We check in on the most hotly contested training camp battles for each team in the NFC.
NFL training camps will open in just a matter of days, so it’s a good time to look at the most intriguing position battles being waged across the league. Previously, we looked at the battles in the AFC. Today, we look at the NFC.
Cornerback: For a roster as loaded as Dallas’, cornerback is easily the most unsure position group heading into camp. Veteran Orlando Scandrick looks to hold off rookie Jourdan Lewis for his role in the slot, while free agent acquisition Nolan Carroll was brought in to man one of the outside corner spots. Opposite Carroll, Anthony Brown, Leon McFadden and Marquez White will scrap for the starting role.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Right Guard: The Giants desperately need better play along the offensive line. Bobby Hart appears to be staying at right tackle. So, that leaves John Jerry to duke it out with free agent acquisition D.J. Fluker for the right guard spot. Both players ate said to be in the best shape of their careers in preparation for the battle.
Cornerback: The Eagles have a slew of veterans and a rookie set to make their cases for starting corner gigs. Jalen Mills returns after an up-and-down 2016, while Patrick Robinson, Dwayne Gratz and Ron Brooks round out the vet group. Third-round rookie Rasul Douglas has looked great in the off-season and will push for a role as well. Fellow rookie Sidney Jones was drafted in round 2, but is likely to miss most __ if not all == of his rookie season due to an achilles injury suffered during his pro day workout.
Outside Linebacker: There is lots of talent here, but just as much instability. Fourth-year man Trent Murphy will miss the first 4 games of 2017 due to a PED suspension. Ryan Kerrigan mans one side. However, to replace Murphy, Washington is counting on Preston Smith — who had a sophomore slump in 2016 — and youngsters Ryan Anderson, Zach Vigil and Lynden Trail. Hopefully, Smith returns to his rookie form and holds it down until Murphy returns.
Wide Receiver: The Bears have a bit of a hodgepodge of characters at receiver as they enter camp. There’s the 2016 surprise (Cameron Meredith), the young mega-talent beset by injuries (Kevin White), a few free agent vets who washed out with other teams (Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz). Also, a budding youngster (Deonte Thompson). While there is much uncertainty, this is the perfect combination for heated competition throughout training camp.
Left Tackle: This is a training camp battle set up by the shoulder injury to Taylor Decker — who could miss the first few weeks of the season. In line to take his place in the meantime are former Rams draft bust Greg Robinson, raw but talented Corey Robinson, well-traveled Cyrus Kouandijo and former right tackle Cornelius Lucas. Even if it’s just for a few weeks, the Lions need to find a suitable replacement for Decker.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Inside Linebacker: The Packers have been searching for stability at ILB for a few years now. So much so, they had to move pro bowl OLB Clay Matthews inside for a couple of seasons. 2016 holdovers Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas will have to show marked improvement, as no viable replacements were brought in. None of the three were spectacular and each have his own set of limitations. It will be interesting to see which 2 of them step up and claim the starting spots in camp.
Running Back: For the first time in over a decade, the Vikings enter camp with Adrian Peterson not in purple. Latavius Murray was brought in from Oakland as a free agent to be the starter. However, he will be pushed by rookie second-rounder Dalvin Cook, who’s explosiveness separates him from the group. Jerick McKinnon is also in the mix, and has claimed to have added muscle in the off-season to compete for the lead role. This is a solid group of backs, so carries will be earned in camp.
Left Defensive End: Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks in 2016, so his spot is secured as camps starts. However, rookie first-round pick Takkarist McKinley will miss the beginning of training camp as he recovers from shoulder surgery. That leaves guys like Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn (also recovering from injury) Derek Shelby and Jack Crawford to battle for the spot opposite Beasley in camp. Not a very promising group at the moment, but someone must step up.
Right Tackle: If Michael Oher were deemed healthy as the Panthers entered camp, the right tackle spot would be far from a question mark. However, that’s not nearly the case, as Oher has not fully recovered from concussion suffered in 2016 and was released. Carolina wisely drafted Taylor Moton in the second round of this year’s draft. Daryl Williams will also compete for the position. We’ll see if Moton’s talent trumps the experience of Williams.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Right Defensive End: It seems the Saints have been without a complement to pro bowl DE Cam Jordan since he arrived 8 years ago. New Orleans has brought in outside free agents Alex Okafor, Daryl Tapp and Obum Gwachum to compete for the position. Also, Trey Hendrickson was drafted this year to add to the group. While Okafor likely has the upper-hand heading into camp, competition will be fierce to get reps.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Kicker: It’s either a really good thing or really bad thing when kicker is your most vital camp battle. If you watched Roberto Aguayo any in 2016, adding competition is very good. Aguayo was horrible last season, and the Bucs have made it no secret that Nick Folk is there to take the job if he earns it. As Aguayo was a second round pick in 2016, this could be the most highly-publicized kicker battle you’ll ever see.
Cornerback: There is no concern at one corner, where Patrick Peterson is one of league’s premier cover men. On the other side, however, is a quite different story. Second-year men Brandon Williams and Harlan Miller will battle it out with veteran Justin Bethel, who is also a special teams ace.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Wide Receiver: The Rams enter camp — again — with no clear starters at wide receiver. As it stands, Tavon Austin and free agent Robert Woods have the lead entering camp. But, neither has shown consistency in their respective careers. Rookie Cooper Kupp will push for a starting gig if his college tape is good indication. Mike Thomas, Pharoa
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Linebacker: With the Niners switching from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3/elephant (similar to Seattle), the LB spots become a bit muddled heading into camp. Navorro Bowman and Malcolm Smith appear to have 2 of the 3 spots on lock, leaving Reuben Foster (if his shoulder holds up), Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold and Aaron Lynch to scrap for the final spot. Lynch may also end up at DE, clearing up some of the confusion at LB.
Running Back: Thomas Rawls was supposed to be the next star back in Seattle after Marshawn Lynch retired. However, due to injury and inconsistency, it hasn’t happened that way. Eddie Lacy was signed in free agency to compete with Rawls in, ideally, a shared role. Both men probably fit better when they don’t have to carry the load completely. Beyond those two, Mike Davis, C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins and rookie Chris Carson each have the talent to claim carries of their own. Not all will make it, so some solid talent will be looking for a job.