Scout NFL Roundtable: Jobs in Jeopardy?

Which NFL veteran on your team is going to face the toughest training camp challenge to hold onto his starter's job? And who's going to be the primary candidate to push him to the bench? That's the question we posed to our NFL team experts.

Chuck Hixson,
Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have Jevon Kearse written in at the top of their depth chart at defensive end, but there are injury and commitment concerns with Kearse since he missed most of the 2006 season after tearing up his knee in Week 2 against the Giants, giving him back-to-back disappointing seasons. Add to that concerns about Kearse's offseason commitment to training and he's shaky at best. Jerome McDougle took over for Kearse, but wasn't at all impressive. He's still technically Plan B should Kearse not be able to hold the job.

That leaves second-round pick Victor Abiamiri in a spot to challenge for a starting job. Expectations are high for Abiamiri after an impressive college career at Notre Dame, and the coaching staff was impressed by his performance in minicamp.

The rookie is likely a year away from making a big impact, but will look to move up that timetable when the Eagles hit Lehigh University for training camp later this month.

Barry McBride,
Cleveland Browns

While LT Kevin Shaffer moving aside for top pick Joe Thomas is inevitable, another veteran who faces a tough battle for his job will be quarterback Charlie Frye. The third-year veteran had the starting role handed to him in 2006, but will face stiff competition this summer from Derek Anderson and rookie Brady Quinn.

Anderson doesn't have Frye's mobility, but has a much quicker release, and may even have already started to edge past Frye as training camp begins. The three-year vet from Oregon State arguably outperformed Frye when the latter was out due to injury last season.

While many in the Browns front office would like Brady Quinn to sit for a year, an impressive effort during camp and the preseason would put him right into the mix as well.

Howard Balzer,
St. Louis Rams

Andy McCollum
(AP Photo)
It will be one of the most-watched battles when the Rams open training camp July 27. When center Brett Romberg started the final three games of the 2006 season and the Rams won them all, there didn't seem much doubt that Romberg would enter 2007 as the favorite to be the starter. However, no one knew at the time how determined the 37-year-old Andy McCollum was to come back from a knee injury that ended his 2006 season in the opening game. Most figured McCollum's career was over. Admittedly, McCollum harbored some of those same thoughts, and he questioned things even more when his close friend, guard Adam Timmerman, was released on the final day of February.

But McCollum persevered, and wasn't even wearing a brace during the team's offseason program. Romberg is intent on winning the job, but it won't be easy. While McCollum knows the younger Romberg will be breathing down his neck and challenging him all summer, don't bet against the veteran. That could well be a losing wager.

Aaron Wilson,
Baltimore Ravens

Incumbent center Mike Flynn could be in danger of losing his job if the Ravens decide to shift Chris Chester inside from right guard and promote first-round draft pick Ben Grubbs into the spot Chester currently occupies at right guard. 

A youth movement is afoot in Baltimore.

Tim Yotter,
Minnesota Vikings

Safety Dwight Smith will face the biggest challenge to his starting position when training camp opens for the Vikings. Smith was a July 2006 pickup after the New Orleans Saints released him and he entered last year's training camp expected to back up Tank Williams at strong safety. But Williams, another 2006 free-agent signing for the Vikings, broke his kneecap in training camp and was lost for season. Smith, entering his seventh season, is a seasoned starter, but he also has plenty of former starters pushing him for his job.

Smith will be challenged heavily by Williams and Mike Doss, a 2007 free-agent signing by the Vikings. Williams appears to be all the way back from his surgery and signed another deal with the Vikings, and Doss also participated fully in May and June workouts and should be close to 100 percent once training camp starts, and he also has the advantage of knowing the philosophies of new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier from their days together in Indianapolis.

Stan Jones,
Tennessee Titans

The Titans secondary will be the biggest area of competition between a veteran and a younger player on the roster. Free safety Lamont Thompson should face the biggest challenge this fall after serving as the starter for the team for the last three seasons. He is expected to be pushed for his starting spot by as many as three players on Tennessee's roster.

Second-year player Calvin Lowry is currently listed as the backup to Thompson going into training camp and spent his first year contributing on special teams for the Titans. Veteran Bryan Scott was added to the roster this spring and has played both safety positions and cornerback during his career. First-round selection Michael Griffin played free safety at the University of Texas during his college career and could also find himself competing for the starter's role.

With all three candidates poised to push Thompson this fall, his time as a starter appears to be dwindling quicker than he may be able to stop.

Charlie Bernstein,
Jacksonville Jaguars

Wide receiver Ernest Wilford is the one veteran on the Jaguars that will clearly have the most difficult time holding onto his starting job. After a surprising amount of production from the former fourth-round pick in his first two NFL seasons, Wilford clearly regressed in 2006, as he only caught a single touchdown pass while starting in 12 games. He suffered from drops last year and he just doesn't possess much speed for a starting NFL wide receiver.

Wilford will clearly be pushed for not only his starting job, but his roster spot as well since the Jaguars brought in Dennis Northcutt through free agency and added Mike Walker and John Broussard during draft weekend.

The primary player to unseat Wilford will be rookie Mike Walker. He impressed the Jaguars coaching staff during minicamps with his deep speed as well as sharp route-running and strong hands. Walker has No. 1 wide receiver potential and may be in the Jaguars starting lineup within the first month of the season.

