1. WR – Danario Alexander vs. Brandon Gibson vs. Steve Smith vs. Greg Salas. This group will fight for two or three spots. Rookies Bryan Quick and Chris Givens, taken in the second and fourth rounds, are virtual locks to play right away. Slot receiver Danny Amendola, recovered from his elbow injury, should reclaim the slot where he made 85 catches in 2010. Alexander’s knees haven’t allowed the big guy to stay on the field, and now Quick is poised to take his deep routes. Gibson and Smith are reliable but not explosive. Salas could benefit from the absence of Austin Pettis, who still has two games left on his banned substances suspension. Pettis is expected to stay on the reserved/suspended list, meaning a wideout who makes the team isn’t guaranteed a spot beyond Week 2.
2. LG – Bryan Mattison vs. Rokevious Watkins. The rest of the line appears set – LT Rodger Safford , C Scott Wells, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Jason Smith – so this battle will get a lot of attention. Mattison (6-3, 310) enters as the favorite; he started the last four games of 2011 at right guard. Watkins is a massive wildcard. Listed conservatively at 338 pounds, the 6-3 rookie says he enjoys nothing better than “grabbing a defensive lineman and slamming him on his neck.” Quinn Ojinnaka, Robert Turner and Tim Barnes also have a shot. “We're going to put a lot of guys in the mix and really let'em compete for that left guard spot," general manager Les Snead said.
3. OLB – Jo-Lonn Dunbar vs. Rocky McIntosh vs. Mario Haggan. Dunbar started 14 games for the Saints last year, making 79 tackles and forcing two fumbles. But he missed 13 tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Still, he got a two-year deal and figures to start. McIntosh, 29, and Haggan, 32, have major liabilities. McIntosh struggles to shed blocks and lost his starting job midway through last season in Washington. Haggan is strong against the run but can’t cover. All of which puts even more pressure on stud MLB James Laurinaitis.
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