Training Camp is good for many things, figuring out who is going to start for your football team or even make the roster is one of them. Here are 5 position battles to watch heading into training camp.
As a short preface, I would like to state that I have not overlooked the running back battle, but chosen to not to include it on this list because it doesn't matter who ends up being the "starter" at running back. Both T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory will have a heavy workload in 2016 regardless of which one is starting and the starter could very well change week to week.
Luke Joeckel vs Kelvin Beachum
Some insist that this a legit battle between two players that have an equal shot at starting for the Jaguars. I do not see it that way. Kelvin Beachum has proven to be one of the better left tackles in the league when healthy, where as Joeckel hasn't proven anything expect that he can't handle speed rushers. I see this battle more as Kelvin Beachum vs the calendar than Beachum vs Joeckel. Beachum is recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the 2015 season. If he is able to return to the practice field reasonably early in training camp, then Beachum will be a shoe in to start at left tackle and will likely be the best left tackle for the Jaguars since before Eugene Monroe. If Joeckel doesn't start at left tackle, then he will have to earn his roster spot by showing position versatility and may end up being the starting left guard.
Marqise Lee vs Rashad Greene
Now this is a real camp battle. Which receiver will stand out in camp? Likely, both players will have impressive plays as receivers in camp as they are both highly talented. Both players are used to being starters and will expect to see the field a lot in 2016. What could decide who wins this battle is health. Both Greene and Lee have struggled to stay healthy in the NFL. Lee has missed 9 of his first 32 games in the league and has never had a healthy offseason until this year. Greene missed 7 games in his rookie season last year. Both players are fully healthy at this point and if it stays that way I would have to give the advantage to Marqise Lee. Lee provides an element to the Jaguars offense that every coach craves, the big play. His speed and natural receiving ability has flashed several times for the Jaguars and if Lee can get the mental side of the game down and stay healthy, there is no reason that he couldn't be a starting receiver on most teams in league. Greene is no slouch as a receiver either, but his small frame makes me wonder if he can stay healthy in the NFL.
Ryan Davis vs Dan Skuta vs Myles Jack?
The Jaguars OTTO position is essentially a slightly modified version of a SAM or strong side linebacker. The starter at OTTO must be able to play physical around the line of scrimmage, but also drop back into shallow coverage on occasion. Dan Skuta is the only player that has in game experience for the Jaguars at the OTTO position, but hasn't been overly impressive since arriving in Duval last offseason. Ryan Davis has been a pass rush specialist to this point in his career, but the Jaguars decided this year that they wanted to give him a shot at the OTTO position. His athleticism, work ethic, and understanding of the defense will be put to the test as he tries to switch positions. Then, there's the wild card, rookie linebacker Myles Jack. So far this summer Jack has worked exclusively at middle linebacker, but the Jaguars will need to figure out creative ways to get the ultra athletic Jack on the field. He may take reps at OTTO during camp. So who wins the starting job? I would take Ryan Davis to see the most reps at OTTO this season. He is a young, athletic kid that has excelled in limited roles so far in his career. Both he and Skuta will see the field as OTTOs and as LEOs (pass rusher) in 2016.
Johnathan Cyprien vs James Sample
Cyprien has been the Jaguars starting strong safety ever since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft. To this point in his career he has been a bit of a disappointment, but that may not be entirely his fault. The first three years of Cyprien's career there has been no consistency around him at free safety or cornerback and Cyprien has been asked to do WAY to much. This year he will have a Pro Bowl caliber free safety roaming the deep middle and talented cornerbacks on the outside. If Cyprien can't prove to be more consistent in his natural role as an in the box safety, then Sample will have every opportunity to prove that he is the right guy for the job. Sample was drafted by the Jaguars in 2015 as a free safety even though he was primarily a strong safety in college and has the look of an in the box type player. Sample struggled with injuries his rookie year, but is now slotted to compete for the strong safety job and will put Cyprien to the test this training camp. If I had to guess who will win, I would say Cyprien because he has experience and is well liked as a player by the coaching staff, but I would like to see Sample win the job. Cyprien has shown a tendency to over pursue and take bad angles to the ball even when he is lined up in a favorable position and I think Sample has an edge when it comes to athleticism.
The Jaguars have a ton of depth at cornerback. The most interesting battle may not be for the starting jobs, but for who will make the final 53 man roster. Incumbent starter Davon House is expected to start and so is the athletic alpha dog Jalen Ramsey. But how everything else will shake out during camp will be a key story line. Aaron Colvin, who projects as the Jaguars top nickel cornerback, will be sidelined by a suspension for the first four games of the season, which will give players like Dwayne Gratz a chance to make a good impression in the nickel role. The Jaguars also have a tight race for who will be the third and fourth outside cornerbacks. Prince Amukamara, who was brought in this offseason on a prove it deal, has the talent be a starter in the NFL, but has struggled to stay healthy during his five years in the league. Demetrius McCray is a player that looked to be a starter after a really impressive rookie season, but after giving up some big plays against good receivers and not being able to make plays on the ball, McCray seemingly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff over the last two seasons. Nick Marshall, who went undrafted as a quarterback turned cornerback last year, has shown huge upside while relearning the cornerback position. Marshall's athleticism and knack for the ball make him a tough cut. Briean Boddy-Calhoun, an undrafted rookie from Minnesota was a priority UDFA signing and actually has a legit shot to make the team after an impressive summer. How will all of these pieces fit together? It's tough to say, but my guess would be House and Ramsey as the starters outside, with Amukamara as the third guy outside, while Colvin is the starter inside at nickel. I'll guess that Gratz makes the team because of his ability to fill in for Colvin at the nickel during Colvin's four game suspension. The Jaguars likely won't keep more than 5 or 6 cornerbacks, so there's only one puzzle piece left. I'll say they keep Nick Marshall based on his huge upside. This leaves McCray, Boddy-Calhoun, and another undrafted free agent, Mike Hilton, on the outside looking in.
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