Craig Massei,
San Francisco 49ers

Derek Smith battles Ryan Hannam
(AP Photo)
Linebacker Derek Smith has been one of San Francisco's best defensive players since joining the team in 2001, leading the 49ers in tackles five consecutive seasons - including a team-record 189 in 2003 - before that streak came to an end last year when he was limited by an eye condition that required surgery after the season.

Now entering his 11th NFL season at age 32, Smith looked refreshed and fully recovered during the spring, but he appears to be playing on borrowed time with the 49ers. Smith has started 149 of the 153 career games in which he has played, but he will be hard-pressed to remain in the starting lineup this season after the 49ers drafted Mississippi standout Patrick Willis in April with the No. 11 overall pick in the first round.

Smith still can be a productive veteran at this stage of his career, but Willis is a sideline-to-sideline playmaking dynamo with all-star potential, and it will be difficult for Smith - or anybody else - to keep Willis on the bench once he learns San Francisco's 3-4 defensive system and becomes comfortable in it.

Doug Farrar,
Seattle Seahawks

Strong safety Michael Boulware could technically be called the starter coming into training camp, though he was benched for several games last season when his predilection for biting on play fakes and being out of position in general compromised an already problematic secondary. The Seahawks overhauled that secondary in the offseason, signing safety Brian Russell, letting Ken Hamlin walk out the door and sign with the Cowboys, and adding former Falcons coach Jim Mora as Assistant Head Coach/Secondary.

Boulware will be challenged by Russell and also by Jordan Babineaux, the versatile defensive back who replaced him in the starting lineup last year.

Matthew Postins,
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ryan Nece stands the best chance of losing his job. The strongside linebacker has been serviceable as a starter the past two seasons, but certainly not spectacular.

After signing Cato June as a free agent, the Bucs are looking for a place to play June, since the weakside is still occupied (Derrick Brooks). The Bucs want June in the lineup and will give him every chance to put Nece on the bench.

June is quicker than Nece and better in pass coverage, but Nece is bigger and more able to handle the tight end matchups that will likely come up. Still, the Bucs want June in there, so I think Nece will be on the bench by the opener.

Jon Scott,
New England Patriots

Wide receiver Reche Caldwell faces the toughest challenge to hang on to his job now that Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker are on the team. But we've already talked about Caldwell, so I think another name needs to be considered; offensive tackle Nick Kaczur.

When Kaczur was drafted in 2005, many felt he was the next bookend tackle for the Patriots, someone who could eventually succeed Matt Light when the time came. He has struggled to win the favor of the coaching staff and his performance has invited the team to increase competition at his position. The Pats continue to try to find upgrades by drafting tackles, including a pair in 2007.

Kaczur's biggest challenger is Ryan O'Callaghan, a fifth-round pick in 2005. O'Callaghan is big, strong and nasty. He proved he could play in 2006, starting six games as a rookie. He is expected to push Kaczur for starting duties in camp.

John Crist,
Chicago Bears

Veteran defensive end Alex Brown isn't in danger of losing his starting job necessarily -- he's already lost it to second-year pro Mark Anderson.

Although Brown has been a dependable player in Chicago for several years and a Pro Bowl alternate as recently as 2005, Anderson was runner-up for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season after totaling 12 sacks as a part-time specialist. It remains to be seen if Anderson can hold the point of attack against the run as well as Brown has, but head coach Lovie Smith prefers a lighter more athletic end on the right side in order to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. Smith employs very little blitzing in his version of the Cover 2 defense and simply must get production from his front four to be successful.

The usually gregarious Brown was quite miffed when he heard the news upon reporting to minicamp this past May, so it will be interesting to see what kind of mood he'll be in once he gets to training camp.

Jerry Langton,
Indianapolis Colts

Whichever of the current guards gets outplayed this summer will be the one whose starting role is less secure. Both Jake Scott and Ryan Lilja have played well enough to keep their jobs in the past, but this season is different. Both will become unrestricted free agents after the season, and the Colts are not averse to letting even good players go if they feel they can't afford them, and they don't spend much on guards. 

It's not like the Colts don't have willing and able replacements. Second-round draft pick Tony Ugoh may end up at tackle, but he'll play guard as a rook. The Colts signed former stalwart starter Rick DeMulling and also have Dylan Gandy, who once beat out Lilja; Matt Ulrich, an underrated prospect; and Charlie Johnson, a soph swing tackle likely to be displaced to guard by Ugoh, despite an eye-opening rookie season. 

So which will it be? Well, Lilja is a better pass-blocker and more athletic, while Scott is more durable, versatile and has a bigger upside. Even if both emerge as starters in September, as the season progresses, one or both will lose reps, then series, then a job.

Michael John Schon,
Denver Broncos

Thirteen years after first setting foot on the field at Dove Valley as an undrafted free agent, wide receiver Rod Smith returns. A little older, a little wiser and for the first time since 1997, a question mark in the Denver Broncos starting lineup.

Smith, who underwent hip surgery last February, is coming off his most unproductive season since becoming a starter - 52 catches for 512 yards and three touchdowns, but the former Missouri Southern standout is not quite ready to pass the torch just yet - hes going to make Brandon Marshall earn it.

Marshall, the Broncos fourth-round selection in 2006, had an impressive rookie season with 20 receptions for 309 yards (15.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, but is it enough to unseat the man who holds every single Denver receiving record?

"If I'm not productive, trust me, the coaches don't have to fire me," Smith told reporters. "I'm going to leave on my own."

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