The Pro Football Hall of Fame Gamelast week, but it fully ramps up this week. Sprinkled amongst those preseason games are a , usually leading up to one of those preseason contests, involving many of the league's teams.
Here are some position battles to watch in joint practices over the next few weeks:
Cleveland OL vs. Philadelphia DL
Offensive line coach Bill Callahan has propped up left tackle Jedrick Wills' improvement in pass protection, but that will be tested against Josh Sweat, Nolan Smith, Brandon Graham, etc. It should be a great litmus test for rookie right tackle James Hudson, who fared well in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game against Will McDonald IV, Bryce Huff and others.
Cleveland's interior of Joel Bitonio, Ethan Pocic and Wyatt Teller should be equally challenging for Philadelphia's young interior. Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis are each incredibly talented, but veteran savvy can mitigate that talent.
Aug. 15-16: Commanders at Ravens
Washington CB vs. Baltimore WR
Picking No. 16 overall, the Commanders had the opportunity to select Christian Gonzalez, Deonte Banks or Joey Porter Jr., but they wanted Emmanuel Forbes and his ball production. Forbes recorded 14 interceptions, six of which were returned for touchdowns, during his collegiate career. Kendall Fuller, Benjamin St-Juste and Jartavius Martin provide depth.
Washington has invested in its cornerbacks and Baltimore has invested in its wide receivers; that is what makes this matchup so appealing. The Ravens signed Odell Beckham Jr. in free agency and then used a first-round pick on Boston College's Zay Flowers. Those two, along with Nelson Agholor, Devin Duvernay and Rashod Bateman (when he returns from the PUP list) give the Ravens depth they have sorely lacked.
Chicago RB vs. Indianapolis LB
Chicago and Indianapolis are two rosters with a lot of unanswered questions. The Bears have depth at running back with Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson and Travis Homer. Physicality is the common predisposition of that unit.
Jacksonville RB vs. Detroit LB
Tank Bigsby has been the talk of Jacksonville training camp, offering splash plays to go along with his physical style of play. The Jaguars have talent and depth at running back with Travis Etienne, D'Ernest Johnson, Bigsby and others.
Miami DL vs. the Houston OL
Miami believes it has a very talented young pass rusher in Jaelan Phillips. The Dolphins were also aggressive in acquiring Bradley Chubb at the deadline last year. Those two, along with defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis, give the AFC contender a formidable front.
The narrative takes a bit of a hit following the revelation that starting right tackle Tytus Howard will be sidelined for weeks following surgery on his broken hand. There is a lot of inexperience behind him with the exception of traveled veteran George Fant. Houston has built up its offensive line over the past two years, potentially in preparation for the eventual selection of a rookie quarterback, which happened in 2023 with C.J. Stroud. Laremy Tunsil is the team's highly paid left tackle, while Kenyon Green and Juice Scruggs were drafted in the first and second round, respectively. Shaq Mason was acquired from Tampa Bay last year.
Aug. 16-17: Patriots at Packers
New England S/LB vs. Green Bay TE
Green Bay landed not one, but two of my personal favorites in the 2023 NFL Draft: tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft. Those are two well-rounded players capable of making an impact in the pass game. As Jordan Love begins his journey as Green Bay's new starting quarterback, it is important for him to discover outlets like Musgrave and Kraft.
Head coach Bill Belichick has leaned into the idea of drafting players capable of playing multiple positions. Kyle Dugger and Marte Mapu have the size and spirit to play down in the box, but also the athleticism and speed to cover in space.
Aug. 16-17: Raiders at Rams
Las Vegas WR vs. Los Angeles CB
Las Vegas should run a lot of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) this season as long as Austin Hooper and drafted Notre Dame's Michael Mayer in the second round, but the bread and butter is at wide receiver.. The Raiders signed veteran tight end
The Rams have embarked on life after Jalen Ramsey. There are no household names in the room but maybe that works for them. Ahkello Witherspoon, Derion Kendrick and Cobie Durant have a big challenge ahead of them.
