The Biggest Spot Up for Grabs in Each NFL Training Camp

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

The Biggest Spot Up for Grabs in Each NFL Training Camp

0 of 32

    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Football is back! Well, almost. 

    We are still a few weeks away from meaningful game action, but training camp battles are being waged across the NFL as we speak, with plenty of positions up for grabs in the coming weeks.

    Which one is going to see the fiercest fighting on each team? Click through to find out.

Arizona Cardinals

1 of 32

    Offensive Tackle Bobby Massie
    Offensive Tackle Bobby MassieChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Up for grabs: right tackle

    The Arizona Cardinals improved the offensive line this offseason by way of free agency and players getting healthy.

    Former Oakland Raider Jared Veldheer came over to solidify the left tackle position, and 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Cooper should be back from a broken leg at left guard.

    The right side, however, is not so settled.

    The Cardinals had a pretty good right tackle in Eric Winston last season, but he still languishes on the market while Arizona has question marks at the position.

    Bobby Massie is the presumptive starter, but he is largely unproven heading into his third season. He was awful as a rookie (though better as the season wore on) and saw all of 57 snaps last season.

    Brady Sowell stepped in and started at left tackle after Levi Brown was traded, and there may be horror stories based on his play—Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated him the worst tackle in the league in 2013. Perhaps he will be better on the right side, however.

Atlanta Falcons

2 of 32

    Associated Press

    Up for grabs: free safety

    The Atlanta Falcons let Thomas DeCoud go in free agency, leaving a hole at the position that was filled with free-agent chaff and a mid-round draft pick.

    Dwight Lowery signed a one-year deal, and the Falcons drafted Dezmen Southward in the third round. The two will be duking it out for a starting job.

    Southward is a big, athletic safety who flew under the radar throughout draft season. It was a bit of a surprise to many that he was taken at the top of the third round, but the Falcons saw a future starter there. Whether that future is now will be interesting to see this preseason.

    He needs to refine his game if he is going to win that job, but overcoming Lowery won't be a terribly tall task.  The former Jaguar was injured and went unclaimed and unsigned after Jacksonville released him midseason.

Baltimore Ravens

3 of 32

    Larry French/Getty Images

    Up for grabs: inside linebacker

    The quest to replace Ray Lewis continues in Baltimore.

    The Ravens got some of that from veteran Daryl Smith last season. He returned on a four-year deal, but his running mate in the middle of that 3-4 defense remains a bit of a question mark.

    Baltimore drafted draftnik favorite Arthur Brown in the second round of the 2013 draft, but the linebacker didn't see the field much as a rookie. The Ravens must not have felt he was ready for prime time when they drafted C.J. Moseley in the first round of the 2014 draft.

    The two youngsters bring plenty of talent to the table, and it will be interesting to see who wins out after this preseason.

Buffalo Bills

4 of 32

    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Up for grabs: outside linebacker

    Two months ago, the outside linebacker position was locked down in Buffalo. One devastating injury later, however, and there is plenty up in the air.

    Kiko Alonso was slated to start on the outside after spending his magnificent rookie season playing middle linebacker. It is a more natural position for him, and the Bills now have Brandon Spikes manning the middle. Unfortunately, Alonso tore his ACL during offseason workouts, leaving a giant hole where a wall once stood.

    Vying to replace him are Nigel Bradham—who has impressed new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz this offseason, as tweeted by Syracuse.com’s Matthew Fairburn—Stevenson Sylvester and rookie Preston Brown.

Carolina Panthers

5 of 32

    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Up for grabs: left tackle

    The Carolina Panthers were dealt a big blow when starting left tackle Jordan Gross decided to call it a career.

    Already gutted at wide receiver and cornerback, Carolina was unable—or perhaps unwilling—to address the offensive tackle position in free agency or the draft. That leaves an uninspiring group behind to try to replicate Gross’ success.

    Nate Chandler is the presumptive starter, but Byron Bell could overtake him with a strong camp. The two could wind up starting on either side of the line, but Andrew McDonald and rookie David Foucault may have something to say about it.

    The latter is quite the long shot to start, given that he is a former CFL draftee who squeaked onto the 90-man roster after a tryout. But the Panthers are thin at the position—who knows what may come of a great camp from any particular player at the spot.

