Every year, there comes a time in training camp where players grow tired of hitting their own teammates. The practice of teams coming together before a preseason game offers a chance to break up the monotony. Here are some of the training camp battles to watch during joint practices in August:
Dolphins at Buccaneers (Aug. 10-11)
Miami cornerbacks against Tampa Bay wide receivers
The Dolphins have invested heavily in the cornerback position in recent years. The Xavien Howard and Byron Jones contracts rank in the top 7 in regards to average annual value paid to a cornerback. Those two, combined with Nik Needham and former first-round selection Noah Igbinoghene, give Miami a formidable unit to challenge Tampa Bay.
In addition to the star power of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the Buccaneers added underrated wide receiver Russell Gage and Julio Jones this offseason. The team also has Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, Jaelon Darden and Scotty Miller in that loaded unit.
As of writing this, Jones is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and Godwin made his return to practice from a torn ACL less than a week ago.
Cowboys at Broncos (Aug. 11)
Dallas' wide receivers against Denver's cornerbacks
Amari Cooper is gone from the Cowboys and Michael Gallup is on the PUP list after sustaining a torn ACL in July. Offseason addition James Washington suffered a foot fracture that will cause him to miss roughly two months of action. Despite those grim realities, Dallas still has CeeDee Lamb and rookie Jalen Tolbert, who was a perfect fit to replace Cooper. Noah Brown and Simi Fehoko are a few others with tantalizing traits.
There is a lot of positive Broncos buzz surrounding second-year cornerback Pat Surtain II as a lockdown cornerback. K'Waun Williams is a feisty veteran that has made his living neutralizing opposing slot receivers. Ronald Darby adds some veteran experience to that unit as well. The individual matchup that is propping up this position battle, however, is obviously Lamb versus Surtain.
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Panthers at Patriots (Aug. 16-17)
Carolina's defensive line against New England's offensive line
The Panthers' roster is not as bad as public perception. They have a mixture of veteran experience and youthful flare along the defensive line with Brian Burns, Derrick Brown and Matt Ioannidis. Edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos is entering the third year of his career, which is when most players start to hit their stride. They will have their hands full against an always well-coached New England offensive line.
First-round selection Cole Strange is the only newcomer to the Patriots offensive line after Shaq Mason was dealt to the Buccaneers. Veterans litter the roster with Isaiah Wynn, Mike Onwenu, Trent Brown and David Andrews all returning. They are a physical front that leans on opponent's in the run game. New England rushed on 57% of their plays last season.
49ers at Vikings (Aug. 17-18)
San Francisco's cornerbacks against Minnesota's wide receivers
All anyone can talk about in the Bay Area has been the lockdown nature of free agent cornerback addition Charvarius Ward. He lines up opposite Emmanuel Moseley, who is also said to look good in camp. Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas looked promising at times last season. Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verrett (PUP list) give them more experience on the back end.
It feels as though onlookers have been waiting for Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen to have a season indicating the beginning of his downward trajectory but he has been consistent for the better part of six years. The Minnesota State product turns 32 later this month; less than a month after me. Between Thielen and I, we have compiled 464 receptions for nearly 6,000 yards and 49 touchdowns in the NFL. The Vikings also have one of the game's best receivers in Justin Jefferson, as well as K.J. Osborn, Bisi Johnson and others.
Buccaneers at Titans (Aug. 17-18)
Tampa Bay's linebackers against Tennessee's running backs
Tampa Bay has been able to stave off attrition during the Tom Brady era. Despite rising salary cap charges, the team was able to retain Lavonte David and re-install him next to Devin White. Depth is limited but few teams have the luxury of starting two linebackers of White and David's caliber. They meet a Tennessee team that declared its intent to continue running the football at a noteworthy rate this offseason by trading away wide receiver A.J. Brown.
