NFL training camp battles 2.0: Baker Mayfield, Geno Smith, and Mitchell Trubisky taking control of competitions

The latest in the QB training camp battles around the league, including what the Seahawks are doing with Geno Smith and Drew Lock.

The NFL offseason was defined by huge changes to the quarterback landscape as Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield were all traded. In the wake of all of those seismic changes, that leaves some unresolved QB situations across the league. Here’s a look at where several active quarterback battles stand early in training camp.

QB battles in training camp

Atlanta Falcons: Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder

Marcus Mariota is assuming control of the Atlanta Falcons’ offense and winning the competition over rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder. Mariota, who has a background with Falcons coach Arthur Smith from his time with the Tennessee Titans, is building on a strong start to training camp as the replacement for Matt Ryan.

Mariota is emphasizing a positive style of leadership in his bid to be the starter.

“I really believe in constant communication and, at the same time, I think it’s just a little bit of encouragement,” Mariota told reporters. “Sometimes guys get a little down if they’re not getting the ball. I think they understand that it is a competition, but if you put out great routes and you practice hard, that’s all that we’re asking from you.”

How are teammates responding to Mariota? They’re embracing his approach.

“Offensively, he runs everything. He’s in charge of everything,” star tight end Kyle Pitts said. “So, if he sees us slacking a little bit, he’s going to pick us back up. He wants consistency and improvement on a daily basis. He’s a mixture of being vocal and leading by example. He sets the tone and everybody picks up on that.”

Carolina Panthers: Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold

Baker Mayfield is the clear frontrunner to win the starting job. He’s been clearly outperforming Sam Darnold in what’s still being characterized as an open competition.

But nonetheless, Mayfield — a former No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Browns and Heisman Trophy winner — has been dominant, by all accounts, compared to Darnold, a failed former New York Jets first-round draft pick from USC.

Mayfield continues to outperform Darnold, and he’s been growing on offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.

“Up until this point, when you walked in the room, you didn’t know if it was going to be a cold, dark room or what kind of room is going to be,” McAdoo said. “But it’s certainly not. It’s a room where these guys are open, and they have conversations and help each other out. They encourage each other. It has been really good to see. They’ve been pros. That’s what you want.”

What’s the timetable on naming a starter?

It’s likely to happen after the second preseason game. But although Mayfield is taking charge of the offense, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Darnold is headed out of town.

Not surprisingly, a league source reiterated that Darnold is not being made available via a potential trade.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph

Mitchell Trubisky is the guy in Pittsburgh. Basically. Unless he falters. That’s the qualifier from Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Signed by the Steelers this spring after one year backing up Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Trubisky would be Pittsburgh’s starter, per Tomlin, if the season started today. How long Trubisky holds onto the job ahead of rookie Kenny Pickett, a first-round draft pick from Pitt, remains undetermined.

Although Trubisky has had his struggles at camp — especially in red-zone drills — his performance is on the uptick. And he’s expected to remain ahead of Pickett and Mason Rudolph on the depth chart.

“We’re not going to micromanage or overmanage this quarterback competition,” Tomlin told reporters at the start of practice. “The depth chart will not rest on every throw. I know that you guys will want to ask me every day and every throw, but we’re going to be a little bit more steady than that.

“I think it’s important from a leadership perspective to not overmanage it, to not be too impulsive, so that’s what I’ve relayed to those guys, and our actions will continue to display that mindset.”

None of this sounds particularly encouraging. As Bill Parcells and many others around the NFL like to say, it is what it is.

Seattle Seahawks: Geno Smith and Drew Lock

The Seattle Seahawks plan to start Geno Smith in their preseason opener, a potential precursor to eventually naming him the starter when games actually count. The Seahawks open the season on Sept. 12 against the Denver Broncos and former Seattle star quarterback Russell Wilson.

When will they name a starter after having Smith take the majority of the first-string snaps in training camp?

“Uh, Denver,” offensive coordinator Shane Waldron told reporters. “Yes, we do have a plan, though.”

Drew Lock, the backup to Smith who was unloaded by Denver as part of the Wilson trade, outperformed Smith in a mock game. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll overtake him.

“They both make plays every day,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I’m watching to see how it swings, if it goes heavy one way, heavy the other way. The guys are doing a nice job … Geno continues to be on top. He’s ahead. He’s been in the lead for all the obvious reasons, and he’s holding onto it and doing a really good job of battling.”

A demerit against Lock: a “bone-headed” throw, in Carroll’s estimation, during a practice session. Smith has three interceptions in full-team drills. Lock has one.

What is making Smith the leader? It sounds like his knowledge of the system and protections and comfort level with the coaching staff.

“He’s just doing things right,” Carroll said. “He handles the system, he’s making the checks at the line of scrimmage, he’s able to control the protections. Those guys are hitting it really well. And he’s just really talented. He’s made great throws every day. I’m still looking for them to really come in, and really own it, and put days together where they don’t have any negative plays, any plays that they could wish they had back.”

Smith hasn’t been a regular starter since 2014 when he played for the New York Jets. He has a strong arm and can run, but he’s never been consistent, thus, why he’s been a career backup. Lock, meanwhile, has a reputation for being erratic, but he’s improved his dedication and work ethic over the past two years.

Bottom line: Neither option seems great for the Seahawks, who are expected to lean heavily on their running game tandem of Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III.

What if the San Francisco 49ers ultimately cut Jimmy Garoppolo or get someone, perhaps the Seahawks, to engage in trade discussions? Once he’s fully healthy and sheds the rust he’s accumulated, Garoppolo sounds like a much better option for Seattle than Smith or Lock.

In that sense, nothing has changed here. So, smell the Starbucks, Seahawks. Make the call.

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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