When you think about training camp battles, which ones are your favorites?
It's going to be a ton of fun to watch Sean Lee chase down Ezekiel Elliott all over the field in Oxnard next week. Lee's ability to navigate coverage combined with Zeke's innate feel for the play will set up a beautiful chess match between the pro bowl linebacker and rookie prodigy.
The usual offensive and defensive line match-ups will certainly have their share of moments, and may even help people reminisce about Tyron Smith's early days against DeMarcus Ware.
All of these battles are well and good, and will certainly make headlines throughout August, but I had another thought, and perhaps, one a little more fun.
A football team is a brotherhood
Just ask Denzel Washington (Remember The Titans, anyone?). When you walk out onto the field, if you have the same jersey on as another player, you protect each other, and do everything you can to beat the guy wearing a different color. But, in August, during training camp, long before those bonds are created, a few guys aren't quite in that mindset yet.
Just ask Tony Romo, Cole Beasley, Barry Church, Lance Dunbar, or Lucky Whitehead. Among other things, this small fraternity of players have something in common: all of their backs were up against a wall when they first walked out onto the field in California. But they scratched, and clawed, and made the team.
Having said that, them making the squad meant something else: another guy was sent home.
So I thought to myself, who could be those guys this year? More specifically, which battles on this team could result in only one of the two players making the squad? Which gauntlets will be so heated, that one guy can send another packing? Listed below are three match-ups that could end up being for the 53rd spot on the team.
J.J. Wilcox vs Geoff Swaim
It's no secret that several members of Cowboys Nation have been upset by the play of J.J. Wilcox since he was drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He was dethroned from his seat at free safety halfway through last season by a budding star in Byron Jones. Since then, many people feel that his better fit could be more of a box strong safety type player.
Having said that, there are some who feel that his spot on the team isn't so sure heading into camp this year. Because of his delegation to second team, we'll be seeing him have to guard Geoff Swaim, a second/third team tight end, a lot this August.
Swaim, if you'll recall, had an all-but-stellar preseason last year, making a name for himself as Jameill Showers' favorite target. However, this front office used their last pick in this year's draft on a talented project player in Rico Gathers, who will get snaps at tight end.
Swaim was initially brought in as a blocking tight end, but showed the ability to regularly haul in passes last preseason. He's going to need to show the ability to get open against man coverage and continue to be a reliable pass catcher. Wilcox hasn't shown the consistency that you look for out of a third round pick. He's going to need to carry Swaim on several different route combinations and work to make up for the four-inch height gap.
One of Wilcox's best attributes is his physicality and willingness to hit. While this might work against softer tight ends, it may have less impact against Swaim, who showed last season that he's not afraid to catch passes over the middle in the face of danger.
One of #87's better highlights was against San Francisco on a deep 25-yard seam pass. Right as he went for the catch, he got nailed in the back by the lurking safety. Still, the tight end out of Texas caught the ball, and gained the first down.
Swaim won't beat you with his athleticism, but neither will Jason Witten.
I honestly believe that both players will make this team, but I'm starting to think that Swaim may be more valuable, especially if Kavon Frazier, who the Cowboys had a fourth round grade on, can show cover abilities.
This team is one injury away from our 3rd string tight end getting starting time, because of the offensive formations we like to run. Therefore, if I had to choose one, I'm giving Swaim the edge here. It's not often you see a third round pick get cut before his rookie contract expires, but if he gets outplayed, it could happen.
Deji Olatoye vs Lucky Whitehead
Just a friendly reminder that Jeff Heath was the team leader in interceptions last season with a whopping two. He was followed closely by a few guys with one pick, but none of whom were an intended starting cornerback. I phrase it that way on purpose, because we did have one corner in particular to get his mitts on a pass: Deji Olatoye.
Remember Deji? The 25-year-old, 6'1" corner we signed in the middle of last season? Well, he's one of only two cornerbacks last season to tally an interception. The other, Terrance Mitchell, is no longer a Cowboy.
Well, going into his second season with the Cowboys, I wouldn't say Deji necessarily faces an uphill battle, and I'll tell you why. Our top 3 corners are set: Orlando Scandrick, Mo Claiborne, and Brandon Carr. After them, the depth chart is far from set. We generally go into the NFL season with 4-5 corners. That leaves two potential spots for Deji to make his mark.
In my opinion, his only real competition are Josh Thomas and 2016 sixth round pick Anthony Brown.
