(Editor’s Note: This is the third of a 12-part series breaking down the battles and competitions at each spot and analyzing what to expect at each position entering training camp. The series continues with the guard position.)
What the front office and coaching staff has done over the last three drafts is show you that they are not afraid to take their first round selections and plug that player right in place to start. Tyron Smith, Morris Claiborne, Travis Frederick and now Zack Martin are all examples of this thought. When a front office takes this approach, there is usually a returning player that loses his job.
In 2013, Mackenzy Bernadeau went to training camp with plenty of questions of how well he did or did not play. In my observation of the 2012 season, I thought he was one of the most consistent linemen that they had on the squad but that didn’t stop the front office from bringing in Brian Waters to take his spot. Waters missed the first game against the Giants where Bernadeau and his line mates were on their game from the word “Go”. But still the switch was made in Kansas City and Bernadeau was reduced to a backup role. To his credit, he never got discouraged and it was after the Lions game where Waters was injured and lost for the season that Bernadeau returned to the starting lineup and played some of the best football of his career on that right side.
With the drafting of Martin, Bernadeau once again finds himself having to fight for a starting position but this time it’s on the left side with Ronald Leary, who did not play poorly in his own right when matched with Smith. If we go back and studied how the snaps were divided in the OTAs and minicamps, it wasn’t until the final six or seven practices where Bernadeau was playing his natural position on the right but also getting valuable snaps as the backup center. On the left, Leary was the starter, with Tyronne Green as serving as his backup. It wasn’t until those final practices that we saw Leary and Bernadeau swapping snaps. One practice, Leary would be the starter then the next day, Bernadeau would have the same opportunity.
While some might think the battle has now added a third player to the mix with the recent addition of veteran Uche Nwaneri, I don’t see it that way. Nwaneri might provide some depth but to me, it comes down to a battle between Bernadeau and Leary.
The biggest difference I see in the two players is that Leary plays with more power than Bernadeau but where he cannot match him is in that athletic ability. I believe that we will continue to see this alternating of snaps through training camp but I also feel that the front office and coaching staff will settle on the starter earlier than later in camp because if Bernadeau in fact is playing better than Leary, the idea is to give him as much work with Frederick and Smith to get them all on the same page before that San Francisco game in Week 1. In the end, the starter at this position will have earned this job by his play.