For five consecutive years, Tennessee running back Derrick Henry received more and more carries. Many questioned whether he would ever suffer from the wear and tear that inevitably catches up to all running backs. After recording a career-high 378 carries in 2020, Henry was finally proven to be human by missing nine games last season. The weight of the offense will once again be on his shoulders this season but they did add Dontrell Hilliard -- who did some good things in Cleveland -- and rookie Hassan Haskins, who was picked in the fourth round, to lighten the load.
Cowboys at Chargers (Aug. 17-18)
Dallas' wide receivers against Los Angeles' cornerbacks
The Dallas wide receiver room was previewed above. They will be without some talent but are not totally bereft.
Each offseason, pundits speculate on the needs of head coach Brandon Staley's Chargers and the franchise makes no attempt to disguise those needs. They needed offensive line reinforcements so they signed Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler and Bryan Bulaga, then drafted Rashawn Slater and Zion Johnson. They have needed cornerback help so they drafted Asante Samuel Jr. and then signed J.C. Jackson and Bryce Callahan. They needed to bolster the interior defensive line and add another pass rusher so they signed Austin Johnson, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Christian Covington, then traded for Khalil Mack. At no point did they get cute, they just checked boxes and put their roster in a position to contend for the AFC in 2022.
Between joint practices against Surtain and Jackson, Lamb should be well-tested entering the regular season.
Lions at Colts (Aug. 17-18)
Detroit's offensive line against Indianapolis' defensive line
There are concerns over the future at the quarterback position in the Motor City but the rest of the offense is in a healthy state. They boast good skill position talent with tight end T.J. Hockenson, running back D'Andre Swift and wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown, and rookie Jameson Williams (active/non-football injury). The talent has finally caught up to an offensive line that has Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Penei Sewell from left to right.
Indianapolis added well-traveled edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to a defensive line that introduced first-round pick Kwity Paye a year ago. DeForest Buckner is the elder statesmen along that front with Grover Stewart also stuffing gaps. The team is eager to see what they can squeeze from a healthy Dayo Odeyingbo as well.
Saints at Packers (Aug. 17-18)
New Orleans' wide receivers against Green Bay's cornerbacks
The selection of Chris Olave in the first-round has infused talent and depth into the wide receiver room. Jarvis Landry in black and gold has been a welcomed sight for New Orleans fans at training camp, as is the return of a healthy Michael Thomas. Jameis Winston is in a much better situation this year having Tre'Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway as fourth and fifth options rather than primary targets.
Jaire Alexander has emerged as one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. Green Bay added Eric Stokes in the first round last year and Rasul Douglas has been up and down. Nonetheless, it should create some competitive matchups during training camp.
Eagles at Browns (Aug. 18-19)
Philadelphia defensive line against Browns offensive line
Rookie Eagles defensive tackle Jordan Davis went viral earlier this week when he moved fellow rookie Cam Jurgens' anchor several yards into the backfield. Philadelphia has a wealth of depth and talent along the defensive line. General manager Howie Roseman's emphasis on fielding competitive units along the line of scrimmage has been evident. Veterans Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are likely to start this season with Derek Barnett or Josh Sweat, Milton Williams and Davis serving as depth.
Few teams can match the Eagles' depth on the opposite side of the ball but that is exactly the position in which Cleveland finds itself. It should come as no surprise that general manager Andrew Berry served one year under Roseman in Philly. Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller are the best offensive guard duo in the NFL with Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin patrolling the borders. Third year center Nick Harris will get his first extended action after the team parted ways with J.C. Tretter. James Hudson III, Blake Hance and Michael Dunn have all played meaningful snaps for the team over the past year and a half. There is a 43 pound difference between Harris and Davis.
Rams at Bengals (Aug. 24)
Los Angeles defensive line against Cincinnati offensive line
The Rams used strength upfront to dictate pace of play during the postseason. A'Shawn Robinson, Greg Gaines and Aaron Donald were stingy against the run in addition to Donald's Super Bowl clinching rush. They were a challenge for Cincinnati then but the Bengals addressed the weakness in free agency by signing offensive tackle La'El Collins, center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa. Who will get the better of the other in this rematch?
