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Cowboys 2018 Preview: Which Defensive Starting Jobs Are Open?

Jess Haynie

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3 Reasons Why Jaylon Smith Will be Even Better in 2018

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:

DEFENSE

Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.

Jaylon Smith will start if he's healthy through training camp and preseason, but how big is that "if?" Until we see just how well his recovery has gone, there's always room for concern.

At cornerback, Awuzie appears to have a starting job locked up but he's still just a second-year player. The trio of Chido, Byron Jones, and Jourdan Lewis will all contend for those two starting spots. Even Anthony Brown could be in the mix.

There's room for change at any position, but these four players appear firmly entrenched in their starting roles on defense.

What about the other seven spots?

Taco Charlton, Rams

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton

Defensive End

While franchise-tagged DeMarcus Lawrence has one side of the line locked down, the other starting position is wide open. This year there are several guys competing for the job.

Taco Charlton enters his second year after being the first-round pick in 2017. He started to come on late last season and has reportedly been solid so far in practices. Every team wants their draft picks to excel, especially the Thursday night guys, so Dallas is probably rooting for Taco to earn the starting role.

If it's not Taco, veteran Kony Ealy may be the next man up. Dallas has liked Ealy since the 2014 draft and even tried to claim him off waivers last year, but got blocked by the Jets. The Cowboys clearly think Kony will be more effective in their scheme than the 3-4 defense he played in New York last year. He's still just 26, and hopefully with more upside to be unlocked.

The best story would be if Randy Gregory can become a defensive star after winning his personal battles and being reinstated to the NFL. Gregory was one of the most dynamic talents of the 2015 draft class but dropped due to the personal red flags, which were obviously proved true early on. But if Randy still has that talent, the duo he could form with Lawrence could be lethal for opposing quarterbacks.

There are other prospects like Dorance Armstrong and Charles Tapper, but the starting job is likely to go to one of the three we've mentioned. Even Gregory may be used more as a situational pass rusher than typical starter.

The truth is that any position in a Rod Marinelli defensive line is subject to heavy rotation, making starting positions less important. The guy with the most snaps may not have been a starter.

The same goes for our next position.

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DT Tyrone Crawford

Defensive Tackle

For at least the first four weeks, we know David Irving won't be starting as he's been suspended for using banned substances. While his freakish potential will be missed, there are plenty of other guys who the Cowboys can turn to.

Veteran Tyrone Crawford has moved between end and tackle a lot the last few years, but 2018 may see him more at his original position. The Cowboys once thought he would be a breakout star as a DT in the Cover 2 scheme, and payed him accordingly. We could see Tyrone used most in that role during Irving's suspension, and hopefully it will suit him well.

Maliek Collins may get to move back to the 3-technique spot he played as a rookie, where he was far more effective than as the 1-tech DT last year. Still, Collins could start at either spot and that gives him tremendous value.

If Dallas wants to get Maliek back to 3-tech, it means finding a new 1-tech out of Richard Ash, Brian Price, or Jihad Ward. Ash and Price both played it at times last year and have flashed good things despite limited experience.

Ward, a former second-round pick, was acquired in a trade for WR Ryan Switzer and has been standing out in the recent OTAs and minicamp. At 6'5", Ward has the frame to add weight and could wind up as the 1-tech by Week One. He also has the athleticism to play the spot, giving Dallas lots of options even without David Irving.

Clearly, nothing is certain at defensive tackle. Even with Irving, we were going to a lot of rotation and variation in the use of players. But right now there are no guarantees how any of these DTs will be deployed, and who will get the starts, in the regular season.

Is 2018 LB Sean Lee's Last Season with Cowboys?

Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch

Linebacker

Dallas spent a first-round pick on LB Leighton Vander Esch, adding an important new element to the group. But will the rookie immediately earn a starting role?

The current projection for the base defense is that Vander Esch will start in the middle with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith outside. That pushes fourth-year veteran Damien Wilson to the bench.

