Four AFC East websites get together each week to discuss the AFC East. This week we discuss the buggest battle for a starting spot for each team. See what Matt Barbato of New York Jet Fuel, Ian Logue of PatsFans.com, Steve Saslow of Bills Daily, and Luis Sung of PhinManiacs has to say right here.
Steve Saslow (@BillsDaily): When you talk about the biggest battle for a starting spot in Bills camp there is one universal answer and it is the most important position on the field. Conversation at Bills camp starts and ends with the three way quarterback battle between Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor for the starting quarterback job.
Cassel is the veteran they brought in as the game manager. He is expected to keep the ship steady without making mistakes to allow the talented skill position players to make plays while the defense shuts down the opposing team. Manuel is the former first round pick who only has 14 starts in two years but has fallen out of favor with the team.
This coaching staff has no allegiance to him but GM Doug Whaley was the assistant GM when he was drafted. Taylor is a Rex Ryan favorite who wanted him in New York and seems enamored by his speed. He has only thrown 35 passes in four NFL seasons behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore.
After the first three days of camp none of the quarterbacks have stepped up, in fact Manuel in particular has regressed. All three QBs have struggled with accuracy but Manuel has even played worse than fourth stringer Matt Simms at times while struggling to hold on to the snap from center. Taylor has a tendency to take off and run way too quickly. Cassel has had his own accuracy issues but has played slightly better than the other quarterbacks so far which isn’t saying much.
Cassel has the edge because he was brought in to start and he has taken first team reps everyday while Taylor and Manuel have split the other first team reps. Ryan said that is the plan because Cassel is the veteran and he feels the young QBs can develop faster working with other young players on the 2nd and 3rd teams. To me that sounds like coaches jargon and it is a huge sign that it is Cassel’s job to lose.
The Bills can only hope he steps up his play or else this very talented roster will be wasted by a lack of talent at the league’s most important position.
Luis Sung (@PhinManiacs): For the Miami Dolphins, they are lucky enough to not have a quarterback battle or problem going on as Buffalo and New York have their quarterbacks competing for the starting job, and the New England Patriots are currently facing issues with Tom Brady regarding DeflateGate. Despite this however, there are several areas on the team that are in question and only through competition will an answer be found.
The question is: which position battle will be the one with the greatest impact on the team moving forward, and what is the reasoning for this? Current battles include the offensive line, the running backs, the cornerbacks and the linebackers. Needless to say there's a lot of unknowns there. So with all that said, here's what I believe is the biggest battle in training camp to watch for.
I was originally going to say the linebackers because of just how complicated it was. If Chris McCain wins the starting job at SLB, then Koa Misi will be playing middle linebacker. But if Kelvin Sheppard wins a starting job, the he'll move to the middle and Misi will be shifted over to the SLB spot. Complicated, yes. But upon further review, I realized it won't have the largest impact.
The battle with the biggest impact is in the secondary. Third-year veteran Jamar Taylor was expected to win the starting job opposite Pro Bowl corner Brent Grimes, but so far his performance hasn't been stellar. The Dolphins have decided to rotate him out every once in a while with veteran cornerback Brice McCain, who came from Pittsburgh in free agency to presumably take over the departed Jimmy Wilson's role as the nickel corner.
McCain does have some experience as a boundary corner, but his specialty is in the slot. As for Taylor, he has spent some time in the slot, but was projected to be a boundary corner. It's an interesting development and certainly a dangerous one, as both players could suddenly find themselves in each other's roles, and that could potentially weaken the secondary as a whole. I still have faith that Taylor will step up, but that training camp battle will be very important moving forward for Miami.
Matt Barbato (@NewYorkJetFuel): The most interesting positional battle for the Jets in training camp has to be at right guard. The Jets struck out in free agency and couldn't acquire neither Mike Iupati nor Orlando Franklin, so they were forced to settle for Seahawks' guard James Carpenter and re-sign veteran guard Willie Colon. Carpenter will likely start at left guard, but the right guard position is in a state of flux.
It's a three or four person battle for the final starting spot along the offensive line between Brian Winters, Brent Qvale, Colon and Oday Aboushi. Thus far, Winters has gotten the most reps with the first unit, but Qvale has surprisingly gotten in the mix with the starters as well. Colon was activated off the PUP list Saturday for the first padded practice after a left knee injury kept him out of the first days of camp and Aboushi has generally worked with the second unit.
There isn't a clear cut answer on the roster for the right guard spot. Winters played miserably in the first six games before tearing his Achilles tendon. Qvale is extremely unproven. Aboushi replaced Winters last season, but the new coaching staff apparently isn't as impressed. Colon is a penalty waiting to happen and has clearly regressed.
The best course of action may be for the Jets to go out and sign a new guard to the roster. GM Mike Maccagnan said the team has talked with former Eagles' guard Evan Mathis' agent. Mathis would step in and start right away for the Jets and would be a strong upgrade over any of the other players mentioned.
The Jets will need to run the ball effectively in order to be successful. Whether they pick one of the four contenders currently on the roster or go elsewhere for the solution, they will need an impactful player at right guard.
Ian Logue (@PatsFans): One of the biggest position battles for the Patriots this training camp is quietly happening up front on their offensive line, and it’s been an interesting start early on so far in New England.
With offensive guard Ryan Wendell starting camp on PUP and former Patriot Dan Connolly having retired, New England has spent their early sessions developing additional depth up front, with a pair of rookies getting some time and making the most of their opportunities.
Through the early part of camp, 2015 fourth round picks Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson have been the two players getting reps with the first team on the offensive line at the guard spots, with Mason seeing time at left guard, and Jackson on the right side. Considering how tough the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins defensive lines are, developing these players up front is ultimately going to be critical heading into the season.
Looking back at what transpired in 2014 with some of the changes that occurred as the year went on, it wouldn’t be surprising if both players challenged Wendell or veteran teammate Marcus Cannon for playing time. The Patriots also currently have left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer anchoring the outside of the Patriots offensive line.
Considering the Patriots’ need to protect veteran quarterback Tom Brady, as well as potential fill-in Jimmy Garoppolo if Brady is sidelined to start 2015, the guys up front will obviously be important to New England’s success in 2015. It will remain something to watch in the weeks to come, and hopefully they continue to improve heading into the season.
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