Three camp battles to watch on the offensive side of the ball:
No, it’s not a Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow battle (thankfully), but the Patriots do seem to have a real second-string quarterback battle on their hands between four-year backup Brian Hoyer and second-year third stringer Ryan Mallett. Preseason football is just the place to determine where each are in their respective careers. Hoyer obviously has more experience in the system and trust with Bill Belichick, but Mallett probably has more upside in the long run. Look for Hoyer to win this battle, but Mallett won’t be a third-stringer for much longer.
“For me, practice is an opportunity to get better every day and obviously with the group of quarterbacks we have here, the competition that we have I think brings the best out of all of us, really,” Hoyer said. “For Ryan [Mallett] and I to be chasing a guy like Tom [Brady] there’s not a better quarterback in the game. So for us that’s a pretty high standard and a high goal to get to.”
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is now in Cincinnati, and that leaves the Patriots with a couple of second-year backs hoping to lead the way. It appeared to be Steven Ridley’s job to lose after the first week, but fellow second-year back Shane Vereen has turned things on after a slow start to camp. Ridley was shown the bench for good after fumbling in the first postseason game against the Broncos last year, so you can imagine Belichick won’t think twice to do it again if he shows another case of “fumble-itis.”
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That said, Ridley should be in there to start games, with Vereen and Danny Woodhead helping out. Rookie free agent Brandon Bolden has also impressed in camp, and with Joseph Addai out of the picture, he could snag the fourth running back spot.
The wide receiver battle is probably the most interesting of all. The Patriots brought on a number of new receivers to add to Tom Brady’s arsenal, and they are familiar names. Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth were part of the historic 2007 team, and newcomer Brandon Lloyd looks to be Brady’s No. 1 deep threat option. Lloyd and Gaffney should line up on opposite sides, with Wes Welker starting in the slot. Julien Edelman and Matthew Slater have proven too versatile (special teams, defense) to be cut, so if the Pats go with six roster spots at WR, it’ll come down to Stallworth and Deion Branch.
Pats fans know what Branch can do, but it was apparent last season that he lost a step. That said, he’s a guy who’s always been where Brady wanted him to be. Stallworth still seems to have the speed that Branch lacks now, and could prove to be a bigger deep threat. It’s much too soon to determine this winner. Stay tuned.