In one of the worst divisions in the NFL this upcoming season when it comes to overall talent, these position battles will go a long way in bringing out the best in a variety of positions.
The Chargers are likely to be the favorites coming into the next season, but with disputes involving Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil means the back-up jobs to those players are much more intriguing. Also, as is usual with average to below average teams, incoming rookies challenge across the board, with a few having a very good opportunity to get meaningful playing time.
San Diego Chargers
Josh Reed vs. Craig Davis
With Vincent Jackson out for the first three games of the season, the Chargers are starting the year with Malcom Floyd and Legadu Naane as their receiving duo on the outside. However, until Vincent Jackson does return (barring trade) there is an opening inside in the slot.
Josh Reed has been a slot receiver and a productive overall receiver in the NFL for many years now, and should be the favorite to win the job. However, he's battling Craig Davis, former first rounder, for the job. While Reed understands the position in the slot better, Davis is a bit quicker and faster. Still, Davis has done little to prove he deserves to play a meaningful amount, so don't be shocked if Reed wins out and Davis is looking for a new home.
Brandyn Dombrowski vs. Tra Thomas
Along with Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeil is also not reporting to Chargers camp as of now because of the lack of a new contrac that McNeil, along with Jackson, may deserve (didn't story for a different time).
So until he returns, the left tackle job is up for grabs. As of now, Brandyn Dombrowski, last year's starting right tackle for right games last year, is the favorite going in, but I'm not sure if he has the athletic ability and sliding technique to be a good enough pass protector. While Tra Thomas, former Eagle great left tackle, has lost a step or two, he has played the position for many years, and could have a shot because of his experience.
Paul Oliver vs. Eric Weddle vs. Darrell Stuckey
Eric Weddle has been a great find for the Chargers, and he may have answered one of the safety question marks that the Chargers have dealt with since Rodney Harrison left town.
However, he most likely could play strong or free safety, and that could determine who wins the other coin of this battle. Paul Oliver is a bit more athletic than Stuckey and has better range, so he could be the option if they need him at free safety, while Stuckey is more of a sure-tackler and could play the strong safety spot.
Brady Quinn vs. Tim Tebow
As of now, it looks as though Kyle Orton is the sure bet to be the opening day starter for the Broncos, and could end up having a solid season if the defense and receiving corps holds up.
Behind him, however, is a bit more intriguing. Obviously, long-term, Tim Tebow is going to win this battle, as he is already the franchise player for the Broncos before taking a snap. But, for this season, who will be there in case Orton struggles? I've heard reports that if they start off to a non-contending record, Tebow could be in there, but if they still have a shot at post-season play, they could give former Brown's bust Brady Quinn a shot.
Alphonso Smith vs. Andre Goodman
Andre Goodman has been a quietly productive receiver over his career in the league, and while he won't make an Pro Bowls in the near future, he is a solid starter to have on your team.
However, the problem with getting close to the down-slope of your career in the NFL is that there is always a young stud looming. Alphonso Smith was going to be that young stud in my eyes when he came into the league, but has yet to get a chance to start consistently. He could get a shot this off-season, and I wouldn't be shocked if the instinctive corner took advantage.
Reynaldo Hill vs. Josh Barrett vs. David Bruton
As of now, Reynaldo Hill is the starter, but this race is wide open. Hill has experience as an NFL journeyman at cornerback and safety, and his experience will give him the edge to start.
But Josh Barrett has been solid in the chances he's gotten at safety, and David Bruton, 2nd year player out of Notre Dame, is a very versatile and athletic option if he's adjusted to the NFL game. I'd take Barrett, but it should be a very close battle.
Johnnie Lee Higgins vs. Jacoby Ford
In the battle to be the team's overall speed receiver and deep threat, it should be a battle that will rage on until one of the players moves on. Higgins has been a favorite of mine since his days at UTEP, and his ability to not only use his speed but take advantage of the open field makes him special.
Ford was a track star at Clemson, but the speedy receiver never really put together his entire game as a receiver. He has potential, and could assist Higgins in return and overall deep routes, but one of these players isn't in the three year plan, as there isn't room for both in the long-term.
Matt Shaughnessy vs. Quentin Groves vs. Lamar Houston
In a battle that Raider fans likely aren't overly excited about, Oakland will be looking for a versatile defensive end who can complement Richard Seymour and be flexible as they change their defense back and forth from a 3-4 and a 4-3.
As of now, last year's most productive option Matt Shaughnessy is the leading candidate to take the job. Quentin Groves, former 2nd rounder and bust from Jacksonville always had the talent but never put it together, and he'll get a crack at it as well. Rookie Lamar Houston offers the versatility aspect of the position, and he could make a strong case to take over the job by the end of the season.
Micheal Huff vs. Hiriam Eugene
The former Top 10 safety has never secured his spot as the team's impact safety of the future, and now in his fifth year, it seems the future has to be now for Huff. He has played well in certain games and has been an impact run stopper at times, but he hasn't put it all together to be a complete safety.
Hiriam Eugene has been a spot starter and solid special teamer over his career, and he will gladly seize the opportunity to start the season as the starter. He isn't their long-term option, but he could be a good stop gap as they decide whether Huff is in their future or just a part of the past.
Kansas City Chiefs
Brian Waters vs. Jon Asamoah
Brian Waters has been one of the staples of the Kansas City Chiefs for many years now, but he has come to the end of the road when it comes to consistent starting ability. He is still capable of playing right guard this season, but the Chiefs need to find a youthful upgrade to Waters.
They may have found it in Asamoah who they selected in the 3rd round this year. Asamoah is a bit raw, but his massive size and surprisingly agility, he could develop into their long term option at left guard. They need to improve their offensive line, and if Brandon Albert and Asamoah can be solid blockers on the left side, the Chiefs could play well in 2010.
Glenn Dorsey vs. Alex Magee
Glenn Dorsey was a "can't miss prospect" coming out of college in 2008, but so far has missed the boat in being an impact defensive tackle. Granted he had to switch defensive systems twice now, and he'll be playing in a 3-4 defense that doesn't suit his style, but he needs to step up this season and show he's got a bright future still.
If he can't, last year's mid-round pick Alex Magee won't be far behind. Magee is longer, more complete defensive tackle in a 3-4 defense, and is somewhat a lesser version of Evander Hood. If Dorsey can't adjust to the 3-4, he could be out of the starting job and maybe out of the plans for the future as the Chiefs rebuild.
Demorrio Williams vs. Derrick Johnson
Derrick Johnson was another "can't miss" guy coming out of college, and in his first few years in the league, averaging just under 100 tackles a season, he lived up to that name on a generally average defense.
Now, however, he seems to have lost his starting job to Demorrio Williams, former Falcon linebacker in years past and spot starter last season as Johnson struggled. Williams provides more versatility when it comes to rushing the quarterback, and has become a more consistent tackler over the years. Johnson still should be their feature guy, but unless he becomes a more complete linebacker, he'll struggle to stay in the lineup.