2018 NFL Training Camp: Update on Every Team's Biggest Position Battle

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystAugust 13, 2018

2018 NFL Training Camp: Update on Every Team's Biggest Position Battle

0 of 32

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The NFL prides itself on being the ultimate meritocracy. But the reality is far different. Only a few starting positions and roster spots are available once each organization concedes a preference toward established veterans, free-agent acquisitions and draft picks.  

    Those available become hotly contested because every player wants a place at the table

    Some availabilities hold a higher profile, like quarterback, for example, while others—offensive linemen never get enough love—barely register at the national level. 

    All of them are important, though, because football requires 11 players to work in unison. One missed assignment can ruin everything. Thus, teams try to address weak spots by throwing numbers at those positions. Sometimes an individual emerges and solves the problem. Other times, a team is never able to address the issue. 

    No roster is complete, either. Every team has at least one starting position up for grabs. The following is where each franchise's top position battle stands.

Arizona Cardinals: Wide Receiver

1 of 32

    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Mike Glennon (7) and wide receiver Greg Little (18)
    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Mike Glennon (7) and wide receiver Greg Little (18)Associated Press

    The NFL's best comeback story is happening where things go to die: the desert. Instead, wide receiver Greg Little is experiencing a career revival with the Arizona Cardinals after last playing in an NFL game during the 2014 campaign. 

    Little joined a crowded receiver room with no clear direction beyond Larry Fitzgerald's role. 

    "Obviously, there are questions marks at our receiver position, he was productive a few years ago—why not take a look-see?" director of pro scouting Quentin Harris remembered thinking, per Darren Urban of the team's official site. 

    The 29-year-old target, whom the Cleveland Browns selected in 2011 draft's second round, has a chance to become the team's No. 2 receiver since the position is wide-open. Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson, Brice Butler and this year's second-round pick, Christian Kirk, are in the conversation, but no one is going to be handed anything. 

    "You will get excited about a guy who is younger, who might be healthy again, and then he's starting with the little demands and it's a red flag," Harris said. "We want guys in that situation to be hungry and put their head down, and Greg has done both." 

Atlanta Falcons: Right Guard

2 of 32

    Atlanta Falcons guard Wes Schweitzer
    Atlanta Falcons guard Wes SchweitzerAssociated Press

    Now 17 months removed from Chris Chester's retirement, the Atlanta Falcons are still trying to figure out what to do at right guard. 

    Wes Schweitzer started all 16 games last year, but the organization felt it could still upgrade the position and added seven-year veteran Brandon Fusco. Fusco started all 16 games for the San Francisco 49ers last season. 

    The two have been switching in and out of the first-team offense on a daily basis.

    "I just want to build continuity with everyone, get comfortable with everyone and with this offense," Fusco said Wednesday, per the Associated Press' Charles Odum.

    "I miss the game-day feeling and will be excited when I'm out there. Hopefully it's enough to prove to them I can be the starter of this team at right guard and help this team win."

    Schweitzer is listed as the starter by the team. This may not mean much, but he's performed well while being pushed by a competent alternative. 

    The 24-year-old blocker called his performance "the best camp I've ever had, definitely the best offensive camp I've ever been a part of. I feel we're really clicking right now and really pushing for it. It's just been a really good camp."

Baltimore Ravens: Right Tackle

3 of 32

    Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
    Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.Associated Press

    The strong side of the Baltimore Ravens offensive line is no longer the team's biggest weakness. Uncertainty is turning into quality depth as training camp progresses. 

    Marshal Yanda's return from ankle and shoulder injuries helps solidify the team's offensive interior.

    Right tackle remains in question, though. Currently, Orlando Brown Jr. appears well on his way to a starting role. The rookie continues to garner first-team reps and played the entire Hall of Fame Game. 

    "Orlando was a bright spot for the young offensive linemen," head coach John Harbaugh said, per the Baltimore Sun's Don Markus. "He played well. ... He's just what we thought he was, and as he continues to work on technique, he's only going to get better."

    The competition could heat up in the coming weeks. Yanda's inclusion creates flexibility, and a set starting five is far from settled. 

    James Hurst, who had been playing right guard in Yanda's stead, can either move back to left guard or compete at right tackle. Alex Lewis continues to battle Matt Skura for the starting center spot, but Lewis may move back to guard as well.

    The entire plan has yet to fall into place.

Buffalo Bills: Quarterback

4 of 32

    Buffalo Bills quarterbacks Nathan Peterman (left) and AJ McCarron (right)
    Buffalo Bills quarterbacks Nathan Peterman (left) and AJ McCarron (right)Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills don't have a starting quarterback. Instead, the team has three signal-callers with very little experience, and one will eventually start. 

