5 Position Battles You Need To Watch In NFL Preseason

  • Teddy Bridgewater
    Teddy Bridgewater vs. Matt Cassel (Minnesota Vikings)

    Entering the 2013-14 college football as almost everyone’s No. 1 quarterback prospect, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater improved in almost every conceivable fashion during his final NCAA campaign. Thanks to an underwhelming pro day, Bridgewater saw his stock slip all the way to the back of the first round. Seeing a chance to grab a falling star, the Vikings traded up with Seattle and selected who you’d assume would be their quarterback of the future.

    Bridgewater might be the starter one day, but he’ll have to get through Matt Cassel first. Cassel was a steady hand for the Vikings last season, and he’s already earned the endorsement of fellow Vikings QB Christian Ponder – a former first round selection himself. Minnesota will already have a rookie head coach at the helm in Mike Zimmer, and they might prefer to go with a more known NFL quantity out of the gate. Zimmer himself has been mum on the issue.

    There will be a fight, though, and don’t be surprised if the rookie is able to win the job from Cassel outright during preseason. He has drawn rave reviews on his preparation in the past, and you can be sure he’s itching to be at the helm come opening weekend.

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  • Darren McFadden
    Darren McFadden vs. Maurice Jones-Drew (Oakland Raiders)

    The running back carousel never stops spinning, and this offseason has brought about a collision course between two big-name running backs in Oakland. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the winner may end up being the guy who stays healthy enough to play.

    In one corner stands Darren McFadden, the former Arkansas star Oakland selected fourth overall back in 2008. McFadden has shown flashes of the brilliance he displayed during his SEC days, but sadly that’s all Raiders fans have had the chance to see – flashes. McFadden has struggled to stay on the field as a pro, succumbing to a variety of nagging injuries that have put his career in stasis. He’s back on a one-year deal and still just 26 years old, but McFadden is earning a check based off potential more than production at this point.

    Standing opposite McFadden is Maurice Jones-Drew, a former star for the Jacksonville Jaguars looking for a shot at redemption. Jones-Drew had his worst season as a pro in 2013 following a season-ending foot injury in 2012, clearly a different man than he’d been in years past. He told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that he contemplated retirement before signing on with Oakland, fearing his best days had passed him by.

    But it’d be unwise to count out a running back who was averaging 100 yards per game just three years ago. Outlasting the perpetually broken McFadden is all it may take.

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  • Champ Bailey
    Champ Bailey vs. The Field (New Orleans Saints)

    Champ Bailey has long been considered one of the top cornerbacks in football, earning 12 out of 13 Pro Bowl berths between 2000 and 2012. That mark is the highest for any cornerback in history, making a trip to Canton an utter certainty once his career comes to a close.

    At age 36, that day is fast approaching. Bailey joined a new-look defense in New Orleans after his release from the Denver Broncos in March, joining his first new team in a decade. Keenan Lewis – the only member of the Saints secondary to start every game last season – is entrenched at one of the cornerback slots, so Bailey will have to duke it out with youngsters for the nod at CB2.

    There’s some serious talent pushing Bailey. Former first-round pick Patrick Robinson has underwhelmed for the Saints, but with a stronger supporting cast around him this could be the year he finally cashes in on his upside. Also pressing Bailey for time will be Stanley Jean-Baptiste, the Saints second-round draft pick in 2014 whose size has already drawn comparisons to the aforementioned Sherman. Bailey might be the starter at the outset, but he’ll have talented youngsters nipping at his heels the whole way.

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  • Zach Ertz
    Brent Celek vs. Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles)

    Thanks to a number of converted basketball players like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham – among others – tight end has evolved into a marquee position in the modern NFL. In Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense, there’s room for a lot of weapons, but which of his tight ends will get more of the spotlight?

    Incumbent starter Brent Celek is the superior run-blocker, which is no small part of why the Eagles had the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL last season. Though he lacks the top end burst that some of the league’s top tight ends possess, he’s a reliable target that isn’t afraid to throw his body around.

    Second-year player Zach Ertz was still figuring things out in his rookie season for Philadelphia, but he brings a level of flexibility that Celek doesn’t. Having played all over the place at Stanford – even in spells out wide – Ertz has a level of comfort in different positions within an offense. Given Kelly’s propensity for the imaginative, it stands to reason that he’d want to find ways to give Ertz more time. Could that come at the expense of Celek?

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  • Johnny Manziel
    Johnny Manziel vs. Brian Hoyer (Cleveland Browns)

    Johnny Manziel has dominated the NFL’s offseason headlines without playing a snap, and football’s bad boy is a sure bet to be in discussions for years to come. The myth of Manziel persists whether he’s on the gridiron or not, something you’re sure to be reminded of anytime you tune into your favorite sports channels.

    But he’s not nicknamed Johnny Football without reason. The Cleveland Browns selected him No. 22 overall because they believe in his talent, and he has a Heisman Trophy and gaudy college stats to prove it exists. Unfortunately, those won’t win him anything in the pros, and he’s in for a fight with Brian Hoyer for the starting job.

    Hoyer was undefeated in three appearances for the Browns last season before injuries knocked him to the sideline, and Browns management clearly believes in him. New GM Ray Farmer claimed Hoyer was better than Manziel “by a substantial margin” when he spoke to Cleveland media in May, seemingly slamming the door shut on Hoyer’s younger competitor. Plot twist – coach Mike Pettine walked back those comments weeks later, claiming that Hoyer’s lead position was not “insurmountable.”

    Manziel is one of the most dynamic college football players in recent memory and a magnet for the spotlight; it’s hard to imagine that he’ll go down without a fight. Whether he starts the season with a pigskin or a clipboard in his hand, you can be sure that Manziel’s fight for a starting job will be a spectacle to behold.

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  • Teddy Bridgewater
  • Darren McFadden
  • Champ Bailey
  • Zach Ertz
  • Johnny Manziel

Memories of Richard Sherman’s boastful shouts following the NFC Championship still persist in the minds of many NFL fans, but YouTube clips can only hold fans over for so long. The month of August is upon us, and it’s about time for the NFL to get back to business.

Training camps are about to open up shop across the league, and with the typically insane player movement of an NFL offseason just about wrapped up, the focus turns to the battles within each organization. Fresh blood from the draft and free agency is an onus for change that threatens all but the elite. Throw in new coaches and coordinators, management changes and the aging process and you have an exciting amount of uncertainty heading into tune-up season.

There are a few fights for supremacy that deserve mentioning more than others. Keep an eye on these battles as training camps roll on.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @NeubeckNBA