The Most Entertaining Camp Battle for Every NFL Team

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2012

The Most Entertaining Camp Battle for Every NFL Team

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    The most entertaining NFL camp battles will involve highly touted rookies attempting to supplant veteran players and justify their selections in the draft. For example, the New England Patriots will naturally expect first-rounder Dont'a Hightower to start right away at linebacker, yet Brandon Spikes is unlikely to let his job go without a fight.

    Then there are those battles involving previous prime draft selections who have yet to live up to their billing and now face immediate competition. Baltimore Ravens' 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle faces a challenge from this year's second-rounder, Courtney Upshaw.

    Meanwhile, in Miami, Cleveland, Tennessee and Seattle, all eyes will be on the impending quarterback competitions. Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill must justify their high draft statuses and answer the criticisms that they were draft reaches.

    Here are the most entertaining training-camp battles to watch for each team.

Arizona Cardinals: Andre Roberts vs. Early Doucet

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    Thirteenth overall pick Michael Floyd will be expected to immediately step in alongside Larry Fitzgerald. That creates an intriguing competition between Andre Roberts and Early Doucet for the third wide receiver role.

    Roberts may have the inside track, having started 16 games last season. He tallied 51 receptions for 588 yards, with an 11.5 yards per catch average.

    At 5'11" and 195 pounds, Roberts has the ideal frame to operate in the slot. However, Doucet is a natural possession receiver who excels at moving the chains underneath.

Atlanta Falcons: Lamar Holmes vs. Will Svitek

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    Third-round rookie Lamar Holmes should push the workmanlike Will Svitek for the starting left tackle job during the Atlanta Falcons training camp. Svitek started 10 games last season but is not the most accomplished pass-protector.

    Holmes offers tremendous size and physicality at 6'5" and 323 pounds. He plays with more natural aggression than Svitek and has the footwork to handle edge rushers. 

    The former Southern Miss standout should be expected to push Svitek and emerge as a day-one starter.

Baltimore Ravens: Courtney Upshaw vs. Sergio Kindle

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    The battle to replace the injured Terrell Suggs will begin in earnest between Sergio Kindle and Courtney Upshaw at the Baltimore Ravens training camp. The two highly touted second-round picks out of college will compete to assume arguably the most important role on the Ravens' stout defense.

    Upshaw will likely have the edge, having performed a similar role on the highly respected Alabama defense. In contrast, Kindle struggled with injury during a rookie year to forget and appeared in only two games.

    Whoever wins this battle will be charged with providing the lion's share of the pass rush for the Ravens this season. So even though the position demands hybrid skills, expertise at rushing the passer will likely determine the outcome of this competition. 

Buffalo Bills: Cordy Glenn vs. Chris Hairston

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    Cordy Glenn and Chris Hairston will compete to replace the departed Demetress Bell at left tackle. Glenn's draft status, size and versatility probably gives him the edge.

    The Georgia product is raw, but if he can match technique to his physical attributes, Glenn could make a dominant tackle.

    Hairston faces a challenge to win the job, but the departure of Bell has given him an ideal chance to become a starter at a key position. The second-year prospect won't yield easily.

Carolina Panthers: Sione Fua vs. Ron Edwards

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    Improved play along the interior is the key to a defensive revival for the Carolina Panthers. 2011 rookie Sione Fua and 11-year veteran Ron Edwards will compete to anchor the middle this season.

    Fua failed to make an impact in his first pro season, after operating as a 3-4 nose tackle at the collegiate level. Edwards missed the whole campaign through injury and must also prove himself capable of performing again in a 4-3, after last seeing action in the Kansas City Chiefs' 3-4.

    Their experience in the 3-4 could be invaluable for a Panthers team that could feature more three-man fronts this season. Carolina's defense needs a stout force against the run at the heart of the defensive line, and either Fua or Edwards must emerge in this role.

Chicago Bears: Alshon Jeffery vs. Devin Hester

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    Despite recent reports casting doubts about his ability to force his way into the starting lineup, Alshon Jeffery's size and playmaking skills could help him surpass Devin Hester. Jeffery will need a strong camp showing, but he could form a dangerous partnership with Brandon Marshall.

