AFC West: position battles

Chargers position battles

July, 26, 2008
7/26/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Chargers' starting lineup is settled with battles only at backup spots.

 
 AP Photo/David Zalubowski
 Darren Sproles is a standout return man but has yet to prove he can carry the load at running back.

No. 2 running back: Darren Sproles vs. Jacob Hester

Yes, you know a team is in good shape when its biggest concern is the backup tailback position. But this is a position of concern for San Diego as it tries to reach the Super Bowl. Superstar LaDainian Tomlinson was banged up in the playoffs last season and at 29, he has to be careful not to become susceptible to wear and tear. Plus, his super-backup Michael Turner is now in Atlanta after cashing in during free agency.

Sproles is an interesting player and a dynamic return man. But he is small and has yet to prove he can carry the load. That is why the Chargers moved up in the third round to take Jacob Hester. The LSU product can also play fullback. Hester is tough and was a winner in college. It will not be a surprise if Hester becomes Tomlinson's top backup. But Sproles is a weapon and he will be a factor as well.

Intensity index: Hot

No. 3 cornerback: Antoine Cason vs. Paul Oliver

Like the backup running back position, the nickel cornerback position battle is usually not all that hot to follow. But the Chargers do play in the nickel defense package about 60 percent of the time, So they will need a capable player here. The team drafted Cason out of Arizona with the No. 28 overall pick with designs of him becoming the nickel cornerback behind Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer. Cason is a smart player and was a playmaker in college. But Oliver won't be easy to beat out. He is feisty and has shown he is capable of doing the job. But when push comes to shove, a first-round pick should end up winning the job.

Intensity index: Mild

Raiders position battles

July, 26, 2008
7/26/08
10:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

If the Raiders are to improve, they'll need some development on offense.

Running back: Darren McFadden vs. Justin Fargas vs. Michael Bush

The Raiders are taking the correct approach here. They are not looking at it as a battle at tailback. The team is looking at as if the three-headed monster of McFadden, Fargas and Bush is a wonderful bounty and a great opportunity. And they are right. If the Raiders are going to improve greatly, it will be because of this running back trio. But, in essence, it will be a battle because there's only one ball. Yes, all three backs will play, but someone will get the primary carries and it will be fun to watch how it is broken down. Of course, if McFadden explodes onto the scene like he's capable of, he'll get most of the carries and Fargas, who had a breakout season last year, will be in the background. Bush, finally healthy from a serious leg injury in college, has looked good in the offseason. Perhaps he'll find a role in short-yardage situations. Anyway, this is a great problem for Oakland to have.

Intensity index: Hot.

Center: Jack Grove vs. Chris Morris vs. John Wade

The Raiders success will hinge on the offensive line. There will be competition at right tackle between Cornell Green and Mario Henderson. But the problem competition is at center. Grove, Morris and Wade will fight for the job. Grove is a talented player but he has a history of knee injuries. Morris knows Oakland's zone blocking scheme well and Wade is an 11-season veteran who is a smart, savvy player. If Grove can stay healthy, he should win the job, but that may be too much to ask. This will be a battle to watch all of August.

Intensity index: Hot.

Chiefs position battles

July, 26, 2008
7/26/08
10:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The young Chiefs will have plenty to watch on offense during training camp.

DarlingWebb

No. 2 Receiver: Devard Darling vs. Jeff Webb and Will Franklin

This will be very interesting to watch. If the Chiefs are going to rebound on offense only and make strides in its youth movement, it may be because of this position. Last year's first-round draft pick, Dwayne Bowe, looks like a future star. But he needs help to take the pressure off him. That's why this position battle is so vital. The Chiefs brought in Darling, an interesting prospect who never developed in Baltimore. But he'll get a chance in Kansas City as will third-year player Jeff Webb. The player to watch may be Franklin, a fourth-round pick from Missouri. He was productive in college and had a very good offseason with the Chiefs. And there will be no rookie bias here. If the fourth rounder shows he can handle the job, it will be his. This truly will be a position to watch as the Chiefs work their way through training camp and the preseason.

Intensity index: Hot

 
 Douglas Jones/Icon SMI
 Brodie Croyle will be given every chance to keep the starting job.

Quarterback: Brodie Croyle vs. Damon Huard and Tyler Thigpen

The Chiefs will deny that there is a position battle or a quarterback controversy here. They want Croyle to be the quarterback and will give him every opportunity to keep the job. But there's always the chance he is unable to show he is worthy of being a starting NFL quarterback. He has yet to prove it. That's where Huard and Thigpen come in. Let's face it, the only way Huard wins the job is if Croyle is a total disaster and Thigpen doesn't develop quickly. Thus, Croyle's only real competition might be in the form of Thigpen. He is a young, interesting prospect who some scouts think could eventually beat out Croyle. But that may be a long shot. At this point, Croyle's only real competition is Croyle himself.

Intensity index: Mild

Broncos position battles

July, 26, 2008
7/26/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Broncos have some interesting battles at key skill position spots.

 
 Steve Dykes/Getty Images
 Selvin Young should get the first chance to start for the Broncos.

No. 1 tailback: Selvin Young vs. Ryan Torain

Once again, the Broncos' starting tailback job is up for grabs. The Broncos enter training camp with four tailbacks: Young, Torain, Michael Pittman and Andre Hall. There will be room for all four. Pittman will be a third-down back who'll provide good receiving, short-yardage running and blocking in those situations. Hall is a small, speedy player perfectly suited to give the starter a breather.

Shanahan is fine with using a committee but someone needs to start. Young will get the first crack. He led the team with 729 yards rushing as an undrafted rookie. But he is injury prone and has yet to show he can carry the ball 20 times a game. Torain is the wild card. The fifth-round pick from Arizona State will get a chance to show he can handle several carries a game. Shanahan has proved he doesn't mind using rookie running backs. Young is the leader in the clubhouse but it won't be a surprise if Torain overtakes him.

  

 Jackson

 Colbert

Intensity index: Hot.

No. 2 receiver: Darrell Jackson vs. Keary Colbert

The Broncos are in need of a No. 2 receiver with the promotion of Brandon Marshall and the release of former No. 1 receiver Javon Walker. The Broncos have a lot of receivers behind Marshall in the form of Jackson, Colbert, Brandon Stokley, Sami Parker and second-round pick Eddie Royal who was impressive in minicamp.

While Denver has depth at receiver, it needs a receiver who can catch 50-60 balls to emerge. Jackson and Colbert will likely get the first crack. Colbert was signed on the second day of free agency to be a potential starter but the Broncos jumped on Jackson after he was released by San Francisco. Jackson will probably get the first opportunity to win the job over Colbert. He is a good fit for Shanahan's offense and the coach likes veterans. Jackson had a poor season in San Francisco last year, but Denver hopes he can regain the form he had in Seattle for several years. Even though he is 29, the Broncos are ready to give Jackson a chance. Still, Colbert, 26, will be given the chance to beat him out. However, Colbert's production has slid during his four NFL seasons in Carolina. So Colbert will have to prove he can keep up with Jackson.

Intensity index: Mild.

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