New England Patriots: Six Position Battles To Watch This Summer

Alex JohnsonCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - JULY 27: The  New England Patriots work out during training camp practice on July 27, 2007 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Training camp is a time for a team to get ready for the upcoming season.  It's a time to mold together a team and build for a championship.  It's about fighting through blood, sweat, and tears to become the best you can be.

It's also a time for players to prove they deserve a spot on the roster.

So with Patriots training camp right around the corner, we'll take a look at six position battles to keep an eye on this summer.

No. Three Wide Receiver: Joey Galloway vs. Greg Lewis

When you've got Joey Galloway fighting for the third spot on your depth chart, you know it's a pretty deep position.

With Randy Moss, and Wes Welker the clear-cut No. one and No. two receivers respectively, free agent pick-up Joey Galloway, and new wideout (via trade) Greg Lewis will fight for the third spot.

Galloway, 37, is entering his 15th NFL season.  He spent five seasons in Seattle, four in Dallas, and his last five with the Buccaneers.

He has caught 682 career passes, for 10,710 yards, and 77 touchdowns.

Lewis, 29, has spent all six of his NFL seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

As an Eagle, Lewis racked up 1,699 yards on 127 receptions.  He also hauled in seven career touchdown catches.

The 6'0" receiver out of Illinois University caught four passes for 53 yards, including a touchdown in the final minutes against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.

After the spring minicamps, it looks as if Galloway has a slight edge over Lewis heading into training camp.  At times Lewis looked confused and struggled to pick up the Patriots offensive system.

“Everything is new to me,” Lewis said. “I was in Philadelphia for six years, so I’m used to how everything went about there. Now, coming here, everything has changed. I just have to get used to different things and that nature. But everything is a surprise for me. Everything is new.”

Although Galloway was the only one of the two to see time at punt returner in the spring, both receivers are versatile and can contribute in the return game.

We all know head coach Bill Belichick loves versatile players.

This competition will go on throughout the dog days of summer.  Only the best will win the job. 

Right Tackle:  Nick Kaczur vs. Sebastain Vollmer

This is a very important battle because the offensive line is one of the most important positions in football.  The O-line's job is to protect the quarterback and plow holes in the defense for the run game.

Nick Kaczur, 29, is the veteran in the battle and the favorite to win the job.

However, the rookie Sebastain Vollmer will figure into the mix and push Kaczur for the starting position.

The 6'4" 315 pound Kaczur has started 49 regular season games at right tackle and has missed only two games in the last two seasons.  He's heading into his fifth year in the NFL.

Volmer, sitting at a beastly 6'8" and 315 pounds, is coming off a great college career. 

He was an All-Conference USA tackle while playing at Houston.

The 2009 second-rounder, Vollmer, got playing time at both tackle positions during OTAs and is likely to enter camp as a backup at both positions.

Be sure to keep your eye on this battle of the big boys this summer.

Outside Linebacker:  Pierre Woods vs. Shawn Crable and Tully Banta-Cain

With fan favorite Mike Vrabel now in Kansas City, the outside linebacker spot is quickly becoming an intriguing summer fight.

When linebacker Adalius Thomas went down with a broken arm in 2008, Woods got the bulk of the playing time in replacement.  He struggled at times, but also showed signs that he could be the future of the position for coach Belichick.  But unfortunately Woods himself was forced to hit the injury list after he broke his jaw late in the season.

The 27-year-old Woods has just three years of NFL experience under his belt.

In 36 career games (three starts) Woods has 51 solo tackles and one sack.

Shawn Crable and Tully Banta-Cain will bash helmets with Woods for the starting job.

Banta-Cain spent his first four seasons with New England before leaving for San Francisco for two years.

Over his six seasons he has pasted 106 solo tackles and squashed opposing quarterbacks 12.5 times.

Now that he's back, he's expected to play a part in the battle for a starting linebacker job.

Crable will be coming off a rookie year in which he spent on Injured Reserve.  He did look promising in the 2008 preseason.

Woods is expected to win the job, but he'll certainly be pushed by the talent behind him.  It'll be fun to watch!

Third-string Quarterback:  Matt Gutierrez vs. Brian Hoyer

Heading into training camp, second-year quarterback Kevin O'Connell is fully expected to be the immediate backup to Tom Brady.

The bigger question is who's the third guy?

Gutierrez was originally signed by the Pats in 2007 as an undrafted rookie out of Idaho State.

Gutierrez has been signed and cut multiple times but has never given up.  Many people actually believed he was more worthy of the No. two spot behind Brady than Matt Cassel heading into last season. (Cassel is now a $60 Million man as the starter in Kansas City.) 

Despite having just one career pass attempt, (a 15-yard completion in '07) Gutierrez is one of the hardest workers on the team.  He is usually the first one on the practice field and the last one off.

Undrafted rookie free agent signee Brian Hoyer will challenge Gutierrez for the third quarterback spot.

Hoyer earned himself a training camp invite by performing well at rookie and full-squad mini-camps in the spring.

One will make the team, the other will be cut.  It's due or die time for these guys.  That's the kind of battle we as fans love to see!

Cornerback: Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, Terrance Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler

Since losing Asante Samuel to the Eagles after the 2007 season, the cornerback position has been a gaping hole for the Patriots.  However, 2009 could be a different story.

After ranking 31st in passing touchdowns allowed (27) in 2008, the Pats hit the restart button.

Ellis Hobbs was shipped out to Philly, and Deltha O'Neal was let go.

New acquisitions such as Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, and Darius Butler as well as last season's rookies Jonathan Wilhite and Terrance Wheatley will all battle it out at cornerback.

The two veterans Springs and Bodden are expected to be the favorites for the two starting spots. 

Springs has spent 12 seasons in the NFL.  Seven in Seattle and the last five with the Redskins.

He has 32 career interceptions and has returned two back for touchdowns.

Bodden, a former Browns and Lions cornerback, has seven years of NFL experience. 

He has 13 career interceptions.

Butler, 2009 second-round pick, will be entering his first NFL season out of Connecticut.

At UConn, he hauled in 10 pass interceptions.

He was impressive in spring workouts and could also play a role in the return game.

Wheatley and Wilhite, 2008 second and fourth round selections respectively, will also add into the mix and could potentially steal a starting spot.

This position battle will be the most exciting to watch this year!

Safety:  Brandon Meriweather vs. Patrick Chung vs. James Sanders

In this battle there are two starting positions up for grabs between three players.

Brandon Meriweather, the Patriots 2007 first round selection, is the favorite to get a starting job.

In 11 career starts, Meriweather has 79 solo tackles, two sacks and four interceptions.

James Sanders, the most experienced of the group (2009 will be his fifth season) has played really well over the past two seasons.

In 29 starts in 2007 and 2008, Sanders had 94 tackles, and three interceptions.

The Patriots drafted Patrick Chung in the second round of the 2009 draft.

He was ranked highly on the top defensive rookies list put out by CBS Sports a couple months back.

Chung is not expected to start right away but will definitely challenge Meriweather and Sanders for the starting positions in camp.

Be sure to keep your eye on this battle, not just in camp, but all season long.

Other position battles to watch

Running Back (Lawrence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis):  More than likely the Pats will continue the " running back by committee" theory they've used over the years.  Don't expect the same guy to carry the bulk of the load every week. 

Tight End (Ben Watson vs. Chris Baker, David Thomas, and Alex Smith):  New acquisitions Baker and Smith will try to take the starting job away from the inconsistent Watson.  Somebody is going to get cut from this group.  Who will it be?

Training camp is set to open July 30, at Gillette Stadium.

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