    The ex-South Carolina star would give Jay Cutler another big target to aim for and offer a more complete wide receiver skill set than Hester. However, Hester's speed and ability to make plays in the open field could yet give him the edge.

Cleveland Browns: Colt McCoy vs. Brandon Weeden

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    Brandon Weeden can justify the Cleveland Browns' controversial decision to use a first-round pick to select him by beating out incumbent Colt McCoy. The Browns' offense certainly needs a boost, and improved play from the quarterback position is key for Pat Shurmur's second season in charge.

    McCoy has had his share of critics, but he has also displayed gritty determination on more than one occasion while at the helm of Cleveland's attack. Weeden was not considered the most polished quarterback prospect coming out of the draft, and McCoy's pro experience could give him the advantage.

    However, the Browns didn't draft a soon-to-be 29-year-old in the first round to warm the bench. Weeden has superior arm strength and should be able to increase the downfield potential of Shurmur's passing game.

Cincinnati Bengals: Geno Atkins vs. Devon Still

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    The Cincinnati Bengals struggled at key moments during the season after they lost defensive tackle Pat Sims to injury. Mike Zimmer's unit was soft against the run in big games, most notably against the Pittsburgh Steelers and during their playoff loss to the Houston Texans.

    The need for more solidity in the middle was addressed with the draft selections of Devon Still and Brandon Thompson. Still should push for a starting role and could edge out Geno Atkins.

    Still offers a bigger frame and more power against the run than the lighter Atkins. He is a quick and talented interior pass-rusher, but Atkins could be usurped by a run stuffer like Still on rushing downs.

Dallas Cowboys: Mike Jenkins vs. Orlando Scandrick

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    The Dallas Cowboys have the starting cornerback positions settled with free-agent acquisition Brandon Carr and top draft choice Morris Claiborne. That leaves the position of nickelback up for grabs and should prompt an entertaining camp battle between Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick.

    Jenkins has regressed since a stellar 2009 campaign, but the Cowboys have so far resisted the idea of trading him away. He is physical enough to handle press coverage responsibilities in the slot.

    Yet Scandrick is an effective blitz man and has the ability to make plays in coverage. He would be an effective weapon in Rob Ryan's sub-packages.

    Ryan's multiple blitz system requires a number of quality cover men. That makes the third cornerback position one of the most important on the defense.

Denver Broncos: Tracy Porter vs. Drayton Florence

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    The Denver Broncos should have an intriguing battle for the backup quarterback position between Brock Osweiller and Caleb Hanie. However, arguably the more entertaining battle will be between free-agent cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence.

    The two veteran defensive backs will compete to see who will start alongside the great Champ Bailey in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's new-look secondary.

    Florence is the more experienced and accomplished cover man, and his ability to excel in zone and man techniques seems to make him the natural choice.

    However, Porter is an aggressive corner with a knack for the big play, as new quarterback Peyton Manning knows from bitter experience. 

Detroit Lions: Nick Fairley vs. Corey Williams

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    The Detroit Lions will expect more from Nick Fairley in year two after the former Auburn sensation was blighted by a series of niggling injuries in 2011. Fairley contributed only 15 tackles and one sack as a rookie.

    Fairley will be expected to supplant veteran Corey Williams and finally form a fearsome tandem next to Ndamukong Suh. However, a recent drug-related arrest has further damaged Fairley's cause.

    Williams is still an effective 4-3 nose tackle and is an underrated run plugger. Yet he does not offer the same ability to split the gaps and disrupt the backfield that Fairley is capable of.

    If Fairley can't beat out Williams and also fend off youngster Sammie Lee Hill, he could be deemed a bust just one year after being drafted 13th overall.

Green Bay Packers: Casey Hayward vs. Sam Shields

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    Rookie Casey Hayward and Sam Shields should engage in one of the more entertaining camp battles when they compete for the third cornerback spot on the Green Bay Packers' defense. The Packers' pass defense ranked dead last in 2011 and given how often Dom Capers employs nickel fronts, improved play from the third corner is essential.

    Hayward is a natural bump-and-run defensive back. He has the vertical speed to stay close to receivers deep and is aggressive at the line of scrimmage.

    Shields can be victimised in coverage, but he has knack for the big play that can't be easily overlooked. He has snared six interceptions and forced two fumbles during his two seasons as a pro.

