It's July, the slowest month of the year for the NFL, and it's driving you nuts. You need a fix. A hit. Anything NFL to pull you through the dog days. FanHouse is here to help with an in-depth look at each division that should have you plenty prepared for training camp. We're calling it the Summer Scramble, and we begin with the NFC East's looming position battles.
The early favorites are probably Domenik Hixon, who filled in as a starter last year in Burress' absence, and Steve Smith. They've been there the longest, they know the system well and quarterback Eli Manning has at least some degree of comfort level with each. But the Giants have high hopes for speedsters Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham, who looked good in minicamps and will get the chance to compete for playing time. And then there are the rookies.
The team spent its first-round draft pick on former North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks, and selected 6-foot-6 Ramses Barden in the third round. Nicks impressed the coaching staff during the off-season program with his hands and his attitude. Their scouting report on him told them he was a leader among the receivers at Carolina, and Tom Coughlin said he showed that ability during meetings, nimbly and eagerly discussing not only his own role in various plays but the positioning and assignments of the other receivers as well.
PREDICTION: From here, we'll pick Smith and Nicks as the Week 1 starters, but the variety of skill sets this group brings to the table should give the Giants some depth at the position. The question is whether any one of them can approximate the threat and production that Burress gave them, and while Nicks might be able to do that someday, he's unlikely to have that kind of impact in his first year. This should be a mix-and-match setup for the first several weeks of the season, at least.
• Dallas Cowboys -- Cornerback: Terence Newman has one of the two starting spots, and the other is likely to go to a 2008 draft pick -- either first-rounder Mike Jenkins or fifth-rounder Orlando Scandrick. The coaching staff likes both players, and the organization is obviously very high on Jenkins, since they spent a first-round pick on him. There's some thought that they'd like Scandrick to play well enough to put pressure on Jenkins, who has a reputation as a physical and athletic specimen with a questionable work ethic. Scandrick showed a lot last year as a slot corner in the nickel package, and he's likely to play a lot even if he's not technically the starter. But Jenkins has more raw upside, and if both players play to their potential he's likely to see the field more.
PREDICTION: The two split time in the base defense, and they're both on the field in nickel and dime packages. But since we have to make a pick, we'll take the (slight) underdog and say Scandrick is on the field opposite Newman when the Cowboy defense takes the field for the first time in 2009.
• Washington Redskins -- Running Back: What? What's that you say? Clinton Portis in a slam dunk? Yeah, well, maybe. Portis is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he rushed for 1,487 yards and nine touchdowns. He's the most talented and most accomplished back on the Washington roster. It's hard to even imagine bringing this up, really, given Portis' resume. The odds are incredibly strong that there's no battle here at all.
But in case you hadn't heard, Portis and head coach Jim Zorn aren't exactly BFFs. Coaches were singing Ladell Betts' praises during minicamps, and it's hard to imagine they'd take the time to do that if there were no questions about who's going to get the ball at running back. Betts was a solid fill-in for Portis when the latter had injury issues in 2006, and if Zorn has a problem with Portis, there's a chance the lines could get a little fuzzy between the two RBs.
PREDICTION: Portis opens as the starter, but Betts gets more carries than many might expect (and than Portis would like). Talk of friction between Zorn and Portis lingers in the nation's capital.
• Philadelphia Eagles -- Free Safety: Coach Andy Reid came out and said that 2008 fourth-round pick Quintin Demps would get the first shot at replacing local legend Brian Dawkins. As a rookie, Demps showed a great deal of speed and athleticism in the kick return game, and as the year went on he saw more and more time in passing situations, filling in as Dawkins began to slow down. The team would obviously love for Demps to earn the spot in training camp.
But they are going to watch it closely. They brought in veteran Sean Jones, underrated for years while toiling in Cleveland, and the result of that addition is that Demps knows nothing is promised to him. Demps is still a second-year player who's learning the league, and if he doesn't show that he's ready to handle full-time starter's duties, Jones makes for a real nice safety net -- no pun intended -- in an Eagles secondary that also features depth (and some position-battle situations) at cornerback.
PREDICTION: Jones begins the season as the starter, as the team looks to ease Demps into the role little by little. Demps is getting more playing time by the end of the year, and he avoids the pressure of having to be the guy to replace Dawkins.
Tomorrow: NFC East Burning Questions and Early Predictions
Thursday: AFC East Position Battles to Watch
Friday: AFC East Burning Questions and Early Predictions