Teams are currently still in OTA’s, however we are just a little over a month before players report for training camp. Here are four training camp battles to keep an eye on in the NFC North heading into the first week of August:
The Vikings spent one of their two first-rounders this year on what most pundits agree was the most pro-ready QB to enter the draft in Teddy Bridgewater, the junior out of Louisville. While the Vikings have come out and said that Bridgewater is their QB “of the future” and will start the season as the backup, his play in training camp will have a large effect on how soon the Vikings will insert him into starting lineup once the season begins. Thus he will be in a fight with veteran Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder right from day one of training camp.
Cassel is set to enter training camp as the starter with former first-round pick Ponder battling Bridgewater for second-team snaps. While Ponder has severely underwhelmed since being drafted, he is still very young, smart and has a good arm to make an impact at the QB position. This will be an interesting training camp battle to watch as how each QB performs in August will greatly impact who has a chance to entrench themselves as the starter for the Vikings moving forward.
This is set to be one of the more “under the radar” training camp battles in the NFC North, but it is has deep significance as the winner will be snapping to All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers and be charged with leading the offensive line.
Although not a “sexy pick” Corey Linsley was the Packer’s 5th round draft pick this year out of Ohio State where he was a two-year starter on the offensive line. After being buried on the depth chart his first two years at OSU, Linsley impressed then new head coach Urban Meyer with his offseason work and eventually took over the starting center position and grew to be a favorite of the head coach over the next two years.
Linsley was seen as a “need pick” by Packers GM Ted Thompson due to the teams thinness at the center position. Heading into training camp, his main competition will be from converted guard J.C. Tretter who was a 4th round pick in 2013. Don’t be surprised however, if Linsley ends up starting as a rookie due to the fact that he is the only true center on the roster and combines very good strength with above average athleticism and intellect. I believe he has the chance to be an above-average center in the NFL.
Reggie Bush is firmly entrenched as the starting tailback in heading into training camp for the Lions, however new Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi loves to use multiple running backs in his scheme and thus both the second and third string roles will be important to the overall performance of the offense. Former first-round pick Mike Leshoure and the upcoming Theo Riddick are the main competition to Joique Bell, who will head into camp with a definite leg up as the main backup to Reggie Bush.
However, look for both Leshoure and Riddick to push Bell for that back-up spot and third string role as Joe Lombardi likes to interchange personnel at the position. All four running backs offer very good versatility with Bush and Riddick being the more elusive of the two, and Bell and Leshoure providing more of the between-the-tackles power to the position.
The release of WR Earl Bennett has presumably cleared the way for second-year man Marquess Wilson to step into the role of the third WR in Marc Trestman’s offense. The second-year wideout from Washington State offers tantalizing potential and looks to be the perfect compliment to Pro-Bowlers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. However, Wilson barely saw the field last year and dropped to the 7th round in the 2013 draft due to questions about his character and off-the-field problems.
Therefore look for Wilson to be pushed mainly by Josh Morgan, who has jumped around the league a bit the past few years. Morgan has always had talent, but has been labeled as an under-achiever by some and has yet to show any real consistency since being drafted out of Virginia Tech in 2011. This will be an interesting battle to watch during training camp as both Morgan and Wilson have the ability to add another dynamic weapon to the arsenal of Bears QB Jay Cutler.