Houston Texans: Whitney Mercilus vs. Connor Barwin

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    Despite logging 11.5 sacks last season, Connor Barwin will still find his place under immediate threat from top draft pick Whitney Mercilus. 2011 draftee Brooks Reed came on strong in the Houston Texans' march to their first-ever playoff berth, and that leaves Barwin and Mercilus to battle for the other outside linebacker job.

    Mercilus was the most explosive pass-rusher in the nation at the collegiate level. He has the natural athleticism to terrorize opposing offensive lines in Wade Phillips' blitz-happy defense.

    Yet Barwin shouldn't be easily discounted. The 25-year-old enjoyed a breakout season and has the hustle and straight-ahead power to out muscle many offensive tackles.

    Whoever loses out between Barwin and Mercilus can still expect to see plenty of playing time in what is shaping up to be a scary rotation.

Indianapolis Colts: Coby Fleener vs. Dwayne Allen

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    The Indianapolis Colts raised a few eyebrows when they selected both Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. While new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will likely feature many two tight-end sets, it will be interesting to see who emerges as the go-to weapon at the position.

    Fleener may have the inside track, given his familiarity with first overall selection Andrew Luck. However, Allen is the superior blocker and is very effective as an underneath outlet.

    He won't stretch the field like Fleener can, but Allen could be a better fit as the nominal starter if Arians runs a power-based offense to help ease Luck's transition.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Andre Branch vs. Aaron Kampman

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    Improving the pass rush is the most important issue for an otherwise stout Jacksonville Jaguars defensive front. A return to full health of oft-injured veteran Aaron Kampman would certainly help.

    However, Kampman will face strong competition from second-round draft pick Andre Branch. The speedy rush end has the range of movement and first-step quickness to be an elite pass-rush specialist.

    With free agent Matt Roth still unsigned, the Jaguars need a pressure threat to partner the improving Jeremy Mincey. This classic battle of age against youth could determine the overall success of the Jags' defense this season.

Kansas City Chiefs: Leon Williams vs. Jovan Belcher

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    The Kansas City Chiefs' defense is set at one inside linebacker position with the brilliant the Derrick Johnson. However, the competition to start alongside the up-and-coming star should be fierce.

    Former starter Jovan Belcher and free-agent pickup Leon Williams will likely be in direct competition. Williams played for new head coach Romeo Crennel as a member of the Cleveland Browns from 2006-'08.

    At 6'3" and 248 pounds, he offers more suitable 3-4 size than the 6'2", 228-pound Belcher. Yet Belcher has amassed over 80 tackles in each of the past two seasons.

    With hulking rookie Dontari Poe set to man the nose tackle position, Crennel may feel he can continue playing an undersized player in the middle of his linebacking corps. 

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill vs. Matt Moore vs. David Garrard

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    The Miami Dolphins' handling of their quarterback issues has drawn criticism this offseason and created the feeling that the team reached when they drafted Ryan Tannehill eighth overall. Before he can prove his doubters wrong, Tannehill will have to beat out 2011 starter Matt Moore and veteran retread David Garrard.

    Tannehill's familiarity with new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman gives him a major advantage. However, Moore has put up credible numbers, and Garrard has shown his ability in the past.

    Still, Tannehill probably retains the inside track, but he will need a strong camp showing to emerge as a winner in this intriguing three-way race.

Minnesota Vikings: Zack Bowman vs. Josh Robinson

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    Improved play in the secondary is vital for the Minnesota Vikings this season. Competition for places should be intense, with the battle between free agent Zack Bowman and draftee Josh Robinson being particularly intriguing.

    Robinson was a smart third-round selection by the Vikings and is a natural fit for Leslie Frazier's zone-based schemes. Former Chicago Bear Bowman is also a fine zone corner.

    He has plenty of experience in the cover-2, and although his game has been marred by inconsistency since a productive 2009 season, Bowman could be a safe day-one starter.

New England Patriots: Dont'a Hightower vs. Brandon Spikes

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    Although Dont'a Hightower can excel as a pass-rusher from a variety of positions, this author sees him initially competing with Brandon Spikes for a spot at inside linebacker. The New England Patriots will continue to show multiple looks on defense, and Hightower's versatility will be a crucial asset.

