Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC Training Camp Battles

Who will be on the receiving end of Joe's 4 yard passes this season?
Hard to believe, but with training camps having begun and August already here, the 2012 NFL season is mercifully at our doorstep. That means fewer ‘Stephen Strasburg is going to get shut down’ stories and more ‘HOLY CRAP, TIM TEBOW IS SHIRTLESS IN THE RAIN!!!’ stories. Thank. God.

Even better, the 2012 NFL pre-season arrives with no lockout-related distractions this year. Instead of cramming the whole thing into a tiny time frame, we get a whole month of completely irrelevant football! That’s right, an entire month of injuries, intrigue, coach-speak, daily Tebow updates, Rex Ryan Super Bowl guarantees, and various other training camp staples. Seriously, if you aren’t excited, then you probably aren’t human. Either that or you have a real life…either way, something’s wrong with you.

Since we here at Boris Diaw Time indeed have no real life, we’ll be doing an elongated 2012 NFL preview. Over the next month, we’ll be writing about and talking about as much NFL as possible in an attempt to get you ready for the upcoming season. And by ‘get you ready’ we really mean ‘provide you with as much erroneous information as possible.’ 

Today’s Topic:  AFC Training Camp Battles 
For many players, training camp is a time of learning and getting in shape. For many others, though, it’s a time of extreme competition. These next few weeks represent the last and sometimes only hope to make the NFL for hundreds of players. While the vast majority of those battles are typically off the radar, there are plenty of other, more high profile battles that bear watching. Here are some to keep an eye on:

Buffalo Bills – Starting DE
Mark Anderson vs. Shawne Merriman vs. Chris Kelsay
(Hey, remember when Shawne Merriman had a needle sticking out of his butt and was racking up crazy sack totals? Yeah, that seems like a long time ago. Now he’s being converted to a 4-3 DE and thrust into a competition with two guys that are probably better than him at this point. Let’s go ahead and rule him out, OK? Good.)
The obvious pick here is Anderson, who had a breakout season with New England last year. I’m not so sure, however. Even with New England, Anderson was used primarily as a pass rush specialist. The fact is that he has never shown an ability to be an every down lineman. Meanwhile, Kelsay has started 116 games over the last nine years, and has proven to be excellent against the run. With Mario Williams now on board, it makes a lot of sense to keep Anderson in his usual role and start the stouter Kelsay.

What I Would Do: Chris Kelsay
What Buffalo Will Do: Chris Kelsay
Miami Dolphins – Starting QB
David Garrard vs. Matt Moore vs. Ryan Tannehill
Moore played pretty well last season, about as well as David Garrard has ever played, and is 6 full years younger too. Beats me why the ‘Fins brought in Garrard, but it certainly seems like they want him to be their guy this year. Just my opinion, but Miami would be much better served by giving Moore a full audition to see what he has. The guy has shown some talent, and there’s no questioning that the team responded to him last year. 

Then again, it really doesn’t matter since the sole purpose of the Moore vs. Garrard battle is to keep the seat warm for one season until Tannehill is ready. That’s assuming, of course, that Tannehill isn’t going to win this thing outright. On pure merit, I doubt it, but you never know what these impatient teams will do. Let’s go with a tentative ‘no’ for now.

(By the way, if Miami is out of it by midseason and Moore sucks, they should absolutely throw Tannehill in there. I’ve never bought into the “need to sit for a year” logic. If you can play, then you can play. Better for Miami to find out sooner rather than later.)

What I Would Do: Matt Moore
What Miami Will Do: David Garrard
New England Patriots – Starting RB
Stevan Ridley vs. Shane Vereen
Tough to make an informed comment on this battle since we saw so little of Vereen last year, so I’ll keep this brief and to the point. I think Ridley is good. Really good. I thought he was their best RB in every game I saw last year and it never made sense to me that they kept Law Firm over him on the depth chart. Not only am I expecting him to win the job, I’m expecting him to break 1000 yards with a strong YPC average.

What I Would Do: Stevan Ridley
What New England Will Do: Stevan Ridley
New York Jets – Starting RT
Jeff Otah vs. his physical
Otah failed his first physical and the trade that sent him to the Jets will reportedly be voided if he doesn’t pass his physical by the end of Tuesday. A healthy Jeff Otah is a massive improvement over Wayne Hunter, but  staying healthy has always been a major issue for the former first round pick. Goodness knows the Jets need help at RT, especially since they’ll soon be featuring a left-handed starting QB! (fingers crossed)

(Edit: Otah failed…trade voided…so much for this one!)