At this time last year, Lucky Whitehead had already started to become a fan favorite, due some in part to his dread-headed resemblance to the then-recently departed Dwayne Harris. Going into camp this year, the wide receiver depth chart, after the top three (arguably four), is far from set.
If the Cowboys opt to keep only five wide outs (and Brice Butler makes it), that only leaves one spot for Whitehead, Devin Street, and all other undrafted guys, including Andy Jones out of Jacksonville, who is making noise of his own.
So here we go.
Undrafted vs undrafted.
Wide receiver vs cornerback.
Good old fashion mano a mano.
Yes, Lucky lines up as a slot weapon, and Deji primarily sees action outside the numbers. But, to make the team, Lucky is going to have to prove himself as a full-time receiver, and not just a gadget player/kick returner. That begins on the practice field in the one-on-one match-ups against the defensive backs, including Olatoye.
Listed on the team's website at 5'9", 180 pounds, Lucky certainly has the disadvantage entering the battle, as Deji walks in at 6'1", 194 pounds. That's a 4 inch, 14 pound difference. The problem is, Deji represents the body type of what many team's currently employ in this league. Ever since Richard Sherman came onto the scene, teams love bigger corners. Because of this, Lucky's going to have to show early and often in camp that he's able to take on bigger defensive backs.
With the crowded queue ahead of Lucky, and his lacking physical stature (even with his added muscle), I'm just not sure he'll be able to consistently beat Olatoye on the field to prove he is a better option than other wide receivers on the team. Thus, I'm taking Deji in this bout.
Ryan Russell vs Charles Brown
When former second round pick Charles Brown was brought in by this front office last season, he was seen as nothing more than a simple plug-and-play offensive tackle in the event of an emergency. Now, heading into his first training camp in Oxnard, due to Chaz Green's stunted growth, Brown is considered to be right in the thick of things to make the squad as our swing tackle.
One has to wonder, though, if Chaz Green does step up his game, and we don't trade Ronald Leary, would this team really consider carrying nine offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Chaz Green, Charles Brown, Joe Looney, Ron Leary)?
Switching things over to the other side of ball, Ryan Russell certainly had a less than fantastic rookie year, as he didn't tally a single tackle or sack. However, if you'll recall, in Demarcus Lawrence's absence, he was receiving first team defensive end snaps in competition with David Irving during mini-camp.
Given the perceived lack of pass rush ability on this team, you have to think this front office would rather go deep at the defensive end position than offensive line. There's a reason why Charles Brown hasn't caught on to a team. His play is inconsistent, and he's never lived up to his second round status.
I've heard rumblings that Russell has made strides and I look for him to handle Charles Brown in their one-on-one match-ups. Thus, if the 53rd spot comes down to these two, I don't think the coaching staff would be too heartbroken to send Brown home.
That would still leave us with three solid backup offensive lineman, as long as we don't get rid of Ron Leary.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on these match-ups and who you think would take the final spot. Or, if you have another battle in mind, it would be great to hear that as well. Either way, I think we're all ready to finally see some hitting! Happy training camp season!
Cowboys 2018 Preview: Which Offensive Starting Jobs Are Open?
We're still about a month away from the start of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Training Camp. However, even now, we have a good sense of what starting jobs are open and which ones have already been decided for the upcoming season.
Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that appear to already set. Barring injuries or some other unpredictable occurrence, here are the guys who you can bet on starting this season:
- QB - Dak Prescott
- RB - Ezekiel Elliott
- FB - Jamize Olawale
- WR - Allen Hurns
- OT - Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- G - Zack Martin
- C - Travis Frederick
Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.
For example, Allen Hurns may be the team's highest-paid receiver and the assumed replacement to Dez Bryant. But he's still brand new to this team, so chemistry with Dak Prescott and system familiarity make him a little risky early one.
La'el Collins will be a starter, but are we sure it's at right tackle? If nobody impresses at left guard, Dallas could still elect to move Collins back inside and start veteran Cam Fleming at tackle.
Still, these aren't likely. So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 12 players who are safe bets to start. What about the other 10 spots? What's are the possibilities and probabilities there?
Today, we'll focus on the offense.
Given his previous success and chemistry with Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley could seem an easy bet for the WR2 position. But there are several factors to consider.
Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is more of an all-around receiver and his play already in OTAs and minicamp has impressed. He also gives the Cowboys a young WR to form a new trio with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; an offensive nucleus they would hope to build on for years to come.