Chicago Bears

6 of 32

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: defensive tackle 

    Defensive tackle was not a position of strength for the Chicago Bears last season, at least not after Henry Melton went down for the count early on.

    Melton is gone, and the Bears have replaced him with a pair of draft picks in Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, selected in the second and third rounds, respectively. They join incumbent tackles Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea in an effort to improve the middle of that defensive line.

    Ratliff and Paea weren’t very good last season, so it’s feasible to see one or both of the rookies starting come Week 1.  

Cincinnati Bengals

7 of 32

    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: Cornerback

    It will be interesting to see how the cornerback position shakes out in Cincinnati this preseason.

    There is no shortage of talent, after all. The question is whether some of that talent can stay healthy and avoid the effects of aging or develop into starting-caliber players.

    Leon Hall is making a comeback from his second torn Achilles—he was recently cleared to practice—and he may still be the best cornerback on the roster despite the injuries. Adam Jones will be 31 this fall, but he has been steady for the Bengals.

    Youngsters Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard—whom the Bengals drafted in the first round—could make strong cases to start with a great preseason, however.

Cleveland Browns

8 of 32

    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: quarterback

    The starting job at quarterback is up for grabs in Cleveland. Who wants it more?

    Really, to think that either quarterback wants the starting job more or less is amusing. But one of them seems to be taking the job more seriously, at least as far as public perception is concerned.

    Johnny Manziel’s partying antics have drawn the ire of Cleveland brass and some of the public, and the Browns seem to be favoring Hoyer as the starter for now. But one good look at Manziel’s magic during a preseason game might change things dramatically.

    It will take more than one performance to win a starting job, to be sure, but this is a wide-open competition between the former Patriot coming off a torn ACL and the inexperienced rookie.

Dallas Cowboys

9 of 32

    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: middle linebacker

    Much like the situation in Buffalo, an injury has devastated the linebacker corps in Dallas.

    Inside linebacker Sean Lee was lost for the season during offseason workouts, gashing the middle of that defense like Adrian Peterson.

    Justin Durant currently stands in Lee's place on the depth chart, but that could easily change through the course of the preseason. The Cowboys did trade for Rolando McClain despite the fact he had quit football twice, and the former first-round pick could be a nice surprise if he finally found his motivation.

    The Cowboys could also look to rookie Anthony Hitchens, though the fourth-round pick is a bit of a long shot given he would be playing a new position.

    For now, Durant has the inside track to start, at least according to executive vice president Stephen Jones. We shall see what the preseason brings.

Denver Broncos

10 of 32

    Byline Withheld/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: middle linebacker 

    Unlike the Dallas Cowboys, the Denver Broncos have a hole at middle linebacker because of free agency, not injury.

    Wesley Woodyard signed with the Tennessee Titans this past offseason, and the Broncos did little to replace him. 

    They did draft Lamin Barrow out of LSU, however, and he could be a legitimate candidate for that starting job. He’d have to get past veterans Nate Irving, Jamar Chaney and L.J. Fort, though.

Detroit Lions

11 of 32

    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: tight end

    Well, tight ends aren’t up for grabs, but the starting tight end gig in Detroit might be.

    Brandon Pettigrew was brought back on a four-year, $16 million deal, but the Lions brought him some stiff competition when they selected Eric Ebron in the first round of the draft.

    Ebron possesses far more upside than Pettigrew, who has always been a bit of a disappointment as a pass-catcher. Ebron is the seam threat the Lions have been lacking in recent years, though his blocking may keep him off the field more often than he’d like.

    Then there is the question of what to do with second-year giant Joseph Fauria, who was a red-zone nightmare for opposing defenses last season.

Green Bay Packers

12 of 32

    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Up for grabs: safety

    The Green Bay Packers have been awful at safety for some time now. Perhaps they have found an answer this offseason.

    Hasean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix somehow fell to the Packers in the first round in the draft, and his selection instantly improved the Packers' safety position when they took him.

    Of course, he will have to win the starting job first.

    Former cornerback Micah Hyde seems to have a leg up on the rookie thus far in camp, per Tyler Dunne of the Journal-Sentinel. It will be an upset if Clinton-Dix doesn’t win the starting job by the time the preseason is out.

