The last of eight division-by-division looks at the key battles for each NFL team heading into training camps.
Pete Hunter vs. a handful of young corner contenders
The Cowboys are set on one corner with second-year player Terence Newman, a premier cover player. But the other side is a different story. The Cowboys like Pete Hunter, a young player who played some last season, although injuries slowed him some. Hunter is an aggressive player who would seem to fit into what the Cowboys want to do. He could be a player who blossoms once he gets a chance to start. Andrew Davison and fourth-round pick Bruce Thornton will push him. Davison is a third-year player from Kansas who has played little, other than special teams. Thornton was considered a reach by some teams by the Cowboys, although the Dallas coaches feel he has starting potential -- probably in the future.
Edge: Hunter. It's his job to lose.
Opening-day starter: Hunter. Privately, the Cowboys staff thinks he has a chance to be a very good player, better than last year's starter Mario Edwards.
Eli Manning vs. Kurt Warner
|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: Warner. He didn't get those two MVPs by not knowing how to play the game.
Opening-day starter: Warner. He will show everybody he can still get it done.
Brian Westbrook vs. Correll Buckhalter
Both of these players will get time in Andy Reid's offense, a system that likes to rotate backs. Westbrook is an explosive player who has proved to be more than a third-down back. He rushed for 613 yards last season and caught 37 passes. When he was out for the playoffs, it was a big blow to the Eagles' offense. The question about him is whether he can handle a full load of carries at 200 pounds. Buckhalter is a talented runner who should be putting up big numbers. But he isn't as focused as he should be, which has stunted his growth. He rushed for 542 yards last season and is the guy who should be getting most of the carries. For some reason, the Eagles don't seem to allow him to get into a groove. Maybe this is the year -- if he's focused.
Edge: Westbrook. He has the speed and the ability to catch passes that this offense needs, but he is small and that has to be a concern.
Opening-day starter: Buckhalter. It's his time. He's a better inside runner, so he will start, although both will play.
Patrick Ramsey vs. Mark Brunell
It would be easy to assume the job is Brunell's since the Redskins paid him a huge contract after trading to get him from Jacksonville. Although he is expected to win the job, coach Joe Gibbs has publicly declared Ramsey will have every chance to take it from him in training camp. Ramsey was a first-round pick in 2002 who had some decent moments as a rookie. He has a big arm and will someday be a heck of a starting quarterback. In Gibbs' system, which is more quarterback friendly, he should play better. Brunell is thrilled with the chance to jump-start his career after sitting for most of 2003 behind rookie Byron Leftwich with the Jaguars. Brunell said he feels as good as he has, in terms of health, since coming into the league. He still has a good arm and is actually a better all-round quarterback than the kid who ran around back in the mid-1990s. He sees the field better than he did then.
Edge: Brunell, based on experience and Gibbs' hand-picking him to be his quarterback.
Opening-day starter: Brunell. He has three or four good years left and his play will surprise those who thought he was finished.