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After a very long wait, football is finally here, as training camps up and down the country open their doors. In addition to getting players into game shape and ready for the season, training camps also provide onlookers with a good idea of which players are winning their position battles, and edging themselves into starting roles. These ‘battles’ give the media and fans alike, a much needed shot in the arm of football, and we’ve compiled our eight best position battles in this year’s training camps.
Jarvis Jones vs Jason Worilds/ Outside Linebacker/ Pittsburgh Steelers.
Given Pittsburgh’s iconic defense, and their reluctance to give starting roles to rookies, this is by far the most intriguing position battle coming out of the Steel City. Few would disagree with the view that Jones is the more talented of the pair, but Worilds NFL experience, not to mention the improvements he has made playing behind James Harrison, means that this contest is far from won. Jones will know that his status as a first round draft pick won’t make him an automatic starter for the Steelers (like it would in some NFL teams), but he will embrace this fact, and use it as motivation as he goes head-to-head with Worilds for the starting spot.
Eddie Lacy vs Johnathan Franklin/ Running Back/ Green Bay Packers.
Both players were excellent running backs in college, and although Lacy was drafted higher than Franklin, there is very little between these two in the minds of many experts. Assuming one of DaJuan Harris, James Starks or Alex Green doesn’t take this role for their own, the rookie which shows the better pass protection skills could get the starters role, given that this team’s hope of success live and die with Aaron Rodgers.
Receiving Corps/ New England Patriots.
There are literally too many candidates here to mention, but with Wes Welker’s departure, Aaron Hernandez’s arrest, and the seemingly perpetually injured Rob Gronkowski, big questions remain to be answered as to who Tom Brady will be targeting this season. If he can stay fit, new arrival Danny Amendola is almost a certainty to start, as of course is Gronkowski, but with the latter currently injured, Jake Ballard could well see more of the ball early on. As for the wide receivers, rookie Aaron Dobson is a popular choice, although veterans Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins and Julian Edelman shouldn’t be discounted.
Michael Vick vs Nick Foles/ Quarterback/ Philadelphia Eagles.
One of the few genuine quarterback battles this year, and the decision may not come solely down to performance during training camp, but on new Head Coach Chip Kelly’s personal preference. Vick is arguably the front runner, especially if Kelly tries to employ an offensive system similar to the one he ran in Oregon. The veteran is also better equipped to win in the NFL immediately, potentially giving the Eagles a chance of making the playoffs in the very evenly matched NFC East. Kelly may however decide he wants to begin building for the future, and sculpting the team to his liking, in which case second-year quarterback Foles may prove the more enticing option.
Geno Smith vs Mark Sanchez./ Quarterback/ New York Jets.
From one quarterback battle to another, the Smith vs Sanchez battle will likely dominate your TV screens right up until Week 1 (and probably far beyond…). A disgruntled New York fan base may be yearning for Smith to start immediately, but unfortunately for them, this is a job for Sanchez to lose. Perhaps the larger question should be ‘if Smith gets the job, will he do any better than Sanchez?’
Cornerbacks/ San Francisco 49ers.
The recent addition of Eric Wright to the mix adds even more competition to what was already a congested group. Ageing veterans Nnamdi Asomugha and Carlos Rogers could find their places in the 53-man roster under threat, and will need a strong camp to secure their places. Tarell Brown should certainly start, as most likely will Chris Culliver, but the arrival of Wright could spell the end for either Asomugha or Rogers, with the latter’s large salary making his position in San Francisco vulnerable.
Jabaal Sheard vs Barkevious Mingo/ Outside Linebacker/ Cleveland Browns.
Assuming that Paul Kruger has one spot nailed down, given that you do not often give $40 million contracts to situational pass rushers, the remaining spot in Cleveland’s new 3-4 defense falls to either Sheard or Mingo, although Tank Carder should not be completely forgotten. Temptation would be to start Mingo after taking him with the 6th overall pick, but common sense might suggest starting Sheard, and allowing Mingo, who is not only transitioning to the NFL, but also a new position, a little longer to acclimatize to his new environment.
Terron Armstead vs Jason Smith vs Charles Brown. Left Tackle. New Orleans Saints.
It is a position battle which isn’t getting too much attention right now, but if the Saints can find a solid left tackle, then they have an offense which could cause some serious damage in the NFC South this year. Zach Strief will most likely resume his position of right tackle, leaving the likes of Brown and Smith to compete with Armstead, although Bryce Harris or Marcel Jones could yet impress in camp. Onlookers at the combine may have been blown away by Armstead’s performances, but starting at left tackle as a rookie is a challenging enough prospect for a first round pick, let alone a third round pick like Armstead. There’s no doubting Armstead has potential, and that he is the Saints’ future at the position, but he may have to spend a year behind Brown first.
Photo Courtesy of Tom Sullivan