2023 NFL training camp: Position battles within AFC, NFC

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Monday, August 7, 2023

The 2023 NFL season is right around the corner, and training camp and preseason games are the stage for position battles.

Which newcomers will make an immediate impact? Which veterans are ready for a chance to crack the starting lineup? Which rookies have been so impressive that they will take the field from the first whistle?

There are No. 1 quarterback battles in Tampa, Indianapolis and perhaps Washington. There are backup quarterback jobs up for grabs in Green Bay, San Francisco and Tennessee. Those all are worth watching. Most of the other position battles have to do with protecting quarterbacks (offensive linemen) and limiting their production (secondary).

NFL Nation reporters break down the biggest competitions in training camp for all 32 teams.

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NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF



Buffalo Bills

Middle linebacker

There are a couple of other positions to watch here, but the middle linebacker is responsible for defensive communication and leadership, making it the most important battle for the Bills as they look to replace Tremaine Edmunds. The battle is between, in order of where things currently stand, fourth-year linebacker Tyrel Dodson and two 2022 draft picks -- third-rounder Terrel Bernard and seventh-rounder Baylon Spector. Thus far, the three are rotating on the first team, with each spending a day running with the ones. The biggest tests are ongoing, with more practices in pads and preseason games to come. -- Alaina Getzenberg

Miami Dolphins


Dolphins fans would have formed a mob if I had written this two months ago, but with Jalen Ramsey potentially missing the first few months of the season, there is suddenly a battle at what was once Miami's strongest defensive position. With Kader Kohou likely manning the starting slot corner position, the trio of Cam Smith, Noah Igbinoghene and recent signee Eli Apple will jockey for the outside role opposite Xavien Howard. The light is beginning to turn on for Smith, a rookie now in the second week of training camp, and he could launch himself into a starting role with a big preseason. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

New England Patriots

Right tackle

The Patriots didn't select a tackle until the fourth round of the draft (Sidy Sow) despite the position ranking among the team's top needs. Veteran free agent signing Riley Reiff is the likely starter, but former practice-squad player Conor McDermott has rotated in at times. Meanwhile, free agent signeeCalvin Andersonhas opened training camp on the non-football illness list. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets


Incumbent Connor McGovern is the favorite, with Wes Schweitzer and rookie Joe Tippmann running second and third, respectively. Tippmann, drafted in the second round, isn't making the push everyone expected. McGovern, thought to be a placeholder after returning on a modest, one-year contract ($1.9 million), is getting the vast majority of first-team reps in camp. Tippmann is dealing with a steep learning curve. It's not too late to make a move, but he's running out of time. -- Rich Cimini


Baltimore Ravens

Left guard

This is the only starting job up for grabs in Baltimore. The Ravens are looking to replace underrated Ben Powers, who signed a four-year, $51.1 million contract with the Denver Broncos in free agency. The early front-runner is rookie sixth-round pick Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu (he's known as Sala), who has leapfrogged John Simpson and Ben Cleveland on the depth chart. "He deserves a lot of credit for working himself in position to get some time with the [starters]," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on the first day of training camp. "That's something he's earned." -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Right tackle

Much has been made of Jonah Williams moving from left tackle to right tackle. The 2019 first-round pick -- who started for the past three seasons and made headlines this offseason by requesting a trade, then recanting-- was considered the favorite to win the job. However, Jackson Carman has split reps with Williams early in camp. Cincinnati is seeking to fix an offensive line that ranked 30th in pass block win rate in 2022. -- Ben Baby

Cleveland Browns

No. 4 WR

The Browns have a clear-cut starting receiving trio in Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Elijah Moore. But after them, the competition for playing time is wide open, especially with veteran Marquise Goodwinhavinga blood clot issue. As the Browns move to a more wide-open scheme around QB Deshaun Watson, depth WR play will be paramount. Rookie Cedric Tillman, Jakeem Grant Sr. (coming back from an Achilles injury), David Bell, Anthony SchwartzandJaelon Darden are among those vying for spots in the rotation. -- Jake Trotter

