Friday, August 3, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: NFC Training Camp Battles


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.’ 

Earlier in the week, I wrote about some intriguing position battles in the AFC. Today, we'll tackle the other half of the league.

Today’s Topic:  NFC 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:

Seattle Seahawks – Starting QB
Matt Flynn vs. Tarvaris Jackson vs. Russell Wilson
Wait a second, am I supposed to believe the Seahawks spent $26M on Matt Flynn so he can sit behind Tarvaris Jackson? Please. Wait, what’s that? You’re saying that makes as much sense as them willingly pursuing and signing Tarvaris to be their starter last year? Hmm, fair point.

At this point, nothing the Seahawks can do would shock me, but I do expect Matt Flynn to emerge as the starter. Seattle gave him a bunch of money and his success in limited opportunities certainly deserves a longer look. He will have competition though, and not necessarily from Tarvaris Jackson. Everyone around Seahawks camp has raved about Russell Wilson, and Peter King recently reported that Wilson has a legitimate shot to win the job. Based on what I saw of him at Wisconsin, I can’t say I’m shocked at that development. He’s as skilled as anyone out there, and he brings a competitive edge that few people have. But man is he short. Really, really short. We’ll see how that plays in the NFL. For now, it seems like Matt Flynn’s job to lose, but don’t be surprised if Seattle gives everyone a look in the regular season.

What I Would Do: Matt Flynn
What Seattle Will Do: Matt Flynn
Washington Redskins – Starting RB
Tim Hightower vs. Roy Helu vs. Evan Royster
The ‘Skins have a lot of battles going on in camp (see: massive WR battle royale), but none is more interesting than the three way derby for the top RB spot. Each had their moments last season, but Helu and Royster were clearly more impressive than Hightower. In fact, they were pretty darn good.


Don’t forget, Helu and Royster were able to put up those outstanding YPC totals with Rex Grossman and John Beck at QB. So, which one is better? Helu is clearly the more versatile threat while Royster appears to be a stronger runner. Given the way the game is played, I’d value Helu’s ability as a receiver over Royster’s traditional bruising style. Either way, Mike Shanahan is sure to ignore the conventions of ‘starter’ and ‘backup’ and use them both equally. Actually, given his past history, Shanahan is more likely to cut both and turn some random guy off the street into a 1000 yard rusher…and then cut him.

What I Would Do: Roy Helu
What Washington Will Do: I dare not guess what Shanahan will do with his RB’s
Carolina Panthers – Starting MLB
Jon Beason vs. Luke Kuechly
To be clear, this is essentially a meaningless battle in terms of playing time. Whoever does not end up starting at MLB will almost assuredly start at one of the OLB spots. However, I think it will be interesting to see if the much-hyped Kuechly can overtake a proven star like Beason this early in his career. Goodness knows Carolina needs all the defensive help they can get, and if Kuechly can win this battle, then it’s very likely he’ll be able to make a big impact right out of the gate.

Dallas Cowboys – Starting WR
Dez Bryant vs. his mom
I don’t even know what to say about this. Usually the Cowboys wait until the actual games start to crush my soul. I suppose it’s for the best that they start the process early.

What I Would Do: Not attack my mom and rip her clothes off…because that’s really gross
What Dallas Will Do: Give him a personal bodyguard so that he can get into fights with him and get suspended mid-season (Cowboys fans, you know what I’m referring to)
Chicago Bears – Starting LT
J’Marcus Webb vs. Chris Williams
Wow, what a titanic clash we have here. In one corner we have Chris Williams, a former first round pick who has already failed at LT and who has struggled to both stay on the field and stay effective while on the field. In the other corner is the incumbent LT, J’Marcus Webb, whose struggles are merely limited to being bad at football, and not all those injury problems that Williams has to deal with. The real loser in this battle? Jay Cutler and his various body parts.

What I Would Do: Is this a trick question? I guess I’ll go with Webb…begrudgingly
What Chicago Will Do: Start their third string QB by Week 9
Arizona Cardinals – Starting QB
Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton
I’ll just come out and say it; I would be shocked – SHOCKED – if Kevin Kolb wasn’t the Week 1 starter. The Cardinals have invested too much in him to pull the plug after only 9 games, especially when the alternative is John Skelton. Goodness knows how Skelton became the immortal legend he is today, because the guy sucks at football plain and simple. His accuracy is abysmal, his TD-INT ratio is way upside down – he’s just a mess of a player. And please, don’t give me the “he wins games” garbage. He beat the Rams twice, the Browns once, and would have lost a couple of those had Patrick Peterson not morphed into Devin Hester. Kevin Kolb is simply a better QB, and he gives the team a much better chance to win. 

