The Cowboys are currently engaged in voluntary Organized Team Activities and will have mandatory mini-camps in the coming weeks. Even though the real battles don’t start until the official Training Camp in Oxnard, CA, plenty of things can happen during these practices that help or hurt players’ positioning for roster spots and playing time.
Here is an overview of some of the clear competitions that exist on the Cowboys roster right now. This year just about every position has some intrigue:
How much will Dallas consider rookie Dak Prescott for the number-two spot? Right now it seems likely that Kellen Moore will retain his backup job while Prescott develops as a third QB. However, if Prescott can be a quick learner then it the Cowboys can certainly be motivated to let him assume the role and save a roster spot.
Darren McFadden is facing pressure from all sides. Obviously, Ezekiel Elliott has arrived to take the bulk of the carries. McFadden will be competing with veteran Alfred Morris for the backup role and has to worry about young prospects in Rod Smith and Darius Jackson behind him. Lance Dunbar won’t be back until sometime during the season but will have to hope there’s still an opening for him upon return.
Dallas didn’t bring back Tyler Clutts or add any true fullbacks in free agency or the draft. They instead appear to be trying to convert guys from other positions, such as running back Rod Smith or linebacker Keith Smith. In fact, Keith Smith is already listed as a fullback on the Cowboys official roster page. Every tight end not named Jason Witten could also be in consideration.
Terrance Williams and Brice Butler could be fighting for a starting job. Third-year player Devin Street will have to worry about undrafted rookies and other prospects who may show more upside. Lucky Whitehead will continue to push for an expanded offensive role, perhaps carving into some of the routes that Lance Dunbar and even Cole Beasley usually play.
James Hanna will be the number-two receiver by default with Gavin Escobar injured and will fight to keep that job when he returns. Depth chart competition will commence between Swaim, Traylor, and Rico Gathers as at least one and maybe two of them should earn roster spots.
I’ve heard recent talk that Chaz Green, once though to be getting moved to guard, could be back in the mix at tackle. Word is that Dallas will give him every opportunity to prove himself to at least take the swing tackle job for Charles Brown and maybe even challenge Doug Free as a starter. That seems a major leap of faith, but Green was drafted in the third round for a reason.
You’ve already seen that Ron Leary has requested a trade. Even if he stays, he and veteran free agent addition Joe Looney will co-exist as the backup on the interior line. If Leary does get moved, Dallas has a couple of young guards in Jared Smith and Boston Stiverson to compete. Looney is the backup center right now but undrafted rooke Jake Brendel is also in the mix.
This is a fun one! With DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory suspended you’ve got a bunch of guys all competing to actually be Week One starters. Free agent Benson Mayowa, rookie Charles Tapper, and veterans David Irving, Jack Crawford, and Ryan Russell are all in contention. Lawrence is sure to start when he gets back, but Gregory isn’t a sure thing. One of these guys may end up starting all 16 games.
The top three seem set with Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton, and third-round pick Maliek Collins. Terrell McClain is a favorite to stick around if he can actually stay healthy. He’ll be fighting off prospects Casey Walker and Rodney Coe, along with Jack Crawford and Irving as they have the ability to play inside.
The starting strongside job is open and any of Kyle Wilber, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, or Andrew Gachkar could take it. Even second-year player Mark Nzeocha, who was an injury redshirt most of last year, could be in the mix. Also up for grabs are primary backup roles all across the position. This will be a wide open and intriguing group to watch all summer.
Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will likely compete for a starting job, though both will get plenty of playing time regardless. Young players Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell will look to build on last year’s flashes and could be fighting for the same roster spot. Sixth-round picks aren’t guaranteed to make the roster but Dallas had a fourth-round grade on rookie Anthony Brown, so expect him to compete.
Byron Jones appears set as the starting free safety, though nothing’s been made official. Can J.J. Wilcox give Barry Church a fight for the other spot? If not, how will Wilcox stack up as a backup option and special teamer against Jeff Heath? Rookie Kavon Frazier, also graded in the fourth-round according to Stephen Jones, can’t be ignored either.
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You can be sure that we’ll be diving much deeper into the position battles as we get closer to Training Camp. For now, these are just some of the dynamics that the coaches are players are considering as they watch these guys in practice. The roster is ever churning, though, and one injury can change plenty.