If Gallup keeps excelling, Dallas won't hesitate to give him a starting job. Beasley is a free agent next year and the rookie is locked up for four seasons.
There's also Terrance Williams to consider, all of his recent personal shenanigans aside. He offers system familiarity and exceptional run blocking, which is good for a starting role. You want Williams on the field when the ball is going to Ezekiel Elliott on early downs.
This speaks to the reality that being the starter may not necessarily lead to getting the most targets. Beasley could be the slot receiver and still easily get more passes than the WR2 by the end of the season.
The good news is that the Cowboys have options, which should also mean depth once things shake out.
Arguably the most wide open position on the whole roster, tight end is a massive crater in the offense with the impact of Jason Witten's retirement. Who will fill the void?
While veteran Geoff Swaim is getting the early deference, he's hardly locked in as the starter. Swaim's nine career catches give him hardly any cache over rookie Dalton Schultz or prospects Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.
It truly is a four-man race for the starting role, which makes things fun but also tense for the next two months. The reality that none of these guys will likely be able to perform on Jason Witten's level is also scary.
Thankfully, though, they may not have to. Dallas appears to be moving to more of a spread offense better suited to Dak Prescott's style, which may reduce the expectations of the TE position from the last 15 years of Witten.
As we mentioned before with Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim is a proficient run blocker. Couple that with his experience and he's the best bet to start, but we could see a steady rotation throughout the year as Dallas tried to figure out which guy is best suited for the long term.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will get the first crack at being the new starter at left guard, but rookies rarely have a guarantee when it comes to any first-year role. Throw in that he'll be transitioning from tackle to guard, and Connor has some clear question marks.
As mentioned already, Dallas could decide to flip La'el Collins back to LG and start someone else at right tackle. Ironically, that could also be Connor Williams. The Cowboys might decide that the rookie is better at his college position. It could also be the aforementioned Cam Fleming.
Also competing for the job at guard will be veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin. Both have position flex as centers or guards, meaning one could start and the other could be your top interior reserve. That versatility is nice for them and for the Cowboys, allowing the best man to win.
Chaz Green is also still hanging around, and surprisingly got first-team reps ecently when Zack Martin was missing camp. The Cowboys have invested a lot in Green and are understandably desperate to still get something for their trouble. He may get more of a chance to compete here than we'd have guessed.
But still, this should be Connor Williams' job to lose. A second-round pick is no small thing, especially for a guy expected to play interior line. Those picks are made with the goal of finding a starter, and Williams will get every chance to prove if he can handle it or not.
~ ~ ~
As you can see, there's going to be some real turnover in the Cowboys offense this year. But this is only half the roster, and there's even more opportunity on the other side of the ball.
Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the open starting jobs on defense.
Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco
When the Dallas Cowboys opened their world-class headquarters in Frisco, affectionately named The Star, the possibilities were endless for the franchise that embraces football being bigger than life in a state where that's certainly the case.
Not only have the Cowboys hosted more football than ever with AT&T Stadium serving as their home and the Ford Center at The Star being a shared practice space with local high schools, but they became the first team to host the NFL Draft from their stadium in April.
Just as the draft has become a spectacle for fans and media alike, the all-important Scouting Combine that leads up to the draft each year is a fully televised event now. Held in Indianapolis since 1987, the Cowboys will have to prove they're well prepared to handle the burden of a Scouting Combine while disrupting the continuity that Lucas Oil Stadium has provided.
The biggest advantage that Indianapolis has held through years of the Combine's development is their stadium's proximity to local hospitals. Any scout or draft analyst will tell you that the most important thing draft prospects go through during the Combine is their medical checks, something they can now do at The Star without setback.
Across the street from The Star is now the Baylor, Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research center, a brand new medical facility that spans 300,000 square feet. The Cowboys will even have their time to work out the kinks of potentially hosting the Combine, with Indianapolis still under contract to host the event through 2020.
The Combine also serves as a key point in the NFL offseason where executives and coaches from every team are together, often leading to trade talks that impact the following draft. Imagination can run wild with the Cowboys hosting the Combine on campus at The Star, and rival head coaches meeting in a Sushi Marquee, Cow Tipping Creamery, or Luxe Eyewear.
These are merely three of the hundreds of auxiliary features in place at The Star, ready to take the Combine to the next level, as Dallas already did with this year's NFL Draft.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and Left Guard Connor Williams became the first players to be drafted in the stadium they'll call home. Within a few years, prospects fortunate enough to get the call from America's Team may feel an even deeper connection to the Cowboys, going through their job interview that is the Combine at the team's headquarters.
