NFC West training camp battles

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
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AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Quarterback: Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton.

The Cardinals have grown accustomed to quarterback competitions. This one has no clear leader heading toward training camp.

The pressure is squarely on Kolb to justify the Cardinals' investment in him. He's had time to get healthy and learn the offense. Kolb should be more confident and relaxed as a result. But he has yet to take charge of the team and command the respect that only comes through performance. He'll have an extended opportunity this summer thanks to an exhibition schedule featuring five games, one more than usual.

Kolb now has 16 career starts. Skelton has 11. Neither has been consistent, but the team won more frequently with Skelton last season.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Left guard: Rokevious Watkins vs. Bryan Mattison.

The Rams are counting on offensive line coach Paul Boudreau to coach up the position at right tackle and left guard in particular.

Watkins is a rookie fifth-round choice with college experience at both guard and both tackle spots. He's listed at 338 pounds and has weighed considerably more, but the scouting reports question his strength. Mattison started four games for the Rams last season after two seasons in Baltimore as a backup. I've wondered whether Quinn Ojinnaka might project as the starter here, but he's more apt to play tackle. Barry Richardson could be a consideration as well.

Whatever the case, the Rams will likely be counting on an inexperienced left guard to help protect Sam Bradford and clear running lanes for Steven Jackson. It's important someone rises to the occasion.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Nickel corner: Chris Culliver vs. Perrish Cox.

The 49ers easily could have handed the job to Culliver after the 2011 third-round choice played better than 40 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Adding Cox creates competition and improves depth at a position that has become increasingly important as offenses more use additional wide receivers.

Cox started nine games for Denver in 2010 as a rookie fifth-round pick from Oklahoma State. He missed last season amid sexual-assault accusations, then signed with the 49ers following his acquittal this offseason. Cox played for 49ers secondary coach Ed Donatell in Denver, so the 49ers should have a good idea what he can offer.

Culliver seemed to fade some late in the season, no surprise for a rookie making a significant jump without the benefit of a regular offseason. He figures into the 49ers' plans no matter what, but will Cox siphon off some of his playing time?

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Quarterback: Tarvaris Jackson vs. Matt Flynn vs. Russell Wilson.

The Seahawks face a dilemma. Flynn, Wilson and Josh Portis are the quarterbacks they would ideally keep for the long term, but Jackson is the only one with meaningful experience. Jackson is the only one they know for sure they could trust to keep the team competitive right now.

Flynn and Wilson will earn roster spots. Jackson could win one too. He could even start, but so could Flynn or Wilson. Wilson made a spectacular first impression during organized team activities and minicamp practices. His natural leadership ability and drive showed up repeatedly in how he commanded the huddle and the way he kept pressing coaches for additional information on the offense.

While it's natural to assume Flynn will emerge as the starter based on his salary and Wilson's inexperience, the Seahawks' excitement for Wilson has been palpable at every turn. This should be a fascinating battle once training camp begins.

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