Training camp is a time for teams and coaching staffs to sort out depth charts and figure out who will be playing where, and just how much they’ll be on the field. That’s where position battles come into play. Players will be vying for all-important spots on the roster, whether it’s as a starter or a backup, and will have to prove they’re worthy in both practice and the preseason. A look at the top training camp battle for every NFC team, beginning with the East:
Dallas Cowboys: Middle linebacker
The Cowboys were dealt a major blow when Rolando McClain was suspended 10 games to start the season. Now, it’s sounding more and more likely that he won’t play at all in 2016, and maybe never again for Dallas. As a result, the Cowboys will turn to recently resigned Justin Durant or Anthony Hitchens to take his spot. Both players have a decent amount of experience, but Durant has several years on the much younger Hitchens. This is a position the Cowboys are familiar with shuffling due to Sean Lee’s injuries and McClain’s suspensions, so it’s nothing new. Hitchens will likely win the job with Durant playing outside linebacker a bit, too.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
New York Giants: No. 2 receiver
Odell Beckham Jr. is obviously the top target in New York, but the Giants have to find out who will be No. 2 to him this season. Sterling Shepard is a rookie, but he’s a similar player to Victor Cruz – the guy he’ll be battling for this job. Shepard is an outstanding route runner with great hands and shouldn’t have much trouble getting snaps in 2016, especially given Cruz’s injury history. Cruz will need to have an outstanding, injury-free camp to hold off the surging rookie on the depth chart.
William Hauser-USA TODAY SportsWilliam Hauser
Philadelphia Eagles: Cornerback
The Eagles have a bit of a mess at cornerback with the departure of Byron Maxwell. Leodis McKelvin, whom they added this offseason, appears to be No. 1 on the depth chart at this moment, but there’s no guarantee it’ll stay that way. Nolan Carroll and second-year pro Eric Rowe are going to challenge him, as will seventh-round pick Jalen Mills. There’s depth there, but Philadelphia doesn’t have a shutdown No. 1 corner.
Getty ImagesMitchell Leff
Washington Redskins: Left guard
The Redskins’ offensive line is pretty strong across the board, but Washington has a situation to sort out at left guard. Spencer Long and Arie Kouandjio will get ample opportunities to win the job over Shawn Lauvao, who’s coming off of a season-ending ankle injury in 2015. All three players are strong candidates to start the season at left guard, and the Redskins will be just fine with any of the three.
The Washington Post/Getty ImagesThe Washington Post
Atlanta Falcons: Right guard
The Falcons have a solid offensive line, especially with the emergence of Ryan Schraeder at right tackle in recent years. Who he’ll be playing next to remains to be seen, though. Chris Chester, Mike Person and rookie Wes Schweitzer all have a shot at winning the starting job at right guard with the latter two receiving most of the snaps in training camp thus far.
Getty ImagesFrederick Breedon
Carolina Panthers: Cornerback
Thanks to the departure of Pro Bowler Josh Norman and Charles Tillman retiring, the Panthers' daunting secondary had to undergo some changes. Robert McClain and Bene’ Benwikere are trying to hold off surging rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, as well as Zack Sanchez. The Panthers won’t have a shutdown corner like they did last season with Norman, but the depth is there. But so is inexperience. Expect a combination of McClain, Benwikere and Bradberry to be the starters in a nickel package.
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
New Orleans Saints: No. 2 receiver
Brandin Cooks isn’t your typical No. 1 wide receiver, but he’ll be forced to take over that role with Marques Colston gone. Cooks usually lines up in the slot, though, which leaves openings on the outside. Rookie Michael Thomas has put on a show in camp thus far, but Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead are both talented and more experienced receivers. Thomas’ big-play ability will be too difficult to keep on the sideline, though. He’ll be the No. 2 guy this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive end
The Buccaneers added a talented but troubled pass rusher in second-round pick Noah Spence. He’ll battle for one of the starting spots on the edge, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be more of a situational pass rusher or a three-down guy. He’ll try to supplant William Gholston and Robert Ayers at defensive end, and if he plays as well as he did at the Senior Bowl, it shouldn’t be hard for him to get snaps.
