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Johnny Manziel, Michael Vick headline 2014 NFL training camp position battles

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With the NFL season finally back, there are a bevy of good camp battles to monitor closely. To kick things off, we're starting on the offensive side of the ball with a look at the most important decisions coaches will have to make.

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With NFL training camps starting up, there are always some juicy battles to watch on the offensive side of the ball. Sure, the sexiest battles are usually at the quarterback position, but plenty of others are worth keeping a close eye on.

This year is no different, as a batch of veterans are looking to hold off hopeful rookies in certain scenarios while in others, veterans are fighting each other for playing time. Let's take a look at a few of the best battles in 2014:


Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick

The New York Jets surprised many folks last year with an 8-8 record behind Smith, barely missing the playoffs. However, Smith struggled throughout the campaign, throwing only 12 touchdowns compared to 21 interceptions. Despite all that, coach Rex Ryan told Mike Francesa of WFAN-AM that Smith is the favorite going into camp.

"This young man is going to be hard to beat out," Ryan said. "Even as talented a player as Mike Vick is, I think Geno Smith has made that big a stride. And again, the proof will be in the pudding when we play this thing out, but that's my confidence in him."


Photo credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

In the offseason, general manager John Idzik decided to bring in Vick as the proverbial backup, although Vick is expected to push for the starting job should Smith fail to improve. Vick lost his job to Nick Foles with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and was highly mediocre in doing so. Last year, Vick only completed 54.6 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and three picks.

Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel

No battle will be more publicized than this one. Hoyer looked excellent in three starts for the Cleveland Browns, throwing for 321 and 269 yards respectively in his first two games before tearing his ACL against the Buffalo Bills. Coming into 2014, Hoyer is entering his sixth season in the league and for the first time has a legitimate chance to win the job out of camp.

Manziel begins his pro career with as much attention as anybody since Tim Tebow. The former Heisman Trophy winner will be the fan favorite for desperate Browns fans who have not seen an NFL championship since 1964. Manziel is going to have to make up ground on Hoyer, who head coach Mike Pettine says is far ahead in the race, per USA Today.

Owner Jimmy Haslam also wants to see Manziel keep a lower profile off the field, something that was a serious concern coming out of college, per Pro Football Talk.

Matt Cassel vs. Teddy Bridgewater

Despite new head coach Mike Zimmer's insistence that Christian Ponder will get an equal opportunity to compete, the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback competition is a two-horse race. Cassel, a 10-year vet with 68 career starts, is the favorite to come out of camp ahead of Bridgewater, but the rookie has a realistic shot to pull off the upset.

Cassel, after all, could barely manage to wrest away the starting gig from Ponder last year. Cassel threw 11 touchdowns to nine interceptions and finished with a Pro Football Focus quarterback rating of -3.9. The Vikings saw enough to warrant bringing him back on a two-year, $10 million deal, hoping he can be the veteran bridge to the quarterback of the future.

There's no doubt that Bridgewater, the last pick of the first round, will get a shot to be the franchise quarterback. The question is, will it come in Week 1 of his rookie year? One would expect the Vikings to lean on Cassel while Bridgewater learns the ropes, but a strong camp from the rookie could change that.

Matt Schaub vs. Derek Carr

The Oakland Raiders signed a litany of veteran free agents this offseason, ranging from Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley to Carlos Rogers and James Jones. Schaub also fits into the puzzle, slated to be the starting quarterback. Schaub had been one of the league's better quarterbacks until last year, when he threw 14 interceptions for the Texans before being benched.


Photo credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Carr was a second-round pick in May out of Fresno State, the younger brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr. While Schaub is the favorite to start Week 1, Carr has a chance to surprise people with a tremendous camp and solid showing in preseason games. Head coach Dennis Allen has said Schaub is the man, but left the door ajar.

"We're going to let things play out. Obviously we brought Matt Schaub in and Matt Schaub is our starting quarterback. We feel very good about that. I've said this before, he's been a top 10 quarterback in this league and he's performed at a high level. We feel very good about that."

Running backs

Lamar Miller vs. Knowshon Moreno

The Miami Dolphins signed Moreno to a one-year deal this offseason, hoping to see similar production from his 2013 campaign. Moreno took full advantage of being part of the most potent offense in NFL history, rushing for 1,038 yards and adding another 548 receiving yards. Moreno is also a very good blocker in pass protection, something the Dolphins need after having allowed the most sacks in the league last year.

