial training camp battles for the New York Jets.

    Last year was the Tim Tebow circus. This year, we've all had our fill of the debate surrounding Geno Smith vs. Mark Sanchez.

    By drafting Smith in the second round, the Jets created a ton of controversy for their franchise. Supporters of Sanchez instantly asked why New York  turned its back so quickly on a quarterback that had won football games while Sanchez's non-supporters instantly called for Smith to get the starting job. 

    With Sanchez atop the depth chart heading into training camp, it's his job to lose. However, even when head coach Rex Ryan names his starter, it will not likely stop the controversy in New York.

     

    Winner: Sanchez

     

Michael Vick vs. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles

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    With all of the buzz surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles involving new head coach Chip Kelly's offense, it should come as no surprise that this quarterback battle would be rather controversial.

    On one hand, there is veteran Michael Vick, who looks like the ideal quarterback for Kelly's offense. On the other hand, there is second-year quarterback Nick Foles, who was brought in as the Eagles' future quarterback under the old regime of Andy Reid.

    Despite being the underdog, Foles has reportedly looked better than Vick throughout minicamp and OTAs, according to The Morning Call. All eyes will be watching Kelly until he names a starter for his high-powered offense, bringing even more controversy and pressure to Philadelphia.

    While Vick looks like the ideal candidate, watch for Foles to emerge as the starter.

     

    Winner: Foles

Jason Worilds vs. Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Why is the outside linebacker battle for the Pittsburgh Steelers so controversial? That's a good question.

    For starters, the Steelers haven't started a rookie defensive player since the 2001 season. That's over a decade of not playing rookies on the defensive side of the ball. So, why would all pf that change now?

    Well, they may be forced to make a switch due to the unimpressive play of Jason Worilds. He has done little to separate himself from the talented Jones, which may ultimately force Pittsburgh to do something it didn't even do with its great safety Troy Polamalu. Namely, start a rookie.

    As much as starting Jones runs counter to all that the Steelers are about on defense, it's the right move. While Worilds is a decent player, Jones has the potential to be a game-changing player with a much higher upside.

     

    Winner: Jones

Daryl Richardson vs. Isaiah Pead vs. Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams

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    Our final controversial training camp battle resides with the St. Louis Rams and their incredible crowded backfield.

    Last year, the Rams spend two draft picks on running backs in Isaiah Pead (second round) and Daryl Richardson (seventh round). Neither player was overly impressive last season which caused the Rams to use a fifth-round pick this year on Zac Stacy.

    With Steven Jackson gone via free agency, one of these three youngsters will be starting for the Rams this season. What ultimately makes this such a controversial battle is that St. Louis spent three separate draft picks within two years on the same position.

    Pead is already suspended for the first game of this season following his July 2012 arrest for possession of two ounces of marijuana. but Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweeted that Pead is still pleading his case for playing to head coach Jeff Fisher. He'll certainly push Richardson, who sits atop the team's depth chart heading into training camp, for the starting job.

    However, Stacy appears to have the most potential of the group and should ultimately come out victorious. He's simply too talented to not see the field as a rookie.

     

    Winner: Stacy

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