This week's practices are crucial for fringe players attempting to make 53-man rosters. It's their last chance to impress before the third preseason game, which is treated by most teams as a serious regular-season dress rehearsal. If a healthy player sees no action in the third exhibition, he probably won't have a job come September 1.
That's the first date of NFL cuts. Each team will trim its roster from 80 to 75 two Tuesdays from now. Final cuts take place the following Saturday, September 5.
These are also key dates for players involved in position battles. While most of the names here aren't in danger of losing a roster spot, they're definitely trying to use practice and exhibition opportunities to gain separation on the depth chart. Ranked relative to importance, let's update 12 competitions.Editor's Note:
For the most up-to-date player rankings, profiles, projections, cheatsheets, and much, much more that will allow you to dominate your fantasy football league, check out the 2009 Rotoworld Football Draft Guide.Difference Making BattlesColts No. 1 Running Back
Joseph Addai vs. Donald BrownColts Current Depth Chart
It came mostly against Vikings backups, but Brown's five-carry, 58-yard effort in the preseason opener supported our expectation that he'll play early and often as a rookie. Last year's NCAA rushing leader took a small step back with 14 yards on four touches Thursday versus Philadelphia, but continued to display impressive wiggle and his trademark versatility. Still, the Colts never formally opened the position to competition and the starting job is clearly Addai's. He has a sturdy 39 total yards on five preseason touches and was in the game over Brown when the Colts were in scoring position on their first drive Thursday night. Most likely, the two will end up rotating series during the season like Addai used to with Dominic Rhodes
and Kenton Keith
. It's the role Addai is best suited for, and he maintains solid scoring potential in an explosive offense.Giants No. 1 Wide Receiver
Steve Smith vs. Domenik Hixon vs. Hakeem NicksGiants have not released a depth chart
Hixon has started both of the Giants' exhibitions at split end. In a pretty clear sign that he's not being pushed for his job, Hixon played sparingly Saturday. Nicks, who didn't enter until the third quarter of New York's opener, saw increased snaps at Chicago but has appeared sluggish in his routes. He has just two catches on the preseason, including a 55-yarder with 50 seconds left in Saturday's game. Mario Manningham
, the Giants' situational deep threat, has received far more playing time than the first-round pick and is firmly ahead of Nicks on the depth chart. While Smith is a serious candidate to lead New York in catches, Hixon is the Giants' best bet for big plays. Just be wary of a heavy rotation. With Ramses Barden
also involved and Derek Hagan
surprisingly coming on in practices, coordinator Kevin Gilbride has enough options to use a receiver by committee. In a run-first offense, that's not a formula for upside.Patriots No. 1 Running Back
Fred Taylor vs. Laurence Maroney vs. Sammy MorrisPatriots Current Depth Chart
The Pats still list Morris as their first-team back and gave him the most carries in the preseason opener, but don't read into it. He was held out Thursday night for undisclosed reasons, while Taylor started and generated 38 yards on eight touches. Maroney played the first snap in New England's first exhibition and has drawn praise from coach Bill Belichick for improvement in the passing game. The Pats are still holding out hope that Maroney can become a complete player. History suggests that's a long shot, but he remains the only Pats back we'd take a flier on. At least he's got upside. Taylor is 33 and likely won't play in passing or goal-line situations. Morris is 32 and may have to do more lead blocking because New England doesn't have a fullback on the roster. Kevin Faulk
is worth a late pick in PPR drafts, but like Taylor is 33 and not a preferred option in the red zone.Broncos No. 1 Running Back
Knowshon Moreno vs. Correll Buckhalter vs. Peyton HillisBroncos Current Depth Chart
The newcomer here, Hillis merits consideration because he's seen just as many first-team reps as the other contenders. Jordan is in the mix for goal-line carries, but is unlikely to start. The Broncos have stayed true to their depth chart and started Buckhalter in both of their preseason games, but the 31-year-old has just 19 yards on eight carries. Predictably, Moreno flashed the most promise with 18 yards on three carries in the opener before an MCL sprain ended his day. Still the heavy favorite to lead Denver backs in touches, Moreno should recover quickly and be 100 percent by Week 1. But keep an eye on Hillis, who quietly leads the backfield with 89 total yards on 16 preseason touches. Coach Josh McDaniels loves versatile players and will find a role for Hillis as long as he produces. Hillis could vulture goal-line scores.Chiefs No. 2 Wide Receiver
Mark Bradley vs. Devard Darling vs. Amani ToomerChiefs Current Depth ChartDwayne Bowe
is rapidly moving up since his third-string listing on the initial depth chart and is virtually certain to start at split end on opening day. He leads the Chiefs with eight preseason catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. But the flanker job remains wide open. It's a position of importance because the Chiefs will run an up-tempo, pass-first offense with a bounty of targets available. Bradley, the No. 39 pick in the 2005 draft, is the most talented option and has stayed healthy in practice, but was behind Darling on the initial depth chart. Toomer was also on the second team. After five years in the league, we know Darling isn't a starting-caliber player. Toomer, 35, is lucky to be on a roster. Keep track of this competition because coach Todd Haley's lineups are unpredictable, but cautiously look for Bradley to win before Week 1.