Commentary

Key position battles for training camp

A look at which rookies may have veterans sweating this summer

Originally Published: May 11, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The new collective bargaining agreement gives players more structure but less practice time to prepare for the season.

While full-team minicamps are scheduled for later in the month and early June, this is the league's biggest weekend for rookie camps. The CBA gives coaches the ability to assemble draft choices, undrafted players and first-year players for three-day minicamps. More than 20 are in effect this weekend.

Rookie minicamps give players an opportunity to break in on an equal basis. They won't be intimidated by veterans. Rookies will get a chance to work through their mistakes and learn, getting them ready for the competition ahead in the next few weeks and into the summer in camps.

With the nine rookie camps of last week and the camps going on this weekend, coaches will get a preview of some of the battles shaping up this summer. Here are the 10 best position battles that will be brewing between rookies and veterans.

1. Browns first-round pick Brandon Weeden vs. quarterback Colt McCoy: This probably isn't much of a competition because the Browns make it sound as though it's Weeden's job to lose. Entering the league at the age of 28, Weeden knows there is little time to waste.

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2. Dolphins first-round choice Ryan Tannehill vs. quarterbacks Matt Moore and David Garrard: This might be the best position battle of the spring and summer. General manager Jeff Ireland said Tannehill looks like he's going to be ready pretty quickly. His knowledge of Mike Sherman's offense could allow Tannehill to be one of four rookie quarterbacks who might start this fall.

3. Bucs first-round choice Doug Martin vs. running back LeGarrette Blount: Blount exceeded expectations by rushing for 1,007 and 781 yards in his first two seasons as an undrafted player, but the Bucs expect more from Martin. Martin is a tough, tenacious runner and is expected to bump Blount into a backup role.

4. Rams second-round pick Brian Quick vs. split end Brandon Gibson: How quickly Quick learns the Rams' offense and wins the starting job will determine how much improvement Sam Bradford shows at quarterback. Quick enters the league a little raw, but if he develops into a big-play receiver, this offense can make a rapid improvement.

5. Titans first-round pick Kendall Wright vs. wide receiver Nate Washington: Wright figures his best work in the NFL can be made in the slot. He built his body through weightlifting in the legs, and that gives him explosiveness in routes and after catches. To get slot snaps, he's competing against Washington, who's coming off his best season, with 74 catches.

6. Bengals first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick vs. cornerbacks Nate Clements and Adam Jones: The Bengals felt lucky when Kirkpatrick fell to them with the 17th pick in the draft. Kirkpatrick's development could knock either Clements or Jones from a roster spot. The Bengals have plenty of competition at corner, and Marvin Lewis has a nice mix of coverage and zone corners.

7. Patriots first-round pick Dont'a Hightower vs. middle linebacker Brandon Spikes: Spikes was a second-round pick in 2010. If Bill Belichick keeps the Patriots in a 4-3 defense, then Hightower will battle Spikes for playing time. If both do well, Belichick could switch back to a 3-4 and use both players.

8. Seahawks third-round choice Russell Wilson vs. quarterback Tarvaris Jackson: Although Pete Carroll is promoting a summer-long competition between Jackson and Matt Flynn, Flynn is expected to get the starting job. If Wilson makes a quick adjustment to the NFL, as he did as a transfer to Wisconsin, it could be bad news for Jackson.

9. Bears second-round pick Alshon Jeffery vs. wide receiver Devin Hester: Lovie Smith says Hester's role isn't going to diminish, but Brandon Marshall will be the split end and Earl Bennett is the team's best slot receiver. That leaves Jeffery going against Hester for playing time.

10. Falcons second-round pick Peter Konz vs. right guards Mike Johnson, Vince Manuwai and others: Konz, considered the best center in the draft, is viewed as Atlanta's center of the future. The Falcons have veteran Todd McClure on a one-year contract, so Konz can fight his way into a starting job at right guard.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer