Change is inevitable.
Training camp around the NFL isn’t just about getting into football shape and whittling a team’s roster from 90 to 53 players. It’s not just about installing a new wrinkle on offense or upgrading the defense.
In just about every camp, whether it be because a new rookie is ready to step in or a veteran is past his prime, someone is fighting for his job as a starter. Here are 10 of the NFL’s top training camp battles.
This has been one of the more scrutinized camp battles since the New York Jets decided to draft Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 draft. Mark Sanchez has had a mediocre-at-best first four years with the Jets, which prompted the team to draft Smith.
And with the way Sanchez has played this preseason, including being booed by the fans in attendance of a training camp practice, it may be tougher than he thought to keep his starting job.
Sanchez had himself an OK outing in New York’s first preseason game against the Detroit Lions. The fifth-year quarterback completed 10 of 13 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an early pick-six that gave the anti-Sanchez contingency something to point to.
"It's not the way you want to start," Sanchez said, via Newsday's Kimberley A. Martin. “Other than that one crappy play, it wasn't too bad."
Smith, on the other hand, went 6-of-7 for 47 yards, but he also turned his ankle. Jets training camp is now a mediocre veteran versus a hobbled rookie.
This leaves Sanchez with an early lead, by default, on the competition.
The defending Super Bowl champs are in the midst of trying to find a No. 2 receiver to complement the playmaking ability of third-year wideout Torrey Smith.
That has been a problem thus far.
The early favorite for the job was Dancing with the Stars contestant Jacoby Jones, who didn't pass a mandatory conditioning test. He hasn’t had a great training camp and caught zero passes in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay.
However, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson did next to nothing in the preseason too. And now Thompson is at least out this week against Atlanta with an ankle injury. Doss has had problems with drops throughout camp and hasn’t appeared to take the next step. As The Baltimore Sun noted, the Ravens answered zero questions at the No. 2 receiver spot last Thursday.
The Ravens signed 37-year-old receiver Brandon Stokley and 34-year old tight end Dallas Clark to try and remedy the passing-game problems. Good luck. Neither provides the answer to who’s going to be the No. 2 receiver.
With Jones’ ability to stretch defenses split wide, he still has the inside track at the job. But it’s not due to any success of his own. No one else has done enough to take it from him.
Coach Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams are in the midst of trying to find a replacement for Steven Jackson, who was one of the NFL’s best running backs stuck on one of the worst teams for quite some time.
What could be interesting about Jackson’s departure is that if the Rams can find a capable replacement, they might have enough talent on both sides of the ball to reach the playoffs—something Jackson left St. Louis to do in Atlanta.
Daryl Richardson was Jackson’s backup and is listed first on the depth chart at this time. Isaiah Pead, drafted in the second round last season, is suspended for the season opener for a substance-abuse violation.
Entering preseason games, it appeared Fisher thought Richardson would be the starter, via ESPN's Nick Wagoner.
But then there’s Zac Stacy, the rookie out of Vanderbilt. Stacy’s a capable back the Rams are high on, but he may not be able to do enough during the preseason to unseat Richardson or Pead. Richardson had an efficient preseason debut, running for 24 yards on four carries and catching two passes for 20 yards.
Kevin Kolb can’t catch a break.
Or maybe it’s just indicative of who he is as an NFL quarterback. Kolb is dealing with a knee injury, so he wasn’t able to play in Buffalo’s first preseason game against the Colts.
And EJ Manuel made him pay.
Manuel got off to a slow start but finished his first half of preseason football with 107 yards on 16-of-21 passes and a touchdown. Manuel was calm in the pocket and didn’t rush many throws.
Kolb has struggled through training camp, with a lot of buzz circulating around Manuel.
Considering the Bills drafted Manuel in the first round, it may be in Buffalo’s best interest to force Kolb to prove he deserves to start and not the other way around.
USA Today’s Jarrett Bell wrote that Manuel is heading in the right direction, adding:
Marrone isn't ready to name Manuel the starter, but after Sunday's game he also would not declare that veteran challenger Kevin Kolb will open Friday's exhibition against the Minnesota Vikings.
Friday night’s preseason opener was vintage Michael Vick. He was accurate and poised in the pocket, showing glimpses of why the Eagles originally signed him to a six-year, $100 million contract.
After a couple of substandard seasons, Vick put in an impressive preseason performance against New England. Vick connected with DeSean Jackson on a 47-yard touchdown pass and finished the first quarter 4-of-5 for 94 yards.
Nick Foles was impressive too, finishing 5-of-6 for 43 yards, but it was Vick who looked like Philadelphia’s starting quarterback. He hadn’t looked that good in three years. If Foles doesn’t open the year starting, it won’t be his fault. Vick has simply been better.
Brian McIntyre at Yahoo! Sports believes the job is now Vick’s to lose.