Miller has been in the league for two years but turned just 23 years old in April. Miller ran for 709 yards on 4.0 yards per carry last year, showcasing his potential moving forward. The most likely scenario is that both Miller and Moreno will get carries to keep each other fresh. However, who is getting the crunch-time carries?

Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Darren McFadden

Jones-Drew, 29, comes to the Raiders as an accomplished back looking for a new lease on life. After spending the first eight years of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jones-Drew is headed back to his home state of California after two years where he combined for 1,217 rushing yards.

McFadden, 26, simply has not stayed healthy. In six years, McFadden has never played more than 13 games, including a 10-game season in 2013. Coming into camp, McFadden is the younger back with more upside going forward. Playing on a one-year deal, McFadden has ample incentive to play much better than his 3.3 yards per carry last year.

Wide receivers


No team saw a bigger turnover of its wide receivers than the Carolina Panthers. After winning the NFC South in 2013, Carolina released Steve Smith, the longtime face of the franchise, for salary cap reasons and let Brandon LaFell walk out the door along with Ted Ginn Jr.


Photo credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

To replace them, general manager Dave Gettleman signed veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant while drafting Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State with a first-round pick. None of the three profile as a slot receiver, making it interesting to see if coach Ron Rivera will either stick one of them in the slot or have a rotation on the outside.


After watching Tom Brady struggle with the likes of Aaron Dobson, Matthew Slater and Kenbrell Thompkins on the outside, New England made a concerted effort to upgrade the position. The Patriots are still banking on a healthier year out of Danny Amendola but also added Brandon LaFell to the mix.

Julian Edelman will still be the top target, coming off a season with 105 catches and 1,056 yards. With LaFell and Edelman on the outside and Amendola manning the slot, coach Bill Belichick will be looking for somebody to step up if Amendola gets hurt. Amendola only played in 12 games last season and has only played 16 games once in his career. Should he get injured, Edelman will go to the slot and open up a spot on the outside for either Thompkins or Dobson.


Britt is just 25 years old and has flashed incredible talent, but inconsistency has been a huge issue.

With Sam Bradford in a make-or-break year, St. Louis has surrounded him with an interesting receiving corps. The Rams have Tavon Austin coming back for his second season after catching 40 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns. Chris Givens is also returning after leading the team's receivers last year with 569 yards. Both are only 23 and 24 years old respectively, so there remains room to grow.

Kenny Britt was brought in via free agency under the radar after having another lackluster season. Britt is just 25 years old and has flashed incredible talent, but inconsistency has been a huge issue. Jeff Fisher drafted Britt in Tennessee and is hoping to get the best out of him in St. Louis. Brian Quick also factors into this competition for playing time after being a second-round pick in 2012. He'll need to step up after having only 458 yards in his career.


The Philadelphia Eagles will be without their top target of the past six years in 2014-15, as Chip Kelly made the decision to release DeSean Jackson earlier this offseason. Nick Foles is an up-and-comer at the quarterback position, but just who will he be throwing to? Jeremy Maclin is the obvious answer, and he's shown plenty in the past to convince people that he should be the No. 1 receiver going forward.

But after Maclin, things get a little fuzzy. Riley Cooper had a breakout year in 2013, with 835 yards and eight touchdowns, but he's still a question mark. Then there's Jordan Matthews, the rookie taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Josh Huff, another rookie, and Arrelious Benn, who tore his ACL last season, will also be in on the competition for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.


Victor Cruz has the top spot with the New York Giants sewn up, but the depth chart is a mystery from there. Hakeem Nicks is off to Indianapolis after a disappointing season in the Big Apple, leaving the No. 2 job up for grabs between a pair of former LSU teammates: Rueben Randle and 2014 first-rounder Odell Beckham Jr.

Randle is expected to win the job early, but his inconsistency in previous seasons should leave the door open for the explosive Beckham. While Randle enjoyed a breakout season in 2013 -- 41 receptions, 611 yards and six touchdowns -- he struggled with route running and drops, which, in conjunction with injuries, made him a non-factor down the stretch. Beckham, who ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, is expected to open the field and provide a deep threat for Eli Manning.

Filling in the depth chart is lightly used fourth-year man Jerrel Jernigan and the hero of Super Bowl XLVI, Mario Manningham, who returns to New York after a disappointing two-year run in San Francisco.