    However, Bill Belichick tends to favour a 3-4 most of all and likes big inside linebackers no matter how his front seven aligns. Hightower has the size, is a brutal hitter and is a more dynamic playmaker at the position.

    Spikes is a capable 'backer but recently underwent knee surgery for an injury suffered in the Super Bowl. He will need to be at full fitness in time to see off the challenge of the player who led the vaunted Alabama defense in 2011.

New Orleans Saints: Lance Moore vs. Nick Toon

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    Nickt Toon will compete with the underrated Lance Moore for playing time in the New Orleans Saints' passing game. The free-agency departure of Robert Meachem has created a space in the Saints' wide-receiver rotation, and Toon will have an early chance to impress.

    The ex-Wisconsin standout has good size and can stretch the field, while Moore is a diminutive speedster with a knack for finding the end zone. The majority of Drew Brees's passes will still go to Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Jimmy Graham.

    Yet the offense still needs a reliable and prolific supporting weapon. One of Toon or Moore has to make that role his own.

New York Giants: Sean Locklear vs. James Brewer

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    The defending Super Bowl champions have questions at both tackle spots along the offensive line. The competition on the right side should be particularly entertaining between youngster James Brewer and veteran free agent Sean Locklear.

    The duo will be bidding to replace Kareem McKenzie and add some more consistent pass protection. Locklear should have the edge, given his experience and versatility.

    However, Brewer offers superior size at 6'6" and 330 pounds. He would give the G-Men a more physical presence on the right, something the coaches could value highly as they seek to boost 2011's 32nd-ranked running game.

New York Jets: Wayne Hunter vs. Vladimir Ducasse

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    The New York Jets have their own battle brewing at right tackle, and it should be a good one between declining veteran Wayne Hunter and struggling youngster Vladimir Ducasse. Both players are fast running out of opportunities to impress for Gang Green, and holding down the right-tackle job is likely their last chance to stay with the team.

    Hunter has been the subject of trade rumours this offseason and faces a tough task convincing the Jets' hierarchy he can be a credible starting option.

    Ducasse, meanwhile, just needs to prove he can make it as a pro after failing to make any impact since being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Oakland Raiders: Desmond Bryants vs. Lamarr Houston

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    The Oakland Raiders have a deep and talented defensive-line rotation, but surprisingly they decided to release their best edge-rusher, Kamerion Wimbley. Free agent Dave Tollefson should occupy one end position, but the other spot is up for grabs, and Desmond Bryant and Lamarr Houston are the best candidates.

    Houston is a stout force against the run but is no pass-rush threat. He registered only a single sack in 2011. Bryant is a lighter, quicker rush threat and notched five quarterback takedowns last season.

    The Raiders need one of these youngsters to emerge as a force on the outside. This would allow the aging Richard Seymour to move back into the middle to partner Tommy Kelly.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Avant vs. Marvin McNutt

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    If there is one thing missing from the Philadelphia Eagles' offense, it is a big, physical target for the red zone. Sixth-round draft choice Marvin McNutt could emerge as that player, provided he can overtake Jason Avant in the wide receiver rotation.

    At 6'3" and 216 pounds, McNutt has the size the Eagles currently lack at the position. He is a sure-handed wideout who should have no problem getting open inside the 20.

    Avant is capable, but the 29-year-old is not exactly prolific when it comes to finding the end zone. He has scored a mere two touchdowns in the last two years combined and only 10 overall in his six-year career.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Casey Hampton vs. Alameda Ta'amu

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    Casey Hampton's ACL injury and subsequent surgery has cast doubts over the 34-year-old's ability to anchor a Pittsburgh Steelers' defense looking to get younger. That could create an opportunity for fourth-round draftee Alameda Ta'amu to take over.

    However, Hampton is not finished yet, and it would be wise not to easily discount the NFL's best 2-gap nose tackle. The 11-year veteran is the key to the Steelers' ferocious defense and although his range of movement may have significantly decreased, Hampton still excels at taking on double teams.

    Ta'amu is clearly the future, and the 348-pounder will be pushing to play sooner rather than later. Yet Hampton is unlikely to yield without a fight.

