Most NFL starting jobs aren't won before August. Coaches love to say that Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps are for teaching, while training camp is for evaluation.
That sounds nice, but the coaches speak louder with how they divvy up snaps in any practice. The last two months have given us a nice preview for how the quarterback battles around the league will shape next month. The end of minicamps gives us a chance to break down all the big takeaways in the AFC and NFC on Thursday. Now let's look at how the quarterback battles shape up heading into August.
The surprise here is that there is a battle. The draft picks and money that Chip Kelly gave up to acquire Sam Bradford indicates this is his job to lose. It's just far from certain whether he'll be ready in time for the season.
The battle is not truly between Bradford and Mark Sanchez. It's between Bradford and his surgically repaired knee. Perhaps he'll be fine when training camp starts, but this offseason was a reminder that Bradford is entering uncharted territory. We haven't seen a starting quarterback attempt to play after successive ACL tears, and this recovery is taking longer than Bradford's first injury.
Consider that Carson Palmer, 35, is practicing without limitations before Bradford, despite suffering his ACL injury three months after Bradford. Sanchez has reportedly looked "substantially" better than he did a year ago in practices, which isn't a huge surprise in year two under Kelly. It would not be a surprise if the Eagles chose to bring Bradford back slowly and Sanchez started the season.
Call the fight: This one is over. It's rare that a first-round pick at quarterback in Year Two has virtually no chance to beat out a journeyman for a starting job, but that's where Johnny Manziel's career stands. He must prove he has professional skills, much less a professional approach. August is still important for Manziel. If he shows progress, the team will be more inclined to give him a chance to start games later in the 2015 season. This is Josh McCown's job, however, for as long as he can keep the offense respectable. The Browns are embracing his leadership because they have no other choice.
Coach Bill O'Brien told NFL Media's Michael Silver that the Texans don't want to spend much of training camp in a quarterback competition. That says to us that O'Brien has a favorite, and it sure looks like new arrival Brian Hoyer. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle expects Hoyer to be the Week 1 starter because of his steadiness at practice and his smarts. Hoyer is the type of guy that wins over coaches. It sounds like someone in Houston is whispering to writers that Hoyer is the guy. O'Brien has stressed wanting "consistency" and Mallett defines erratic. There's a reason why the Patriots essentially gave him away.
This is the most wide open battle in the league. Matt Cassel looked like the favorite heading into the offseason until he had a poor OTA and minicamp performance. He has plenty of time to fix things in training camp, but it's not like he's a player that suddenly improves when a real pass rush is around him.
Joe Buscaglia of WKBW, who we trust on all things Bills, wrote that EJ Manuel easily has the best minicamp among the Bills' options. Tyrod Taylor remains very much in the mix. None of the Bills quarterbacks are likely to light up practice while facing the excellent Bills defense. Perhaps, Manuel will get one more true chance to show what he can do at the pro level.
New York Jets
Coach Todd Bowles has made it clear this is Geno Smith's job to lose. Practice reports haven't been overwhelmingly positive for Smith or backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. It would be stunning if Smith wasn't the Week 1 starter. The larger question is whether Geno can keep the momentum he built in December last season.
A word on the rookies
The Buccaneers and Titans are treating their top-shelf quarterbacks differently, but the end result will be the same. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are going to be Week 1 starters, and Winston's turns with the Bucs' second-team offense in June seems likely to end early in training camp. Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't messing around with a phony competition, handing the reigns to Mariota right away.
The Titans have been effusive in their praise of Mariota's ability to learn the offense this offseason. Bucs onlookers say Winston has improved dramatically since the start of OTAs. We'd expect to hear this sort of optimism. It's the season of hope.