NFL training camps are set to get underway, and many camps have a lot to decide. Which rookies will emerge and take veterans' spots? Who will rise to the occasion and lead their team come Week 1? Which teams will come out of training camp healthy?
The spotlight though, will be on the quarterbacks, particularly the teams that have yet to decide who their starting quarterback is, or ones that have a shaky quarterback situation. Any fringe starter can easily be knocked off. We've seen it done before and with more and more young quarterbacks getting chances to start, coaches may want to test the waters with what they have, rather than go with average veterans. Here are the training camp battles that will be the most interesting to watch.
6 Oakland Raiders -- Matt Schaub/Derek Carr
Matt Schaub is getting a fresh start in Oakland after a very disastrous season with the Houston Texans last year, but his party may be spoiled by incoming second-round pick Derek Carr.
We have to also keep in mind that head coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie will start feeling pressure from ownership to get this team competitive. The team is coming off back-to-back 4-12 seasons and the roster is still very limited in talent.
They've finally had some draft picks to work with the last couple of years, getting D.J. Hayden and Khalil Mack in the draft's opening rounds in 2013 and 2014. Still, Rod Streater showed some promise last season, but Oakland's receiving corps is very thin.
Keep in mind, Schaub couldn't lead a much more talented Texans roster to much success. Will he really be able to bring the Raiders to a winning season?
With pressure to move the team to L.A, the Oakland fans need something to get excited about and must support their team in greater numbers at the Coliseum. It'll be a lot easier to sell the fan base on a new rookie quarterback in Carr, rather than go with a veteran who has never quite been able to put it all together.
Schaub is the favourite to win the job out of camp, based on experience, but don't be surprised if Carr unseats him, if not by Week 1, then at some point this season, if the Raiders indeed struggle again.
5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Josh McCown/Mike Glennon
If Jay Cutler hadn't gotten hurt last year, than Josh McCown wouldn't be getting this opportunity. McCown sure made the most of his chance last year in Chicago. In eight games of relief for Cutler, McCown posted numbers many thought would never be associated with him. He completed 66.8% of his passes, to go along with 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception. Perhaps it was the tutelage of quarterback guru Marc Trestman, or the dynamic receiving duo he had in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but whatever the reason, McCown was terrific last year.
Now he comes to Tampa pencilled in as the team's starter, a position we have not seen from the 35-year-old veteran. Second-year QB Mike Glennon got some playing time last year, and Lovie Smith has even said Glennon is the Bucs' future. How soon is that future?
The Buccaneers have to first ask themselves if they feel they are a playoff contender right now. There certainly is a lot of talent on the roster, with Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Alterraun Verner, Mark Barron and Gerald McCoy. They're a young team, but definitely have a chance to compete. As well as McCown played last year, do they think a career backup can all of a sudden be a capable starter for an entire season?
Perhaps McCown won't be asked to do all that much and the offence will be suited to his strengths. He has good tools to work with and unless Glennon blows the coaching staff away in training camp, expect McCown to retain the job. Glennon will likely only become the starter again if the Bucs tank out of the gate.
4 New York Jets -- Geno Smith/Michael Vick
The New York Jets have some reason to be excited about the upcoming season. Let's not go into Super Bowl guarantees here, but the fact is, the Jets went 8-8 last year, with what was perceived as a very talentless roster.
Sheldon Richardson was a stud on the defensive line and while Geno Smith definitely had his rough moments as a rookie, he did show some positives. The Jets got blown out several times last year, with four of their losses being a 20-point margin or more. Despite that, they still managed to rattle off impressive wins behind a stout defence.
Michael Vick was brought in as a fallback option if Smith faltered this season. However at this point in his career, Vick's 34-year-old body can't quite take off like it used to. He lost his starting job last year in Chip Kelly's offence after Nick Foles went on an impressive run and the Eagles felt comfortable in letting him walk.
Vick has struggled in OTA's and minicamp, even though the offence is run by someone he's familiar with in Marty Mornhinweg. It'll take a lot for Vick to convince the coaches he should start over Geno, who the Jets have said is the face of their franchise.