What I Would Do: Start looking for a new RT since Otah isn’t going to make it through three games
What New York Will Do: Give Mark Sanchez another extension on top of his extension and then guarantee  a Super Bowl
New York Jets – QB
Tim Tebow vs. accuracy
Then again, maybe they won’t be featuring a left-handed starting QB…..

What I Would Do: Start Tebow…because I love him
What New York Will Do: Start Tebow…because the fans are going to stampede after Sanchez’s first 4 INT game
Cincinnati Bengals – Starting RT
Andre Smith vs. Buffets

I just wanted an excuse to show that picture. Moving on.

Cleveland Browns – Starting QB
Brandon Weedon vs. Father Time
OK, OK, I’ll be serious from now on.

Baltimore Ravens – Starting TE
Ed Dickson vs. Dennis Pitta
This is by far the most important position battle of the offseason. Other than Flacco’s RB, there isn’t a more vital position in all of football. Which of these two men gets the honor of being targeted 400 times next season by ‘Checkdown Joe?’ 

Seriously though, the Ravens’ TE duo combined for 145 targets last season, a total that ranked 5th in the NFL. So yeah, this is a big position for them. But while Dickson received all the starts and the majority of the targets last season, it was Pitta that was actually more productive. His catch rate was higher (71% to 61%), his YPC was higher (10.1 to 9.8), his DYAR was higher (72 to 31), and his DVOA was higher (12.2% to -1.7%). Clearly, Baltimore needs to re-evaluate the depth chart. For ‘Checkdown Joe’s’ sake.

What I Would Do: Dennis Pitta
What Baltimore Will Do: Dennis Pitta
Cleveland Browns – Starting #2 WR
Josh Gordon vs. Mohamed Massaquoi
This isn’t one of the more high profile battles, but it intrigues me nonetheless. The Browns really went all out on their offensive overhaul this offseason, and Gordon is a major piece of that. The guy has incredible talent – some have even called him a young Randy Moss (take it easy, people) – and the second round pick they invested on him will be well worth it if he becomes the dynamic downfield threat the Browns have long been seeking. He and Greg Little could form a potent WR duo going forward – if he can first take Massaquoi’s job away from him. Even if he is a bit raw, that shouldn’t be too hard since Massaquoi sucks at football. How this battle shakes out, both in camp and throughout the season, should tell the Browns a lot about Gordon’s future.

What I Would Do: Josh Gordon
What Cleveland Will Do: Mohamed Massaquoi
Tennessee Titans – Starting QB
Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker
This is ‘technically’ a training camp battle, but it feels like a foregone conclusion, doesn’t it? Hasselbeck is going to get the job out of camp, as most veterans in this situation do, but is going to be on the shortest of leashes. The future of the Tennessee Titans is Jake Locker, and that future will quickly become the present if the season starts to slip away.

That having been said, I’m not sure how I feel about that strategy. Sure, if Hasselbeck is clearly superior in camp, he should absolutely get the job. The team was just shy of the playoffs last season, and they need to focus on that first and foremost. But if things are close between the two, I’m not sure I wouldn’t give Locker the job. He performed reasonably well in his limited time last season. Tough to explain, but the guy just seemed to make stuff happen when he was out there. More importantly, it looked like the team really responded to him. Again, I’m not saying Locker is the right choice, but neither is the conventional “veteran gets the job” line of thinking.

What I Would Do: Look for any excuse to start Locker
What Tennessee Will Do: Matt Hasselbeck
Kansas City Chiefs – Starting #2 WR
Jonathan Baldwin vs. Steve Breaston
On one hand this is a fascinating battle because Baldwin is a supremely talented receiver and it will be interesting to see if he’s able to take this step and overtake a quality player like Breaston. On the other hand, this is a meaningless battle because the reward for winning is the privilege of watching Matt Cassel skip passes 10 yards in front of them. Fantastic.

What I Would Do: Jonathan Baldwin
What Kansas City Will Do: Jonathan Baldwin
San Diego Chargers – Head Coach
Norv Turner vs. Common Sense
I think we know the winner of this one.

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