    Nathan Peterman got the initial nod during the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers and completed his first nine passes before throwing an interception—which deflected off of Chris Ivory's hands. 

    "It's just one step, and you have to make a lot more steps and get a lot better and remember this is just the first preseason game, so there's a lot more to come," Peterman said, per the Buffalo News

    Peterman starting over AJ McCarron is an indicator of the team's overall direction. 

    First-round pick Josh Allen certainly won't be the starter to open the regular season. This year's seventh overall pick didn't receive a single first-team rep for four straight days leading into the first preseason contest, according to ESPN.com's Mike Rodak

    "We're not rushing this; we want to make sure he's ready to go and look there will still be growing pains with that journey," head coach Sean McDermott said of Allen, per Spectrum News Buffalo's Jon Scott. "... You can see the special type of player that he could become, but there’s a lot of room for growth between where we are now and where he needs to get to."

Carolina Panthers: Cornerback

5 of 32

    Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson
    Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte JacksonAssociated Press

    Ross Cockrell's season-ending broken leg created a conundrum for the Carolina Panthers. The team is now looking for a starting cornerback opposite James Bradberry. 

    Rookie Donte Jackson is already bringing a certain swagger to the secondary with his constant yapping. 

    "I see it, I hear it, and now he has to back it up," head coach Ron Rivera said, per GoUpstate.com's Eric Boynton. "I love his confidence level and we haven't had a guy like that since Josh Norman."

    Jackson also presents elite speed after running a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

    Kevon Seymour isn't quite as fast (4.39-second 40-yard dash), but he's slightly bigger—6'0" and 185 pounds as opposed to 5'10" and 180 poundsand the 2016 sixth-round pick already a year's experience in the system. Seymour is in the midst of a competition, yet he's still trying to make everyone around him better. 

    "Every day I just try to get myself better and I'm not worrying about the guys next to me," he said. "I'm actually taking tips from them or giving them tips."

    Their rotation will continue throughout training camp to see which corner is best suited to replace Cockrell.

Chicago Bears: Outside Linebacker

6 of 32

    Chicago Bears outside linebacker Aaron Lynch
    Chicago Bears outside linebacker Aaron LynchAssociated Press

    Leonard Floyd is a key component to the Chicago Bears defense as the unit's primary edge-rusher. Floyd, however, has struggled to remain healthy and needs help from the other side. 

    Aaron Lynch, Sam Acho, Isaiah Irving and rookie Kylie Fitts are all in the mix to add more of an edge presence. 

    Lynch signed a one-year, $4 million contract in free agency, but he continues to nurse a pulled hamstring. His absence created more opportunities for Irving and Fitts, who have capitalized. Irving, in particular, is taking advantage. 

    "That, to me, is the difference of him being a reliable player for us and us counting on him, is him being a producer," outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said, per the Chicago Tribune's Colleen Kane.  "... And I think those two things are different. But he can do it, and he's shown that he can do it out here on this practice field. ... And this preseason, he's made another jump. But there's still a long way to go."

    Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston combined for eight sacks last season. Both veterans are no longer with the team. A young player must seize the opportunity and provide the Bears with a secondary pass-rusher. 

Cincinnati Bengals: Right Tackle

7 of 32

    Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi
    Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Cedric OgbuehiAssociated Press

    Bobby Hart's experience with the New York Giants didn't end well, but things are going better with the Cincinnati Bengals. The 23-year-old blocker is the front-runner to become the Bengals' starting right tackle.

    "He's got the experience and the chip on his shoulder," head coach Marvin Lewis said, per the Associated Press (via USA Today). "He's a guy battling for a job, battling to be a starter. He's still a very young player, a good athlete, a big man, still has development ahead of him. That was the attraction to Bobby."

    Hart's inclusion with the starting unit is yet another example of the organization's offensive line overhaul. Cincinnati acquired left tackle Cordy Glenn in a trade and selected center Billy Price in the first round of April's draft. Only the guards, Clint Boling and Trey Hopkins, remain the same.  

    Cedric Ogbuehi's name is missing after starting 13 games last season. The 2015 first-round pick is on the precipice of bust status, but he still has an opportunity to unseat Hart. 

    "There is not a 'first' offensive line," Lewis emphasized Tuesday. 

    An offensive line in flux tends to signal bad things, and the Bengals still don't know who their best five blockers are. 

Cleveland Browns: Strong Safety

8 of 32

    Cleveland Browns safety Jabrill Peppers
    Cleveland Browns safety Jabrill PeppersAssociated Press

    With Joel Bitonio solidifying the Cleveland Browns' left tackle spot, strong safety becomes the most interesting competition on the team's roster. 