Pittsburgh Steelers

Left tackle

Dan Moore Jr. anchored the left tackle spot through OTAs and mandatory minicamp, but as GM Omar Khan said recently, the Steelers drafted Broderick Jones in the first round for a reason. Just a couple of practices into training camp, Jones got his first reps with the first-team offensive line. In one practice, Jones was at left tackle, while Moore moved to right tackle in place of Chukwuma Okorafor. The Steelers want Jones to make an impact early, but Khan emphasized that he'll have to earn that starting spot. -- Brooke Pryor


Houston Texans


Derek Stingley Jr. is locked into a starting role. But who wins the job opposite him? The options are Steven Nelson, Shaquill Griffin and Cobi Francis. Nelson started 16 games for the Texans last season, but Griffin is a former Pro Bowl cornerback. Throughout the spring, Francis and Griffin ran with the first-team defense while Nelson was away from the team in an attempt to redo his contract, which he did Thursday. -- DJ Bien-Aime

Indianapolis Colts


The Colts continue to evaluate the position, weighing the immense upside of rookie Anthony Richardson versus the steadiness of veteran Gardner Minshew. Richardson, as expected, has been up and down during training camp. But his highs are always eye-opening throws that demonstrate why the Colts might be willing to start the season with the inexperienced but physically tantalizing prospect. Minshew has the advantage of being more seasoned in coach Shane Steichen's offense, but his ceiling is clearly lower than Richardson's. -- Stephen Holder

Jacksonville Jaguars

Nickel corner

Almost every starting spot is already locked in, but the battle to be the third cornerback is a competition involving at least five players. Sixth-year player Tre Herndon is the incumbent, but second-year players Gregory Junior and Montaric Brown and rookies Erick Hallett and Christian Braswell are getting reps. Rookie Antonio Johnson has gotten a look as well, but he'll more likely be used if the team wants a "big nickel" on the field to function as almost another linebacker. -- Michael DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

Backup QB

Malik Willis and Will Levis are in a battle behind starter Ryan Tannehill. Willis has shown great improvement from last season and has drawn praise from the coaching staff. It is clear Willis is more comfortable in Year 2, which he attributes to "speaking the same language" as opposed to last season, when he came in after playing mostly in an RPO-dominant offense. Meanwhile, Levis is adjusting to the new terminology and working to throw with more touch. Both Levis and Willis have started to rotate with the second and third groups and will split the preseason game snaps because Tannehill typically doesn't play in those contests. -- Turron Davenport


Denver Broncos

Edge rusher

Four players, each with questions, will try to fill these spots. Baron Browning had knee surgery as the offseason program drew to a close, so he will miss the beginning of the season. Randy Gregory, who signed a $70 million contract a year ago, has never played a full season and was in action for only six games last year because of a knee injury. Frank Clark, who just turned 30, wasn't signed until the end of the offseason program and didn't practice with the team until training camp. Nik Bonittohad a toughrookie season last year. It's far more potential than production at this point and until Browning gets back, Gregory has to step up as a leader and Clark needs to approach double-digit sacks, a mark he hasn't reached since 2018. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs


After drafting four cornerbacks last year and another this season, the Chiefs have plenty of players competing for playing time. L'Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie are the regulars, and both have the ability to move inside for slot coverage on passing downs. Joshua Williams, Jaylen Watson and Nic Jones, a seventh-round draft pick, are getting plenty of snaps as the Chiefs try to determine how best to line up when opponents use three- and four-receiver formations. The competition thinned when another strong candidate for playing time, Nazeeh Johnson, tore an ACL, ending his season. -- Adam Teicher

Las Vegas Raiders


Recent veteran pickup Marcus Peters has one corner spot all but locked up, so that leaves fourth-round pick Jakorian Bennett and free agent veteran signees Brandon Facyson, Duke Shelley and David Long Jr. competing for reps. And that's not counting returnees Amik RobertsonandTyler Hall as well as slot corner Nate Hobbs, who also saw time on the outside last year but missed the first four-plus practices after taking a softball to the face in a charity game. Peters' 32 career interceptions are 26 more than the other corners combined have, and Robertson, who had two interceptions last season, is the only returning Raiders CB with a pick in 2022. -- Paul Gutierrez

