Competition may breed excellence, but it may also show a lack thereof.
Our very own Roy Anderson produced a great piece a couple of weeks ago delving into the “locked-in” starting positions for the New Orleans Saints. To summarize: the only positions featuring safe starters for the Saints entering camp are quarterback, WR1, left defensive end, and center. That’s only 4 out of the 22 starting spots guaranteed.
What does that say about the team? Nearly four-fifths of the starting slots have not been filled. Only a few have some great leads heading into camp. Many would say this situation is not ideal. The argument can be made that most of the great teams in NFL history usually came into camp with a good idea of who their starters were. Consistency is bred, leading to an increase in chemistry and execution.
But you can also look at camp competition of the start of the talent-breeding process. Encouraging players to compete for spots helps most bring out their best game. Let’s take a look at the cons and pros of camp competition.
The New England Patriots typically enter camp knowing who will start for them in most positions. Tom Brady starts at QB, their most consistent WR (has been Julian Edelman for years now) starts as the number one guy, Rob Gronkowski will play 90% of downs when he’s healthy, and so on. There’s some competition, but not nearly as much as the Saints are about to experience.
It’s especially worrisome considering how poor the Saints’ defense has been. Jordan and Breaux are the only guaranteed starters on that side of the ball, meaning the defense still has a huge chance to underperform. There are new faces on the team who aren’t great enough to ensure that they will start right away.
Let’s say there is no clear-cut, best starter for every position. Chances are, that’s going to happen with camp competition. Some positions may be too close to call, or the best player might not perform top-notch in camp. Coaches may not see the best player right away due to lack of performance, so the spot that should go to the starter goes to the player who isn’t actually starter material. This puts the team in jeopardy of having a mediocre team to start the season off.
The Patriots may come into camp with a plethora of starters already known, but that didn’t happen overnight. The team, like many other great ones, went through years of figuring out which players fit their system the best. The Saints could go through that exact same scenario: having players compete to figure out who will carry the starting torch for this season and many in the future.
As said, competition can certainly breed excellence. One man competing against another, or multiple others, almost always summons his most impressive play. This could result in an immediate upgrade for the Saints on both sides of the ball. Better play early due to spots that are up for grabs leads to the best possible roster New Orleans could have.
Even if the “best” starter isn’t selected right away, preseason games will show every player’s true colors. The coaching staff will be able to adjust accordingly (hopefully) if situations like that occur.
Taking in everything into account, it seems like camp competition will benefit the Saints this season. The most important positions (QB, RB, WR1, Edge, CB, K, P) look to be locked up already. That takes care of vital business early. The rest of the spots will have to be earned. Sean Payton is no stranger to making tough decisions regarding who his best players are.