It’s that time of the year again, and thank god. If only there was no “offseason” at all. Training camp is one of my favorite times of the year because offseason hype is either validated or crushed. This is the time of the year speculation becomes reality, rookies flash their potential, and critical FF decisions can be made. Training camp time is where roster spots are settling, positional are filled, starters are determined and waiver wire gems emerge from the depths of the roster.
With two weeks of training camp down and preseason games beginning, this is a great opportunity to see what training camp standouts can shine in game situations and get a long look into the talent behind starters and aging veterans.
Let us look back to my training camp battles and see what we can determine after the first two weeks and what we need to look for as we progress towards the regular season, and then take a look at a few new standouts that have emerged.
Training Camp Battles:
Corey Wootton v. Shea McClellin: DE, Chicago Bears
UPDATE: The Bears went out and made this situation clearer by listing McClellin and Wootton as co-starters… All sarcasm aside, it appears this situation is one that may play out for a while. Reports are that Wootton will get the start at end and then move inside on passing downs with McClellin coming in as the situational pass rusher. I really like McClellin so this isn’t the best news, but I am a believer that talent always wins out and McClellin is the more talented player.
7/26/13: Wootton finally broke out last year after 3 sub-par seasons, but McClellin is more talented and has more upside. With a new coaching staff and FO in Chicago, McClellin’s first round draft spot may carry less pull in the decisions, but he displayed a few flashes last year and I expect him to get the nod. Both guys are pretty young still and have DE3 value as a starter. This may be one of the better battles this year.
Taylor Mays v. George Iloka v. Shawn Williams: SS, Cincinnati Bengals
UPDATE: Iloka is listed as the #1 on the depth chart but the thought is that Shawn Williams looks to be in the lead to grab the starting role. It seems like Mays is completely out of the running here, which isn’t much of a surprise considering his struggles throughout his career.
7/26/13: I originally thought this was a 2 man battle between the disappointing, incumbent starter Mays and the new, talented rookie Shawn Williams, but it appears that Iloka has impressed this offseason and could be in the mix. Personally, I see this battle coming down to Williams and Iloka as Mays has had his chance and disappointed and either will have nice upside if he emerges as the starter.
Iloka seems to be more of a FS type and Williams more of a natural SS, but only time will tell what happens.
Nate Irving v. Stewart Bradley: MLB, Denver Broncos
UPDATE: Irving has seen the majority of first string reps throughout camp and, barring a complete fallout or injury, looks to be the starting MLB for the Broncos in 2013. Irving is being replaced by Danny Trevathan in nickel packages so it looks as though his upside will be limited with his 2-down status.
7/26/13: Irving was a 3rd round pick from a couple of years ago with a ton talent, but hasn’t been able to grab the MLB spot yet in Denver. Bradley was signed this offseason as depth and to compete with Irving and Mays for the position. With Mays being released it sounds as though Irving will get first dibs as the starter in training camp and Bradley to be pushing him.
Irving is the guy to watch for dynasty: if he emerges as the starter he has LB2-3 value, but if he continues to disappoint then Bradley could be the productive player for the near future.
DJ Williams v. Jon Bostic: MLB, Chicago Bears
UPDATE: The Bears declared there would be an open competition between Bostic and Williams for the MLB spot, but Bostic was practicing with the 2nd team to begin camp. The DJ Williams injury could give Bostic the opportunity he needs to get a shot at starting but my gut says that Williams will be the starter when he is back from injury and Bostic will be groomed a little longer before taking over the position full time.
7/26/13: It seems DJ Williams signed as the veteran to replace Urlacher and Bostic was drafted in the 2nd round to be the future of the position. So what do we need to keep an eye on? It appears that DJ is penciled in as a starter, but where may be the question here. DJ has plenty of talent to be a very productive player at the position but he has only played a 4-3 MLB once in his entire career and that was back when Shanahan was still the coach of the Broncos. DJ was much more experience on the outside.
If Bostic shows flashes of greatness in camp DJ could be used on the outside at SLB and Bostic could end up starting at MLB. All in all, Briggs at WLB is the only sure thing in Chicago, so keep an eye on where Bostic and DJ end up being slotted and whoever wins that MLB role is the one to grab.
Jasper Brinkley v. Kevin Minter: ILB, Arizona Cardinals
UPDATE: It looks like Minter is all but locked into a starting role next to Karlos Dansby as long as Daryl Washington is out. Minter is very talented and it will be important to keep tabs on his play and the thoughts of the Arizona coaching staff to determine how things shake out once Washington returns. If Minter drastically outplays Dansby, he may be able to move into Dansby’s spot in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season.
7/26/13: It appears the Cardinals’ plan for this year was to couple newly resigned veteran Karlos Dansby with Daryl Washington to man the middle of the LB corp. What they didn’t plan on was Washington’s suspension and off the field issues opening up an opportunity at ILB. Brinkley and Minter look to be the two contestants to fill the void. Brinkley is a moderately talented veteran recently signed as depth and Minter is a very talented rookie drafted to be the incumbent to Dansby.
Minter is the guy to have here in dynasty whether he wins the battle or not, and if he starts out the year playing great the Cardinals may have a decision to make between Dansby and Minter when Washington comes back. If Minter struggles and Brinkley grabs the open spot, he could have some nice value as a fill in going forward.
Mark Herzlich v. Dan Connor: MLB, NY Giants
UPDATE: The LB competition in New York seems to be far from settled. It was my hope that Herzlich would be able to step up and solidify himself as the starting MLB, but it doesn’t look like that is the case. The longer it takes for someone to stand out the less I like the situation as whole so it is smart to limit expectations for either of these guys.
7/26/13: We probably all know the story behind Herzlich by now. He was a stud LB at Boston College and was considered a first-round pick until being diagnosed with cancer. Never able to fully regain is pre-cancer form, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Giants, and has worked his way back into contention for a starting LB role.
Connor is a savvy veteran signed this offseason to compete for the spot left open by the departure of Chase Blackburn. I am excited to see if Herzlich can complete the comeback. If he does he could be in for some nice production in New York.
New Players to Watch:
JJ Wilcox: SS, Dallas Cowboys
Wilcox had a great 1st preseason game, racking up 6 total tackles while on the field. Wilcox is a talented small school prospect who has the ability to become an IDP stud if he can develop quickly enough to make the leap from Division II to the NFL. Additionally, the safety position in Dallas is weak at best so keep an eye on Wilcox throughout the remainder of the preseason and see if he can become the starter.
Nigel Bradham: WLB, Buffalo Bills
On all accounts from Bills training camp, it looks like Bradham is going to get his chance to be a 3-down WLB for Buffalo. Bradham is going to play a few different roles lining up on the outside because the Bills view him as a guy that can cover and blitz when needed.
Duke Ihenacho: SS, Denver Broncos
The SS position for the Broncos has narrowed down to a competition between the incumbent starter Mike Adams and the up and coming, 2nd year, UDFA, training camp star Duke Ihenacho. Adams is still listed as the starter on the depth chart but Ihenacho has been getting the majority of first team reps and has shown a knack for making big plays against the run and the pass. Adams is an aging, mediocre talent so if Duke plays well throughout the preseason he could unseat Adams as the starter.