By Steve Silverman
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Established players have little to worry about in training camp, other than staying healthy for the start of the season and finding a way to get through the boredom.
For everyone else, it’s about winning a battle that will either lead to a starting position or even a roster spot.
In the past, it wouldn’t take much to get a battle started. An upstart player would play impressively in training camp while a veteran would report out of shape.
Today’s players condition all year long and get familiar with the team’s plays and gameplan at mini-camp and OTAs.
However, there are still a number of battles around the NFL that are worth watching.
As the regular season is now within view, let’s look at several of these key battles and see who’s performing well at this point in the preseason.
WR Mario Manningham vs. Kyle Williams, San Francisco 49ers
Prior to the start of training camp, it seemed like the battle would be between Manningham and Randy Moss for one of the starting outside positions. But it seems clear at this point that Moss will start opposite Michael Crabtree at the outside receiver positions.
Manningham finds himself in a battle with Williams for the slot receiver position.
Manningham has the name and the track record, but Williams looks like the better receiver in training camp. He runs better after the catch and he is very aggressive.
Still, it’s hard to overlook Manningham, who made so many spectacular catches for the Giants. When it comes time to make the tough catch, Manningham has proven he can work under duress while Williams’ greatest achievements are as a return man.
Manningham still has the edge, but keep your eye on this battle through the end of August.
QB Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Locker seemed like he was in a position to take control of this battle when he got the start in the Week Two preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But he looked ragged in the start, completing just four-of-11 passes for 21 yards and looking as shaky as could be while he was under center.
The veteran Hasselbeck came in and completed four-of-five and looked more secure in the position.
However, don’t think that Locker has blown it just yet. The Titans like Locker’s arm strength and potential and they see Hasselbeck as the veteran quarterback who can come in late in the season and win a couple of games if he is needed.
Head coach Mike Munchak does not look at Hasselbeck as the ideal starter at this point. A solid backup? Yes. A starter? Not ideal.
However, if Locker can’t stop looking like a nervous teenager on his first date when he drops back into the pocket, Munchak’s hand may be forced.
QB Matt Flynn vs. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
This started off as a three-way battle that also included Tarvaris Jackson, but he has been left by the wayside.
Look for the Seahawks to trade or release (more likely) Jackson before the end of training camp.
Flynn is leading the way based on his experience with the Green Bay Packers and his experience at reading defenses. He also has the proper mindset for the job.
However, Wilson has looked sharp throughout camp and had a brilliant first preseason game in which he completed 12-of-16 passes.
Unlike Andrew Luck of the Colts and Robert Griffin III of the Redskins who were taken with the first two picks of the draft, Wilson was a third-round pick without any guarantees.
He has exceeded expectations and he could force head coach Pete Carroll’s hand if he continues to shine. At this point, Flynn has a short lead.
RB James Starks vs. Alex Green and Cedric Benson, Green Bay Packers
The state of the Packers running backs is not head coach Mike McCarthy’s key concern.
He will give it plenty of lip service during training camp, but the Packers only want a running game that can relieve the pressure on Aaron Rodgers. They are not looking for big plays.
That’s why they signed the veteran Benson. The Packers believe he can pick up the key yards on a third-and-two in the fourth quarter to keep drives alive.
That means he will get the bulk of the important carries. He may not start, but he is likely to finish games.
However, you always have to watch Benson for that “who cares” attitude that is such a big part of his makeup.
QB Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals
This may not get most football fans’ blood boiling, but it looks like Kolb is going to find himself knocked out by Skelton.
Kolb lacks accuracy, confidence and a quick release. Putting him in the lineup seems like a recipe for sure defeat for the Cardinals.
Skelton may not have much of a pedigree, but at least he can follow head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s directions and put the ball where he is supposed to.
How do you see these scenarios shaking out when the regular season starts? Share your thoughts in the comments section below…