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Preseason Job Battles: Titanic Questions

Kenn Ruby

Kenn has been writing and editing for RotoWire since 2003. Though he attended Northwestern with the co-founders of RotoWire, he is not considered a made member of the RotoWire Northwestern mafia, as he can't trace back all of his ancestors to Dan Okrent.

Roy Williams is in danger of losing his starting job to the younger and more explosive Johnny Knox. When the Bears signed Williams to take Knox's job, Knox took it as a personal challenge to become more mature and spend more time preparing and studying the playbook, and his coaches have noticed the attitude change. Devin Hester should start at flanker and Earl Bennett at the slot, and the latter looks like he'll have plenty of value as Jay Cutler's go-to receiver.

Chan Gailey says he has two No. 1 running backs, but Fred Jackson has been told he's the starter over C.J. Spiller. Jackson sounds unconvinced. Regardless of their official titles, both backs should have decent value this year in a very strong timeshare.

Although Craig Davis, David Nelson and Donald Jones have returned to practice, they are fighting for a starting job that Marcus Easley may have won with a strong performance against Jacksonville on Saturday. Easley started and caught five passes (including a TD) for 51 yards. With Steve Johnson as the top guy and Roscoe Parrish in the slot, Davis, Nelson and Jones may be fighting for scraps now.

Greg Little and Brian Robiskie started the last game against the Eagles, but last year's starter Mohamed Massaquoi is finally back in practice and looks to secure a starting job. Surprisingly, Jordan Norwood has appeared to have the starting job in the slot, though he's dealing with a knee issue. Also on the mend: Josh Cribbs, who has a mild hamstring injury and sat out Thursday's preseason contest. It's still anyone's game.

Arrelious Benn played in his first game since tearing his ACL eight months ago, and though he had modest numbers, the mere fact he got on the field was noteworthy. He had been losing ground to Dezmon Briscoe, but as long as Benn can prove he's ready to go, he should be able to hold him off and start opposite Mike Williams.

Andre Roberts scored on a 34-yard run Saturday, but none of the candidates for the No. 2 receiving job did much receiving-wise, so Roberts still likely holds the job by default. Early Doucet, Stephen Williams and Chansi Stuckey might all get their chances, but none are very exciting fantasy prospects. That said, Roberts likely isn't either.

Ryan Mathews looks fine now, and his game Sunday included a 48-yard scamper. He's getting raves from his coaches, and, more important, he's also getting third-down looks, which is Mike Tolbert's domain. Tolbert will still have value as a third-down back, but Mathews is looking much better.

Colts management doesn't seem to think Peyton Manning will be ready, so it lured Kerry Collins out of retirement and expects him to start until Manning returns. Collins is one of those veterans who can just step in and perform, which is certainly more than you can say for the demoted Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. Painter may have saved his spot on the roster with a strong performance Friday night.

David Buehler's hip injury has opened up this battle to a number of contenders. Dan Bailey appears to be the frontrunner, though he's not so good on kickoffs and Buehler has already returned to practice. Kai Forbath and Shayne Graham are also in camp. The Cowboys should score a ton of points this year, so whoever wins the role could be a decent fantasy kicker.

Reggie Bush started the key third preseason game, and it's possible that the Dolphins have soured a little on Daniel Thomas as the primary ballcarrier, as Thomas has appeared too tentative during preseason. The Dolphins also employed former fantasy star Larry Johnson to back both up. Not that Johnson will crack the starting lineup anytime soon, but if he still has anything left in the tank, he may see more action than most third running backs.

David Garrard has been named the Week 1 starter, ending the Blake Gabbert insurrection about as soon as it began. Garrard is a decent veteran who won't hurt you, but Gabbert is a much better long-term play.

