Biggest NFL Position Battles Developing in OTAs
With an unparalleled influx of young talent into the NFL this year, thanks in part to the record number of underclassmen who declared for the draft early, competition for jobs is going to be incredibly fierce this summer. So far this offseason, the OTAs, or organized team activities, have given us a nice glimpse of the degree in which the veterans will be pushed for their starting positions.
Although these guys may only be in shorts and a helmet at this stage of the game, competition at every position looks to be turned up a notch from previous years at this time.
This slideshow highlights some of the biggest position battles developing so far this offseason.
Minnesota Vikings: Matt Cassel vs. Teddy Bridgewater
There seems to be a nice looking battle underway for the starting quarterback position in Minnesota. New head coach Mike Zimmer has peppered his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, with questions about quarterbacks.
Zimmer has some tough choices to make regarding his starting quarterback. Will he go with veteran Matt Cassel, who started six games for Minnesota in 2013 under previous coach Leslie Frazier and signed a two-year contract this offseason? Or will he go with rookie Teddy Bridgewater, whom Minnesota traded up to select with the final pick in the first round of this year's draft?
Cassel is 32 years old and on the back end of a career that has taken him from New England to Kansas City to Minnesota. He is a placeholder, not the Vikings' long-term starter.
Both Bridgewater and Matt Cassel struggled in OTAs on Wednesday, per ESPN's Ben Goessling. Each quarterback threw interceptions and the rookie missed three out of four throws on a blitz drill.
According to ESPN.com's Jason Vida, "78 percent of quarterbacks drafted in the first round started at least one game as rookies (71 of 91)."
I predict the Vikings will start the season with the veteran QB Cassel and eventually turn to Bridgewater sometime before the midway point of the season. That should give the rookie some time to get a bit more comfortable with the NFL atmosphere.
Dallas Cowboys: Devin Street vs. Cole Beasley
When the Cowboys drafted wide receiver Devin Street in the fifth round of this year’s draft, they may have gotten one of the biggest steals of the class. Street is a talented receiver with a long frame and soft hands.
Apparently he has had his share of struggles this offseason during the earlier practices, but he seems to be showing some signs of life as of late.
According to Bryan Broaddus via DallasCowboys.com:
Another receiver that had a solid day was Devin Street. There have been times where I have been critical of how Street has been inconsistent in route-running and securing the ball. But his work was textbook in the morning session. Street was good enough that the offensive coaches gave him an opportunity to run with Dez Bryant and the first offense.
Street played some slot in college and should be comfortable if asked to play that position.
Conventional thinking seems to put shorter, quicker receivers in the slot, such as the veteran Cole Beasley, but the idea of having Street’s size inside could pose a greater danger to opposing defenses.
Beasley is entering his third year and had 368 yards receiving in 2013.
By Week 1 I can easily see Devin Street taking over the starting slot position while serving as the primary understudy to starters Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams.
Green Bay Packers: Richard Rodgers vs. Andrew Quarless
Last year the Packers offense struggled to find much production from the tight end position after Jermichael Finley was lost for the season due to a spinal contusion.
Currently, Andrew Quarless is listed as the starter, according to Ourlads.com, but the plan is clear that they’re looking to upgrade the position.
Quarless had 32 receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns, played in all 16 regular-season games and had 10 starts last season. As a result, Green Bay has seven TEs on its roster right now and is hoping to get a lot more production in 2014.
This is what Richard Rodgers—a 21-year-old tight end from California and Green Bay’s third-round draft pick—was brought in to do.
So far, it looks as though they may have drafted the right guy.
Again, it's helmet and shorts, but you have to be excited about his body type and the hands. He's made some incredible catches, makes it look easy. I think he's going to push for some playing time if he can transfer what he's done in the spring now to the fall and have the potential to be an impact player.
At the very least, Richard Rodgers should see significant action as a rookie, but I believe he'll take over the starting position at some point.
Miami Dolphins: Billy Turner vs. Dallas Thomas
By now we should all have some idea of the horrors that the Dolphins were dealing with on the offensive line last season. With guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin both missing significant time in 2013 due to the bullying scandal, Miami was left with a makeshift line that allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks. Clearly some upgrades were needed this offseason.
As of right now, the right guard position is wide open as the coaching staff leaves it up to second-year player Dallas Thomas and rookie Billy Turner to duke it out for the starting spot. As expected, Thomas has been given the early reps with the first-team unit while Turner tries to keep his rookie head from spinning.
According to ESPN.com's James Walker, the former third-round pick has been making the most of his early opportunities.
Turner may be just a rookie, but his intensity and aggressiveness are exactly what you look for in a star offensive lineman. From watching both guys coming out of college, he is significantly more talented and a better all-around football player than Thomas. Don’t be surprised to see him win the starting job right out of the gate.
Once the pads are on, I believe the coaches will be singing the praises of their rookie guard.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Marqise Lee vs. Allen Robinson
If these two rookie wide receivers can stay healthy, they could end up being one of the most lethal receiving tandems in the NFL. These guys haven’t even played a down of football in the pros, but that didn’t stop them from already having a nickname. According to the Florida Times-Union, Marqise Lee has dubbed the pair of rookie pass-catchers "Fire and Ice."
At the moment, however, it looks as though both receivers could use a lot more ice than anything else considering they each will miss some time with nagging injuries. Lee is out right now with an ankle injury and Robinson has a more lengthy injury with a pulled hamstring.
If either player can get back on the field this offseason, it should provide them with a significant advantage over the other. It's reasonable for them to compete for playing time and try to distinguish themselves as the No. 1 receiver on the roster.
Marqise Lee should be the starting wideout heading into training camp, mainly because he was drafted higher, which reflects how he is valued by the organization. But by Week 1, I suspect Allen Robinson will be the more impressive rookie receiver and will eventually move ahead.
Oakland Raiders: Matt Schaub vs. Derek Carr
According to NFL Media’s Albert Breer, there is a belief within the organization that Carr can push Schaub for the starting job and make an appearance in the offense much earlier than initially expected. With that said, the Raiders have made it clear multiple times that Schaub is their starter.
As noted by Steve Corkran of the San Jose Mercury News, head coach Dennis Allen didn’t hesitate to announce Schaub as the starter immediately after acquiring him back in March.
Coach Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie are implementing the redshirt strategy with their rookie quarterback, but the prevailing sentiment seems to be suggesting Carr may not need one.
Carr has shown a firm grasp on the playbook, while his arm strength is already well-documented up to this point. Despite what Allen or McKenzie have said in the media this spring, remember, these guys are in a situation where they have to win now and they’re not going to keep the QB who gives them the best chance to win on the bench.
Even Allen admitted that “everything’s written in pencil right now,” per Corkran.
I suspect Dennis Allen will try to stick with starting Schaub, but eventually the Raiders will get desperate. With a tough schedule, the losses early on should start adding up and we should see Derek Carr in the starting lineup before we hit the halfway point of the season.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.