Aug. 16-17: Buccaneers at Jets
Tampa Bay OL vs. New York DL
The offensive line had been a point of confidence with Tom Brady, but it is adapting to changes. Tristan Wirfs has flipped to left tackle in place of Donovan Smith, rookie Cody Mauch is in a position to start at right guard, and Luke Goedeke is just in his second season and has been moved around the line.
New York has constructed one of the most talented, deep defensive fronts in football. First-round picks Quinnen Williams, Jermaine Johnson II and Will McDonald IV join costly free agent signing Carl Lawson and pass-rush producer Bryce Huff.
Tennessee DL vs. Minnesota OL
Tennessee has been the subject of criticism this offseason, but Mike Vrabel's team will always be physical and accountable. The defensive front embodies that mentality, as Jeffery Simmons, Teair Tart and Denico Autry control the line of scrimmage.
With the exception of 2023, Minnesota has added an offensive lineman in the first or second round of the NFL Draft every year since 2018. The streak was broken in the first year under general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's guidance; perhaps that's one difference from former general manager Rick Spielman or an indication of the confidence Minnesota has in its offensive line. From left to right, Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Ed Ingram and Brian O'Neill form one of the better units in the NFC.
New Orleans WR vs. Los Angeles CB
Michael Thomas has played 10 of a possible 50 games over the past three seasons, but he is back at training camp. The Ohio State talent is looking to re-establish himself as one of the league's top wide receivers. The weight of expectation is no longer exclusively on his shoulders, however, since Chris Olave eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie. Both will be catching passes from Derek Carr for the first time.
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Aug. 22: Colts at Eagles
Indianapolis OL vs. Philadelphia DL
Last year, Indianapolis' offensive line did not live up to the standard that had been expected of it in prior years. It is Year 2 for Bernhard Raimann to go along with trusty veterans Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith. A competition at right guard between Will Fries and Danny Pinter is underway as they work in Blake Freeland at swing tackle.
The Colts' weaknesses will be stressed against the likes of Jalen Carter, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Josh Sweat, Nolan Smith and more. It is also another opportunity for Smith and Davis to see someone other than their teammates before the regular season.
Aug. 22-23: Patriots at Titans
New England CB vs. Tennessee WR
The Patriots took Christian Gonzalez in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The tall, fast cornerback provides the lockdown potential that the franchise has been lacking in the absence of J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore. Jack Jones, Jonathan Jones and Marcus Jones give them great depth at the position.
Tennessee made a splash signing in the form of DeAndre Hopkins, but the most beneficial development would be Treylon Burks taking that next step in his career. Burks has the size and speed to be a difference-maker. The Titans also need someone to step up as that complimentary pass-catcher to Burks and Hopkins.
Aug. 23-24: Cardinals at Vikings
Arizona WR vs. Minnesota CB
Minnesota has been attempting to plug a hole at cornerback for years. In addition to signing Byron Murphy in free agency, the Vikings have added Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth Jr., Mekhi Blackmon and Jay Ward through the draft over the past two years. They need a few players to step up in that room.
Arizona has Rondale Moore and Marquise Brown, as well as Zach Pascal, Greg Dortch and promising rookie Michael Wilson. The Cardinals may lack a true No. 1, but they have a collection of pass-catchers capable of fulfilling roles.
Aug. 23-24: Rams at Broncos
Los Angeles WR vs. Denver CB
Denver is more than capable of handling the challenge. Patrick Surtain II has emerged as one of the most promising young defenders in the game. Slot defender K'Waun Williams has been feisty and competitive at the catch point. Damarri Mathis and Riley Moss are in competition to start opposite Surtain.
Aug. 24-25: Texans at Saints
The rookie quarterback will have to be careful throwing to the middle of the field. New Orleans' defense is littered with long, athletic playmakers, with Tyrann Mathieu at the heart of it all. The veteran has been involved in 40 turnovers since arriving in the league more than a decade ago. Stroud's eyes must be in the right place because Mathieu will almost certainly throw out some bait. It is a lot different throwing to Houston's collection of pass-catchers against NFL talent relative to what he was accustomed to in Columbus.