This job was heating up mid-week last week, with some rumors that starter Ryan Grant could get cut and the job would go to James Starks (with Alex Green as the more-than-capable backup). Grant, possibly feeling the pressure, restructured his contract to get guaranteed money though that doesn't guarantee he won't still get cut. Then Friday, the two backs combined for just 18 yards on seven carries (and six of those carries went to Grant). Even if Grant ultimately holds onto the job, his days in Green Bay may be numbered.

Steve Smith has one slot, and given the anemic Carolina offense, that might be all that you have to worry about. In the interest of those of us in 32-team leagues, we feel we must report on who will start opposite Smith. Right now, it looks like Legedu Naanee (he of the RotoWire squad in the aforementioned 32-team league) is battling Brandon LaFell for the role, but considering that the two combined for just one catch against the Bengals last Thursday, it's still really anybody's game, though both will probably be less involved in the offense than tight end Greg Olsen. Reports out of camp say LaFell has impressed his coaches, but Naanee wasn't bad for the Chargers last year, so he probably has a slight edge.

Jacoby Ford suited up for the third preseason game but didn't play. Meanwhile, unsung Derek Hagan had a nice 6-121-1 line and may have played himself into consideration. The Raiders still haven't revealed their starting receivers, but expect some combination of Ford, Louis Murphy, Denarious Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and even Hagan or Chaz Schilens to get mentioned as possibilities.

Danario Alexander looks like he may be on the outside looking in, and with Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Mardy Gilyard expected to make the team, it looks like it's between Donnie Avery and Brandon Gibson for a starting job opposite Mike Sims-Walker (with Danny Amendola in the slot). Throw in sleeper tight end Lance Kendricks and pass-catching running back Steven Jackson, and it's possible that a different Ram could lead the team in receiving every week.

Mike Shanahan won't commit to a starter until shortly before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener, and with good reason: the competition between John Beck and Rex Grossman has been very close. While it still looks like Beck will win the job, Grossman's experience could ultimately become a factor.

Shanahan staid there's a "strong likelihood" that Tim Hightower has won the starting job, which is bad news for Ryan Torain, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Still, if Hightower puts it on the ground in D.C. like he did in Arizona, there's definitely an opportunity for one or more of the challengers to step in.

Jabar Gaffney has moved ahead of Anthony Armstrong for the No. 2 job, and both are ahead of Leonard Hankerson. Armstrong could still have decent value as the slot receiver, but Washington doesn't appear to be such a strong passing offense that the third receiver would be worth drafting.

Both Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas scored on one-yarders in Sunday's preseason game, which, of course, tells us nothing. Few teams have more depth at running back than the Saints, who also boast Darren Sproles as a change-of-pace back and the dynamic Joique Bell as a fourth- or fifth-stringer. Chris Ivory is probably headed for the PUP list, which clears things up somewhat, but there's still no clarity atop the depth chart.

One of the eye-opening stars of the exhibition season has been wideout contender Antonio Brown, who caught two long touchdown passes Saturday night and finished with four catches for 137 yards. With Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders sitting out Saturday and Hines Ward getting a bit long in the tooth, Brown has just about locked up the No. 3 job and might be taking aim at Ward's No. 2 role. It wouldn't surprise to see him outperform Ward this season.

With Arian Foster aggravating a hamstring injury, the pecking order in Houston is pretty important these days. Right now, Derrick Ward, who scored Saturday, is the top backup, with Ben Tate as the No. 3 and Steve Slaton a distant fourth (if he even makes the team). It sounds like Foster's hamstring injury is minor for now, but if it lingers, Ward could be a great sleeper in a strong offense.

There is still no real progress on Chris Johnson's holdout, and though the Titans may cave, they may have to look elsewhere for a feature back early in the year. Javon Ringer has missed the last two preseason games with a hip injury, and he'll probably miss the finale as well, but he's still hanging onto the No. 2 job despite the emergence of Jamie Harper. Still, if the Titans go into the season without Johnson, they're far more likely to find a veteran running back elsewhere than to hand the ball to Ringer and Harper.