    Derrick Kindred and 2017 first-round pick Jabrill Peppers are embroiled in a hotly contested competition. Peppers seems the logical choice due to last year's investment, plus he's now playing his natural position instead of being 35 yards away from the ball. But the second-year defensive back understands he didn't play well last season and Kindred presents legit competition. 

    "The production DK had last year, no one can knock that," Peppers told the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich. "I can't just expect to come in and just play strong safety just cause they drafted me. No. Do you see what he produced last year? I came into it expecting to compete."

    The 210-pound Kindred is a physical box safety who sets the edge and defends the run as well as any defensive back. The 2016 fourth-round pick continues to receive first-team reps despite being listed behind Peppers on the depth chart, according to Ulrich

    Peppers' versatility creates flexibility within the scheme, which will generate opportunities for playing time if he can't claim a starting spot. 

Dallas Cowboys: Wide Receiver

9 of 32

    Dallas Cowboys wide receivers Deonte Thompson (left), Michael Gallup (center) and Allen Hurns (right)
    Dallas Cowboys wide receivers Deonte Thompson (left), Michael Gallup (center) and Allen Hurns (right)Associated Press

    A No. 1 wide receiver isn't a real designation: It's a term used for a team's favorite target who displays the ability to create plays.

    The Dallas Cowboys need to find a reliable option after Jason Witten's retirement and Dez Bryant's release. 

    "The No. 1 thing we take pride in is getting open and coaches see that on film," Allen Hurns said, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Stefan Stevenson. "As long as you're showing on film that you're creating separation, they're going to put you in more opportunities to catch the ball."

    Hurns is the only receiver on the team's roster with a previous 1,000-yard campaign. But his 2015 breakout year came with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who released him this offseason. Hurns isn't a complete receiver, though. His game is predicated on stretching the field. 

    Hurns' presence should open the door for Cole Beasley's return as Dak Prescott's favorite option. 

    "You're still getting open and catching balls," Beasley said, per the Associated Press' Schuyler Dixon. "It's about production, whether it's from the inside or outside." 

    Beasley, Hurns, Terrance Williams, Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown and rookie Michael Gallup are trying to prove the sum is greater than the individual parts.

Denver Broncos: Running Back

10 of 32

    Denver Broncos running backs Royce Freeman (37) and Devontae Booker (23)
    Denver Broncos running backs Royce Freeman (37) and Devontae Booker (23)Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos aren't hiding their excitement for rookie running back Royce Freeman. This year's 71st overall selection appears to be the team's best option on first and second down. 

    "Royce is a guy that you can hand [the ball] to," general manager John Elway said during an interview on NFL Network (via Locked on Broncos' Cameron Parker). "He showed that durability in college and [is] a guy that can be that thumper for you." 

    Whether or not the 229-pounder becomes a true workhorse depends on his contributions in the passing game, because the organization already knows what it has in Devontae Booker. 

    "Booker's really good in third-down and passing situations," Elway added. 

    As of now, the third-year veteran tops the depth chart due to his experience and nothing else.  

    "It's very fluid," head coach Vance Joseph said of the running back competition, per Jon Heath of Broncos Wire. "Again, it may change four or five times, but right now we've got 'Book' as the lead guy. He’s earned that right as the most experienced guy."

    It's only a matter of time before Freeman replaces Booker as the lead back.

Detroit Lions: Running Back

11 of 32

    Detroit Lions running back LeGarrette Blount
    Detroit Lions running back LeGarrette BlountEric Risberg/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions' running back competition is similar to multiple quarterback situations around the league. The Lions will almost certainly start a veteran, but they'll have trouble keeping a rookie off the field. 

    Detroit's ground game hasn't been counted among the league's best since President Bill Clinton's second term. The Lions last claimed a top-10 rushing attack during the 1998 campaign. 

    So, it's only natural for a new coaching staff to lean on a known commodity. In this case, LeGarrette Blount followed former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to Detroit. Blount served as the Patriots' touchdown-maker between 2014 and 2016. 

    However, second-round pick Kerryon Johnson already showed he's ready to contribute in Jim Bob Cooter's offense. 

    "You can see the patience that he has, the vision that he runs with..." guard T.J. Lang said, per 97.1 FM The Ticket's Will Burchfield. "He's definitely a guy who's gonna add a different dynamic to our offense."

    Blount is the battering ram. Johnson is a slashing runner who can contribute on passing downs. 

    "We think he brings a lot to the table, can kind of do different things, play with different versatility," Cooter said of Johnson, per The Athletic's Chris Burke

Green Bay Packers: Wide Receiver

12 of 32

    Green Bay Packers wide receivers J'Mon Moore (82), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83) and Jake Kumerow (16)
    Green Bay Packers wide receivers J'Mon Moore (82), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83) and Jake Kumerow (16)Associated Press

    Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are set as the Green Bay Packers' top two receivers. However, NFL offenses operate with three-receiver sets more than 50 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus

    Geronimo Allison, J'Mon Moore, DeAngelo Yancey, Trevor Davis, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown are in the mix, but Jake Kumerow has stolen the show. 