That works if Leighton is ready for all that comes with being the MIKE, but is that reasonable to expect from any rookie?

As we saw for years from Sean Lee, that middle linebacker's ability to read what's going on behind the line of scrimmage and make adjustments is critical. Will Vander Esch be able to provide that kind of leadership early on?

Dallas may elect to start Jaylon Smith in the middle, and keep Wilson as the starting SAM, while Vander Esch gets work in over time.

Sean Lee should have WILL locked down, but everything else in the LB group is open for discussion.

Byron Jones, #31

Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones

Cornerback

It would have been easy to assume second-year studs Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis would walk into starting jobs this year. But then Dallas decided to move Byron Jones back to corner, and make a change in the Defensive Backs Coach, that brings things more into question.

Kris Richard comes over from Seattle with his preference for big, physical corners. That, plus more overall NFL experience, gives Jones some advantages over Lewis for the starting role.

Even if Awuzie moves into the slot when three CBs are used, he is expected to start in the base defense. In truth, all three guys will get starts at times depending on what formations opposing offenses come out in.

Even Anthony Brown factors into things here. Now in his third year, Brown's game is more suited to the outside and he has lots of experience already. If he makes a leap this offseason, Anthony could make his own push for a starting spot.

It's a wonderful problem, and a rare one, to have so much talent at cornerback. This is one of the few times when not having clear starters in June is a good thing.

Could Jeff Heath Be The Starting Safety Next Byron Jones In 2017?

Dallas Cowboys safety Jeff Heath

Safety

Should veteran Jeff Heath feel secure in his starting role? With youngsters Kavon Frazier and Xavier Woods around, Heath can't assume anything.

Both Woods and Frazier were showing up last year, and all of these players are probably better suited to the strong safety role. Who gets the start at free safety, vacated by Byron Jones going to cornerback, will be decided after plenty of camp and preseason evaluation.

The idea that Dallas might trade for Seattle's Earl Thomas is still out there, too, and the All-Pro's recent holdout from Seahawks minicamp only threw some new gas on the fire. That move would obviously occupy one of the two starting positions.

But even without a Thomas trade, there are three guys competing for two jobs. Heath's experience is valuable but doesn't promise him anything with a new position coach arriving.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Dallas Cowboys

Maliek Collins Activated From PUP, Cowboys’ Front 7 Looking Great

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Cowboys Defense Have Young Foundation Players To Build Around
Ken Blaze / USA TODAY Sports

There are tons of reasons to be excited about the Dallas Cowboys' defense with the regular season less than a month away. The most recent one is Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins is coming off the PUP list after passing his physical and is now activated and practicing.

After suffering another foot injury in May, Collins had to undergo surgery and his return to the roster before the season began was questionable. But things are looking good now as the Cowboys expect him to be ready for week 1 versus the Carolina Panthers.

David Helman on Twitter

On the same day he was taken off PUP, Maliek Collins is participating in pre-practice walkthrough. Not sure what that means for his practice regimen, but that's a positive sign #cowboyswire

Collins missed quite some time, so one has to wonder how fast he will be reincorporated to the defense and whether or not he'll get back his starting role or not. The defensive tackle room seems to be loaded with various talent that should be capable of at least giving #96 a tough competition before he can reclaim his spot as if he hadn't been missing any practices.

David Irving may not be a factor on the roster until he comes back from suspension prior to week 5's match-up against the Houston Texans, but there are other young players Collins should be expecting to fight for the starting role.

Antwaun Woods, Jihad Ward, Brian Price and Datone Jones will provide this team with an interesting debate going forward. But even if not one DT emerges as a clear-cut starter above the rest, the Cowboys have serious depth at the position.

To be honest, the entire front seven is very exciting. Not only do the Cowboys count with good DTs, but just take a look at the defensive end room. Led by 2017 second-team All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence, there is also a deep group of DEs.