Los Angeles Chargers

No. 3 wide receiver

Third-year pro Joshua Palmer and first-round rookie Quentin Johnston are competing to start at wide receiver alongside Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. However, regardless of who wins the role, both could see ample playing time because of varying skill sets. "We've certainly got four guys that are all starter guys in this league, and we'll play them in a lot of different ways," new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. In the first practices of training camp, Palmer and Johnston both made standout receptions. -- Lindsey Thiry


Dallas Cowboys


The Cowboys are down to one kicker in camp in Brandon Aubrey after releasing Tristan Vizcaino, but that does not mean the competition is over. Vizcaino, who was with the team since the offseason, made 22 of 25 attempts in eight padded practices, including four straight misses at one point in Saturday's practice. Aubrey has made 26 of 35 attempts so far, but should not be considered a lock for the job. The Cowboys could look for more unsigned veteran help or look to add one after teams make roster moves as the preseason goes along if Aubrey does not become more consistent. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants


It's rookie second-round pick John Michael Schmitz Jr. against veteran Ben Bredeson. This is likely to determine the starter at two positions. If Schmitz wins the job, Bredeson likely starts at left guard. Schmitz and Bredeson alternated days as the first-team center early in camp. Now this battle will likely be decided in the padded practices and preseason games. -- Jordan Raanan

Philadelphia Eagles


Philly lost both of its starting safeties in free agency, including C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who finished tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last season (6) despite missing five games. Second-year player Reed Blankenship and former Pittsburgh Steeler Terrell Edmunds have been getting the most reps with the first team early in camp, with K'Von Wallace rotating in. It's also worth keeping an eye on rookie Sydney Brown. The staff is very high on the third-round pick out of Illinois, and we've already seen him move from third to second team this summer. -- Tim McManus

Washington Commanders


Until Sam Howell is officially named the starter for the season opener vs. the Arizona Cardinals, it remains a competition with Jacoby Brissett -- even if it doesn't always feel like one considering they don't rotate with the starters. It's clearly Howell's job to lose, but more needs to be seen -- the coaches are pointing to a joint practice with the Ravens on Aug. 15-16 as a crucial measuring stick for Howell. They're pleased with his progress, but he still must earn the job. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears

Running back

There is depth in the backfield, but who will emerge as the lead rusher -- Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman or Roschon Johnson? Foreman and Herbert have split first-team reps, while OC Luke Getsy has experimented with using both backs as pass-catchers, a role neither has occupied much throughout his career. All three are efficient rushers, but the determining factor in who's No. 1 likely comes down to pass protection, a skill Herbert has focused on getting better at this offseason. Though Foreman and Herbert have the most experience, Johnson might carry the most potential as a three-down back. -- Courtney Cronin

Detroit Lions


Entering camp, linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard declared an open competition for the starting roles. No. 18 overall pick Jack Campbell joins Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez in the fight for the first-team spots. Campbell has looked like a starter so far, trying to help a defense that allowed 5.22 yards per carry in 2022 -- third-worst in the league. -- Eric Woodyard

Green Bay Packers

Backup QB

It's possible that the Packers' No. 2 quarterback isn't even on their roster yet. If neitherrookie Sean Cliffordnor ex-USFL MVP Alex McGough shows enough to warrant the job, general manager Brian Gutekunst could still consider bringing in a veteran. Carson Wentz is probably his best option in that scenario. But with Gutekunst's penchant for keeping draft picks on the roster, it's hard to imagine him not retaining Clifford. However, McGough has gotten more reps than the usual No. 4 QB in camp, which likely contributed to the Packers releasing Danny Etling on Sunday.-- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings


The Vikings have overhauled the cornerback position, bidding farewell to five of their top CBs from 2022 and adding three newcomers during the offseason. Veteran free agent Byron Murphy Jr. will be one starter, but he'll move inside in the nickel, meaning the team must choose two additional "starters" from a group that includes Akayleb Evans, Joejuan Williams, Andrew Booth Jr. and rookie Mekhi Blackmon. -- Kevin Seifert


