Alabama Roots: 10 NFL training-camp battles

For some NFL players, training camp is a tune-up for the regular season with secure role already in hand.
For many more, training camp is a fight for survival to earn a spot on the 53-player roster for the regular season, or at least to stick on the practice squad.
Between the secure and the roster hopefuls is another group of players who will use training camp to decide which of the other two groups they’re in when the regular season starts.
Here are 10 position battles being waged in NFL training camps over the next month that involve players from Alabama high schools and colleges who are in that third group:
Cincinnati Bengals safety Jordan Battle signs autographs at training camp
Cincinnati Bengals: Safety
Jordan Battle arrived from Alabama in the third round of the NFL Draft on April 28 with the Bengals missing their starting safeties from the 2022 season. Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell left in free agency. Cincinnati used a 2022 first-round pick on Michigan safety Dax Hill, and he played 131 defensive snaps as a rookie. Nick Scott came aboard for a three-year, $12 million in free agency after he started 16 games for the Rams in 2022.
Philadelphia Eagles: Safety
Reed Blankenship was a surprise contributor for the Eagles in 2022 as the former West Limestone High School star started four games as an injury replacement even though he was an undrafted rookie. In the offseason, Philadelphia lost regular safeties Marcus Epps and C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency. To compete with Blankenship for the vacancies, the Eagles drafted Illinois safety Sydney Brown in the third round and signed Terrell Edmunds in free agency after five seasons as a starter with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Green Bay Packers: Safety
Rudy Ford started six games in his first five NFL seasons. The former New Hope High School and Auburn standout earned his pay as a top special-teams player. But last season, Ford started six games in the Packers’ secondary. With the departure of Adrian Amos in free agency this offseason, Ford will have the opportunity to do more than that in 2023. His competition to join Darnell Savage at the back of the Green Bay defense includes Anthony Johnson Jr., Tarvarius Moore and Jonathan Owens. Johnson is a seventh-round rookie, Moore had 13 starts in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and Owens started every game for the Houston Texans last season.
Buffalo Bills: Running back
Former Alabama ball-carrier Damien Harris joined Buffalo as a free agent this offseason after four seasons with the New England Patriots. The Bills lost Devin Singletary in free agency this offseason after he’d been Buffalo’s leading rusher in each of the past four seasons. But it’s not a straight in-and-out proposition at running back for the Bills. Buffalo also has James Cook available after he ran for 507 yards and two touchdowns on 89 carries as a second-round rookie last season. It might not be a big deal which running back starts. Bills coach Sean McDermott has a track record of using two running backs.
Seattle Seahawks: Cornerback
Mike Jackson “had the best camp of anybody,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the former Spain Park High School standout’s offseason work. That’s why there’s still competition for the job opposite Pro Bowler Tariq Woolen that Jackson worked so hard to earn even though Seattle used the fifth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft on Illinois All-American Devon Witherspoon. In his first three NFL seasons, Jackson played 29 defensive snaps in four games. Last season, he started every game and played 1,082 defensive snaps for the Seahawks.
Minnesota Vikings: No. 2 running back
UAB ball-carrier DeWayne McBride joined the Vikings in the seventh round of the NFL Draft on April 29. But that doesn’t mean he’s an afterthought in Minnesota’s running-back competition. The Vikings have parted ways with four-time Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook and promoted his
backup, Alexander Mattison, into the No. 1 role. McBride’s credentials for the backup spot include 1,713 rushing yards and 19 TD runs for the Blazers in 2022. McBride is up against Ty Chandler, who had six carries as a fifth-round rookie last season, and Kene Nwangwu, who has 22 carries in two seasons with Minnesota but led the NFC with 35 kickoff returns in 2022.
Philadelphia Eagles: Right guard
Tyler Steen from Alabama and Jack Driscoll from Auburn are two of the candidates to fill the hole created in the Eagles’ offensive line when Isaac Seumalo signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cam Jurgens, a 2022 second-round pick intended to be Jason Kelce’s successor at center, will get first crack at the guard vacancy. But Steen has transitioned from the Crimson Tide’s left tackle after being chosen in the third round of the draft on April 28, and Driscoll has had starting experience at the position in each of the past two seasons. A drawback for Driscoll: He already has a role for Philadelphia as the Eagles’ swing tackle.
New England Patriots: Punter
Former South Alabama punter Corliss Waitman joined the Patriots in March, two days after being released by the Denver Broncos. New England is looking for a new punter after using Michael Palardy and Jake Bailey last season. Michigan State punter Bryce Baringer joined the competition in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Waitman led the NFL with 96 punts last season and averaged 46.6 yards on them. Waitman might have a leg up on Baringer: He’s a left-footed punter, a preference of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Cincinnati Bengals: Right offensive tackle
Former Alabama All-American Jonah Williams has started at left offensive tackle in all 42 regular-season games that he’s played with Cincinnati and handled the spot in the Super Bowl. But the Bengals signed Orlando Brown Jr. in free agency in March for that position. Reports indicated Williams asked to be traded, but he’s still with the team and guaranteed to make $12.604 million in 2023. Last season’s right tackle, La’el Collins, had knee surgery in January, and his return date is unknown. But Cincinnati hasn’t handed the right-tackle spot to Williams. The Bengals also are taking a look at Hakeem Adeniji, Jackson Carman and Cody Ford. Adeniji started when Collins got hurt late last season, Carman stepped in when Williams got hurt in the playoffs and Ford was a 15-game starter for the Bills as a rookie in 2019.
Tennessee Titans: Backup quarterback
Malik Willis held this position last season as a third-round rookie. But the former Auburn signal-caller got competition in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft when the Titans chose Kentucky quarterback Will Levis. They’re competing to back up Ryan Tannehill, who missed five games last year with injuries.

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