It’s that time of year: Training camp! Players will be competing at a high level to win or keep jobs on NFL teams. Who will emerge as the starter or backup at some of the key positions? We’ll soon find out. Let’s break down some of the most intriguing position battles of 2013.
Vikings starting ILB
Erin Henderson: A converted outside linebacker, Henderson must show improvement in preseason if he wants to win the job. The Vikings are putting a priority in covering the pass, something that Henderson must improve upon. Desmond Bishop: The offseason signing of the Packers linebacker was a surprising one. Bishop adds immediate depth to a solid unit and could take some snaps away from Henderson early.
Rams starting RB
Isaiah Pead: A season-opening suspension shouldn’t keep the second-year running back from winning this gig. Pead excels at running the ball between the tackles. Daryl Richardson: Steven Jackson carried the load for the Rams last season, while Richardson emerged as the No. 2 back. Zac Stacy: Haven’t heard the name? Stacy was one of the best draft-day scoops in Day 3. The former Vanderbilt running back fell to the fifth round and could make an impact in his first season. He’s a very traditional, blue-collar back who won’t break many big runs but is very consistent.
Packers starting RB
Johnathan Franklin: Franklin could be used as a change-of-pace back after establishing himself as one of the top runners in the nation last season at UCLA. He’s the school’s all-time leading rusher and can make an instant impact as a rookie. Eddie Lacy: The Packers want to establish their presence in the running game and that’s why they added power-runner from Alabama in April. Lacy has battled injuries in the past, but looks to be the bell cow back for Green Bay. James Starks: Although Starks was reportedly on the trade block in April, he has the most experience in Green Bay’s backfield. Alex Green: Green has a real chance to win this job. In 2012, he ran on a surgically repaired knee, so he was a bit timid. Although the franchise selected two running backs in April’s draft, Green could have an upper hand because of his experience. DuJuan Harris: A tough runner who is a bit undersized, he offers the team a spark in the backfield. Can he impress coaches enough to win the starting job?
Steelers starting RB
Le’Veon Bell: The Steelers spent a second-round pick on Bell and many people who follow the team believe this could be Bell’s job to lose. After a decorated career at Michigan State, Bell fits the grind-it-out mentality that Pittsburgh fans have grown to love. Isacc Redman: Redman was technically the opening day starter last season, but only because Rashard Mendenhall was recovering from an injury. Redman must prove his comfort in the system as he has the most experience of any the Steelers running backs. Jonathan Dwyer: Could Dwyer be the odd man out now that the Steelers spent a draft pick on rookie Le’Veon Bell? Rumors have swirled that Dwyer must have a good camp as he enters a contract year.
Bengals No. 2 WR
Mohamed Sanu: Sanu finished last season on the season-ending injured reserve, but has shown flashes to be a tremendous complement to premier wide receiver A.J. Green. Brandon Tate: Although Tate has shown great versatility in the return game, his ability to lock down a receiver position has been questioned. Marvin Jones: Jones can stretch the field alongside Green and has shown a budding chemistry with Andy Dalton.
Niners No. 2 WR
A.J. Jenkins: Since Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon, the No. 2 wide receiver position is wide open. The Niners spent a first-round pick on Jenkins in 2012, and after a disappointing rookie season, now would be the time to fill the void. Quinton Patton: The rookie wide receiver from Louisiana Tech is a bit undersized, but is a playmaker. He has an ability to make defenders miss and very soft hands. Mario Manningham: The veteran wide receiver still tries to battle back from a torn ACL and PCL, and it’s not a lock that he’ll be available to play in Week 1 of the regular season. This fact could open the door for Ricardo Lockette and Kyle Williams.
Broncos starting RB
Montee Ball: The Broncos made it clear that a new era in Denver for running backs is here. The team spent a second-round pick on Ball and waived seasoned veteran Willis McGahee. Ball is expected to handle a majority of the load and could prove his value in the passing game. Ronnie Hillman: Hillman packed on 20 pounds of muscle to his frame during the offseason. The added bulk will help Hillman maintain his durability throughout the season. Vice president of football operations John Elway recently referred to Hillman as a 190-pound change-of-pace type guy. So, there’s that. Knowshon Moreno: Moreno continues to battle back from a knee injury that plagued his 2012 season. He’ll get an opportunity to work into the mix, but it could be hard to take carries away from the two young runners.
Bills starting QB
E.J. Manuel: Head coach Doug Marrone might not want to throw Manuel immediately into the fire, but the rookie will eventually need to take his lumps. Marrone has said there isn’t a timetable to make a decision for a starting quarterback, so you can interpret that as them giving Manuel all the time he needs to win the job. Kevin Kolb: Kolb clearly has more NFL experience than Manuel, but the job is up for grabs. It’s a new offense for Kolb, but there is no substitution for the fact that he has witnessed the speed defenses play at the professional level.
Jets starting QB
Mark Sanchez: Sanchez is trying to rebound from a horrifying 2012 season and hopes to fend off rookie QB Geno Smith. During offseason workouts, Sanchez had a better grasp of the offense than Smith, but that’s natural because of his experience with the personnel. This could be his last chance as the Jets QB. Geno Smith: The rookie QB has made it known that he wants to win the starting job, but getting under center could be a challenge for him right away. New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will put a priority on ball security and has praised Smith, saying it’s ‘up to him’ if the rookie can win the job.
Eagles starting QB
Mike Vick: Many assumed Vick would win the job after he was given a contract extension, but new head coach Chip Kelly isn’t going to make it that easy. Vick has speed and is a threat outside the pocket, but Kelly values accuracy and decision-making — something Vick has struggled with in the past. Nick Foles: The second-year QB got some action last season while Vick battled injuries, but early reports have indicated that he’s actually appeared as a frontrunner. Matt Barkley: Although a longshot to win the job, the rookie QB has impressed early. Barkley has the confidence to lead an NFL locker room, but may need a bit more seasoning before he starts on Sundays.