    "Jake has done a great job and had a great camp," Aaron Rodgers said, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Silverstein. "You start to think about guys you can trust on the field, how else can you see it, especially if I'm not playing a whole lot in the preseason than in those practice one-on-one reps against our defense.

    "That's where the ball's going, that's the guys making the plays right now and that's the guys that I want out there with me."

    Rodgers sent a message Tuesday, and the young receivers on the roster better listen. 

    "It's not a good start for us on the carded period for the young guys. I think Yancey has really progressed, [Allison], obviously 16 [Kumerow]. But everybody else was piss poor," the quarterback said, per NFL Spin Zone's Joe Kipp

Houston Texans: Strong Safety

13 of 32

    Houston Texans safety Justin Reid
    Houston Texans safety Justin ReidAssociated Press

    The Houston Texans will feature two brand-new starting safeties this fall. Unfortunately, Andre Hal can't be on the field after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma this offseason. Who will comprise the starting duo remains in question. 

    Tyrann Mathieu, of course, takes over free safety after signing a one-year, $7 million contract. Strong safety is a different story, where eight-year veteran Kareem Jackson—who converted from cornerback—continues to compete with third-round rookie Justin Reid. 

    Jackson seems to be the logical choice because of his experience, but the Texans' coaching staff seems to have bigger plans for him. 

    "He's a versatile guy," head coach Bill O'Brien said during the first week of training camp, per Mark Lane of USA Today's Texans Wire. "... Right now, he's playing safety but helping us on special teams doing some different things. So, he's doing a lot of different things."

    The longtime corner can still slide inside to cover the slot in big nickel situations. Or he can give way to Reid, who is a natural safety with more size and physicality. 

    "I think we have a good young safety in Justin Reid," O'Brien said, per Sports Talk 790 AM's Patrick D. Starr.

Indianapolis Colts: Running Back

14 of 32

    Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack
    Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon MackAssociated Press

    Expectations are being heaped upon Marlon Mack before the Indianapolis Colts make a decision regarding the running back position. 

    "I think Mack has a chance to be a special guy this year," owner Jim Irsay said, per the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer. "Depends on how many times you want to feed him the ball; 16-20 touches on the ground [a game], and I could see him approaching 1,500 yards. I really could. He is just better than you think he is every time you watch him."

    An NFL owner usually gets what he wants. Although, Mack suffered a pulled hamstring against the Seattle Seahawks, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    Working against Mack is the fact that the Colts coaching staff plans to implement fourth-round rookie Nyheim Hines into the offense. 

    "He's just hard to understand defensively, in my mind, how you're going to play him," offensive coordinator  Nick Sirianni said, per Keefer. "He kind of reminds me a little bit of a Dexter McCluster type [whom Sirianni worked with previously in Kansas City]. Teams didn't know what he was. Is he playing running back this week? Is he playing wide receiver this week? What is he? How do I defend him?"

    Eventually, Robert Turbin will join the rotation once he serves a four-game suspension for a violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Nickel Corner

15 of 32

    Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback D.J. Hayden
    Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback D.J. HaydenAssociated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars allowed Aaron Colvin to leave in free agency and signed D.J. Hayden as his replacement. 

    Colvin developed into a significant contributor as the Jaguars' nickel corner between Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. A three-year, $19 million investment in Hayden says he's the guy to cover the slot, but Jacksonville's coaching staff is considering other options. 

    According to First Coast News' Mike Kaye, defensive coordinator Todd Wash will audition Tyler Patmon and rookie Tre Herndon for the role. Wash wants to find the proper skill set to play the position. A nickel corner needs to be physical near the line of scrimmage and adept at blitzing in the team's scheme, and neither aptly describes Hayden's profile. 

    But the 28-year-old veteran is making the transition. 

    "I see what they want out of the nickel spot, but I'm going to put my twist on things," Hayden said, per John Oehser of the team's official site. 

    Hayden, of course, is the favorite to win the job based on experience and financial implications. However, Wash is leaving the door open for others if the 2013 first-round pick disappoints. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Left Guard

16 of 32

    Kansas City Chiefs guard Cameron Erving
    Kansas City Chiefs guard Cameron ErvingAssociated Press

    Draft busts rarely develop at their second (or third) stops, but the Kansas City Chiefs may have found something in Cameron Erving. 

    The Cleveland Browns chose Erving with the 19th overall pick in the 2015 draft. The organization bounced him around multiple positions before trading him to the Kansas City Chiefs for a fifth-round pick.

    The 25-year-old blocker now has the inside track to start at left guard. 