San Diego Chargers: Kendall Reyes vs. Vaughn Martin

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    Kendall Reyes can push Vaughn Martin and join 2011 first-rounder Corey Liuget as starting defensive ends on a new-look San Diego Chargers'defensive line. Marin started 15 games in 2011, but Reyes offers a more versatile and dynamic skill set.

    He can operate in a variety of alignments and has the power to play the 5-technique position, as well as the quickness to attack the guard-tackle gap as a 3-technique lineman.

    Reyes offers more playmaking potential for the Chargers' hybrid 3-4 looks and should overtake Martin with a strong camp performance.

San Francisco 49ers: Randy Moss vs. Mario Manningham vs. A.J. Jenkins

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    After lacking downfield options in 2011, the San Francisco 49ers have overloaded the wide receiver position this offseason. Assuming Michael Crabtree retains one starting berth, the competition for the other position will be fierce between Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and top draftee A.J. Jenkins.

    Moss is aging, but he is still a natural deep threat who can terrorise any secondary, provided Alex Smith can get him the ball. Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham did not leave the New York Giants just to be a third receiver somewhere else.

    Jenkins has not impressed so far, with head coach Jim Harbaugh already critical of his prime draft choice. The former Illinois star faces an uphill battle to supplant any of the talented and established performers in front of him.

Seattle Seahawks: Matt Flynn vs. Tarvaris Jackson vs. Russell Wilson

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    There is an interesting three-way quarterback battle developing for the Seattle Seahawks. Prized free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn was expected to brush aside 2011 starter Tarvaris Jackson.

    Yet Jackson was hampered by a nagging pectoral injury last season and will be anxious to hold onto the starting job. The most intriguing element is provided by third-round draft choice Russell Wilson.

    The pint-sized passer is a potential draft stea,l and head coach Pete Carroll has already spoken glowingly about his potential to start. Even though Flynn may be the prospective favourite due to his contract value, Wilson could yet defy the odds.

St. Louis Rams: Janoris Jenkins vs. Trumaine Johnson

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    Controversial draft picks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson should provide an entertaining camp battle for the right to start across from Cortland Finnegan at cornerback. The Rams were criticised for taking a chance on Jenkins and Johnson, both of whom have had run-ins with the law during their college days.

    However, both are capable cover men, particularly in man coverage. The Rams need improvement in every area, and better coverage will give Jeff Fisher more freedom to run a 46-style, blitzing defense.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin vs. LeGarrette Blount

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added a more dynamic runner in the draft when they selected Boise State rusher Doug Martin. The challenge now is for Martin to beat out incumbent LeGarrette Blount.

    Just two seasons ago Blount thundered his way for over 1,000-yards in just seven starts. However, Blount regressed in 2011, managing only 781 yards in 14 starts.

    While he can certainly bruise his way between the tackles, Blount does not offer the breakaway threat and receiving skills that Martin can. Ideally, the Bucs would probably covet a natural complement between the two, but somebody has to emerge as the nominal starter between these two youngsters.

Tennessee Titans: Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker

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    The success of the Tennessee Titans this season will largely depend on who emerges victorious in the brewing quarterback battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. The 37-year-old Hasselbeck has the experience and is a more polished passer than Locker.

    However, the Titans didn't draft Locker eighth overall in 2011 just to sit on the bench. He stepped in for five games last season and threw four touchdowns with no interceptions.

    Hasselbeck probably still has the edge, but his long-standing durability issues could open the door for Locker to make the job his own.

Washington Redskins: Roy Helu vs. Tim Hightower vs. Evan Royster

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    The Washington Redskins have promoted a fierce competition at running back. The main contenders are returning veteran Tim Hightower and promising second-year duo Roy Helu and Evan Royster.

    Hightower is bidding to make a successful comeback from an ACL injury, while Helu and Royster will be looking to build on some impressive late-season performances. Hightower offers a more complete skill set, which could benefit rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

    Helu is a breakaway threat with greater big play capability, while Royster is the best between the tackles runner on the roster. While Mike Shanahan is sure to get use out of each of these runners, a clear starter needs to emerge for the continuity of the offense.

    If nobody from this trio stands out sufficiently, sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris could spring a major surprise. Shanahan needs consistent production from the running game to make his offense work and he has provided plenty of options.

    There will be a host of camp battles, but these 32 are the ones worth paying particular attention to as teams prepare for the new campaign.