By all accounts, Vick fits in well with Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense and he has looked good in training camp. The battle rages on, but if Vick is healthy, he will likely open the season in a starting role.
This is one of the few position battles that could wind up splitting even by the time the season starts.
It seems both David Wilson and Andre Brown are comfortable sharing carries, with one not receiving significantly more time on the field than the other. Both proved they’re capable runners a season ago, filling in at times when former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw was injured.
Now, the two are fighting for a starting spot.
Brown did himself no favors early in the preseason by fumbling the ball away against the Steelers on Saturday. However, it was Wilson who offered him words of encouragement after the mishap.
"We're going to need each other," Brown said, per Newsday's Tom Rock. "We're going to feed off each other this whole entire season. We've got to have each other's back and it's going to be a long season."
Pittsburgh Steelers fans were forced to wait on the preseason debut of rookie running back Le’Veon Bell Saturday.
Though coach Mike Tomlin preferred to rest Bell, it might turn out to be a good thing for the rookie’s long-term well-being this season. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, also competing for the starting spot, had poor outings against the Giants.
Redman and Dwyer weren’t that impressive a year ago, as the Steelers running game was nowhere near its usual self.
Bell, nursing a sore ankle, was supposed to receive first-team reps. Even though he didn’t get the chance, his status in the competition likely didn’t change, according to ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley.
While some might consider this a setback, there is a silver lining in this for Bell. Resting him indicates the Steelers don't want to risk injuring him further, which is a sign he figures big in the team's plans early in the season. Last year's running backs, Isaac Redman (who got the start) and Jonathan Dwyer, combined for eight carries for 22 yards, which shows why the Steelers need a healthy Bell.
Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno got off to slow starts with the Broncos in their first preseason game, leaving this competition wide open.
Ball finished with nine yards on five carries, Hillman had nine yards on three carries and Moreno added 23 yards on six carries against the 49ers. In fact, C.J. Anderson led the team in rushing, putting up 69 yards on 15 carries.
Then again, San Francisco does boast one of the best front sevens in the NFL.
Hillman saw his name atop the depth chart, though that may not stay that way by the end of the preseason. The Broncos coaching staff and front office have been high on Ball since he arrived in Denver.
“Eventually, Ball is to be the featured back,” said Mike Klis in The Denver Post. “His proven durability and production in his four seasons at the University of Wisconsin made him the team's second-round draft pick in April. The Broncos hope he develops into a 15- to 20-carry back in the NFL.”
Could Matt Flynn really lose another quarterback competition?
Flynn, who signed with Seattle last year only to be beaten out by Russell Wilson, hasn’t impressed so far during the preseason. In an NFL era where the read-option is becoming a popular trend, backup Terrelle Pryor is beginning to play well.
By no means was Pryor perfect against Dallas last Friday, but the dual-threat quarterback showed why he could potentially be dangerous at this level. Flynn finished 4-of-5 for 37 yards, which will get him another start this week.
Pryor did throw an interception, trying to force a pass in the end zone when he had a lane to run, but he did finish with 31 yards on the ground.
This one is still Flynn’s to lose, though Pryor is gaining ground.
"I can't see him giving it up, because he wants it so bad,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie told NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. “His nature, I don't think he's going to let it go. But you never close the door on it. Let these guys compete."
The San Francisco 49ers drafted former Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins in the first round a year ago, so they’re hoping he’ll emerge into a playmaker at the position.
Mario Manningham is a proven veteran dealing with knee injuries, and Kyle Williams is coming off a torn ACL in a November game against the Saints. Quinton Patton is a rookie drafted in the fourth round with a lot of potential.
But who started at the No. 2 receiver spot against the Broncos?
It was fourth-year receiver Marlon Moore.
With the way it stands now, this competition could drag out through the remainder of the preseason. You have to assume Moore won’t wind up the No. 2 receiver when the season starts.
Given that Jenkins was the 2012 first-rounder, he will likely be given every chance to earn that spot. If not, Jim Harbaugh won’t have a problem giving the position to someone else, eludes Grant Cohn of The Press-Democrat.
The 49ers do not have a legitimate split end. A.J. Jenkins was supposed to be that player – the 49ers drafted him in the first round last year – but he’s mostly passive on the field. Against the Broncos Thursday night, he fumbled the one pass he caught. It was embarrassing. Unless he turns it around fast – and let’s face it, he probably won’t – the 49ers will have to use a combination of Kyle Williams (sixth-round pick in 2010) and Moore (undrafted free agent in 2010) at split end. Between the two of them, they have 47 career catches.
Other than Anquan Boldin, the rest of the receiving options don't appear set yet. Michael Crabtree looked poised to have a huge year before tearing his Achilles, and this is one weak spot on a stacked roster.