    "When you strip everything down to its core," general manager Brett Veach said, per the Kansas City Star's Lynn Worthy, "you have a guy that can play a bunch of positions and is a good athlete. He's a good kid, and he's going to work."

    Despite the Chiefs' favorable impression of Erving, Parker Ehinger remains in the mix. Ehinger started four games as a rookie, but he suffered a knee injury and never reclaimed the spot. Erving is currently listed atop the depth chart, even though the competition remains ongoing. 

    Besides, Erving doesn't have to start to provide value. 

    "Now, being able to focus in on one thing a little bit more and go here or there if I'm needed, it's definitely been good to be versatile," he said. 

Los Angeles Chargers: Free Safety

17 of 32

    Los Angeles Chargers safety Rayshawn Jenkins
    Los Angeles Chargers safety Rayshawn JenkinsAssociated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers finished third in pass defense last season, and the performance was due, in part, to the play of free safety Tre Boston. But the team didn't re-sign Boston after the season, and Gus Bradley has multiple options to play the position. 

    First-round pick Derwin James seems to be the obvious candidate to start. However, James' skill set better projects to strong safety where Jahleel Addae already resides. The rookie is currently listed as the team's backup free safety, yet his ability to play multiple roles provides flexibility within the scheme.

    Whereas, Rayshawn Jenkins' versatility and growing comfort level within the defense has created a significant opportunity. The 2017 fourth-round pick now makes his home along the back line.

    "It shows my versatility," Jenkins said, per Rachel Gossen of the Chargers' official site. "It shows I can play both safeties. I'm not just a strong safety. I can play both safety positions, so Lord forbid, if we ever need me to switch around…then that's what I'm going to have to do."

    Addae, James and Jenkins are a talented trio, and the Chargers still have Jaylen Watkins and Desmond King to work into the rotation.

Los Angeles Rams: Outside Linebacker

18 of 32

    Los Angeles Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam
    Los Angeles Rams linebacker Samson EbukamAssociated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams made significant moves throughout their lineup this offseason yet ignored outside linebacker. Ultimately, the pass rush will come from Aaron Donald (if/when he reports to the team after a lengthy holdout) and Ndamukong Suh along the interior, but an edge presence is preferred as those two consistently collapse the pocket. 

    With Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin gone, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips must get creative with his edge-rushers. A casual NFL fan can't name the two who are supposed to replace those well-known, established veterans. 

    Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre, who managed 5.5 sacks last season, are the projected starters. 

    "They proved that, 'Oh, hey, this isn't too big for me, and I can be a starter,'" linebackers coach Joe Barry told the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein

    Knowing someone can do something and actually doing it are two different things.

    Furthermore, Longacre is currently dealing with a biceps injury, according to ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry. His absence provides Trevon Young and Ejuan Price with more reps opposite Ebukam. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo should also factor into the rotation once he's taken off the physically unable to perform list.

Miami Dolphins: Running Back

19 of 32

    Miami Dolphins running backs Kenyan Drake (32) and Frank Gore (21)
    Miami Dolphins running backs Kenyan Drake (32) and Frank Gore (21)Associated Press

    Running backs Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake are both listed as starters on the Miami Dolphins' depth chart.

    Why didn't head coach Adam Gase list one over the other? 

    "Just to be an a--hole," he said, per the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero

    In all seriousness, the Dolphins don't have a lead back at the moment.

    The 35-year-old Gore may be great for the locker room, but he lacks the burst to create chunk plays. Drake, meanwhile, needs to show he can handle a larger load since he's never carried the ball more than 133 times in a season.

    Gore will lighten the load and provide a steadying presence; however, Drake's burst and elusiveness provide something different. 

    "I was like, 'Man, I kinda see why they traded Jay Ajayi,'" Gore said, per the Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser. "He's very talented. Jay Ajayi was a great back, too, but Kenyan is a very talented guy. He's smart. He can do everything on the field."

    Gase isn't ready to name a starting back, even though it's obvious which one is the better option at this point in their careers.

Minnesota Vikings: Offensive Line

20 of 32

    Minnesota Vikings offensive linemen Mike Remmers (74) and Rashod Hill (69)
    Minnesota Vikings offensive linemen Mike Remmers (74) and Rashod Hill (69)Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings have the look of a Super Bowl contender...if their offensive line doesn't implode. 

    The team already had concerns up front before one of its projected starters, Nick Easton, needed likely season-ending surgery on a herniated disc in his neck, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Minnesota's coaching staff began the search for its best starting five well before the unfortunate injury. 

    "I know everyone is nervous about our offensive line," head coach Mike Zimmer said, per the Associated Press. "But I like the mentality of those guys. I like how they work. I'm around them quite a bit, and they're going to figure out a way to get it done."