Jerry Jones has stated that The Star was never designed with the thought of hosting a Combine in mind, but this does not mean preparations will not take place for the Cowboys to be ready following two more years in Indianapolis.
How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?
Every year, NFL Network releases a "Top 100" list of all the players in the league. What's special about this list is that the voters are actually fellow NFL players. We have tons of rankings from analysts and scouts all year long, so it's fun to see what the persons who actually put on shoulders and helmets week after week have to say about their peers.
However, that's precisely what makes it very controversial among fans. Year after year, we see players getting underrated and players getting ranked way ahead than they should.
Take Dak Prescott in 2017, for example. The young quarterback put on a show as a fourth-round rookie that no one could have expected from him. As impressive as he was, it's hard to defend him being ranked as the fourteenth best player in the NFL, which is how he was ranked in the NFL 100 last year.
This Monday, the 2018 Top 10 will be announced on NFL Network at 7 PM CT, but no Cowboys' name will be mentioned.
So, without getting frustrated about this year's results, let's take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys fared this time around.
#71: RG Zack Martin
2017 Ranking: #58.
I'm pretty sure that Zack Martin doesn't even care about the NFL 100 list, especially after he became the highest-paid guard in NFL history just days ago. For the Cowboys, even with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the same offensive line, Zack Martin might be the best lineman on the roster. At the very least, there's an argument to be made.
It's not very surprising to see Martin all the way at #71. Offensive guard is a very overlooked position by many, so it does make a tiny bit of sense for him to be ranked where he is.
What is surprising though, is the fact that Pittsburgh Steeler David DeCastro is ranked at #44. Both players are great guards, but Martin is widely acknowledged as the best at his position. Maybe playoff success came into account?
#54: RB Ezekiel Elliott
2017 Ranking: 7.
Ezekiel Elliott stumbled quite a bit this year, which is completely understandable. First of all, the 2016 season was electric. The narrative of two rookies taking the league by storm and earning the #1 seed in the NFC was unique.
Things changed for the superstar running back in 2017, though. Elliott had to deal with tons of off-field drama while fighting a six-game suspension that ended up being upheld and Zeke had to miss some time.
This is undoubtedly what made Elliott, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL, fall all the way out of the top 50. Despite having had pretty good years, I can assure you that Kareem Hunt (ranked at 33) and Mark Ingram (43) are not even in the same tier as Zeke.
#39: LT Tyron Smith
2017 Ranking: 18.
I'm not going to lie, I'm not complaining about this one. Just like the rest of the offensive linemen, Tyron may be undervalued here. However, he is the best tackle on the list, so it's certainly tough to be mad about this.
Besides, don't forget Tyron didn't play the entire season after being out for three games. Not saying that makes him a worse player or anything, but it helps make sense of his spot on the list.
With former Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas enjoying retirement, it's easier to see Smith as the clear-cut best tackle in the NFL today. He's a beast. If he finds a way to play 16 games next season, I'm sure he will climb the rankings in 2019.
#34: DE DeMarcus Lawrence
2017 Ranking: Unranked.
Last but not least is the Cowboys' breakout player of the year. Lawrence finally proved his worth getting to the opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times on the year. Not to mention, his game against the run was pretty remarkable and he helped take the defense to another level.
This was the first season in D-Law's career in which he remained completely healthy all along and it showed on the field. Thanks to his performance, the team handed him the franchise tag and hopefully he'll get a big, juicy contract once he continues dominating this year.
Six defensive ends were ranked ahead of him, so we will have to wait and see if he keeps it up in 2018 after being named a second team All-Pro in 2017.
The Snub: C Travis Frederick
The one thing that is outrageous from this year's list is the absence of Travis Frederick. I understand there aren't any other centers on the list, but they should at least include the best at his position, right?
Frederick is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players on the Cowboys' roster and a player that through five years in the league, has been to the Pro Bowl four times. One of the NFL's finest, he definitely deserves to be on that list.
But hey, as previously mentioned, this list is meant to be fun. It's cool to hear what the players (teammates and rivals) have to say about one another during this series. Instead of taking it as an official ranking or anything of the sort, it's better to see it as a fun piece of content by NFL Network.
Let me know what your thoughts on these rankings are on the comments section below or tweet me @PepoR99 to talk some football!
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