Rite of summer: Position battles will heat up NFL camps

Nothing adds intrigue to an NFL training camp more than a good position battle. Here are 10 competitions to follow when camps open later this month, according to a Sporting News survey of head coaches:

Running back Steve Slaton only played in 11 games for the Texans last season.
Running back Steve Slaton only played in 11 games for the Texans last season.

Buccaneers: wide receiver. It’s expected to be a wide-open race, with veterans Michael Clayton and Reggie Brown the leading candidates to win starting jobs. Coach Raheem Morris wants some veterans on the field helping out second-year quarterback Josh Freeman.

But the Bucs have high hopes for rookies Mike Williams, the team’s most impressive wideout during the offseason, and Arrelious Benn. Second-year wideout Sammie Stroughter is expected to be the slot receiver.

"We have so much competition at that spot, between a bunch of young guys with fresh legs and our veterans," Morris said. "I think the competition is going to be at an all-time high there."

Falcons: starting cornerback opposite Dunta Robinson. Brent Grimes (eight starts, six interceptions last season) and Christopher Owens (six starts, two interceptions) will go one-on-one to see who pairs up with Robinson, an offseason addition from Houston. "It will be the one (battle) most people will be watching," coach Mike Smith said. "It was a very good battle in OTAs, and I think it will continue on into the preseason."

Texans: running back. This has been somewhat of an unsettled position, with Steve Slaton in 2008 being the team’s only back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in the last five years. As a team, the Texans averaged only 92.2 rushing yards per game (30th in the league) last season.

"We’re going young," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think how far Arian (Foster) comes, Steve (Slaton) coming back, how quick (rookie Ben) Tate becomes a dang good player is probably the key to our offensive team."

Chargers: right offensive tackle. Jeromey Clary had been the starter since late in the ’07 season before he suffered an ankle injury last season. Brandyn Dombrowski stepped in for the final six games.

"Those two guys battling it out at right tackle will probably be the No. 1 spot," coach Norv Turner said. "There’s going to be great competition."

Kansas City's Jamaal Charles rushed for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009.
Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles rushed for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009.

Vikings: starting cornerback opposite Antoine Winfield. Cedric Griffin, who suffered a torn ACL while covering the overtime kickoff in the NFC championship game, won’t be ready when camp opens. That will open the door for Asher Allen, Benny Sapp, rookie Chris Cook and offseason acquisition Lito Sheppard to battle it out.

Saints: strongside linebacker. Youngsters Stanley Arnoux and Jonathan Casillas are expected to push veteran offseason pickup Clint Ingram for the spot that opened when Scott Fujita went to Cleveland as a free agent. Arnoux and Casillas were impressive late in the team’s Super Bowl season. Both players can run, so they add the element of speed.

Packers: punter. Green Bay has struggled in this area for the last two seasons. Jeremy Kapinos was cut during the offseason after compiling a 34.1-yard net average (25th in the league) and putting only 15 punts inside the 20 (32nd) in ’09. Former Australian rules football player Chris "Bear" Bryan and Tim Masthay, neither of whom has played in an NFL game, will battle for the punting job.

"We have two men in here I’m excited about," coach Mike McCarthy said. "That’s the one position I think can really help improve our special teams."

Chiefs: running back. Thomas Jones will turn 32 in August but is coming off seasons in which he rushed for 1,312 and 1,402 yards for the Jets. Jamaal Charles, 23, broke out when he became the team’s feature back in the second half of last season. They figure to share most of the rushing load in coach Todd Haley’s second season, but there are several other players who will try to get into the mix.

That group includes Kolby Smith, rookie Dexter McCluster, Jackie Battle and Kestahn Moore, who was picked up late in the season. "Between Charles, Jones, McCluster and however all this plays out," Haley said, "we ought to have a pretty talented backfield."

Jets: left guard. The release of nine-time Pro Bowl lineman Alan Faneca, who eventually signed with Arizona, left a big hole in a line that had been intact for two years and helped the Jets lead the league in rushing last season. Second-year lineman Matt Slauson and rookie Vladimir Ducasse, who played tackle at Massachusetts, will compete for Faneca’s old spot.

"The battle between Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse will be one to watch," coach Rex Ryan said.

Bengals: nickel cornerback. With former first-round picks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall entrenched as the starters, the battle will be for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots. David Jones and Morgan Trent played those roles last season, but now they face stiff competition from rookie Brandon Ghee and Adam Jones.

The team won’t keep six corners. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has said it’s possible that cornerbacks who played last year might not make the roster because of the improved depth.

