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Patriots position battles

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Here's a look at two of the more significant position battles at Patriots camp:

Left cornerback: Fernando Bryant vs. Jason Webster vs. Terrence Wheatley vs. Jonathan Wilhite

Asante Samuel is gone, and he took his 16 interceptions over the past two years with him, creating a cavernous void on defense.

The Patriots tried to bandage Samuel's departure with three free agents (Bryant, Webster and Lewis Sanders) and two draft choices (second-rounder Wheatley and fourth-rounder Wilhite). Somebody will have to separate himself from the pack.

Bryant has the benefit of experience. He has dealt with injury problems in recent years but is coming off a complete season with Detroit. He's a reliable defender who will hold his own. Webster is a steady veteran when healthy, but he has managed a combined eight starts the past two seasons.

The rookies, though, might make a push. The quicksilver Wheatley could become an elite shutdown corner. Wilhite is more raw but enough of an athlete to be in the derby.

Ellis Hobbs, still recovering from shoulder and hernia surgeries, should return as the right cornerback, but that position also could be up for grabs.

Intensity Index: Hot

Backup quarterback: Matt Cassel vs. Matt Gutierrez vs. Kevin O'Connell

The Patriots are so loaded, the competition for second-string quarterback is one of their most significant.

But before you laugh, stop for a moment to consider what would happen if Brady were to hurt his ankle again. Who will be trusted to replace him?

Cassel is in the crosshairs. He is entering the final year of his four-year contract and hasn't engendered confidence from the coaching staff. Bill Belichick actually yanked him from a relief appearance against the Dolphins despite a huge fourth quarter lead.

Gutierrez is unknown outside of practices. He is entering his second season and should have a better grasp of the offense. If he doesn't unseat Cassel, he probably won't make the roster unless the Patriots decide to keep all four.

The safest reserve is O'Connell, drafted in the third round out of San Diego State. The selection was a shocker because nobody, especially Cassel and Gutierrez, thought the Patriots would feel the need to take a QB

Intensity Index: Hot