NFL Position Battles That Can Be Decided in Preseason Week 3
We've now reached the point in the NFL preseason where starters are named and rosters really begin to take shape.
Earlier this week, several major battles were resolved, as Michael Vick (Eagles), Brandon Weeden (Browns) and Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars) were anointed as the starting quarterbacks of their respective clubs. In addition, the Rams named Daryl Richardson their starting running back.
But there are still several battles for starting jobs still being fiercely waged, and they will likely come to a conclusion after the next set of preseason games. Let's examine.
Dolphins' Starting RB: Lamar Miller vs. Daniel Thomas
In the weeks leading up to the start of training camps across the NFL, Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller was often mentioned as a potential breakout player, and it was assumed that he'd be the bell-cow back in South Beach in 2013.
Well, through three preseason games, Miller has found himself locked in a battle for the starting job with Daniel Thomas, with Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman calling the competition "neck and neck."
Miller hasn't helped himself with lackluster performances in game action. He lost a fumble against Dallas in the Hall of Fame game and has been nondescript in the two games that followed. Thomas, meanwhile, has looked sharp, particularly in last weekend's 24-17 loss against Houston, carrying four times for 25 yards.
Thomas is a former second-round pick (2011) who has yet to live up to expectations, and earlier in the offseason, it was clear that the Dolphins wanted Miller to be "The Guy." Clearly meaning that it's still Miller's job to lose.
If Miller has a strong effort in Saturday night's game against Tampa Bay, he should lock the starting job up. If not, Thomas could find himself as the lead runner when Miami opens the regular season in Cleveland.
Jets' Starting QB: Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith
If the only qualification needed to be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets was disgusting facial hair, Mark Sanchez would have locked up the job eons ago.
But teams weigh other factors, such as, you know, ball security, arm strength and decision-making ability for the most important position in the sport.
For the Jets, an ankle injury to rookie signal-caller Geno Smith has muddled the competition between him and Sanchez, as Smith was forced to miss the team's 37-17 win over Jacksonville last weekend.
But Sanchez again failed to distinguish himself, leaving the door open for Smith. If Smith is healthy enough to play this weekend, he will start in the all-important third preseason game, against the Giants. The New York Daily News is reporting that Smith will win the job if he plays a turnover-free game.
Let's face facts: Starting Smith would be the right move for the Jets. Sanchez has regressed badly over the last two seasons, turning the ball over an astounding 52 times. Smith represents a new era for the team, despite what that might mean for coach Rex Ryan's future.
Broncos' Starting RB: Ronnie Hillman vs. Montee Ball
When the Denver Broncos selected Wisconsin running back Montee Ball in the second round of April's draft, many assumed that he would be the team's bell-cow back.
But when the preseason embarked, second-year back Ronnie Hillman was first on the depth chart, and Hillman started Denver's last preseason contest, a 40-10 loss at Seattle. It was a disastrous outing for Hillman, who fumbled twice on one drive, including one at the goal line that was returned 106 yards for a touchdown by Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner.
Unfortunately for Ball, he couldn't pull away from Hillman, as he missed a block that led to quarterback Peyton Manning getting leveled. While Manning was able to continue playing, it was a disconcerting sign for Ball. Any running back in a Manning-led offense will be expected to pass protect in a proficient manner, and Ball hasn't yet shown that he's capable of doing so.
When the Broncos host St. Louis this Saturday night, the back who protects Manning better and runs the ball more efficiently should find himself the starter when the team opens up the season hosting the Ravens.
Bears' Starting MLB: Jon Bostic vs. D.J. Williams
The Chicago Bears will have a new look on defense this season, as longtime middle linebacker Brian Urlacher hung up the cleats for retirement.
It was assumed that veteran D.J. Williams would step into Urlacher's old job, but a right calf injury has kept him out for most of camp, leaving the door open for rookie Jon Bostic to claim it as his own.
Bostic has impressed through the first two preseason games, returning an interception for a touchdown against Carolina and delivering a bone-jarring hit against San Diego (see above). Even though Bostic was thought to be the team's MLB of the future, it appears as if the future is now.
While this hasn't been a true "competition" since Williams hasn't been on the field, the position has very much been up for grabs, and another solid outing by Bostic could make him the starter when the Bears host Cincinnati in Week 1.
Packers' Starting RT: Don Barclay vs. Marshall Newhouse
Earlier in camp, the season-ending ACL tear suffered by starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga threw a monkey wrench into the Packers' offensive line plans.
Rookie David Bakhtiari, expected to compete for the right tackle job, was thrust into Bulaga's role at LT and has impressed in both practice and game action.
That left Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay to battle at right tackle. While Newhouse was the presumed favorite, receiving the majority of reps over the course of camp, Barclay has played better in the team's two preseason games and has practiced exclusively with the first team this week.
It now appears that it's Barclay's job to lose. If he stumbles when the team hosts Seattle on Friday night, it could open up the door for Newhouse. But as of this moment, Barclay should be the team's starting right tackle at San Francisco in Week 1.
49ers' Third CB: Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Tramaine Brock
The San Francisco 49ers are widely expected to be one of the best teams in football, and in order for that to come to fruition, their defensive backfield will need to rise to the challenge.
The team's third cornerback job has been up for grabs, with Tramaine Brock competing against Nnamdi Asomugha. While Asomugha's name value is significantly higher, he hasn't played well in two seasons, and at one point, it looked like his roster spot was in jeopardy.
But Asomugha has made a late push, playing well in the team's 15-13 win at Kansas City last week, as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio lauded his performance.
If Asomugha can put together another strong effort this weekend versus Minnesota, he should all but lock up the No. 3 cornerback job.
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