The fun part about training camp and the pre-season is watching how players perform while competing for a starting job. Camp competition is a very healthy, very important element to improve your football team. Players that whine about camp competition (cough*cough*Vanderjagt*cough*cough) should get a nice slap in the face and a pink slip in their locker. Camp competition pushes older, established players (who feel secure in their position, and thus do not perform as hard) to do better, to improve on their deficiencies and enhance their strengths. It makes them better players. Competition also helps coaches see the potential in young players.
Many times, that potential will allow a young player to unseat an established veteran.
I feel that this is the primary reason that veterans HATE pre-season. They hate the constant evaluation, scrutiny, and the potential for uncertainty. Heaven forbid that these guys actually have to prove their worth. For these sad souls, the reality of life in the NFL hasn't settled in yet. They do not understand that they are not owed anything, aside from a good paycheck. What they did last year means nothing. The starting job is not their "right." A starting job is earned. Every. Single. Year.
When a player complains that they must earn a job they feel entitled to, I have this golden nugget of advice for GMs and coaches: cut the f*cker.
Jerry Angelo, if you have any brain cells in that lump above your shoulders, you will cut Cedric Benson right now. He's not liked in his locker room. He complains about having to compete and share carries with Thomas Jones (who is so obviously better than him it's not even funny). Such behavior has no place in an NFL locker room. If such behavior is tolerated, the team will lose. That simple.
This season, camp competition for the Colts has produced a few new starters. Ben Utecht has unseated Bryan Fletcher as the starting TE. Stampede Blue predicted this many, many months ago.
On defense, Marlin Jackson has supplanted Jason David as the starting CB (listen to Bob Lamey's update and he states Marlin is now the starter). The competition between those two was very spirited, and not only has made both Jackson and David better, but the entire secondary is playing at a higher level as a result. Nick Harper has had the best training camp of his career. He's looked very, very good in coverage, and he's making plays all over the field. In both pre-season games, he was solid.
This open competition in the secondary might produce yet another new starter, this time at the safety position. Mike Doss, the starter since 2003, has spent the better part of this pre-season hurt. This is no surprise. Doss is always hurt. Doss is also very bad in coverage. Always has been. He is an excellent tackler and he supports the run defense very well. But boy does he suck hard monkey nuts in coverage.
Remember the Pittsburgh playoff game? I know, it's hard to forget it. I still get sick thinking about it. Remember in the first quarter when Ben Roethlisberger was hitting his TE Heath Miller in stride on every pass thrown, including a TD pass? Guess who was covering Miller: Mike Doss.
In camp, Doss has been consistently outplayed by rookie Antoine Bethea. Bethea was outstanding in the Seattle pre-season game, collecting 8 tackles and making hard hits all over the field. Bethea is also very good in coverage, and he has a nose for the football. In practice he is making INTs and defending passes left and right. Right now, with Doss out, Bethea is starting in the secondary along side Bob Sanders. I feel Bethea will start at SS in the Meadowlands opening day, even if Doss is healthy.
The last new potential starter we'll mention here is Dylan Gandy. Gandy has played RG both pre-season games while Ryan Lilja has nursed injuries. Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott played horribly in the Steelers playoff game. I am hoping and praying neither start this season. However, it is looking more likely that Scott is cemented at LG. This mean Gandy will, hopefully, unseat Lilja.
When it is all tallied, the Colts could have four new starters on defense (Robert Mathis, Gilbert Gardner, Marlin Jackson, Antoine Bethea), three on offense (Dominic Rhodes, Ben Utecht, Dylan Gandy), and one on special teams (Adam Vinatieri). All these players, with the exception of Rhodes, are better players than the guys they may replace.
Thus, the team is improved from a year ago. This is why camp competition is so very important.