NFL Preseason 2014: Analyzing Position Battles That Most Impact Regular Season

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NFL Preseason 2014: Analyzing Position Battles That Most Impact Regular Season
Mark Duncan/Associated Press

With the 2014 NFL season opener just three weeks away, teams have just three more preseason matchups to help shape their 53-man rosters and finalize open-position battles. 

Multiple teams have open battles at the quarterback position, including the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings, while first-round Green Bay Packers draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is competing for a starting safety job with converted cornerback Micah Hyde. 

Let's take a look at these three preseason battles and note how each player can emerge victorious through the next three weeks.

 

Cleveland Browns Quarterback: Johnny Manziel vs. Brian Hoyer

Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

Back on August 1, Johnny Manziel had not yet taken any first-team snaps with Cleveland's offense, per NFL Media's Aditi Kinkhabwala.

He finally got them on Aug. 6, per Scott Petrek of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, and since then, the competition between Manziel and Brian Hoyer has heated up considerably. 

The gap closed that much further after Manziel's showing against Detroit on Saturday, in which he went 7-of-11 for 64 yards with no scores and no interceptions and added an additional 27 yards on six carries. Though he didn't throw a touchdown (neither did Hoyer), Manziel flashed his footwork and ability to extend a play. 

"It’s been fierce," Donte Whitner told Peter King of the The MMQB about the competition. "Two guys fighting for their lives. It’s close. I’d say [the locker room] is split about 50-50. We know they both can play."

For now, quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said that "there's not a leader" in the quarterback competition and that "it's way too early to tell" who will start against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, per an interview on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly for Arkansas ESPN (via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

The national coverage will continue as long as the competition is thought to be an open one, and elevated quarterback play in Cleveland could dramatically impact the landscape of the AFC North. 

 

Minnesota Vikings Quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater vs. Matt Cassel 

Jim Mone/Associated Press

The Vikings are one of many NFL teams with a question mark hanging over the quarterback position, leading to a battle between a serviceable veteran and an eager rookie.

Matt Cassel is currently the one to beat for the starting job. Coach Mike Zimmer announced on Sunday that Cassel would start the Vikings' second preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals after starting the first against the Oakland Raiders, per Chris Tomasson of TwinCities.com

Rookie Teddy Bridgewater played for about two quarters against Oakland. Cassel went 5-of-6 for 62 yards. Bridgewater's debut was shaky; he completed six passes on 13 attempts for 49 yards. 

"There was a couple times in the game when he just didn't act like a veteran," coach Mike Zimmer said Saturday after the game, via Brian Murphy of TwinCities.com. "Things happened that he didn't seen before, and so those are all great experiences for him. But he made some great throws."

In the long run, Bridgewater will win the war. But Cassel has been winning the battles, and it stands to wonder whether this competition will carry on into the regular season, with Bridgewater replacing Cassel once Zimmer feels he's experienced enough. 

The Vikings haven't had consistent quarterback play in years, despite their offensive weapons, so this battle should prove especially interesting to watch play out. 

 

Green Bay Packers Free Safety: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix vs. Micah Hyde 

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

When the Green Bay Packers selected Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with their first-round pick, many assumed that he would start in Week 1 at the free safety position. But that job currently belongs to Micah Hyde, as reflected on the team's unofficial depth chart.

Strong safety Morgan Burnett did not travel with the Packers to Tennessee for Saturday's matchup because of the oblique strain he suffered in practice last week, ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky reported Thursday.

It opened the door for Clinton-Dix to try and wrench the starting safety spot opposite Burnett from cornerback convert Micah Hyde, but his performance wasn't enough to make the jump.  

Hyde and Burnett have been the starting safety pairing throughout Packers camp, according to Demovsky.

Clinton-Dix had five interceptions, 37 tackles, a forced fumbled and four pass breakups last season at Alabama. While he's demonstrated so far in training camp he has the fundamentals required to be a starting-caliber safety, he is still working to get up to speed. 

His live-game debut was peppered with errors, but he was able to turn them around. He allowed Dexter McCluster to sneak by him for a 10-yard gain, but as ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky pointed out, he recovered on the next play to hold Bishop Sankey to just one yard. 

Now that Burnett has returned to practice, per Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press Gazette, coach Mike McCarthy will likely still want to see what Clinton-Dix can do and give him meaningful snaps in the next three matchups.

Safety was the Packers' worst position in 2013, so it will be interesting to see by Week 1 which player Green Bay feels gives the team the best chance of turning its secondary around. If Green Bay's defense improves from its bottom-tier ranking in 2013, this team could be complete enough to go all the way.

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