One of the most intriguing position battles for the New York Giants heading into the 2014 NFL season will be at center, where veteran J.D. Walton and rookie Weston Richburg will be trying to earn the job.
Will Walton, on the comeback trail following a serious leg injury, win the job? Will the rookie Richburg pass him by? We take a look at the competition.
The Giants chose not to chase more obvious -- and more expensive -- players like Alex Mack, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brian De La Puente on the free-agent market. Instead, they gambled on Walton, a player who has not taken a regular-season snap since the fourth game of the 2012 season when he suffered a disclocated ankle and broken fibula.
Walton, 27, had started 36 straight games for the Denver Broncos after being selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He appeared on his way to becoming a solid player and a fixture in Denver, but $2.5 million in guaranteed money seems like a lot for a player who has not seen the field in so long.
Walton's recovery was delayed last year by an infection that resulted in an additional surgery, but says he "back, ready to go." Walton said he was ready to play late last season, but he ended up being released by the Broncos and picked up the Washington Redskins.
"It was an injury that had me out for a long time, but I've got no doubts about it, no reservations," Walton said. "I'm not worried about it."
Walton also doesn't appear all that worried about the Giants' selection of Richburg with an early pick in the draft.
"Nothing wrong with competition. He's a good kid," Walton said. "Any team I'm on I'm gonna bust my butt."
Could Richburg become the second straight rookie offensive lineman to start beginning in Week 1 for the Giants?To join 2013 first-round pick Justin Pugh with that distinction Richburg is going to have to clearly beat Walton out for the center job.
"I don't know if anybody's pro-ready because the players are so much better and faster and stronger. I think there are some people that are more well-prepared than others," Richburg said this week. "I'm coming in, I'm going to work hard just like I did in college and treat it like I did then. I'm going to have to earn what I want to get."
After the draft, GM Jerry Reese called Richburg "a really good, athletic center" and said he was "an ideal pick" for the Giants.
Richburg, whose ability to move and pull is one of the things that attracted the Giants' attention, said he has been told he will also see some snaps at guard. That, of course, opens the possibility that Richburg could be used at guard if Chris Snee breaks down.
So, Who Starts?
Reese said after selecting Richburg that he expects the veteran and the rookie "to battle for that center position." Best guess right now is that Walton has the upper hand on starting Week 1. If he shows that he is back to full health his 36 prior NFL starts might give him the edge. That and the fact that you don't give guys two-year, $6-million contracts to ride the pine.
It is entirely possible that Richburg ends up -- at least initially -- as Plan B at both center and right guard, where a breakdown at some point in 2014 by Chris Snee would not be a surprise. If he doesn't win the center job outright, Richburg's presence on the roster could be worse news for James Brewer, John Jerry and Brandon Mosley -- other players with designs on backing up or replacing Snee -- than for Walton.