AFC East: position battles

Bills position battles

July, 25, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

Here is a look at two of the biggest position battles at Buffalo Bills camp:


Left cornerback: Jabari Greer vs. Leodis McKelvin

McKelvin wasn't drafted No. 11 overall to watch from the sidelines, yet he's not a lock to unseat Jabari Greer, a veteran who always seems to shine on the practice field and will get an even bigger head start because the rookie is unsigned.

The Bills, still trying to find a replacement for Nate Clements, hope they've found one in McKelvin, making the Troy University stud the first DB taken in the draft. He's a lockdown corner, a hitter and a sensational return man. He'll need to develop better awareness to become a total player.

That's where Greer has an edge. Although he didn't become a starter until last year, he has been a steady player in his four NFL seasons. Greer might be the safer choice right now, but undrafted free agents can keep a blue-chipper off the field only so long.

Intensity Index: Hot


No. 2 wide receiver: Josh Reed vs. James Hardy

The Bills haven't possessed a formidable No. 2 receiver since Peerless Price was opposite Eric Moulds. Now they need a threat to complement Lee Evans, whose production dipped last year partly because there wasn't another go-to option.

Hardy was drafted to provide a much-needed big target. He's 6-foot-6, and that will look delicious to Trent Edwards after a year of throwing to three WRs who are 5-foot-10 or shorter. Fantasy alert: Hardy, the fourth receiver off the board at No. 41, could be a monster in the red zone.

But there's always a catch. Hardy doesn't have the greatest mitts, and drops could become an issue while trying to decipher NFL speed and schemes. If he can't shine in camp, Reed will be there to fill the role. He's entering his seventh season, and his 51 catches were only four behind Evans' team lead.

Intensity Index: Hot

Jets position battles

July, 25, 2008

Posted by's Tim Graham


Here's a look at two major competitions at Jets camp:

Quarterback: Chad Pennington vs. Kellen Clemens

Given the market, the glamorous position and Brett Favre rumors that won't die, this could be the NFL's most scrutinized competition.

Neither Pennington nor Clemens will inspire Jets fans to start making reservations for a February trip to Tampa, but somebody has to be the starter for a team that could contend for the playoffs if the offensive line comes together and they get enough breaks.

Pennington is the savvier quarterback but lacks the arm to ignite the downfield game, which is why he lost his job last year to the young Clemens. Clemens has that sexy arm strength but doesn't make enough wise decisions under pressure. No matter who had the job, the Jets' offense staggered through a 4-12 campaign.

Jets coach Eric Mangini is portraying the competition as a coin flip and said the reps would be split 50-50 until a clear leader emerges. That probably won't be for another three weeks at the earliest.

Intensity Index: Red hot


Tight end: Chris Baker (vs. the Jets) vs. Bubba Franks vs. Dustin Keller

There's all sorts of drama swirling around the Jets' tight end position. Some of it has to do with Baker's desire for a new contract. Baker, coming off a 41-catch season, has accused the front office of not coming through on promises to restructure his deal.

Meanwhile, the club added veteran free agent Franks and drafted the dangerous Keller 30th overall.

Franks was a three-time Pro Bowler for Green Bay, but he was cut after injuries limited him last year to eight games and 18 receptions. He's a bit worn down, but he's still 6-foot-6 and can catch. That's what made him one of Favre's favorite red zone targets

The Jets traded up to get Keller, making him the first receiver or tight end chosen in the draft. He's not known for blocking, but he's a slick target with exceptional hands. He caught 68 passes for 881 yards and seven TDs last year for Purdue.

Intensity Index: Red hot

Patriots position battles

July, 25, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

Here's a look at two of the more significant position battles at Patriots camp:

Left cornerback: Fernando Bryant vs. Jason Webster vs. Terrence Wheatley vs. Jonathan Wilhite

Asante Samuel is gone, and he took his 16 interceptions over the past two years with him, creating a cavernous void on defense.

The Patriots tried to bandage Samuel's departure with three free agents (Bryant, Webster and Lewis Sanders) and two draft choices (second-rounder Wheatley and fourth-rounder Wilhite). Somebody will have to separate himself from the pack.

Bryant has the benefit of experience. He has dealt with injury problems in recent years but is coming off a complete season with Detroit. He's a reliable defender who will hold his own. Webster is a steady veteran when healthy, but he has managed a combined eight starts the past two seasons.

The rookies, though, might make a push. The quicksilver Wheatley could become an elite shutdown corner. Wilhite is more raw but enough of an athlete to be in the derby.

Ellis Hobbs, still recovering from shoulder and hernia surgeries, should return as the right cornerback, but that position also could be up for grabs.

Intensity Index: Hot

Backup quarterback: Matt Cassel vs. Matt Gutierrez vs. Kevin O'Connell

The Patriots are so loaded, the competition for second-string quarterback is one of their most significant.

But before you laugh, stop for a moment to consider what would happen if Brady were to hurt his ankle again. Who will be trusted to replace him?

Cassel is in the crosshairs. He is entering the final year of his four-year contract and hasn't engendered confidence from the coaching staff. Bill Belichick actually yanked him from a relief appearance against the Dolphins despite a huge fourth quarter lead.

Gutierrez is unknown outside of practices. He is entering his second season and should have a better grasp of the offense. If he doesn't unseat Cassel, he probably won't make the roster unless the Patriots decide to keep all four.

The safest reserve is O'Connell, drafted in the third round out of San Diego State. The selection was a shocker because nobody, especially Cassel and Gutierrez, thought the Patriots would feel the need to take a QB

Intensity Index: Hot

Dolphins position battles

July, 25, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

Here's a preview of two of the Miami Dolphins' biggest competitions:

Quarterback: Josh McCown vs. John Beck vs. Chad Henne

The Dolphins were among a small handful of teams to go through the entire offseason with only three quarterbacks. They know they have their man. They're just not sure who he is yet.

McCown appears to be the leading candidate because his experience gives them the best chance to win. He doesn't have much to show for his 44 career games. Then again, he has played for some of the NFL's lousiest teams (Arizona, Detroit, Oakland) over his six years.

McCown likely will be holding down the job until Beck or Henne develop.

Beck, entering his second season, has a jump on the rookie, but not a substantial one. The 40th pick of the '07 draft started four games and failed to mount a scoring drive in any of them. QB coach David Lee is concerned with a sidearm delivery Beck acquired after a shoulder injury at Brigham Young.

The front office loved Henne's toughness enough to make him the fourth passer off the board. But he'll need a miracle camp to become the starter.

Intensity Index: Mild


Inside linebacker: Channing Crowder vs. Akin Ayodele vs. Reggie Torbor

For the first time in 13 years, Zach Thomas won't be on patrol. His departure clears the way for a compelling battle. One of the three contenders will need an injury or a rotation to see the field regularly in the 3-4 scheme.

Crowder filled in admirably last year while Thomas was injured. He's big (6-foot-2, 245), young (only 24, but entering his fourth season) and crashes to the ball.

Ayodele was a two-year starter for the Dallas Cowboys but became expendable when they signed Thomas. The Dolphins traded to reunite him with new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, the former Cowboys LB coach.

Torbor started for the New York Giants down their championship homestretch, stepping in when Mathias Kiwanuka broke a leg. Torbor left a huge impression on Dolphins coach Tony Sparano (then the Cowboys OL coach) when he ravaged his backfield in the second half of their playoff game.

Intensity Index: Hot