The first of eight division-by-division looks at the key position battles for each NFL team heading into training camps.
|Texans RB Domanick Davis is the reigning rookie of the year, but he will have to fight off Tony Hollings to keep his job.(Getty Images)|
Each team might now have one to four of them heading toward the regular season. Once in a while, we'll still see an obscure player come in and win a job, surprising coaches and players.
It happened last year when rookie Dan Koppen won the starting center job for the New England Patriots as a sixth-round pick. It will happen in some camps again, but mostly starting spots are set.
That said, we thought it a good idea to take a peak at a key battle on each team heading toward camp. Some teams have more than just one, but those selected are the ones we consider important -- and interesting.
We'll open with the AFC and NFC South, with two divisions highlighted each week as we ready for the open of training camps in late July.
Idrees Bashir vs. Bob Sanders, free safety
Bashir is the incumbent starting free safety, but he hasn't panned out as well as the Colts hoped. He has all the tools, but he doesn't make the plays you would think of a player with his athletic ability. Bashir missed time with injuries last year, which is why Sanders was selected in the second round of this year's draft. He hasn't participated in the team's offseason workouts while he recovers from foot surgery, but the Colts expect him to be ready for training camp. Sanders, although 5-9, can hit. But he can also run. The Colts staff loves him.
Edge: Bashir because of his experience.
Opening-day starter: We'll go with Sanders. The Colts need his nastiness in the lineup, although they might be better off sitting Mike Doss down and letting Sanders play strong safety.
Drew Bennett vs. Tyrone Calico, No. 2 receiver
|June 28||AFC South|
|June 30||NFC South|
|July 3||AFC North|
|July 6||NFC North|
|July 8||AFC West|
|July 10||NFC West|
|July 13||AFC East|
|July 15||NFC East|
Edge: Bennett, again because of experience.
Opening-day starter: We'll go with Bennett. He has a knack for making plays, and he's perfect for when Steve McNair gets outside the pocket.
Ephraim Salaam vs. Mike Pearson, left tackle.
The current Jaguars regime didn't draft Pearson, but they were forced to play him at left tackle last year even though some view him as soft. Pearson did a nice job in pass protection for much of the season, but he has to get better in the run game. Salaam comes over from the Broncos, where he was a solid starter at left tackle. He has never been a great run blocker, but he gets by with his smarts and his ability to create angles. He is decent in pass protection, but not great.
Edge: Pearson. He started 16 games last year.
Opening-day starter: Salaam. Word is the coaching staff likes what they've seen from him.
Domanick Davis vs. Tony Hollings, running back
Davis burst onto the scene as a rookie fourth-round pick last year when he rushed for more than 1,000 yards, despite missing the first part of the season with an injury. Davis has already gone on record as saying 2,000 yards is his goal this year. But Hollings might have something to say about that. The Texans took him in the supplemental draft last summer with the idea he could be a back of the future. He was coming off knee surgery, so they knew it would take some time. Hollings flashed at times when he did get on the field last season, and could be more of an every-down back than Davis.
Edge: Davis. Been there, done that.
Opening-day starter: Davis. It's not going to be easy taking away his carries.