3 Jacksonville Jaguars -- Chad Henne/Blake Bortles
You have to think that coach Gus Bradley knows somewhere in his mind that Chad Henne is not the quarterback that's going to take a young team devoid of elite talent to the postseason.
Henne won the starting job in Jacksonville, basically by default last year, because Blaine Gabbert was so terrible for the Jags. Now Gabbert's in San Francisco and the Jags took Blake Bortles third overall out of UCF and pushed the reset button.
Bortles and Henne split many of the first-team reps through minicamp and OTA's but now comes the real battle in training camp. The fans definitely want to see Bortles as the starter. There's not much to be excited about when your starting quarterback is Chad Henne. That's not going to bring Jags fans to a stadium they've had trouble filling.
The only thing that would hold the Jags back is the fact that Gabbert got the starting job quickly and turned out to be a big bust. Perhaps they don't want to rush Bortles into anything.
The odds are the Jags will play it safe and stick with Henne to open the season. They're getting tackle Luke Joeckel back from injury and will have a run-heavy offence with Toby Gerhart. Gus Bradley will focus on improving his defence and if the Jags quickly find themselves out of playoff contention, Bortles will eventually see the field.
2 Minnesota Vikings -- Matt Cassel/Teddy Bridgewater
The Minnesota Vikings traded back up into the first round to snag Teddy Bridgewater 32nd overall. There's plenty to be excited about in Minnesota, with Mike Zimmer getting an overdue coaching opportunity and Norv Turner being an offensive coordinator - what he's always done best.
Christian Ponder doesn't have a prayer in winning the job, as Turner's offence calls for a strong-armed quarterback. This battle is really a two-horse race between Bridgewater and Matt Cassel.
Cassel has a decent chance to win the job out of camp. This offence will really call for a quarterback who can be enough of a threat to take some attention away from Adrian Peterson. A big factor will be who will develop chemistry with Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson will be key in defenders not stacking the box against AP. Don't forget about Kyle Rudolph who's poised for a breakout once he gets someone who can throw him the ball.
For now the odds are still against Bridgewater who still has some fundamental issues to work on. Cassel is the favourite here going into camp, but that's not to say we won't see Bridgewater start a few games for the Vikings this year. Bridgewater will have to really outshine Cassel in camp if he wants the job by Week 1.
1 Cleveland Browns -- Brian Hoyer/Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel already has the highest-selling jersey from this offseason. Fans in Cleveland lined up to buy season tickets the instant they heard Manziel was coming to the dog pound. However they may have done this, with the fact that Brian Hoyer could very well be the team's starting quarterback come Week 1.
This will be the most interesting battle to watch. We know who the fans want. However, Brian Hoyer was actually playing great football for the Browns, albeit in just three starts. In his three starts, Hoyer led the Browns to a string of wins before an ACL tear against Buffalo ended his promising season. He is the slight favourite in training camp ahead of Manziel but it's a very delicate situation.
Sure, Manziel comes with off-the-field news, but on the field, he's bridged the gap between him and Hoyer. Kyle Shanahan is running the offence, meaning it will require more athleticism to handle, an area where Manziel clearly holds the advantage over Hoyer.
Josh Gordon faces a year-long suspension as well, which will give the starting quarterback a tougher challenge, as the receiving corps thins out after Gordon. Ultimately the Browns will go with who they feel gives them a better chance to win in this 2014 season.
The temptation to start Manziel might be too much in Cleveland and a solid preseason and training camp will do enough for him to unseat Hoyer. Despite Hoyer's good stretch last season, he's still been a career backup and the NFL has shifted towards more dynamic, improvisational quarterbacks. Manziel's skill set can succeed in the NFL. The Browns' offseason has been chaotic and they need to win quickly to make everybody forget about all the problems they've faced. At that point do you stop saying you're thinking about the future?
It's time to sit back and enjoy the ride as we await the training camp winners.
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