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Old 06-18-2005, 08:00 PM   #2
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Default Re: Training camp battles

Lions Quarterback: Joey Harrington vs. Jeff Garcia

Harrington has the physical tools to develop into a solid starter, but has yet to put it all together. He continues to make too many mistakes under pressure and his inconsistency has been difficult to overcome. With an improved offensive line and a ridiculous amount of young skill-position talent surrounding him in 2005, the pressure is on.

Garcia's presence won't make life any easier on Harrington this summer. Garcia should benefit from reuniting with Mariucci in Detroit, where the scheme is much better suited to his style than the scheme in Cleveland. Garcia has the experience, accuracy, quick release and feet to operate in Mariucci's version of the West Coast offense.

However, Garcia is no longer considered even an adequate NFL starter and his physical tools are on a heavy decline. Garcia signed a four-year deal with the Browns as a free agent in 2004, but only played one season before being released. In 2004, he started in 10 games and completed 57.1 percent of his attempts with nearly as many interceptions (nine) as touchdowns (10).

Harrington threw more interceptions than touchdowns in each of his first two seasons (2002-'03), but improved in that regard in 2004, throwing 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also had career-bests in terms of completion percentage (56 percent) and QB-rating (97).

As much as head coach Steve Mariucci likes Garcia, he knows that the aging veteran is only a short-term solution. Mariucci won't hesitate to pull Harrington four or five games into the season if he isn't getting the job done. But with so much young talent on the offensive side of the ball, Mariucci knows the more ideal scenario is for the fourth-year quarterback to win the job over the 35-year-old retread. Patience and promise of a bright future will lead to Harrington being behind center when the Packers come to town on opening day.
Projected Winner: Harrington

Falcons Flanker: Peerless Price vs. Michael Jenkins

The Falcons' wide receiving corps is the team's weak-link, thanks largely in part to Price's disappointing play as a high-priced free agent acquisition in 2003. In his last season with the Bills (2002) as a complementary No. 2 receiver opposite Eric Moulds, Price raked in 96 catches for 1,252 yard with nine touchdowns.

That led to his free-agent payday in Atlanta, but Price has yet to live up to his price tag. He has missed a game because of injury in each of his two seasons with the Falcons and the supposed go-to-guy has averaged 39.5 fewer receptions, 545.5 fewer yards and six fewer touchdowns per season than he boasted in his final season in Buffalo.

Price's vision problems, which are caused by an inoperable retinal condition, led to rumors of his possible early retirement. If the condition worsens, Price still hasn't ruled out retirement, but he absolutely plans on returning in 2005. The question now, however, is whether Price can hold onto his starting job?

On top of the vision problems, Price's inconsistent hands and lack of toughness are maddening for the Falcons' coaching staff. The team seriously considered cutting Price this offseason despite the serious financial ramifications.

The door is certainly open for Jenkins, however, he has much to prove as well. He had some durability issues and failed to make the necessary strides in terms of coverage recognition and route running, notching just seven receptions as a rookie last season.

Jenkins did, however, prove himself on special teams in 2004 and has reportedly made huge strides in terms of his hands and confidence as a route runner during recent mini camps. He has an outstanding combination of size (6-foot-4, 215), strength and speed. The second-year pro has the potential to become a greater mismatch than Price, and Jenkins is also a lot more competitive and tougher over the middle.

In our opinion, Jenkins eventually will supplant Price as the Falcons' starting flanker  but not by Week 1. Look for Price and Dez White to retain their starting wide receiver jobs but for Jenkins to still factor greatly into the equation. As the No. 3 receiver, Jenkins will line up on the perimeter in sub-packages. That will allow the smaller and less physical Price to move inside to the slot, where he should get cleaner releases and better man-to-man matchups versus No. 3 cornerbacks.
Projected Winner: Price

49ers Quarterback: Tim Rattay vs. Alex Smith

Rattay is a gutsy signal-caller with a quick release and good accuracy when he has a passing window. But the 6-foot quarterback has trouble seeing downfield when throwing from within the pocket, and can't seem to stay healthy. In 2004, Rattay missed seven starts because of groin, shoulder, forearm and foot injuries.

Rattay is at best a decent starter and can't be relied upon to stay healthy from week-to-week. That's what made Smith such a no-brainer as the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.

Smith still needs to get bigger and he lacks ideal arm strength. He also will have a big adjustment, transitioning from the mid-major college level (Mountain West Conference) to the NFL, especially after playing in such a wide-open shotgun-oriented offensive scheme. However, he still has much better natural physical tools than Rattay and Smith's intelligence and confidence will help make up for what he lacks in terms of experience as a rookie.

Smith has enough arm strength to make all the necessary NFL throws. He is a fine athlete who can run himself out of danger and buy second-chance passing opportunities, and also has the height (6-4) to see over his offensive line as a pocket passer.

The 49ers are in a rebuilding phase right now as an organization so there's no sense in letting the future franchise quarterback hold a clipboard on the sideline as a rookie. There's no question that Smith will struggle in his first NFL season, but he's not going to lose his confidence as a result.

Troy Aikman stumbled to an 0-11 record in his rookie season (1989) and threw twice as many interceptions (18) as he did touchdowns (nine), before winning more games in the 1990's (90) than any other NFL quarterback in any decade. Much like the Cowboys in 1989, what do the 49ers have to lose by starting Smith right away in 2005?
Projected Winner: Smith

Colts Right Cornerback: Marlin Jackson vs. Donald Strickland vs. Joseph Jefferson

Strickland and Jefferson are the incumbents, but neither has put a stranglehold on the position. Strickland had an impressive rookie season in 2003 and started the last eight games. He built on that momentum early in 2004, starting the first four games and averaging five tackles per outing, but a shoulder injury in Week 4 landed him on the injured reserve.

Jefferson is a former third-round pick with a good combination of size and speed. He showed a lot of developmental upside as a rookie, but it has been downhill since. He missed the entire 2003 season because of a groin injury that required surgery and he missed the first five games of last season with a knee injury that eventually required arthroscopic surgery. The problem is that Jefferson has arthritis in his knee, which means he may never be 100-percent again.

Strickland and Jefferson's inability to stay healthy led the Colts to spend a first-round pick on Jackson. So far, Jackson has done nothing to disappoint. He has had some trouble off the field and his play on the field was inconsistent throughout his career. He also lacks ideal speed and has not shown great ball skills in coverage.

However, he has ideal size, strength and athletic ability. He is tough and competitive enough to match up man-to-man against a majority of NFL receivers. He's a much better fit in coach Tony Dungy's cover-two scheme, where he won't be forced to turn and run downfield very often. Jackson is confident, mature and experienced enough to step in right away as a starter in Week 1 of his rookie season. Based on how well he played in recent mini-camps, that's exactly what he will do.

In that scenario, Jefferson will likely be moved to a backup FS role with Strickland playing the nickel position and Jason David working as the dime cornerback.
Projected Winner: Jackson
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