With training camp opening today, I thought I’d give a quick preview of the major position battles that should take place. I’ll do about one per week, starting with this general overview:
Back-up/2nd String Quarterback:
Kevin O’Connell is a virtual lock to be the third quarterback. However, there will be a battle for second quarterback between Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez. In the end, one of them will more than likely be cut or traded. In my opinion, the most likely event would be Cassel and Gutierrez playing pretty neck and neck, while Cassel, who has shown some flashes, will end up being traded for a third or fourth round pick. However, if Gutierrez doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, anything can happen.
Only two spots are set in stone for the wide receiver position. Randy Moss will be #1, and Wes Welker will be #3, in the slot. The number 2, 4, and 5 are completely up for grabs, the competitors being Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, and Kelley Washington. In my opinion, Gaffney has the early edge, considering his success in the Patriots system, as well as his overall experience and consistency. He’s the safe pick. Then there’s Chad Jackson. We all hope Jackson could step up and be the other starting receiver, and if he does, that means he’s finally getting everything right. Chad Jackson is the hopeful pick. Lastly, there’s Kelley Washington. Washington has height and strength, but we have yet to see what he can really do in the Patriots system. Washington is the underdog, just as Jabar Gaffney was last year.
Nick Kaczur vs. Ryan O’Callaghan vs. Oliver Ross vs. Wesley Britt vs. Anthony Clement. With Kaczur’s legal issues up in the air, there might be an opening at right tackle. Ryan O’Callaghan is a guy who is big, smart, and has experience starting in the Patriots system… he’s a guy that I really like, but I think he might be a little soft. Oliver Ross has yet to be spotted in a Patriots uniform and is now on PUP. His chances are dwindling by the day. Wesley Britt is an underdog, but I think there’s a chance he could get that spot due to his hard work and experience in the system. Then the wildcard is Anthony Clement. He’s started the past two years for the Jets, and looked impressive on day one of training camp. Maybe he could be the answer.
One of the two positions on the inside, next to Tedy Bruschi is up for grabs. It will be between Jerod Mayo and Victor Hobson. Obviously, Mayo will start down the road and get significant playing time as a rookie, but I think Hobson is going to surprise some people. He looks faster than described, has 3-4 experience, is a hard hitter, and I really think he can start and be good this year.
Back-up Outside Linebacker:
This will be between Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable, and even Vince Redd (a guy who I really like). If Junior Seau was back, I’d say him, but it looks less and less likely that he will be returning. All three of these guys are really tall, athletic linebackers. I think they could all see time at some point during the season. Woods and Crable will really be fighting for time, and should both see some, while I see Redd turning a lot of heads.
One of the biggest questions heading into training camp is; who is going to start next to Ellis Hobbs? This position might showcase the tightest battle, as the likes of Fernando Bryant (my pick), Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders, Terrence Wheatley, and possibly Jonathan Wilhite will be competing for that position. Fernando Bryant has adequate size, is a workhorse, is experienced, fast, and is really good in run support. Webster is undersized, but is also experienced and has great cover abilities. Lewis Sanders is the biggest cornerback on the roster, and will compete because of that alone, although he is very unproven. Terrence Wheatley probably won’t start as a rookie, but looked really good in mini-camp, and might have a chance to garner the starting job later in the season, and a solid training camp would certainly help. Wilhite is kind of in the same boat, he had a strong showing during mini-camp, but is very unlikely to start this year. However, he could be a nickel or dime back.