    Of course, there is the possibility that both will squeeze Morgan Burnett off the field despite the latter’s big contract extension from a year ago. Burnett wasn’t very good last season—he was among the worst-rated safeties in the league over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Houston Texans

13 of 32

    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: nose tackle

    The Houston Texans nabbed one of the steals of the 2014 NFL draft when defensive tackle Louis Nix III fell all the way into the middle of the third round, further bolstering a tough defensive front.

    Nix may not get a chance to start right away, however, especially if he spends too much time on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, per CBS Houston’s Matt Hammond. Jerrell Powe might have held Nix off to start regardless.

    Powe came over from the Kansas City Chiefs, where he used to play for current Houston defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

Indianapolis Colts

14 of 32

    USA TODAY Sports

    Up for grabs: wide receiver

    Will veteran Reggie Wayne return to form after injury? Is Hakeem Nicks damaged goods? Will Donte Moncrief contribute as a rookie?

    These are all questions surrounding the Colts wide receivers heading into the preseason. T.Y. Hilton seems to be the only sure thing at this point—the dynamic receiver is capable of going supernova on any given Sunday—while the rest of the corps needs to be sorted out.

    Wayne is reportedly healthy, but will the 35-year-old be back to his old self after suffering an ACL injury? Nicks was a nice value signing during the offseason, but he looked like he lost a step or simply lost interest last season with the New York Giants.

Jacksonville Jaguars

15 of 32

    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: center

    There will be several positions up for grabs in Jacksonville as the rebuild continues. None might be more immediately pressing than center, however.

    Brad Meester was the man in the middle of that offense for over a decade, but the 37-year-old decided to call it a career this offseason. The Jaguars didn’t replace him directly, choosing instead to rely on guards—old and new—to fill the void.

    Mike Brewster figures to get the first crack at the job, but Jacques McClendon and rookie Brandon Linder should get serious consideration as well. Brewster wasn’t particularly good at guard, after all.

Kansas City Chiefs

16 of 32

    USA TODAY Sports

    Up for grabs: cornerback

    Sean Smith has one of the starting jobs at cornerback locked down in Kansas City. It’s his running mate who remains to be named.

    Brandon Flowers was unceremoniously dumped earlier this offseason, leaving a hole on one side of that secondary. It will be interesting to see who steps up to fill that hole between Marcus Cooper, Chris Owens, Ron Parker and rookie Phillip Gaines.

    The Chiefs drafted Gaines in the third round of this year’s draft, and it’s feasible to see him starting in Week 1.

Miami Dolphins

17 of 32

    USA TODAY Sports

    Up for grabs: running back

    The running game was abysmal in Miami last season for a variety of reasons.

    The Dolphins attempted to shore up the running back position itself this offseason by signing former Broncos back Knowshon Moreno, who was the presumptive starter the instant he signed. He has slowly given that away ever since.

    Moreno reportedly came to minicamp out of shape, per the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, then had knee surgery. Lamar Miller—last year’s disappointment—had a great minicamp, meanwhile.

    Head coach Joe Philbin said Miller looks “stronger than ever,” according to the Herald’s Adam Beasley, a foreboding sign for Moreno, who had better hit the ground running upon his return.

Minnesota Vikings

18 of 32

    USA TODAY Sports

    Up for grabs: quarterback

    Quarterback isn’t exactly Minnesota’s strong suit right now, not until Teddy Bridgewater shows something.

    He has looked good early at training camp thus far, per reports—he hit 12 of 13 passes in one recent practice, according to ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling, and Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer tweeted that he is splitting reps with Matt Cassel, the ostensible starter.

    It’s still Matt Cassel’s job to lose, however. Cassel was pretty good when he got his chance last season, and the Vikings might be incline to bring their rookie along slowly.

    It’ll take more than a few practices for Bridgewater to win that job, but it looks like the starting spot is certainly up for grabs.

New England Patriots

19 of 32

    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: Wide receiver

    In what has become an annual theme, the New England Patriots are looking for some stability at the wide receiver position.

