The Sports Xchange

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

AFC Battles of Week: Trench warfare gets a nod

With NFL training camps entering their final phase, the incessant hype surrounding quarterbacks and other big name players is being trumped by struggles for survival in the sizzling heat of August.

A survey by Sports Xchange reporters covering every AFC team shows that most camps are now featuring lesser-known names just trying to maintain their honorable anonymity as a first- or second-team offensive lineman in their brutal, but often overlooked trench wars.

Even the New England Patriots seem more curious about who will handle the ball on every snap even before quarterback Tom Brady does his thing. Ryan Wendell, the starting center for two years, is being challenged by Dan Connolly for the honor of having Brady's hands on his butt.

Ditto in Indianapolis, where starting center Khalid Holmes is sidelined, leaving two undrafted rookies -- Jonothan Harrison and FN Lutz -- fighting recently re-signed Thomas Austin for the chance to snap the ball to quarterback Andrew Luck.

Of course, the New York Jets wouldn't be the New York Jets without a big-name quarterback controversy, and regardless of the team's party line to the contrary, Geno Smith is only a couple of ill-timed hiccups away from being replaced by the talented Michael Vick.

Here is a closer look at AFC Battles of the Week from Sports Xchange reporters covering each team (teams listed alphabetically within each division):

BUFFALO BILLS

--BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Strong safety -- Da'Norris Searcy vs. Duke Williams.

Searcy is No. 1 on the depth chart, but Williams is giving him a strong run for the starting job. Searcy started the first preseason game against the Giants, and then had a personal situation that forced him to leave camp for a couple days prior to the game against Carolina. Thus, Williams was given the start against the Panthers. Both players have made plays. Searcy made an interception and a tackle for loss against Carolina, while Williams had a crunching hit in run support. Against the Giants, Williams was in on three tackles and Searcy two.

"When we feel that we have players that can play, we'll rotate them around and I don't want to get into reps," said coach Doug Marrone. "We may be looking at different things, but right now Da'Norris is the starting safety."

MIAMI DOLPHINS

--BATTLE OF THE WEEK: PR/KOR -- Marcus Thigpen vs. Jarvis Landry.

This could be a crucial battle for Thigpen because he probably won't make the roster solely as a wide receiver.

In Friday's game at Atlanta, Thigpen, the veteran who has held the return job for Miami for the last two seasons, had two punt returns for 41 yards and one kickoff return for 31 yards. Landry, the rookie second-round pick from LSU, had one punt return for 48 yards and one kickoff return for 26 yards. Landry will make the team as a wide receiver. Thigpen needs to make the team as a wide receiver/return man, and if Landry can handle that job, Thigpen is in trouble.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Center -- Dan Connolly vs. Ryan Wendell.