With the start of many NFL training camps right around the corner, there are much more questions than answers on many team camps at this time. The AFC West is no different, is each team has loaded their roster with solid competition at many positions. For this feature, I examined my top 10 position battles within the conference that will begin at the upcoming team camps.
Defensive tackle is a position that is very important in the Chiefs newly installed 3-4 defense, as it is used as a run-stopper and to plug gaps as well. Incumbent Ron Edwards has not been consistent enough to lock down the position, so KC brought in free agent Shaun Smith and rookie free agent Garrett Brown earlier this off-season to help push Edwards. It should be a fun battle to watch as Smith as shown flashes of talent in his NFL past, and Brown is known for his versatility on the defensive line during his college days.
When the Chargers picked up Ogemdi Nwagbuo as in undrafted rookie free agent in 2008, they were hoping to groom him and use him as a back-up to Pro-Bowler Jamal Williams at the defensive tackle position. Nwagbuo ended up starting five games last season for San Diego, racking up 12 tackles and one QB sack in the process. Since the Charges weren't exactly sold on going forward to 2010 with Nwagbuo, they drafted defensive tackle prospect Cam Thomas in the fifth round of this year's draft. With Jamal Williams gone now, its Nwagbuo's job to lose, but with Thomas added to the mix, it could make for an interesting affair come training camp in a few weeks.
The Chiefs tight end position has been a glaring weak spot since Tony Gonzalez was traded away during the 2009 off-season. KC drafted the big, physical Brad Cottam in the third round of the 2008 draft, picked up Leonard Pope during last season from the Arizona Cardinals, and drafted former Iowa standout Tony Moeaki with their fourth round selection in the recent 2010 draft. All three have their issues, as Pope has had blocking struggles and both Cottam and Moeaki have a past history of injuries. It might come down to who can stay on the field the longest in order to come away as the Chiefs starting tight end this year.
Cooper Carlisle has been a mainstay on the Oakland offensive line since the organization picked up in free agency before the 2007 season. He has even started every game but one in his three years with the club, since coming of from the Denver Broncos. However, some say that Carlisle's play has been declining over the last couple years, which could be the reason that the Raiders drafted NFL combine warrior Bruce Campbell in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Although Carlisle's play might be declining, he is not about to give up his spot to a rookie who has yet to play a down in the league.
Veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips is entering his seventh season with the Bolts, and has really developed into a solid player during his career in San Diego. Last season, he only picked up seven sacks(which was nearly a career low), but he also managed to force seven fumbles, which was a career high for Phillips. The Chargers drafted former Northern Illinois star Larry English with their first pick in the 2009 draft, hoping to provide insurance and stability to an already solid linebacker corps. With English on the rise, he should give Phillips a strong battle in this year's training camp for his job.
The Chiefs were really hoping for big things out of linebacker Derrick Johnson when the drafted him in the 1st round of the 2005 draft. At times they have seen some excellent play by Thomas, but still have yet to see his full potential as a first round pick. Last season, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley took over, and Johnson was benched for most of the season for reportedly taking it easy at practices. Veteran Demorrio Williams took his spot, and racked up a lot of tackles, but didn't do much else do hold down his spot for the 2010 season. Johnson had a career night in Week 17 of the '09 season, and looks to build off of that effort to challenge Williams to take his former starting spot for this season.
When Michael Huff was drafted seventh overall in the 2006 NFL draft, he was supposed to be the next game-changing safety that was going to lead the down and out Oakland Raiders to glory once again. Unfortunately for Oakland, Huff has never lived up to the hype, and was benched during the 2008 season for his tackling, and teammate Hiram Eugene took over his starting spot at free safety. Now, in 2010, the 27 year-old Huff is still battling Eugene for the starting free safety spot in the Oakland secondary, and hopes to least salvage some pride by winning a starting spot for this year.
With the recent loss of Pro-Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to the Dolphins, the Broncos were looking to immediately upgrade their receiving corps for the upcoming 2010 season. They did just that with their first round selection of Demaryius Thomas and third round selection of Eric Decker. Both are list at 6'3, and have great hands and solid route running ability that will really help them take their game to the next level in the NFL. These two rookies will most likely be battling for the No. 1 wide receiver spot, as veteran journeyman Jabar Gaffney is the only other Bronco who seems to pose a threat.
He has been dubbed "Run DMC", as he was making his way into the league, but Darren McFadden hasn't shown as much as many thought he would after finishing a stellar career at the University of Arkansas in 2008. DMC figured to be the #1 running back until teammate Michael Bush began to emerge as a solid player right before everyone's eyes. Bush and McFadden do compliment each other well, but with more recent success from Bush, McFadden will likely have his work cut out for him to become the starter once again.
The Denver Broncos surprised the entire football world when they drafted former Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow in the first round of this year's NFL draft. Many began to question the decision of selecting Tebow when Denver had just recently traded for Brady Quinn and had Kyle Orton, who was coming off a solid season in the Mile High City. This three-way battle will likely be one of the most talked about and publicized training camp story that will come out of NFL camps this year, and it should be interesting for many to see how Tebow makes the big jump from a college, to an NFL quarterback.