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

Nothing adds intrigue to an NFL training camp more than a good position battle. Here are 10 competitions to follow when camps open later this month, according to a Sporting News survey of head coaches:

Running back Steve Slaton only played in 11 games for the Texans last season.
Running back Steve Slaton only played in 11 games for the Texans last season.

Buccaneers: wide receiver. It’s expected to be a wide-open race, with veterans Michael Clayton and Reggie Brown the leading candidates to win starting jobs. Coach Raheem Morris wants some veterans on the field helping out second-year quarterback Josh Freeman.

But the Bucs have high hopes for rookies Mike Williams, the team’s most impressive wideout during the offseason, and Arrelious Benn. Second-year wideout Sammie Stroughter is expected to be the slot receiver.

"We have so much competition at that spot, between a bunch of young guys with fresh legs and our veterans," Morris said. "I think the competition is going to be at an all-time high there."

Falcons: starting cornerback opposite Dunta Robinson. Brent Grimes (eight starts, six interceptions last season) and Christopher Owens (six starts, two interceptions) will go one-on-one to see who pairs up with Robinson, an offseason addition from Houston. "It will be the one (battle) most people will be watching," coach Mike Smith said. "It was a very good battle in OTAs, and I think it will continue on into the preseason."

Texans: running back. This has been somewhat of an unsettled position, with Steve Slaton in 2008 being the team’s only back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in the last five years. As a team, the Texans averaged only 92.2 rushing yards per game (30th in the league) last season.

"We’re going young," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think how far Arian (Foster) comes, Steve (Slaton) coming back, how quick (rookie Ben) Tate becomes a dang good player is probably the key to our offensive team."

Chargers: right offensive tackle. Jeromey Clary had been the starter since late in the ’07 season before he suffered an ankle injury last season. Brandyn Dombrowski stepped in for the final six games.

"Those two guys battling it out at right tackle will probably be the No. 1 spot," coach Norv Turner said. "There’s going to be great competition."

Kansas City's Jamaal Charles rushed for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009.
Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles rushed for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009.

Vikings: starting cornerback opposite Antoine Winfield. Cedric Griffin, who suffered a torn ACL while covering the overtime kickoff in the NFC championship game, won’t be ready when camp opens. That will open the door for Asher Allen, Benny Sapp, rookie Chris Cook and offseason acquisition Lito Sheppard to battle it out.

Saints: strongside linebacker. Youngsters Stanley Arnoux and Jonathan Casillas are expected to push veteran offseason pickup Clint Ingram for the spot that opened when Scott Fujita went to Cleveland as a free agent. Arnoux and Casillas were impressive late in the team’s Super Bowl season. Both players can run, so they add the element of speed.

Packers: punter. Green Bay has struggled in this area for the last two seasons. Jeremy Kapinos was cut during the offseason after compiling a 34.1-yard net average (25th in the league) and putting only 15 punts inside the 20 (32nd) in ’09. Former Australian rules football player Chris "Bear" Bryan and Tim Masthay, neither of whom has played in an NFL game, will battle for the punting job.

"We have two men in here I’m excited about," coach Mike McCarthy said. "That’s the one position I think can really help improve our special teams."

Chiefs: running back. Thomas Jones will turn 32 in August but is coming off seasons in which he rushed for 1,312 and 1,402 yards for the Jets. Jamaal Charles, 23, broke out when he became the team’s feature back in the second half of last season. They figure to share most of the rushing load in coach Todd Haley’s second season, but there are several other players who will try to get into the mix.

That group includes Kolby Smith, rookie Dexter McCluster, Jackie Battle and Kestahn Moore, who was picked up late in the season. "Between Charles, Jones, McCluster and however all this plays out," Haley said, "we ought to have a pretty talented backfield."

Jets: left guard. The release of nine-time Pro Bowl lineman Alan Faneca, who eventually signed with Arizona, left a big hole in a line that had been intact for two years and helped the Jets lead the league in rushing last season. Second-year lineman Matt Slauson and rookie Vladimir Ducasse, who played tackle at Massachusetts, will compete for Faneca’s old spot.

"The battle between Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse will be one to watch," coach Rex Ryan said.

Bengals: nickel cornerback. With former first-round picks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall entrenched as the starters, the battle will be for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots. David Jones and Morgan Trent played those roles last season, but now they face stiff competition from rookie Brandon Ghee and Adam Jones.

The team won’t keep six corners. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has said it’s possible that cornerbacks who played last year might not make the roster because of the improved depth.

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

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