Randy Gregory is coming back after a long comeback journey and should earn a lot more snaps as the season progressing. Taco Charlton has made a ton of progress and fourth-round rookie Dorance Armstrong isn't far behind. Not to mention captain Tyrone Crawford, who despite being criticized by many due to his huge contract, is a more than decent DE.

Now, let's talk about the linebackers for a moment here. Before the 2018 NFL Draft, this was seen as one of the weakest units on the team. Fast forward to mid-August and this should be one of the most exciting groups on the team.

Sean Lee will be playing alongside a Jaylon Smith that we've never seen before. Smith is doing things that he wouldn't been able to do a season ago. What he's shown in training camp and through one preseason game should have any Cowboys' fan eager to watch him play in a regular season game. The Jaylon Smith the front office envisioned when taking a risk on him in the 2016 NFL Draft has arrived.

Also in the mix is first round pick Leighton Vander Esch. We haven't been able to watch a lot of playing time from him but we'll sure do pretty soon. He's a week 1 contributor who will play behind what could be one of the best LB duos in the entire NFL.

And just like in the defensive line, the depth seems to be great. Joe Thomas and Damien Wilson have shown what they're capable of and they could be more than special team bodies when needed.

The Dallas Cowboys shouldn't be very concerned about their front seven going forward. It's loaded with talent and even if they rotate their players a lot, this seems like a group that will give any offense a big headache.

Tell me what you think about "Maliek Collins Activated From PUP, Cowboys’ Front 7 Looking Great" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys Sign WR Darren Carrington Following Workout in Oxnard

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Sign WR Darren Carrington Following Workout in Oxnard

The Dallas Cowboys have signed another one of the six players worked out on Monday in Oxnard, adding to their already deep group of wide receivers. Most recently with Utah, Pac-12 Wide Receiver Darren Carrington has signed with the team.

Carrington began his college career at Oregon, where he was on track to make it to the NFL before being dismissed from the Ducks for a DUI. This led Carrington to Utah, where he played as a graduate transfer and put up a team high 908 yards and six touchdowns on 70 receptions last season.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Cowboys signing former Utah WR Darren Carrington, per source.

At 6021 (6' 2 1/8") and 199 pounds, Carrington is yet another athletic target with long speed for the Cowboys to work into their new-look offense. He joins Ricky Jeune as the second receiver added to the team in training camp, bringing the number of WRs on the roster to 11.

Marchie Murdock, who had two catches for the Cowboys in their preseason opener, was waived (with an injury designation) prior to these roster moves.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Sign WR Darren Carrington Following Workout in Oxnard" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys Workout 6 Players, Sign OL Jacob Alsadek

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Workout 6 Players, Sign OL Jacob Alsadek
(Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports)

The Dallas Cowboys did not receive good news on first-year offensive lineman Marcus Martin, as his injury suffered in San Francisco will likely require season-ending surgery. Martin was signed this offseason as a backup guard/center, and without him the Cowboys have a need for further depth up front. Working out six players at positions of need today, the team has signed former Arizona lineman Jacob Alsadek.

DEC Management on Twitter

Congratulations to #TeamDEC client @jacobalsadek on signing with @dallascowboys

This is Alsadek's second stop in the NFL, as he spent most of May with the Green Bay Packers before being released. Alsadek was the cut when the Packers signed former Cowboys Tackle Byron Bell.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Players Cowboys worked out today: Darren Carrington, WR Jacob Alsadek, OL Daronte Bouldin, OL Dominick Sanders, S Ryan Murphy, S Deron Washington, S

The 6'7", 312 pound guard went undrafted in this year's AT&T Stadium hosted draft. He was set to play in the Alliance of American Football League, with an inaugural season scheduled for February.

Now, he's a member of America's Team with a real chance to compete for a backup spot on the best offensive line in the league.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Workout 6 Players, Sign OL Jacob Alsadek" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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