    Easton's absence makes certain Mike Remmers will stay at right guard, while Rashod Hill becomes the permanent right tackle. 

    Left guard is now the hot spot, with six-year veteran Tom Compton likely becoming a starter. 

    "We have kind of had him on our radar for a few years," Zimmer said. "When he was at Washington, he played quite a bit. ... He played some on the offensive line at multiple positions. We felt like he'd be good."

    Danny Isidora and Aviante Collins are also in the mix. 

New England Patriots: Running Back

21 of 32

    New England Patriots running back Sony Michel takes a handoff from quarterback Tom Brady.
    New England Patriots running back Sony Michel takes a handoff from quarterback Tom Brady.Associated Press

    Since Trent Brown locked down the left tackle position, attention can now turn toward the New England Patriots' running back rotation. 

    Of course, the coaching staff will utilize its stable based on situational football. Although, this is the same team that spent a first-round pick on a running back in April and previously showed a willingness to ride one back if he's producing. 

    James White is entrenched as the third-down back. He's too good in the role not to be. 

    Sony Michel may be a first-round rookie with the explosiveness to create big plays, but he must remain healthy. Right now, he's not. Michel required a procedure to drain fluid from his knee, according to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, and didn't play in the team's preseason opener. 

    Rex Burkhead is listed as RB1 at the moment, but he didn't play against the Washington Redskins, either. 

    Those three are set, though. How they're used still needs to be determined, and injuries are slowing the evaluation. 

    Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee, meanwhile, are competing for a roster spot as the Patriots' big back. Hill averaged 4.6 yards per attempt in the first preseason contest, whereas Gillislee struggled to find rushing lanes.

New Orleans Saints: Wide Receiver

22 of 32

    New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith
    New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan SmithGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Defensive backs can't cover the New Orleans Saints' Michael Thomas. The rest of the team's wide receiver corps is suspect. 

    Ted Ginn Jr. is a 12-year veteran with more than enough speed, even at this point in his career, to take the top off opposing defenses. Everyone knows what to expect of him. 

    It's adding the pieces around these two to maximize the Saints' offensive personnel. 

    Third-round rookie Tre'Quan Smith has been the star of training camp so far and led the Saints with four receptions for 48 years against the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

    "I'm not afraid of expectations if they're held high," Smith told the Times-Picayune (via 247 Sports' James Parks). "I know I'm a competitor, and just being a competitor, you want things to be hard. You don't want nothing to come easy."

    Smith brings what Brandin Cooks once did: the ability to create after the catch—which will allow Sean Payton to expand his play-calling. 

    The organization is searching for more options. The team released Brandon Coleman and signed Michael Floyd earlier this month. Also, Cameron Meredith continues his return from last year's torn ACL. 

    The pieces are available, but the overall picture has yet to fully materialize. 

New York Giants: Free Safety

23 of 32

    New York Giants safety Darian Thompson
    New York Giants safety Darian ThompsonAssociated Press

    If you have five different safeties, you don't have any. 

    OK, that's not exactly how the saying goes, but it's applicable to the New York Giants' situation. Landon Collins is a two-time Pro Bowl performer at strong safety. Five other defensive backs are vying to become Collins' running mate at free safety. 

    Darian Thompson, Andrew Adams, Curtis Riley and Michael Thomas have rotated reps throughout training camp. Veteran corner William Gay even got a look. Although, Thompson received the nod as starter during the Giants' preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.

    "Last year I kind of went in thinking about a whole lot," Thompson said after entering his third training camp, per NJ.com's JJ Conrad. "A lot of thinking about what's going on and figuring things out. This year, the playbook and everything is coming a lot easier to me. I feel good."

    Thompson's standing has been helped by the fact that Riley dealt with a strained hamstring prior to last week, according to the NorthJersey.com's Art Stapleton. Ironically, Thompson suffered a hamstring strain against the Browns, according to ESPN.com's Jordan Ranaan

    On the surface, this appears to be a wide-open competition. It is to a degree. Although, Thompson playing well should solidify his standing after starting 16 games last season. 

New York Jets: Quarterback

24 of 32

    New York Jets quarterbacks Sam Darnold (14), Teddy Bridgewater (5) and Josh McCown (15)
    New York Jets quarterbacks Sam Darnold (14), Teddy Bridgewater (5) and Josh McCown (15)Associated Press

    The New York Jets' quarterback competition is a three-way race with no clear front-runner.

    Josh McCown has been earmarked as the starter for some time, but both Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold continue to make strong cases. 

    The 39-year-old McCown is who he is: a consummate professional who has seen it all. The other two are far more intriguing. 

    Darnold looked stellar in his first professional action.

