Training camp is finally almost here. They allow tackling there and everything. Around the League will count down the top 30 position battles to watch throughout the preseason.
• Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis thinks it's unnecessary for a player who is earning a salary to take a dozen Gatorades home with him each night, but he's fine with bringing a half dozen current or former first-round draft pick cornerbacks with him to training camp. Two of the six -- Leon Hall (2007) and Dre Kirkpatrick (2012) -- are assured of roster spots, leaving the other four to compete for two, perhaps three roster spots.
• Hall suffered a torn Achilles midway through the season but does not appear likely to land on the physically-unable-to-perform list. As long as he's healthy, he'll start. Kirkpatrick was a bit of a gambler at Alabama, where he says he never backpedaled. Though he might be eased into the NFL, his play-making ability is simply too great for him to not see considerable playing time in nickel and dime packages early in the season. Incumbent starter Nate Clements had a solid first season, but is not a lock to make the 53-man roster. The 32-year-old is due $4.3 million in base salary and could be released if Hall proves he's healthy, Kirkpatrick shows he's ready, and the remaining three first-rounders justify their signings (or re-signing, in the case of Jones).
• Of the three signings/re-signings this offseason, Jones has the seniority with the franchise. He's spent the last two seasons with the the Bengals and started eight games (including playoffs) in place of Hall last season. Newman has the experience with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who was with the Dallas Cowboys when Newman entered the NFL in 2003. Allen, who had a career-high four interceptions for the Houston Texans in 2011, has been the healthier player and has the edge in contractual guarantee after signing a two-year, $7.2 million contract that included $2 million in guarantees. Jones has $75,000 guaranteed, while Newman was guaranteed $100,000.
Projected Winner(s): Clements, Allen and Jones. Clements was solid for the Bengals last season and continuity at the position could trump cash/cap savings. Allen is good enough to start, has the size to match up with some of the game's bigger wideouts and has added value on special teams, where had eight solo tackles and played in 34.5 percent of the Texans' special teams snaps in 2011. As long as Jones stays healthy, he could be a good option as a nickel corner and has game-changing ability on punt returns.