    Danny Amendola was supposed to mitigate the loss of Wes Welker last season, but injuries hampered him all year. That allowed Julian Edelman to take up the mantle as the productive, diminutive receiver in the offense. Beyond that, however, there was a whole lot of uncertainty at the position.

    Of course, it didn’t help that several of the options were rookies—Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce. None really took off in their first season.

    All these players are back plus newcomer Brandon LaFell to scrum for playing time this preseason. Edelman seems to be the only one locked into a starting job, so it will be interesting to see how the rest of the corps falls into line once the preseason dust settles.

New Orleans Saints

20 of 32

    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: running back

    Will the New Orleans Saints have a feature back this season? Who will replace the departed Darren Sproles? Is the Khiry Robinson hype real?

    These are some questions that will be answered as the preseason progresses, though those answers may not be revealed to the public until Week 1. The Saints seem to have a hydra-like running attack once more, with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Travaris Cadet and Robinson all in the mix for serious playing time.

    Smart money is on Thomas, the most complete back of the bunch. But he has had injury issues in the past, and the Saints may want to mitigate the impact on his body that a full slate of touches might have. 

    Ingram has been disappointing for much of his three-year career, though he quietly improved last season. He is a one-trick pony, however—Ingram doesn’t figure to have much of a role in the passing game.

    The other two may well challenge for serious playing time.

New York Giants

21 of 32

    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: running back

    Running back was a problematic position for the New York Giants last season.

    Injuries ravaged the unit, at one point leaving Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis as the best options available.

    The Giants shored up the position by signing Rashad Jennings—who should be the starter—and drafting Andre Williams. They also recently got David Wilson back from neck injury, though he suffered a “burner” soon after coming back to contact drills, which could throw his future back in doubt, per The New York Times’ Bill Pennington.

    If Wilson can stay healthy, it will be an interesting battle behind Jennings, and whoever wins could find himself in a timeshare.

New York Jets

22 of 32

    USA TODAY Sports

    Up for grabs: wide receiver

    Offense was not New York’s forte last season. The Jets were among the worst in the league on that side of the ball, particularly in the passing game. They had the fourth-fewest passing attempts, second-fewest yards and fewest touchdowns in the league.

    Having an inconsistent rookie at quarterback was certainly a big factor, but he didn’t have much help.

    The Jets went out and got him some when they signed receiver Eric Decker, but the rest of the wide receivers will be fighting for that other starting job and playing time in general.

    Stephen Hill could emerge as the No. 2 if he can finally begin to realize his potential, but Jeremy Kerley—last year's leading receiver—should be a strong option.

    Rookies Shaq Evans and Jalen Saunders could also have a big say before all is said and done this preseason.

Oakland Raiders

23 of 32

    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: Wide receiver

    The new-look Raiders have plenty of fresh faces on that roster.

    One of those faces is new receiver James Jones, an import from Green Bay. He signed a relatively modest three-year, $11.3 million contract this offseason, but he should easily be one of the starters at the position come Week 1.

    The other receivers have a fight on their hands, however.

    Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, Juron Criner and Greg Little are all fighting for positioning on that depth chart, the winner gaining a starting job for the 2014 season. It’s likely Moore—a starter for much of last season—will be that man, but a strong camp from anyone else could easily cause him to slip from that perch.

Philadelphia Eagles

24 of 32

    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: safety

    Safety has been a position of concern for the Philadelphia Eagles for some time now. It remains to be seen if the Eagles really addressed it this past offseason.

    The Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins and drafted Ed Reynolds and Jaylen Watkins, all of whom could be in the mix to start.

    Jenkins should be the starter come Week 1, but it will be interesting to see if the rookies can push the former New Orleans Saint for the starting job. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

25 of 32

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: wide receiver

    The last couple of seasons have seen 16 touchdowns walk out the door in Pittsburgh.

    Mike Wallace took flight to Miami last offseason, and Jerricho Cotchery—last year’s team leader in scores with 10—and Emmanuel Sanders bolted this offseason. That left the Steelers in a bit of a pickle at the time, with Antonio Brown being the only reliable man on the roster at his position.

    Pittsburgh did address the position somewhat by signing Lance Moore and drafting Martavis Bryant, however. They now join second-year man Markus Wheaton in a competition to start opposite Brown. 