    "The hashes are so much closer than college," he mentioned, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini. "So I feel like I can see the field a little bit clearer in a weird way. ... You can tell right way whether it's man or zone, which is really cool."

    Bridgewater, meanwhile, didn't need to knock off any rust after missing almost all of the last two seasons with a knee injury. He completed 87.5 percent of his passes in his first Jets action. 

    The current order isn't expected to change this week, but head coach Todd Bowles is weighing all of his possibilities. 

    "We'll see how the preseason goes," Bowles said. "I'll make my decision when it happens. I'm not going to jump to any conclusions after one game. It's a tough decision. We've got three good players."

Oakland Raiders: Left Tackle

25 of 32

    Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Kolton Miller
    Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Kolton MillerAssociated Press

    The Oakland Raiders are going to mess around and screw up their offensive line.

    One of the league's best units may experience a drastic change at left tackle with rookie Kolton Miller taking over the blind side since Donald Penn's future is in question. 

    Miller has been a projected starter since the organization drafted him with the 15th overall pick. Yet, his transition was supposed to begin at right tackle before he eventually landed on the left side. Instead, the first-year blocker continues to work with the first-team offense.  

    "Kolton gets better every day," fellow rookie and practice adversary Arden Key said, per the Associated Press' Michael Wagaman. "From the first day we went against each to now, it's just gotten so much better."

    This isn't a traditional position battle by any means. Penn hasn't taken a snap as he recovers from a Lisfranc fracture. However, the veteran's value hinges on Miller's development. Right now, the Raiders are interested in reworking Penn's contract where he would take a pay cut, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Michael Gehlken

    If the Raiders continue to push for a restructure, the situation could become contentious and lead to Penn's trade or release. 

Philadelphia Eagles: Nickel Corner

26 of 32

    Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones
    Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sidney JonesAssociated Press

    Sidney Jones scared Eagles nation during Thursday's preseason contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The second-year cornerback left the game with a leg injury. Fortunately, it had nothing to do with last year's Achilles tear. 

    "I thought, 'ankle sprain, damn,'" he said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Les Bowen. "So I got up and walked it off. Just an ankle sprain."

    "I know I scared everybody. ... I'm good."

    A healthy Jones, whom the team selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, is a potentially vital piece to the Eagles defense as its nickel corner. He's not the only option, though. 

    De'Vante Bausby impressed during the offseason and worked alongside Jones, according to the Delaware News Journal's Martin Frank

    "He's a very, very competitive player," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of Bausby during minicamp, per NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt. "He's got good size, but his competitiveness stands out." Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are set as the outside corners.

    The 25-year-old defensive back hasn't relented in his quest to earn a spot in the lineup. As long as Jones stays healthy, though, he appears to hold an edge, while Bausby can provide depth at nickel and outside corner. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside Linebacker

27 of 32

    Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic (51) and Tyler Matakevich (44)
    Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic (51) and Tyler Matakevich (44)Associated Press

    The idea Tyler Matakevich is a starting-caliber linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers is starting to fade. Jon Bostic helped eschew the perception as he develops into a defensive leader. 

    "He understands, he's smart and he knows football," inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Kevin Gorman. "... Being in all of those systems [five teams in four years] means you can sample a lot of dishes. The good thing is, he can pass his knowledge on out there. That's a skill, to be able to talk while people are moving. That's what I appreciate about him." 

    Bostic worked himself into that position even though the Steelers organization placed Matakevich as the starter at left inside linebacker on its initial depth chart. Matakevich led the Steelers with five total tackles against the Philadelphia Eagles even though he didn't play well. 

    "Tackling is the key," he said in an interview after the game. "... Myself, I missed a bunch."  

    A third option exists. Morgan Burnett and first-round safety Terrell Edmunds are interchangeable pieces with each capable of playing linebacker in sub-packages. 

San Francisco 49ers: Right Guard

28 of 32

    San Francisco 49ers guard Joshua Garnett during a practice drill
    San Francisco 49ers guard Joshua Garnett during a practice drillAssociated Press

    Mike Person appears to have a stranglehold on the San Francisco 49ers' starting right guard spot due to a lack of competition. 

    Joshua Garnett was supposed to push Person and eventually win the job. After all, he's listed as the team's starting right guard. Yet a mysterious injury has kept the 2016 first-round pick off the field. Garnett tweaked his knee July 28 and remains unavailable. 

    "No, I don't think there is an exact injury," head coach Kyle Shanahan said when asked about Garnett's continued absence, per the Santa Rosa Press Democrat's Grant Cohn. "I think you could ask him exactly about that."

    The third-year blocker, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, may become a camp casualty. 

    "It's tough to make this team and do it if you're not out there," Shanahan said earlier, per Rob Lowder of USA Today's Niners Wire. 

