Ah, NFL training camp. The smell of fresh-cut grass, the sounds of whistles blowing, pads popping and ... quarterback battles. There is a thought that if you have two starting quarterbacks, you really don't have one, but what fun would training camp be without a few quarterback competitions?
Sure, every team would love to have an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady under center, but that isn't realistic. Instead, a few teams open training camp with unsettled quarterback situations. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Seahawks had a three-way competition last year before Russell Wilson won the job.
Whether or not there is a Wilson type in this year's set of QB battles remains to be seen. Let's take a closer look at this year's crop of quarterback competitions.
The Favorite: Kevin Kolb
Kolb isn't the future in Buffalo, but he has a good chance to be the present, at least to begin the season. The six-year veteran has an experience advantage over E.J. Manuel and could keep the seat warm while Manuel develops. Kolb has shown flashes of brilliance during his career and likely gives the Bills the best chance to win now. That could change during the season, or even the preseason, but Kolb has to be considered the favorite to open camp.
The Challenger: E.J. Manuel
Unlike Kolb, Manuel is the future in Buffalo, or at least the Bills hope he is. As Brian Galliford wrote, it's not a matter of if he'll play, but when. Manuel doesn't have Kolb's experience, but as a first-round pick, the organization is invested in his future. He needs to develop and may not be ready to start from Week 1, but if he can keep the gap close, he'll likely get the nod.
The Favorite: Mark Sanchez
Despite the criticism, the turnovers and the butt-fumbles, Sanchez could once again open the season as the Jets' starting quarterback. Unlike previous seasons, he'll face significant competition for the job this season, but he still may be New York's best option. Sanchez is just 26 years old and is going on his third offensive coordinator in three years. His bloated salary reportedly won't factor into the decision.
The Challenger: Geno Smith
After signing his rookie deal on Monday, Smith is now ready to challenge Sanchez for the starting spot. He said he feels like he has a great shot to win the job, but likely still has ground to make up. For all of his faults, Sanchez has been better than a lot of quarterbacks who've flamed out of the league in recent seasons. Smith has the pedigree; however, the transition to the NFL is rarely a flawless process. If Smith plays like you'd expect a typical rookie to play, Sanchez likely gives New York the best chance to win now. That could change later in the season, or next year, but for now Smith has ground to make up.
The Favorite: Blaine Gabbert
Gabbert has failed to live up to his billing as the No. 10 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He will, however, likely get another chance to prove himself in 2013. Gabbert is still just 23 and unlike Chad Henne, he could have a long-term future in Jacksonville. As Alex Smith showed, some quarterbacks are just slow to develop. Gabbert may not get as many chances as Smith got, but it's worth it for Jacksonville's new regime to take at least one more look.
The Challenger: Chad Henne
Henne had a moment or two down the stretch last season and former Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey said he would start him if he were still the coach. The problem is Mularkey isn't the coach and Henne was marginally, if at all, better than Gabbert last season. Unlike Gabbert, Henne is what he is. At 28 it's unlikely he'll all of a sudden become an above-average quarterback. He has one year remaining on his contract and offers no real benefit over Gabbert other than possibly slightly better production.
The Favorite: Michael Vick
Vick was supposed to be Chip Kelly's ideal NFL quarterback. A player who could do it all in Kelly's spread offense. That may still happen, but first Vick will need to win the starting job. He re-worked his contract, making this a make-or-break year for him in Philadelphia. His ceiling is the highest of any of the quarterbacks on the roster and he may have a lead on the competition, but it's not a very big one.
The Challenger: Nick Foles
Foles played well as a rookie and although he doesn't seem like a natural fit for the offense Kelly ran at Oregon, he's in the thick of the quarterback competition. He outperformed Vick at times during offseason workouts according to some reports and his accuracy could give him an advantage in the competition. Foles also provides more long-term value, possibly giving him the edge if all things are equal.
The Favorite: Matt Flynn
Flynn was supposed to get his chance to start last year when he signed with Seattle as a free agent. He instead spent the season backing up Russell Wilson after losing the starting job in training camp. Now, Flynn will get another chance to win a starting job, assuming he can hold off another rookie named Wilson. Flynn has been knocked for his lack of arm strength, but former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon said Flynn knows the system and can anticipate throws to be successful.
The Challenger: Tyler Wilson
Wilson isn't all that different from Flynn. The fourth-round pick is a rhythm thrower who has good, not great, arm strength. He throws with good accuracy and moves well, but had issues with injuries during his college career and didn't always make the best decisions. His biggest advantage over Flynn is the future. The Raiders have very little tied to Flynn long-term. If they don't think they are going to contend right away and Wilson is close to Flynn in performance, it may make sense to start building for the future by starting the rookie.