    Bryant provides massive upside, a great combination of size and speed. The problem is, he may be too raw to start this season. Wheaton is in a similar boat as far as experience goes, but he has a one-year head start on Bryant.

    Moore, meanwhile, has the upside of a penny on asphalt, but he brings experience that the others don't have.

     

San Diego Chargers

26 of 32

    Associated Press

    Up for grabs: cornerback

    The passing defense in San Diego was atrocious last season, ranking 29th in the league in that department.

    That is why the Chargers drafted diminutive Jason Verrett in the first round. They also reached out and snagged Brandon Flowers in free agency after the rival Chiefs cut him.

    Joining Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall, those two will be fighting for positioning on that depth chart for the next month.

San Francisco 49ers

27 of 32

    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: center

    The San Francisco 49ers are loaded. So which position is potentially up for grabs?

    There isn’t much to choose from—most positions have clear starters or contributors. Perhaps the backup running back position will be place for heated competition.

    The biggest one for this preseason may be center. Daniel Kilgore signed a four-year deal to presumably replace Jonathan Goodwin as the starter. Unfortunately for him, the 49ers were able to snag stud center Marcus Martin out of USC in the third round of the draft.

    The latter was arguably the best in the class at the position, and he could challenge to start right away.

Seattle Seahawks

28 of 32

    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: right tackle

    There isn’t a whole lot up for grabs in Seattle, where the reigning champions lost little this offseason.

    Perhaps the outside linebacker position could be competitive with Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith giving incumbent starters Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright a run for their money. It’s likely those three will see the field plenty, however.

    The offensive line is a bit unsettled this offseason, but the Seahawks may have gotten themselves the boost they needed with a recent signing. Despite a quality career, Eric Winston remained unsigned nearly through July. The Seahawks saw an opportunity to bolster their line, however, finally inking the veteran tackle to a one-year deal.

    Winston may have the starter instantly upon signing, but Michael Bowie and rookie Justin Britt will certainly be in the mix this preseason.

St. Louis Rams

29 of 32

    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: wide receiver

    For a team that has invested so much at wide receiver—at least in the draft—it’s a wonder there is so much uncertainty at the position for the St. Louis Rams.

    They have used some high draft picks to select Brian Quick and Tavon Austin and some mid-round selections for Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, none of whom have been terribly productive to date.

    Austin's role should expand, but he is more of a Swiss army knife than a No. 1 receiver. The Rams brought former Tennessee Titan Kenny Britt on board this season to strengthen the position, and he has a legitimate shot to start.

    To complicate matters a bit, Bailey will be suspended for the first four games of the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

30 of 32

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: offensive guard

    Carl Nicks threw a wrench into the Tampa Bay offensive machine this offseason.

    The veteran guard hadn't been healthy since signing a big deal with the Buccaneers—he played in a total of nine games over the past two years—but he was slotted to start at left guard in the coming season. That was until he decided to call it quits out of the blue, per NFL.com's Dan Hanzus.

    His announcement leaves the Bucs scrambling to figure out a starter at left guard. Patrick Omameh, Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins all figure to contend for two starting spots. 

Tennessee Titans

31 of 32

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: Running back

    Chris Johnson no longer roams the backfield in Tennessee. An unproven rookie and a plodding veteran have taken his place.

    The Titans drafted Bishop Sankey in the second round of the 2014 draft—though he was the first running back taken—and he figures to see the field plenty as a rookie. The question is whether he can start.

    Greene, meanwhile, has that veteran's edge that we saw help BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Rashard Mendenhall retain starting roles last season. It will be interesting to see how this battle pans out by the end of preseason.

Washington

32 of 32

    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Up for grabs: safety

    The Washington secondary has had its issues in recent years, particularly at safety.

    Those issues remain, even after Ryan Clark was imported from Pittsburgh. The 34-year-old former Steeler is no spring chicken, however.

    Projected to starting next to him is Brandon Meriweather, a player known more for head-hunting than anything else. He has even had to be recently reminded to aim lower despite multiple fines and suspensions in the past, per ESPN.com's John Keim.

    Meriweather may well have the inside track on a starting gig, but Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas could threaten him for the starting job. In addition to his questionable and dangerous tackling approach, Meriweather has been awful by Pro Football Focus standards in recent years.