Training Camp Battle Preview: Slot Receiver

Steve Breaston hit the ground running at off-season workouts. Ken Whisenhunt and Larry Fitzgerald have both sung his praises. Lurking in the not-so-distant shadows is Early Doucet. On any other team, he would be a no-question backup, but it's the high-flying Cardinals. The two will have to go head-to-head for the chance to play behind Arizona's superstars. Tyson Qualls breaks down the battle.

It would be wise not to make any wagers on the Steve Breaston versus Early Doucet battle. Breaston, the incumbent punt and kick returner, looks to continue the progress of his young career by securing his spot as the slot receiver. Doucet has all the potential to become a dangerous threat as the Cardinals third receiver. However, he will have to work extremely hard as a rookie in order to surpass, second-year player Breaston.

This clash of young talents will not be taken lightly by either player, as the stakes are high. The winner will be enjoying extensive playing time and the benefit of the double teams on Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. The runner up will have to find a way to contribute on special teams until it becomes time to step up.

Drafted out of Michigan in 2007, Breaston (6'1 193) will be able to use the experience gained last year as a valuable member of special teams. In his rookie season, he ranked in the top five for total return yards with 1,391. Unfortunately, his proficiency as a kick returner could have a negative effect on his chances of winning the slot receiver role. If Breaston cannot show that he is capable of handling WR and KR/PR duties his chances of surpassing Doucet will be hindered.

Steve Breaston
Roy Dabner/AP

Coach Ken Whisenhunt is known for his emphasis on special teams and having a dynamic player like Breaston returning kicks would be a useful asset. Increasing his body weight has been a primary focus for Breaston this off-season and after adding five pounds of muscle; it looks as if he has accomplished his goal.

According to Fitzgerald, "More than anybody on this team, I think Steve has benefited from the off-season workouts." A vote of confidence from one of the team leaders is a definite sign of the dedication and work ethic that Breaston is bringing to the 2008 training camp. The addition of muscle mass coupled with his blazing speed may allow him to become the explosive downfield threat needed to replace Bryant Johnson. If Breaston can maintain his focus the position is his to lose.

Doucet (6'1 213) is no stranger to competition. As a junior at LSU, he had to fight for playing time with two future first round draft picks, Craig Davis (San Diego Chargers) and Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City Chiefs). As a senior last season, he had a solid year at LSU (57 Rec, 525 Yrds, and 5 TDs), in spite of a lingering groin injury. If he is going to surpass the motivated Breaston, he will need to prove that his skill set is capable of being the third target behind Boldin and Fitzgerald.

Early Doucet
Miller Safrit/

Doucet does have the talent, often reminding those who observe him of a young Boldin. A closer look reveals striking similarities. Both players are 6'1 and roughly 215 lbs. They each are known for their prowess in gaining yards after the catch and both were selected later in the draft than expected. Recently Doucet made these comments about Boldin:

"I feel like my game is like his…We like to run after the catch, we like to go across the middle, and we both played quarterback in high school. I kind of look up to him."

A major concern about Doucet is his apparent lack of speed. After running a relatively slow 4.6 at the combine, he raised a few concerns from scouts about his ability to stretch the field. In order for Doucet to gain the confidence of Whisenhunt, he has to show the competence to make plays over the middle and the quickness vital to getting into the secondary in a hurry.

Boldin's willingness to take him under his wing and show him how to be successful with their style of play could lead to a serious advantage for Doucet over Breaston. If the achievements of Boldin are any indication of what Doucet has in store for him, then his future will be bright.

Two players vying for one position, both with the ability to provide the Cardinals with the capacity to further improve their already electrifying passing game. Currently, the odds are in favorite of Breaston, but he will be on a short rope. With Doucet waiting in the wings to show all the NFL teams who passed on him in the draft what a terrible mistake they made.

The Cardinals are searching for a player who can provide their two star receivers with more breathing room. The importance of this position cannot be overlooked, as the development of Breaston or Doucet is essential to giving Matt Leinart a viable third option when defenses focus on Boldin and Fitzgerald. While gambling is never encouraged (unless refereeing an NBA game) this is one match-up that should pay dividends for the player who is named the victor.

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

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