    Plus, Jonathan Cooper is still working his way into shape after starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list. This leaves Person, who played under Shanahan with the Atlanta Falcons. 

    "I'd say Mike's been the same guy that we knew of, if not a little bit better," the coach said, per the San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch

Seattle Seahawks: Running Back

29 of 32

    Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson takes a handoff from quarterback  Alex McGough.
    Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson takes a handoff from quarterback Alex McGough.Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks are rebuilding their ground game around a new running back, but it's not who the organization expected it to be. 

    Chris Carson, not first-round pick Rashaad Penny, is primed to be Seattle's lead back. 

    "He had a phenomenal offseason," head coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday, per Andy Patton of USA Today's Seahawks Wire. "He was really the star of the offseason in that he was just so fit, so strong and so explosive from the moment we got back."

    Carson's performance continued into the Seahawks' first preseason contest. The 2017 seventh-round pick had 26 yards on four carries versus the Colts.

    Penny, on the other hand, struggled in his debut and averaged a meager two yards per carry. 

    "We made a couple mistakes, Carroll said, per Liz Mathews of Seahawks Wire. "We got hit in the backfield on  stuff, but I thought Chris looked really good, and I thought Rashaad had a chance and Mike [Davis] had a chance to do some stuff."

    "A chance to do some stuff" and producing are different. Nothing indicates Penny will surpass Carson on the depth chart between now and the regular season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cornerback

30 of 32

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback M.J. Stewart
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback M.J. StewartAssociated Press

    Something had to be done with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary after the team finished dead last in pass defense last season. 

    So, the organization spent a pair of second-round picks on cornerbacks. M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis won't be eased into the lineup, either, since Vernon Hargreaves is dealing with a strained groin. 

    "He's going to miss a little bit," head coach Dirk Koetter said, per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud. "Soft tissue and those are always sort of delicate, tricky type. But it won't be anything I don't think that will keep him out from any real games."

    Third-year veteran Ryan Smith didn't play well without Hargreaves or Brent Grimes in the lineup during the preseason opener.  

    "I think Ryan struggled," Koetter said. "[The Miami Dolphins] definitely were throwing at him for a while on two of the drives they had."

    Thus, it falls on Stewart and Davis (along with rookie safety Jordan Whitehead) to solidify the suspect secondary. 

    "I thought all three of those rookie DBs competed hard," the coach added. "That's what you want to see. They all played physical, they all tackled well. ... We're pleased for their first game."

Tennessee Titans: Inside Linebacker

31 of 32

    Tennessee Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans
    Tennessee Titans linebacker Rashaan EvansMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Something isn't quite right with the Tennessee Titans' first-round pick, Rashaan Evans. Tthe linebacker left the field July 28 and hasn't returned to the lineup. 

    Early indications suggested Evans suffered heat-related issues, according to the Tennessean's Erik Bacharach. This no longer seems to be the case since his absence is going into its third week. According to SB Nation's Brandon Morales, a possible injury occurred during practice when Evans pursued a ball-carrier before he "went down and didn't get up." 

    The rookie was supposed to solidify the middle of the Titans defense. Now, he's third on the depth chart behind Will Compton and Nate Palmer. 

    "Personally, you got to take advantage of every opportunity," Compton said, per the Tennessean's Souichi Terada. "It doesn't matter if you're one, two or three. It doesn't matter if you got here just the other day."

    Compton is an experienced alternative with 33 career starts. Surely, the Titans are disappointed Evans isn't on the field, but the veteran isn't a defensive liability.

    "I've been enjoying working with Will," Wesley Woodyard said. "He's brought a lot of excitement to our linebacker room. ... Then every day he shows up, competes and pushes us."

Washington Redskins: Running Back

32 of 32

    Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson
    Washington Redskins running back Chris ThompsonSteve Helber/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins must step back, take a collective breath and reset their offense. 

    The team thought it had a dynamic running back in Derrius Guice, who could be the offensive focal point, especially on early downs. Guice is now out for the season after suffering a torn ACL during Washington's first preseason contest, according to the team's official site.

    "He was supposed to be a first-round pick," fellow running back Chris Thompson said earlier in training camp, per the Associated Press' Stephen Whyno. "He's one of those guys we're expecting a lot out of him. ... They're not expecting him to come here and have a 500-yard season. For him, I want 1,000-plus."

    Obviously, that's not going to happen, and others must pick up the slack. 

    Thompson is the obvious candidate to take on a significant role and step outside his comfort zone as a third-down back. The sixth-year veteran is the most dynamic runner still available with the ability to create chunk plays as a runner and receiver. 

    Guice will be missed most when Washington tries to establish the running game early in contests. Robert Kelley and Samaje Perine are capable backs, but neither runs with the same attitude or displays the same burst as the rookie.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.