Here we are. The first week of the 2014 NFL preseason is about to start and fans everywhere are excited to get some football back in their lives. For the teams, it’s all about assessing where certain players are and how they fit into their plans this upcoming season. We see youngsters step up every preseason and take jobs from veterans.
Anyone remember when Matt Flynn was considered the odds-on starter for the Seahawks back in 2012? Yeah, me neither. In attempting to find storylines for the preseason, it’s important to look at positional battles as well as some heralded young players. Can Johnny Manziel unseat Brian Hoyer in Cleveland? Who will backup Peyton Manning in Denver? Those two questions are among the five things you simply must watch for during the first week of the NFL preseason.
1. Rookie Quarterbacks
Four early-round quarterbacks from the 2014 NFL draft will get their first shot on a professional football field this week. Both Johnny Manziel of the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings’ signal caller Teddy Bridgewater are battling for starting jobs. Meanwhile, Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr will look to acquire some seasoning before eventually taking over for veterans at some point in the not-so-distant future.
Manziel’s Browns will be taking on the Detroit Lions on Sunday evening. It is expected that Brian Hoyer will get the start and play a few series, while Manziel will take over at some point in the first half. Depending on what Detroit’s defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham decides to do with his first-team defense, it’s likely that Manziel will be going up against Lions’ backups. Considering that Cleveland doesn’t necessarily need to see much from Tyler Thigpen in this one, there is a strong chance that Manziel will see substantial playing time. If he performs well coming off some first-team snaps in practice, Manziel could very well find himself starting the Browns second preseason game.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) August 1, 2014
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Bridgewater has been getting some first-team reps during training camp and could very well earn the Vikings starting gig with a strong preseason performance. He will be taking on a Raiders defense that has seen a ton of turnover over the offseason, but it’s not yet known whether Bridgewater will see action against the Raiders first-team defense. Now that Christian Ponder has been relegated to clipboard holding in practice, the anticipation is that Bridgewater will see a good two quarters of action once he replaces Matt Cassel.
For the other two rookie quarterbacks, it’s not as much about competition as it is about getting their feet wet in the NFL. The Jaguars have recently indicated that they don’t plan on playing Bortles as a rookie, while Matt Schaub is pretty much guaranteed to start Week 1 for Oakland. It’s still going to be interesting to see how these two rookies play in their inaugural NFL games.
2. Wide Receiver Situation in Carolina
It’s rather obvious that rookie first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin will be Carolina’s No. 1 wide receiver heading into the regular season. He has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff during training camp and seems to be Cam Newton’s most viable receiving option at this point. The 6’5″ and 243-pound receiver had major questions surrounding drops entering the 2014 NFL draft, but that doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue right now.
Rookie WR @KBREDZONE put on another catching clinic in practice today.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 3, 2014
If Benjamin excels in his first NFL action against the Buffalo Bills on Friday, it will go a long way in figuring out one of Carolina’s issues at wide receiver. Outside of that, there is very little that is settled. Carolina lost Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr in the offseason. The likes of Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood will be called upon to replace them. Cotchery has the inside track to start, but Avant has also proven to be a reliable receiver in the NFL. What we should look at more this week is whether one of the Panthers’ young receivers impresses later in the game. It appears that former Denver Broncos draft pick Tavarres King has been impressive in camp thus far.
3. Running Back Situation in Indianapolis
With Vick Ballard out for the season, Trent Richardson will battle with Ahmad Bradshaw for the starting gig. Considering that Indianapolis exhausted a first-round pick on Richardson in a trade last season, he has to be considered the odds-on favorite right now. With that said, Bradshaw has had much more success in the NFL than his counterpart and could provide Andrew Luck the balance he needs on offense.
You can fully expect these two to share first-team reps during the preseason. Bradshaw missed some time in camp over the past week, so it remains to be seen if he will see any real action against the New York Jets on Thursday evening. For his part, Richardson is feeling more comfortable with the Colts than he did last season and could be embarking on a breakout campaign. We also have no idea how much action he will see this week. Outside of that, former Ohio State standout Dan Herron should get a nice look.
4. Carlos Hyde’s Workload with the San Francisco 49ers
With Kendall Hunter out for the season and LaMichael James likely not ready to go until Week 1, it appears that Hyde will have his shot at earning the primary backup running back job in San Francisco. In fact, there is a decent chance that Hyde will start this week against the Baltimore Ravens. Veteran running back Frank Gore rarely sees action in the preseason and the 49ers aren’t about to risk an injury to him. For Hyde’s part, he’s been extremely impressive in camp thus far.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) August 4, 2014
A productive performance this preseason from Hyde could very well lead to a nice amount of attempts come the regular year. San Francisco is looking to give Gore more consistent rest this upcoming season and Hyde could be the beneficiary with a strong performance starting Thursday against Baltimore.
5. Zac Dysert vs Brock Osweiler in Denver
When you have an immobile veteran quarterback starting on a Super Bowl contender, the backup position takes on a new meaning. What if something were to happen to Peyton Manning in Denver? Do the Broncos have a viable long-term option to replace Manning down the road? These are two questions that need to be answered in training camp. Osweiler, a former second-round pick, seems to have more “star power” behind him, but Dysert has been incredibly impressive thus far in camp.
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) August 3, 2014
Both of these young quarterbacks will be given a shot this week and for the remainder of the preseason, as Manning likely won’t see more than a few series in the four games combined. At this point, the No. 2 job seems to be trending in Dysert’s direction, but Osweiler will be given a chance to hold him off. This is an intriguing competition.
Photo: USA Today