What I Would Do: Kevin Kolb
What Arizona Will Do: Kevin Kolb
Minnesota Vikings – LB/DE
Everson Griffen vs. Leslie Frazier
Beats me why Frazier didn’t play Griffen more last season. He’s only the best young defender on the team. Griffen has rare talent and athleticism, and it would be an absolute travesty for him to waste away on the Vikings bench another season. The best plan would be to start him at DE opposite Jared Allen, where his elite pass rushing abilities would be totally unleashed. At the very least, Griffen should rotate on the line and as a rush LB so they can have him on the field the majority of snaps.

What Minnesota Will Do: Something dumb
Minnesota Vikings – Starting RB
Adrian Peterson vs. cops trying to arrest him
Come on, you knew this was coming! Seriously though, he got arrested for resisting arrest, and nothing else? Is that even humanly possible?

Minnesota Vikings – Starting RB
Adrian Peterson vs. seafood lunch
AP is an absolute gold mine!

New Orleans Saints – Starting RB
Pierre Thomas vs. Mark Ingram vs. Chris Ivory
This is an extremely crowded, and extremely talented, group. Under Sean Payton, the Saints have utilized a committee approach and have gotten consistently strong production from the group. With Payton not around, however, will things change? Maybe a better question is how badly does the organization want Mark Ingram to succeed? Given what they’ve invested in him, you’d think he would get first crack at the starting gig. Here’s the thing; he was the worst of the group last year! Both Thomas and Ivory, along with Darren Sproles, finished with higher DYAR and a higher DVOA. Thomas, in particular, has been an extremely underrated, and possibly under-utilized, player over the last few years. Taking out 2010, when Thomas missed the majority of the year, he’s consistently rated as one of the top backs in the league according to Football Outsiders:

Success Rate
142 – 9th
14.0% - 4th
62% - 1st
208 – 5th
24.8% - 1st
56% - 3rd
180 – 5th
30% - 1st
61% - 1st

More than a bit surprising, no? Look, I’m not saying they should throw 300 carries his way, but why wouldn’t you give a bigger workload to a back who this productive?

What I Would Do: Pierre Thomas
What New Orleans Will Do: Mark Ingram
New Orleans Saints – Head Coach
Joe Vitt vs. Drew Brees vs. potential wildcard on staff?
I don’t ask for much, just a Game of Thrones-like power struggle on the Saints sideline. And Steve Spagnuolo has to play Theon Greyjoy. Because he’s dumb.

(Since we’re going with this, does that mean Sean Payton got sent to The Wall?)

Atlanta Falcons – RB
Michael Turner vs. RB by Committee
As Bill Barnwell recently pointed out, Turner is one of the last remaining traditional “bell-cow” type RB’s in the NFL. Having toted the rock more than 300 times in three of the past four seasons, that bell has certainly been rung its fair share of times. Problem is, Turner’s surprisingly low ranking in DYAR (25th), DVOA (36th), and success rate (34th) clearly indicate the flaw in this strategy. Turner simply isn’t effective enough to warrant this much usage. Considering he’s now on the wrong side of 30, I doubt he ever will be again. The question is, can he be effective enough to stave off the RB by committee approach? Jacquizz Rodgers is obviously the biggest threat to usurp carries, as his versatility in the passing game makes him a valuable ‘Darren Sproles-like’ weapon in today’s NFL, but Jason Snelling has also proven effective in certain situations. With so many mouths to feed, it wouldn’t surprise me if Turner’s workload was closer to 200 carries than 300. 

What I Would Do: More Jacquizz Rodgers, please!
What Atlanta Will Do: More Jacquizz Rodgers, please!

1 comment:

  1. Since you didn't do the 9ers (understandably - most of their starters return), but there is actually an interesting battle forming recently.

    If you know anything about the few personnel changes the 49ers did have this offseason, lots of it revolved around RG. They allowed both Adam Snyder and crappy Chilo Rachal to walk in free agency. Then they snatched up Joe Looney on great value in the draft because of a foot injury he had just sustained, and they also started training their backup T Alex Boone to transition over to RG. The assumption had been for some time that Boone would transition smoothly (which all reports say he has) and get the job. The problem for him? Looney's foot is actually recovering much more quickly than anticipated. In fact, he has begun practicing already this week. Looney is the clear long-term favorite in this position - he fits the guard profile more than Boone, who has always been a tackle, and he was being rumored as high as the 2nd round before getting injured, whereas Boone went undrafted in 2009. But it's still unclear whether Looney will be ready to go, eapecially as a rookie who missed some training camp time.

    What I Would Do: See if you can speed up the timetable and get Looney ready for opening day.
    What SF Will Do: Give Boone a shot at it first since he is more experienced, and wait until Alex Smith gets murdered to realize that we should probably just put the better player out there if he's healthy.