By Kenneth Teape (@teapester725)
We are almost halfway through the NFL Preseason and rosters are finally starting to take shape. Players are being cut to trim down to the mandated 53 man rosters and depth charts are being finalized for the start of the regular season. There are some teams that will need a little more time in figuring out their depth charts as position battles wage on throughout the end of training camp and into to the first week of the season. Here are some battles to keep an eye on throughout the rest of training camp.
New York Jets QB Battle: Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith: In incumbent starter Sanchez has been a huge disappointment the last two seasons leading the Jets to bring in the first legitimate competition against him since he was drafted out of USC. Throughout his whole football career, dating all the way back to high school, Sanchez has been handed everything; this is the first time he had to earn it, sort of. As a second round pick plenty of people feel Smith is worthwhile competition not only during training camp but throughout the regular season as well. With the Jets not looking like contenders this season it is fair to raise the question if it is worthwhile for Sanchez to start at all. With a new front office Sanchez does not look to have much leash this season as they want Smith on the field as soon as possible.
All of that may change with Smith supposedly going through a horrid week of practice. After injuring his ankle in the first preseason game Smith tried to tough it out in practice this week but looked awful. He was throwing tons of interceptions and did not look like himself according to Jets head coach Rex Ryan. With that Sanchez will get the start in the Jets second preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. There is still a position battle going on here but all signs are pointing to Sanchez being under center once the games start to really count. The injury to Smith has caused him to miss valuable practice time and put in worthwhile reps putting him behind, something that will not help his cause if he wants this starting job. As much as Jets fans will hate it, Sanchez looks ahead right now.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Battle: Michael Vick vs. Nick Foles vs. Matt Barkley: This one is looking more and more like a two-horse race as the more experienced Vick and Foles seem to be pulling away from Barkley. At this point Barkley is a long-shot to be the number one quarterback at the start of the season. New Head Coach Chip Kelly is saying that this is a wide open competition and he will not make a final decision until he sees them in some more preseason game action; at this point you have to take him at his word no matter how mind-boggling obvious the choice seems to be.
Vick is the front runner right now because of the experience he has as a starting quarterback and the upside he brings to a Chip Kelly run offense. He has the superior foot speed to Foles and could flourish in a wide open offense. Speed and athleticism will not solely win the job for Vick though as smart decision making is key to running this kind of offense. Vick has a penchant for trying to extend plays and turn them into something instead of holding onto the football and living to start another play. That type of mentality is where Foles holds and edge in this battle and can over take Vick as the starting quarterback.
Vick will most likely start the season as the lead quarterback but it is anyone’s guess if he will end the season there. Vick is injury prone and his style of play does not help keep him on the field. It would not be shocking to see Vick, Foles and even Barkley getting significant snaps at some point this season. If Vick gets injured Foles will most likely be first in line but if he falters and the Eagles are already out of contention like many people believe they will be there is no reason to see what Barkley has to offer.
Buffalo Bills QB Battle: E.J. Manuel vs. Kevin Kolb: Can Kevin Kolb lose out on yet another quarterback battle? It seems like it is a yearly occurrence that Kolb is fighting for a job in the NFL and this season is no different. Kolb was signed as a free agent after losing the Arizona Cardinals job last season because of injuries and them bringing in Carson Palmer. Coming to Buffalo gave him a good chance to start until they used their first round pick on the Florida State product Manuel.
The Bills are a team on the up-and-up so this decision will be very important. First year head coach Doug Marrone already had a lot of his plate being a rookie NFL head coach and this will only make things tougher. Conventional thinking is giving the veteran snaps to start the season but that may not be the case in Buffalo; just look at the Seattle Seahawks last season when they decided to hand the reigns of the offense over to rookie Russell Wilson instead of Matt Flynn.
Manuel has surprised people with his play thus far in camp. He is making some plays, albeit not always positive ones, but the coaching staff is very high on him. They light up like a Christmas tree when talking about him. He has the physical tools to be a very good NFL quarterback and it will be interesting to see if he can ever put it all together; going from the warm weather of Florida to the freezing temperatures of Buffalo are one thing.
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Kolb has the experience factor in his favor heading into the season. The Bills need to start showing improvement because they have some talent and it is going to waste right now. They upgraded the offense with more weapons in Robert Woods in the draft and already have a dynamic duo in the backfield in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Those are weapons any quarterback would drool over having.
Training camp and preseason games will be huge in Buffalo. Keep an eye out for who starts the third preseason game. Normally that is the game that the starters will see the most time in and get the most work in so whoever starts that game in Buffalo would likely have the inside edge. Right now I’m leaning towards Manuel starting as the new staff most likely wants to use their new toy as soon as possible if he appears ready to perform.
New York Giants RB Battle: David Wilson vs. Andre Brown: This is one of the more intriguing battles in camp as Head Coach Tom Coughlin listed them as co-starters at the start of things. After Ahmad Bradshaw was let go in the offseason many people assumed Wilson would be handed the job but that does not seem to be the case. There are some things he needs to first prove to Coughlin and the coaching staff before he becomes the bell cow of this offense.
First he needs to show he can hold onto the ball. Last season was virtually a wash offensively for Wilson after he fumbled the first game of the season and was quickly sent to Coughlin’s doghouse; nowhere any player wants to be at anytime. If he can prove he can hold onto the ball he will get the touches. Another area of concern is pass blocking. Wilson was not asked to do much of it in college and will need to do it with the Giants if he wants to play. Protecting Eli Manning in passing situations is of the utmost importance for Giants running backs and if you can’t do it you won’t play.
As for Brown, he was having a breakout season for the Giants last year before breaking his fibula. He is a power back that looked capable of being the feature back in an offense last season when given the chance with the Giants as he averaged 5.3 yards per carry. He has started games for the Giants last season so he does hold the experience advantage over Wilson.
In the end the Giants are most successful when they have multiple running backs playing successfully. Someone will be named the nominal starter but in the end they should see a pretty even split in carries. They are a very good combination as Wilson brings the speed and agility while Brown can bring the power and toughness for short yardage. The Giants are in a good situation with their running backs.
Pittsburgh Steelers LB Battle: Jarvis Jones vs. Jason Worilds: The Steeler way is to normally bring rookies along slowly, almost using their first year in the league as a red-shirt season of sorts. Jones looks to have other plans in mind.
Jones is off to a fast start in his first training camp and has a legitimate chance to become the first Steelers rookie to start at outside linebacker since Jack Ham in 1971. The biggest edge that Jones holds is that he played the rushing linebacker position in Georgia throughout his time there so the Steelers do not need to re-make him like they have with other players; he has the intangibles and skills to step in right away and know what to do.
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