Chicago Bears: Outside linebacker
When you draft a rookie ninth overall, he’s going to play. That will be the case for Leonard Floyd, it’s just a matter of how much he’ll get on the field. The Bears are fairly set with two veterans on the edge in Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee, but neither has Floyd's potential. Houston and McPhee both have the ability to move inside on passing downs, which will give Floyd more snaps, but expect the rookie to impress in camp and garner playing time even on first and second down.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY SportsGreg M. Cooper
Detroit Lions: Backup running back
Ameer Abdullah was a disappointment as a rookie last season. He averaged only 4.2 yards per carry, rushing for 597 yards in 16 games. He’s wildly talented, though, as he showed flashes of being a three-down back in 2015. There’s little doubt he’ll be the starter, but the Lions have to figure out who his backup will be. Theo Riddick is arguably the best pass-catching back in the league, and Zach Zenner is a bigger bruiser. The preseason will be telling for who will get the most snaps behind Abdullah, with Zenner likely to get the brunt of short-yardage snaps and goal line plays.
Getty ImagesDave Reginek
Green Bay Packers: No. 3 receiver
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are entrenched at Nos. 1 and 2 on the depth chart. Davante Adams would be the likeliest candidate to be the No. 3 in a pass-first offense, but a horrendous 2015 season leaves that in doubt. Instead, he’ll be fending off a handful of risers. Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery (when healthy) and rookie Trevor Davis will all be vying for what is essentially a third starting spot. This position battle will be one that greatly impacts the Packers’ high-powered offense.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Minnesota Vikings: No. 2 receiver
Stefon Diggs emerged as a true No. 1 receiver for Teddy Bridgewater last season in what was a pleasant surprise by all accounts. Who will be lining up on the other side of him remains to be seen. First-round pick Laquon Treadwell is the obvious candidate, but Jarius Wright and Charles Johnson offer different skill sets than Treadwell. The rookie won’t be guaranteed anything, and he’ll need to show that his lack of speed isn’t an issue in the NFL.
A.Q. Shipley started just three games in 2015, but he’s the favorite to be the top center when the season begins. However, the Cardinals spent a fourth-round pick on Evan Boehm, who’s going to push Shipley in camp, and already has. Coach Bruce Arians gave Shipley somewhat of a vote of confidence, saying he’s “proven he can play,” but when the pads go on it could be a different story. This is certainly a battle worth watching despite experience likely prevailing.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
San Francisco 49ers: Quarterback
This one is obvious. The 49ers have yet to name a starting quarterback, with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert vying for the job. Coach Chip Kelly has hinted that the preseason games will likely determine who wins out, but there hasn’t been any real indication one way or the other. Kaepernick seems to fit better in Kelly’s system given his athleticism, but Gabbert wasn’t terrible last season and there’s a reason he was taken in Round 1 back in 2011. He can still play.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
Seattle Seahawks: Running back
Thomas Rawls emerged as a standout running back in Marshawn Lynch’s absence last season. He’s a tough runner with better speed than Lynch, and he showed flashes of greatness before breaking his ankle late in the year. He has a bit of a head start over the backs behind him, but there’s a convoy of players vying for time at the position. Christine Michael has more experience than Rawls but is slightly less dynamic, and rookies C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins bring differing skill sets. The Seahawks will likely use more of a committee than they did in the past, but Rawls will get the biggest workload.
Getty ImagesStephen Brashear
Los Angeles Rams: Quarterback
Jared Goff is in the rare position in which the No. 1 overall pick in the draft isn't guaranteed to start right away. He’ll have to beat out Case Keenum to be the Week 1 starter, which will be tougher than it sounds. Goff should be under center when the season kicks off -- if for no other reason than to stoke excitement in LA following the team's offseason move -- and he likely will be. Goff is the superior talent with greater potential, and in the Rams’ presumed run-heavy offense with Todd Gurley he won’t be forced to throw it 40 times per game.