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Top 5 training camp battles


We continue today with our quick preview/look ahead to the 2011 season on with a look at five training camp battles to watch.

In some cases, the participants have yet to be decided. With free agency pushed back until shortly before training camp, there likely will be competition involving new veterans and players currently on the roster at several spots on defense.

But with the lockout lingering, we do the best we can, and in this case, that means taking a look at spots along the offensive line, at defensive end – and yes, we'll even take a look at quarterback, although realistically that battle may not yet be a battle. At least not in training camp.

As with any training camp, there will be less high-profile battles than those widely discussed – and the ones mentioned here, for that matter. The Jaguars typically have placed a heavy emphasis on rookie free agents, and are expected to do so again this season. Many such players likely will compete for backup positions throughout the roster, with another storyline to watch being the playing time of backup running back Rashad Jennings. He could see more carries in an effort to ease the burden on starter Maurice Jones-Drew.

There also likely will be competition at backup defensive tackle, where the development and return from injury of D'Anthony Smith will be a constant topic in coming weeks.

But for now, we'll focus on these five:

*Quarterback.As was the case when we talked about the top storylines, you can't discuss position battles in the Jaguars' 2011 training camp without discussing quarterback.

That's what happens when you draft the position No. 10 overall.

Still, while the Jaguars selected Blaine Gabbert with the 10thselection in the 2011 NFL Draft – and while normally that would mean fierce competition for the starting quarterback position – Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith and Head Coach Jack Del Rio consistently have said veteran David Garrard will be the starter.

The skeptics may say that's what Del Rio and Smith have to say, and there's some truth to the skeptics' thoughts in this case, but Garrard at this point seems almost certain to start the regular season. To expect Gabbert to win the starting job with less than two months intense work with the coaching staff is expecting a bit much.

Gabbert will get slightly fewer snaps in training camp than Garrard, but the rookie will get enough to learn and enough to earn his way. Still, Garrard's experience is a major asset considering the truncated off-season. Gabbert is certainly the quarterback of the future, and the future may not be far off, but for now, look for Garrard to emerge from camp as the starter.

*Wide receiver.This likely won't be much of a battle at the starting position, not with Mike Thomas and Jason Hill essentially penciled in as starters. How those two develop is a huge storyline – and that's particularly true of Hill, who many believe has big-time potential.

The battle will be deeper on the depth chart.

The Jaguars have a slew of receivers behind the starting duo, but assuming rookie Cecil Shorts and special teams ace Kassim Osgood each make the roster – and those are relatively safe assumptions – then the fifth spot could come down to Jarett Dillard, Tiquan Underwood and Nate Hughes.

Even outside the battle for the fifth spot, this is a fascinating area to watch. Can Shorts develop quickly enough to contribute as the third receiver as a rookie? Can either Hill or Thomas emerge as a legitimate No. 1 receiver? Those will be critical questions for the offense, and training camp and the preseason could go a long way toward answering them.

*Guard:Like the two aforementioned positions, a rookie draft selection is a factor in the training camp discussion at guard.

And like quarterback and receiver, the lost off-season won't help.

The Jaguars selected Will Rackley, a guard from Lehigh University, in the third round of the draft with the idea that he will develop into a long-term, front-line starter. He is expected to be a major contributor in the future, but may need time to develop.

It seems Rackley likely will compete with veteran Vince Manuwai and Justin Smiley at left guard during training camp, with Uche Nwaneri relatively entrenched at the right guard position. When discussing guard, you also have to discuss center, and veteran Brad Meester seems likely to be the starter there at least one more season.

The Jaguars certainly want to get younger and better on the interior of the line, and to hear Smith discuss Rackley after the draft, it's obvious he believes the rookie will be a key factor on the interior of the line for many years. How quickly he can fill that role will be something to watch in training camp.

*Defensive end.One defensive end position is set.

Aaron Kampman, who missed the second half of last season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, is expected to be ready for training camp, and expected to start the season.

The other end spot is a bit murkier.

Austen Lane, a fifth-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft from Murray State, started nine games last season, but did not register a sack. Jeremy Mincey, a fifth-year veteran from Florida, replaced 2008 first-round selection Derrick Harvey in the lineup in the second half of the season, starting the final eight games and registering five sacks.

Though Harvey remains on the roster, there has been little talk of him regaining a starting position, and second-year veterans Larry Hart and Aaron Morgan showed enough flashes of potential last season that coaches and personnel officials believe they can develop into contributors.

The Jaguars believe there is enough potential at the end position to allow the pass rush to maintain its improvement from last season. One reason is they believe Kampman will be back and healthy, but another is they believe they can get a rush from some combination opposite him. That seems likely to be Lane or Mincey, but ideally, someone opposite Kampman will distinguish himself during camp.

*Nickelback.Make no mistake:

The Jaguars would very much like rookie Rod Issac to win this battle. They see the rookie fifth-round selection as a player with enormous potential, and a player whose aggressive hitting ability should make a quick difference in the secondary.

Issac will compete for the job in training camp with Will Middleton, who played the role last season. As is the case with the aforementioned offensive rookies, time lost in the off-season won't help, but the Jaguars right now are about playing young, drafted players with the potential to improve and make big contributions the next few seasons and they believe Issac is such a player.

If he doesn't win this battle in training camp, he'll almost certainly be a key player on special teams and playing time in some defensive capacity likely will come sooner rather than later.

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