Atlanta Falcons

Punt returner

The Falcons don't have a ton of starting positions up for grabs (perhaps left guard, depending on how long Matt Hennessy is out) but the punt returner competition could create a butterfly effect. If Dee Alford or Mike Hughes wins the gig, there wouldn't be a roster spot dedicated to a punt returner because they are Atlanta's top two slot corners at the moment. But if any of the receivers -- Penny Hart, Xavier Malone or Keilahn Harris -- wins the job, that could change multiple back-end roster spots. The job is in play because Avery Williams (ACL) is out for the season. -- Michael Rothstein

Carolina Panthers

Edge rusher

Who will be the edge rusher along withBrian Burns? It could be 34-year-old Justin Houston, whom the Panthers signed Sunday. It could be Marquis Haynes Sr., who impressed during OTAs as Carolina switched to a 3-4 base. It could be Yetur Gross-Matos, who has shown glimpses of being a better fit here than he was as an end in the 4-3. It could be inside linebackerFrankie Luvu, who had seven sacks last season and believes he could have an impact. It could simply be a committee, but finding the solution is key to this defense. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints

Left guard

The Saints' plan to bring in competition at left guard sputtered when Trai Turner had a season-ending injury just days after signing, and now longtime starter Andrus Peat is out with a quad strain. But Peat, who took a pay cut to return this season, might not have a firm hold on his spot when he gets back. The Saints have been rotating some of their first-team linemen, sometimes putting 2022 first-round pick Trevor Penning at left tackle and sometimes playing veteran James Hurst there. Hurst has also been taking snaps at left guard, a position he has shown he's capable of playing in the past. The Saints drafted Penning with the idea of making him their tackle of the future, so Hurst could give Peat real competition on the inside. -- Katherine Terrell

Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Seven weeks ago in mandatory minicamp, it looked like starting quarterback was Baker Mayfield's job to lose by a wide margin. But Kyle Trask has come to training camp looking considerably improved -- he's far more decisive with the ball, making quick decisions and big plays each day, and closing the gap between the two considerably. In fact, Trask has put together some of his best practices as a Buc. They're currently alternating first-team reps, and a starter will be named sometime during the preseason. -- Jenna Laine


Arizona Cardinals


The Cardinals have been riding with Hjalte Froholdt at first-team center through the first weeks of training camp, but the addition of Pat Elflein created some intrigue. Arizona will start trying offensive linemen at different positions starting this week when the pads come on, so the competition could stiffen a bit, but Froholdt appears to have the inside track as of now. -- Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

Left tackle

Protecting Matthew Stafford is the key to the Rams having any sort of meaningful success this season, so the competition to shield his blind side will be critical. Joe Noteboom's first challenge will be showing that he has fully recovered from the torn Achilles tendon he sustained in October. Alaric Jackson took over for two games before blood clots ended his season prematurely. The runner-up could end up slotting in at guard. -- Dan Greenspan

San Francisco 49ers

Backup QB

With things trending in a positive direction for presumptive starter Brock Purdy in his return from right elbow surgery, the Niners still have plenty to sort out at quarterback. As Purdy sat out in the spring, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold split starting reps, and they continued to do that early in camp. Veteran Brandon Allen also lurks as the fourth option, which means the Niners will have to juggle reps as best they can to make this decision. The Niners kept three quarterbacks on the active roster last season and almost certainly will this year, too, but they also will need to figure out their comfort level at the position in case other teams come calling to trade for one of their backups. -- Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks


Devon Witherspoon, who reported to training camp after missing the first two practices amid a contract holdout, figures to start at left cornerback opposite Riq Woolen. The question is whether the 2023 No. 5 overall pick will also serve as Seattle's nickelback, a job Coby Bryant held down capably as a rookie last year. Witherspoon took reps inside in the spring while Bryant was sidelined by a foot injury. Moving Witherspoon inside in nickel situations would be one way to get 2022 starter Michael Jackson onto the field regularly, but Witherspoon would have to beat out Bryant for the job. -- Brady Henderson

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