10 Camp Battles to Keep an Eye On
As training camps open this week across the NFL, so too will the position battles that will affect how astute fantasy owners draft in the coming weeks.
Here’s a look at some key camp battles to keep an eye on in the coming weeks heading into your draft.
Tennessee starting quarterback: At 36, Matt Hasselbeck returns for his 14th season with second-year player Jake Locker looking over his shoulder. Hasselbeck put up solid numbers in 2011, topping 3,500 yards with 18 touchdown passes, but Locker looked decent in mop-up and spot duty, throwing for 542 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. The Titans are coming off a 9-7 season in which they just missed the playoffs and, with Jacksonville and Indianapolis in the division, figure to be a playoff contender in 2012 as well. That could tip the scales in favor of the more experienced Hasselbeck. But with a good training camp, Locker, a No. 1 draft pick, could win the job. Assuming the Titans stay in playoff contention, if Hasselbeck wins the job, he should put up similar numbers to 2011. If it’s Locker, who knows?
Miami starting quarterback: OK, let’s face facts, if you’re looking to select the winner of the David Garrard/Matt Moore battle in your draft, you’d better hope it’s as a No. 3 quarterback. But it’s a camp battle nonetheless. Moore led the Dolphins to six wins in their final nine games a year ago, but that was for head coach Tony Sparano. Sparano is no longer around and if Garrard can recapture some of the magic he had a few years ago in Jacksonville, he could certainly win the starting job. Remember, he had 23 TD passes in 2010. Waiting in the wings is rookie Ryan Tannehill, the eighth pick in this year’s draft.
Tampa Bay starting running back: In two seasons, LeGarrette Blount has rushed for nearly 1,800 yards, but you have to figure the Bucs didn’t use a first-round draft pick on Doug Martin to have him hold his helmet on the sidelines. New head coach Greg Schiano has also said he prefers to use an every-down back, which would seem to favor Martin. A banger, Blount isn’t great catching the ball, but he’s not terrible. If Martin shows in training camp he can handle picking up blitzes on passing downs, he could be the starter.
Green Bay starting running back: At this point, James Starks has the inside track. But he’s proven to be injury prone in his first two seasons. Alex Green was a third-round pick in 2011 who suffered a torn ACL in Week 7, opening the door for undrafted Brandon Saine to pick up some carries. Starks is far from a proven commodity, despite a strong playoff performance two years ago. If Green is healthy, there’s a chance he could win a more prominent role.
Detroit starting running back: Jahvid Best has all kinds of talent. But his concussion issues are very, very troublesome. There’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to go when the season starts – if he ever even plays again. Waiting in the wings are Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith. Best is the best fit in Detroit’s passing offense, but Leshoure could potentially be a bigger physical presence, despite missing all of 2011 with an Achilles’ tendon injury. Leshoure was also arrested twice for marijuana possession in the offseason and could face NFL discipline. Smith was re-signed at midseason after Best went down and put up decent numbers. It’s one big mess that only a training camp, and maybe not even that, will sort out.
N.Y. Jets No. 2 receiver: Santonio Holmes is the No. 1 and the Jets brought in Chaz Schilens to help replace Plaxico Burress. But Schilens has played a full season only once in his four-year career. Second-round pick Stephen Hill is raw, but has pure speed to go along with his 6-4, 215-pound frame. With a good camp, Hill could push Schilens to the bench.
Cincinnati Bengals No. 2 receiver: Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell combined for 87 receptions for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, but both are gone. That leaves the spot opposite A.J. Green, who figures to draw plenty of double teams, open to Jordan Shipley, Andrew Hawkins, Brandon Tate, Armon Binns or rookies Mohamed Sanu or Marvin Jones. Shipley, who is coming off an ACL injury, has the inside track. But if hasn’t fully recovered, this could be a mess for Cincinnati. Keep an eye on Shipley’s progress.
Arizona No. 2 receiver: The Cardinals selected Michael Floyd with the 13th pick in the draft to compliment Larry Fitzgerald, but he’s still a rookie. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet both had their moments as the No. 2 in 2011, but weren’t good enough to keep the team from jumping when Floyd was available.
St. Louis starting receivers: Danny Amendola is pretty much the only sure thing on the St. Louis roster. Steve Smith was a Pro Bowl player with the Giants, but knee injuries have derailed his career. Brandon Gibson is steady if unspectacular. The same could be said of Danario Alexander. Add in rookies Brian Quick (second round) and Chris Givens (fourth), and you’ve got something of a mess that needs to be sorted out.
San Diego kicker: One of the top kickers in the NFL, Nate Kaeding was lost for the 2011 season on the first play of the year. That opened the door for Nick Novak to come in and score 122 points, making 27 of 34 field goal attempts. The job is Kaeding’s to lose, but you can bet that a number of teams will be watching to see which kicker wins this job.
F. Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter and will be covering 2012 NFL training camps for 4for4.com.