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Top 16 AFC position battles during training camp

  • By Gregg Rosenthal, Marc Sessler, Dan Hanzus and Kevin Patra
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We're as fired up for football as the next guy, but remember: Training camp will never tell us everything we need to know.

In other words, don't hold your breath for bold new wrinkles in Chip Kelly's offense or gadget plays designed for Johnny Manziel. Still, the welcomed arrival of league-wide practices and "friendlies" promises to offer at least some information.

Your time is best spent tracking first-team snaps and the day-by-day roster competitions that ultimately decide the lineups we'll see come September.

Because we're here to help, let's get down to business with our top 16 position battles to watch in the AFC. We'll break out the NFC list on Friday:

AFC East


New York Jets quarterback: Michael Vick vs. Geno Smith

The hype will be out of control, but it doesn't get much better in August than Smith vs. Vick. A young QB against one of the defining players of his generation. Smith will take the majority of the first-team reps, but he will be under pressure to perform in the preseason. The Jets want Smith to win this gig, but he can't afford to slump like he did last camp.

New England Patriots wide receiver

Bill Belichick has the same philosophy at wide receiver every training camp. Throw everything against the wall -- young and old -- and see what sticks. Julian Edelman is locked into a big role. After that, three second-year receivers (Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce) will be tangling with veterans Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell and Matthew Slater. Practically any of them could start or get released.

Miami Dolphins running back: Lamar Miller vs. the field

To borrow some Marc Sessler phrasing, Knowshon Moreno spent the offseason wandering in the wilderness. Miller has a great chance to take hold of the team's starting job again. Moreno, who started the offseason as the favorite to start, could be battling just to make the team. He's coming off knee surgery.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver

The Bills could field a track team to catch up with EJ Manuel's overthrows. Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham are looking to earn bigger roles. Sammy Watkins is locked into a starting job, and Robert Woods is the in-house favorite to earn the No. 2 receiver position. Mike Williams is trying to learn how he fits in. Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley can't be discounted. It's wide open after Watkins.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

AFC North


Cleveland Browns quarterback: Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel

The Browns weren't kidding around about this job being decided on the field. We're confident Manziel will start Week 1, but he'll need to outplay Hoyer, who might be viewed as the safer bet out of the gate. It will be fascinating to see how coordinator Kyle Shanahan calls plays in the preseason for his two vastly different passers.

Browns running back: Ben Tate vs. Terrance West

After the Browns drafted West, NFL Media analyst Charley Casserly vowed: "This guy is going to beat out Ben Tate to be the starting running back this year." Tate says he isn't cowed by West or anyone else, but Cleveland's newfound backfield depth doesn't bode well for his desire to be a bell-cow. Still, both backs will eat in this run-heavy offense.

Baltimore Ravens running back: Ray Rice vs. the rest

Rice has carried the load in Baltimore for years, but the Ravens are going to spread the wealth in 2014 with their lead back suspended for the first two games. Camp and preseason action will help decide how the carries break down between a support system of Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro. Reports of a slimmed-down, faster Rice still make him the favorite to lead the way.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver

The Black and Gold boast an interesting cast of wideouts led by the underrated Antonio Brown. We're expecting an impact campaign from "Making the Leap" candidate Markus Wheaton, but he'll have to outplay intriguing rookie Martavis Bryant, the 6-foot-4 athletic specimen who already has the attention of Pittsburgh's coaching staff.

-- Marc Sessler

AFC South


Indianapolis Colts running back: Trent Richardson vs. Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard

It's put up or shut up time for Richardson. "He didn't know the playbook" is no longer an excuse. Richardson will have to fend off Bradshaw for the starting job -- and even Ballard for time if he fails.

Tennessee Titans right tackle: Taylor Lewan vs. Michael Oher

The rookie sits behind Oher and left tackle Michael Roos for starting gigs. If Lewan can prove consistent enough at right tackle he could unseat Oher. If he blows the doors off on the left side he could make Roos expendable -- and the 31-year-old vet is already trade bait.

Jacksonville Jaguars free safety: Winston Guy vs. Josh Evans

With Evans out of offseason activities due to a foot injury, Guy has an early lead on the job heading to camp. Gus Bradley liked Guy's play replacing Evans at the end of last year. Guy could be a big hitter next to Jonathan Cyprian to emulate the Seahawks' duo.

Titans running back: Shonn Greene vs. Bishop Sankey; Dexter McCluster vs. Sankey

Greene has to prove he can be the early-down sledgehammer the Titans want him to be, but injuries have slowed that display. Sankey, meanwhile, will get an opportunity to show he can take on a big role and at the same time attempt to usurp McCluster's third-down responsibilities.

-- Kevin Patra

AFC West


San Diego Chargers tight end: Antonio Gates vs. Ladarius Green

If you followed our "Making the Leap" series, you know the Around The League team is bullish about Green's chances of becoming a star in 2014. Green and Gates shared the field often over the final month of last season, but the speedy and versatile Green appears to be a better fit in Frank Reich's new up-tempo attack. Can the old lion fight him off?

Oakland Raiders running back: Darren McFadden vs. Maurice Jones-Drew

Here's a battle pitting two name brands against each other for the lead role in Oakland's backfield. McFadden should be considered the slight favorite here, but MJD might be able to capitalize on a Raiders regime that has to be losing patience in the incumbent option. It's easy to imagine McFadden and MJD splitting reps in a straight timeshare during the season.

Raiders quarterback: Matt Schaub vs. Derek Carr

Seemingly everyone in the Raiders' organization got on a soapbox this offseason to praise Schaub -- then NFL Network's Albert Breer reported last month there was "internal belief" that Schaub will be pushed by Carr in training camp. Carr, a second-round pick in May, already bypassed Matt McGloin on the depth chart and could be on the fast track to start. You have to wonder how Dennis Allen will play it if Schaub struggles to move the team in the preseason.

Kansas City Chiefs No. 2 wide receiver

A less Rubenesque Dwayne Bowe is the team's clear-cut No. 1. After that ... it gets a little murky. The Chiefs didn't take a wide receiver in the 2014 draft and now enter training camp looking to find a qualified starter in a group that includes Donnie Avery, AJ Jenkins, Junior Hemingway, Frankie Hammond Jr. and De'Anthony Thomas. Avery is the favorite for the job, but he's a one-dimensional player with drop issues. Jenkins, you'll remember, was once a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers. Is this the year he makes a tangible impact? The opportunity should be there.

-- Dan Hanzus

The latest "Around The League Podcast" offers up team-by-team training camp previews of the NFC East and NFC West.

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