Wednesday, August 17, 2022

2022 NFL training camp: Eagles, Buccaneers OL vs. DL among top position battles to watch during team practices

The NFL regular season is right around the corner, but teams first come together in July for training camp. A lot of work has been done to bolster rosters around the league, and some of those changes should lead to competitive position battles. Here are seven to watch leading up to the preseason:

Eagles offensive line versus defensive line

General manager Howie Roseman solidified one of the league’s best offensive lines by signing left tackle Jordan Mailata to a contract extension. Long-time right guard Brandon Brooks announced his retirement after the season, but preparation for changes have been in place for a few years. Alabama center Landon Dickerson was drafted to play left guard while Nebraska’s Cam Jurgens was selected to learn and eventually replace center Jason Kelce. Right tackle Lane Johnson and Isaac Seumalo round out the starting unit. Philadelphia’s offensive line was beat just 8.3% of the time in 2021, which was third-best in the league, according to TruMedia.

Philadelphia got stronger on the other side of the ball as well. In addition to retaining edge rushers Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett, the team signed Haason Reddick in free agency. Rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis gives the Eagles one of the best interior defensive line rotations with Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox. Position battles between offensive and defensive lines should be fierce.

Although an effort was made to limit one position battle per team, Philadelphia also has a significant amount of talent at wide receiver and cornerback. A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith square off against Darius Slay and James Bradberry.

Buccaneers offensive line versus defensive line

It appeared the offensive line was going to undergo a significant transformation this offseason with Alex Cappa departing in free agency and Ali Marpet retiring. They rebounded by retaining center Ryan Jensen and trading for Shaq Mason to go along with star right tackle Tristan Wirfs. Donovan Smith is the starter at left tackle, with several competing for the left guard position.

On defense, Tampa Bay boasts a talented two-deep depth chart that includes Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Shaquil Barrett, Vita Vea, Akiem Hicks, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, William Gholston and promising youngster Logan Hall. It is no surprise that two top teams in the NFC have built strong units up front. Those matchups between the Buccaneers’ offensive and defensive lines should be entertaining for those in attendance.

Bills tight ends, running backs versus linebackers, secondary

Buffalo is collecting running backs of late with Devin Singletary, Zack Moss and now James Cook. Cook, a rookie out of Georgia, is best known for his contributions to the passing game. Tight end Dawson Knox was third on the team in receptions despite missing two games, while O.J. Howard was signed in free agency. 

The players tasked with covering those routes that leak out are the linebackers, safeties and slot cornerbacks. Beyond the well-known safety duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, the Bills return slot cornerback Taron Johnson as well as linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Although coverage is not necessarily a strength of Edmunds, the secondary players mentioned all finished top 20 or better in coverage at their respective positions, per PFF. 

Buffalo’s wide receivers, in general, should face a stiffer challenge this preseason with first-round rookie selection Kaiir Elam being added to the mix. 

Chargers wide receivers versus cornerbacks

Los Angeles spent big in free agency on the defensive side of the ball, bringing in veterans like J.C. Jackson and Bryce Callahan. Those two, along with second-year cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., should start for the AFC West contender this season. The average NFL fan is familiar with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, but the Chargers’ wide receiver room goes deeper. The uplifting production of Justin Herbert helped along young pass catchers Jalen Guyton and Josh Palmer last season. Those two players accounted for 64 receptions for 801 yards and seven touchdowns. 

The defensive spending was not limited to the secondary, however. Defensive tackles Austin Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day were signed in free agency, and Khalil Mack was acquired via trade. Those three players have turned a franchise weakness into a strength. First-round offensive guard selection Zion Johnson was hand-picked to keep those talented pass rushers at bay in practice.

Jets wide receivers versus cornerbacks

A year ago, forcing one to break down the Jets’ practice film would have been considered inhuman treatment by the Rome Statute. In support of head coach Robert Saleh, general manager Joe Douglas upgraded essentially every position on the roster, including the subjects at hand. 

The No. 4 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft was earmarked for Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner. The No. 10 overall selection was used on Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Focus will be on those two players in camp, but the additions provided depth. Last year’s starting cornerbacks are now No. 3 or No. 4 at best after signing D.J. Reed in free agency. 

Wide receiver Corey Davis has been productive throughout his career, and former second-round pick Elijah Moore played inspired when available. If Denzel Mims takes a step in his career, then New York could have functional depth at the position. 

Saints wide receivers versus cornerbacks

There are questions to be answered by New Orleans’ wide receivers and cornerbacks, but there is no denying the collection of assembled talent. A healthy Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry would take a lot of the pressure off of first-round selection Chris Olave. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore remains one of the best in the game, and Paulson Adebo showed flashes of potential last season. The franchise also has versatile defenders Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu roaming the defensive backfield. Health will be vital to the success of those units. 

The New Orleans offensive and defensive lines were also under consideration. For the first time since 2013, there is uncertainty on the left side. Terron Armstead signed with Miami in free agency, and it is unknown how first-round choice Trevor Penning will fare in his absence. 

Dolphins wide receivers versus cornerbacks

Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard will count $26.99 million towards the salary cap this season. Both have played at a high level to earn that level of compensation. The acquisition of wide receiver Tyreek Hill adds speed to Miami’s wide receiver room. Cedrick Wilson and Preston Williams provide depth. Jaylen Waddle is also on the roster but will more often be an issue for cornerback Nik Needham, safety Brandon Jones and others based on his alignment in 2021. 

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