Cardinals at Titans (Aug. 24-25)
Arizona's tight ends against Tennessee's linebackers/safeties
Arizona re-signed Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams before using a second round choice on Colorado State's Trey McBride. With the DeAndre Hopkins suspension, Rondale Moore's odd usage and Hollywood Brown's recent run-in with the law, the Cardinals may be leaning more on that deep tight end room earlier than anticipated.
Tennessee signed Zach Cunningham from the AFC South rival Texans after the surprising decision to cut him. Cunningham had signed a four-year, $58 million deal with Houston roughly 15 months earlier. David Long Jr. and Cunningham should clean up any leaks that get through that stout defensive line in addition to being challenged by the height of Arizona's tight ends downfield.
Eagles at Dolphins (Aug. 24-25)
Philadelphia's cornerbacks against Miami's wide receivers
Philadelphia has been stacking offseason victories. In addition to trading for wide receiver A.J. Brown and drafting Davis, the team signed cornerback James Bradberry from the rival Giants. Avonte Maddox has been highly productive out of the slot as well. They will have their hands full against Miami's speedy pass catchers.
Tyreek Hill is the main attraction. His unwavering support of Tua Tagovailoa has been untested to this point. It will be interesting to see if that connection can live up to the hype. The Dolphins also used a first-round selection on Jaylen Waddle, who proceeded to set an NFL record for most receptions (104) by a rookie. Cedrick Wilson was signed in free agency and Erik Ezukanma was taken in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Those four players almost assuredly have a place on the roster cast in cement, which leaves Mohamed Sanu, Preston Williams and Lynn Bowden Jr. competing; the latter two have reportedly been the subject of trade conversations.
Jaguars at Falcons (Aug. 24-25)
Jacksonville's linebackers/safeties against Atlanta's tight ends
Jacksonville signed Foyesade Oluokun to a contract that averages $15 million per year before drafting Utah's Devin Lloyd and Wyoming's Chad Muma in the first and third rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, respectively. An investment in the position creates a fascinating matchup with Atlanta tight ends Anthony Firkser and Kyle Pitts. Pitts, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, fell short of Mike Ditka's record (1,076) for receiving yards by a rookie tight end. However, he was only the second rookie tight end in league history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards and is the sole owner of the franchise's rookie receiving record (1,026). His combination of size and athleticism is a nightmare for the opposition. Firkser comes over from Tennessee where he has experience working with head coach Arthur Smith.
Patriots at Raiders (Aug. 24-25)
New England's offensive line against Las Vegas' defensive line
New England's offensive line was discussed above. The Raiders represent a unique challenge because they have two players -- Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones -- capable to making an impact off the corner. Former Raider Trent Brown will be pushed to his limits. Up the middle, the Raiders have a lot of names but few proven commodities as Bilal Nichols and Johnathan Hankins are currently on the PUP list. Draft picks Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler are attempting to make a positive impression while Andrew Billings, Kyle Peko, Vernon Butler and Tyler Lancaster compete for any remaining roster spot.
Jets at Giants (Aug. 25)
New York Jets' defensive line against New York Giants' offensive line
Edge rusher Carl Lawson was one of the splashy signings of the 2021 off-season moving to the Big Apple from Ohio's Queen City. After missing the entire 2021 season with a torn Achilles, it sounds like all systems go for the ex-Auburn Tiger in training camp. With first-round selection Jermaine Johnson on the other side and Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Solomon Thomas and Sheldon Rankins fortifying the middle, head coach Robert Saleh's team should be close to fielding the type of defensive line depth that he had in San Francisco.
Time has been the ally of former No. 4 overall selection Andrew Thomas. Following a rocky rookie campaign, Thomas has progressed and earned trust from the coaching staff. The Giants then sunk the No. 7 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft to solidify the right side with Evan Neal. The interior offensive line is still being shuffled with Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski, Shane Lemieux and Joshua Ezeudu. The offensive line depth has been impacted more than other positions on the roster with Nick Gates, Matt Peart on the PUP list and rookie Marcus McKethan on the Injured Reserve.