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Old 06-18-2005, 08:59 PM   #1
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Default Training camp battles

Feeley, Harrington may have lost jobs

By Todd McShay
Scouts Inc.

Training camp has always provided an opportunity for rookies, reserves and free-agent additions to challenge established starters. Some veterans just aren't the players they were earlier in their careers, which creates an opening for players ready to push them for playing time.

The following is a breakdown of what we consider to be the eight most intriguing training camp battles, including who the early favorite is to open the regular season as the starter:

Eagles No. 2 Wide Receiver: Todd Pinkston vs. Greg Lewis vs. Reggie Brown

Eagles' fans should be hopeful that this competition is taking place for the No. 2 receiver spot, not for the No. 1 job as Terrell Owens' replacement. Regardless, Pinkston is too soft to keep this starting job forever, but he's also too tall and fast to keep off the field.

Because of his potential to stretch the field vertically, Pinkston is a decent complement to Owens, who does a lot of his best work on short-to-intermediate routes that he turns into long gains after the catch. Assuming Owens is on the field when the season begins, look for Pinkston to work as the opposite starter, Lewis as the No. 3 slot receiver and Brown as the No. 4 in dime situations.

Lewis, a former undrafted free agent in 2003, has been a pleasant surprise for the Eagles. He has contributed on special teams and as a sub-package receiver in his first two NFL seasons. He stepped up as a starter for three games when Owens went down in 2004, and Lewis finished with 17 receptions for 183 yards. While there's much to like about Lewis' work ethic and potential to stretch the field vertically, he will always fit better as a No. 3 or No. 4 slot receiver in the NFL.

There are still some long-term durability concerns regarding Brown and he is still a little bit rough around the edges. However, Brown can be an acrobatic playmaker. He made huge strides with his hands and route-running consistency as a senior at Georgia, and he's a tough, competitive player who thrives on going over the middle and making the catch in traffic.

In short, Lewis is the best fit as a No. 3 receiver to start the regular season, but Brown is the greater threat to steal the No. 2 receiver job from Pinkston.

Make no mistake, there is no replacing Terrell Owens. If the two sides can't get a deal done and Owens is stubborn enough to sit out the 2005 season, Pinkston and Lewis are the likely candidates as starters, with Brown working as the No. 3 receiver and Billy McMullen working as the possession No. 4. In that scenario, the Eagles won't have enough offensive firepower to make a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Projected Winner: Pinkston

Dolphins Quarterback: A.J. Feeley vs. Gus Frerotte

Frerotte's chances of becoming the Dolphins' Week 1 starting quarterback seem to increase with each passing day. Frerotte and Feeley will split snaps in the preseason before head coach Nick Saban makes his decision on the starter. When Saban took the job, it seemed that Feeley, who started eight games for the Dolphins last season, was the natural fit.

Feeley's numbers left a lot to be desired, as he completed 53.7 percent of his attempts for 1,893 yards with four more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (11). But the youngster has more upside than Frerotte and can't be judged solely on his performance behind a patchwork offensive line, and with very little balance from the running back position. Despite showing flashes of brilliance, Feeley's penchant for critical mental errors and turnovers would drive a Bill Belichick-disciple like Saban crazy.

Saban won't put up with those types of sloppy mistakes in what promises to be a ball-control, power-run offense. That's where Frerotte comes in. Frerotte is on the downside of his career and has always had problems beating the blitz. However, he reads defenses well, has good arm strength and excellent experience. Frerotte also has played in the same system with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in Minnesota, giving him an immediate leg-up in the competition.
Projected Winner: Frerotte

Vikings Running Back: Michael Bennett vs. Mewelde Moore vs. Ciatrick Fason

This could easily have been Onterrio Smith's job but his suspension for the entire 2005 season obviously takes him out of the equation, and it could signal the end of his days in Minnesota. Smith will be a restricted free agent this season and, if the same coaching staff is in place, we're hearing that Smith has run out of chances.

With that said, the Vikings still have a ridiculous amount of depth at the position. Moe Williams isn't even included in the candidates list but he will continue to contribute on a high level as a short-yardage ball carrier, change-of-pace runner and reliable dump-off receiver out of the backfield, not to mention on special teams.

As for the No. 1 job, Bennett has to be the favorite to start on opening day  if he's suited up. The former 2001 first-round pick has missed 13 games to injuries since his 2002 Pro Bowl season, in which he rushed for a career-best 1,296 yards. A broken foot limited him to eight games in 2003 and he missed the first five games of 2004 with a knee injury.

Bennett's inability to stay healthy has stunted his development terribly, but the good news is that he's still only 25 years old and possesses the explosive speed to provide long runs. The Vikings will always need good depth behind him, but he's their top choice.

Moore will continue his role as a versatile backup. He gives the Vikings good insurance should Bennett's injury problems persist. Moore lacks the size, power and durability of an every-down starting back in the NFL, but he received excellent experience as a rookie and proved capable of handling multiple roles. Moore contributed as a change-of-pace runner, receiver and special teams' player  as a return guy and in other facets.

The team has the luxury of bringing Fason along slowly. He is an outstanding athlete with good top-end speed and very little mileage on his legs, but he's also unpolished in the passing game and needs to learn to run with better pad-level.
Projected Winner: Bennett
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