The Dallas Cowboys open their 2017 training camp tomorrow afternoon. Going into any camp, one of the key areas of focus is any position that doesn't have an established starter. To help you get ready for following camp, we're going to quickly outline what starting jobs are up for grabs right now.
Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that are likely 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
- WR - Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley
- TE - Jason Witten
- LT - Tyron Smith
- C - Travis Frederick
- RG - Zack Martin
- DT - Maliek Collins
- LB - Sean Lee
- CB - Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown
- S - Byron Jones, Jeff Heath
On offense, the third receiver plays many more snaps than the fullback, so that's really the true 11th man on the roster. Similar logic applies on defense when it comes to the third cornerback, who plays more than twice as much as the SAM linebacker.
So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 15 players who are almost guaranteed to start. As for those seven other spots, we'll now go through and see who the top candidates are for each.
Left Guard & Right Tackle
As of right now, La'el Collins appears to be moving to right tackle to replace the retired Doug Free. The Cowboys have two openings on the offensive line after Ronald Leary left in free agency. Jonathan Cooper, who signed with Dallas late last season, is currently projected to replace him at left guard.
There's little reason to think Collins won't at least be competent at tackle, given he played it in college and was a first-round draft talent. How he'll play compared to Free, who was better than given credit for, is yet to be seen. Dallas also has previous swing tackles Chaz Green and Emmett Cleary, and free agent Byron Bell, who could be considered for the job.
This tentative plan is hardly set in stone yet. Cooper has to prove he can finally stick after washing out in Arizona, New England, and Cleveland. Health has been his enemy, but Cooper has yet to show he play like the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 draft. He's never had the kind of offensive line talent around him that Dallas has, though, so hopefully this soft landing will allow him to bounce back.
If Cooper falters, La'el Collins could end up back at guard where he as experience and open things up at tackle. You also have Joe Looney, the backup guard and center last year, who might be a factor. Byron Bell has also played guard before. The jobs are Cooper's and Collins' to lose, but they're hardly a done deal.
Other than Maliek Collins starting at one of the tackle spots, everything else is wide open. It may not matter much with Rod Marinelli's rotation, but players still want the cache of being named along with the starters. How that will work out in 2017 is hard to see right now.
DeMarcus Lawrence is in a contract year and needs a big season, but has he already lot ground to other players? Dallas drafted Taco Charlton and have a potential stud in David Irving. Benson Mayowa was last year's sack leader and then there's also Charles Tapper, who will make his delayed debut.
At tackle, Collins will get one spot but the other is hard to say. If Maliek can play the one-technique position and occupy blockers, it allows Tyrone Crawford to get back to his best position as the three-tech. However, Collins' pass-rushing skills may make him better for that spot. That means Cedric Thornton and Stephen Paea are the candidates for the one-tech.
Marinelli is going to use these guys in various ways all season. We'll see different lineups depending on the opponent, the down and distance, and just who is fatigued or banged up. In the end, who gets the starts really won't be as important as who gets the sacks.
The middle linebacker spot is Jaylon Smith's so long as his body is up to it. If not, Dallas just re-signed veteran Justin Durant and will also have Anthony Hitchens returning in a contract year. Third-year prospect Mark Nzeocha could also be a factor.
If Jaylon claims the job as we all want, the occasional starting role at SAM gets interesting. It appeared that Damien Wilson had it covered, but now he's facing some severe issues related to assault charges a few weeks ago. Wilson could be suspended by the NFL for several weeks, if not more.
If Wilson is gone, that spot could go to Hitchens, Nzeocha, Durant, or veteran Kyle Wilber. If Dallas fears that Wilson might start the year but get taken out later, they may go ahead and run with another options just for the sake of continuity. We will likely hear of several different players getting looks with the first-team throughout camp.
The Cowboys use their nickel scheme far more than any other, making the third cornerback very important. Assuming that Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick are your top two, veteran Nolan Carroll will be competing with rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis for the third spot.
Carroll's veteran experience will be big, especially early on as the rookies adjust to NFL speed. However, his DWI arrest in May will likely result in at least a two-game suspension. One of the rookies will have to play in his absence, and the Cowboys will be giving them plenty of time during camp and preseason to be ready for that role.
This really leaves the spot wide open now and until Week One. Having to get the rookies ready for Carroll's suspension just might cost the veteran his spot all together. If Awuzie and Lewis earn the team's trust, Dallas might even be tempted to cut Carroll and leave a roster spot open for sixth-round pick Marquez White.
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator
The big word around the Dallas Cowboys lately is about Jason Garrett and the future of the head coaching job. Some have speculated that either Quarterback Dak Prescott or Jason Garrett will get axed, and the other will stay.
Owner Jerry Jones was quoted on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas about his young quarterback, putting to bed at least half of the conflict.
"Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s young and he’s going to get extended."
This shut the door on the idea of Prescott being replaced.
As far as Jason Garrett? Jerry Jones has been less than committed.
"I’m not in the business of backing anybody; the head coach, or offensive coordinator, I just don’t back them publicly." Jerry Jones said.
So it seems that Jason Garrett’s future is up in the air.
But what about offensive coordinator Scott Linehan? What’s held the Cowboys back this year has been the offense, and a lot of it can be contributed to their predictable play calling and inability to adapt to today’s game and its current players.
Whether or not Jason Garrett retains his job, Scott Linehan’s job doesn’t seem near as secure. His scheme doesn’t really mesh with Dak Prescott and how the offense could look. There’s only so many times you can run a three tight end set and not get furious.
Cowboys fans may want Garrett gone but they might have to settle for a new offensive coordinator instead.
The good news is that there are many options out there. Options that not only could work well with Dak Prescott, but could bring the Cowboys offense into the 2010s.
Jerry Jones once said how the Cowboys offense was like the LA Rams. If they are able to sign their Co-Offensive Coordinator, then they could be.
When Matt LaFleur left to become the Tennessee Titans OC, the job became a shared job between Waldron and Aaron Kromer. I wonder if Waldron would rather have the job all to himself?
What makes Waldron so appealing is he is also the Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Those are two areas where the Rams excel and where the Cowboys need help.
Teams are going to start copying the offensive juggernauts of the NFL and the Rams are definitely one of them. The Cowboys should do themselves a favor and get out in front before other teams beat them to it.
Cam Newton is having one of his best seasons. Not only is he an MVP candidate but he’s set to have career highs in completion percentage and QBR, as well as a career low in interceptions. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback but some of this has to be attributed to his new Quarterback Coach, Scott Turner.
The son of Norv Turner, Scott has seemingly helped mold Cam into a more accurate passer without compromising who Cam Newton is as an athletic quarterback. That has Dak Prescott written all over it.
He's got NFL lineage and a new, scary Cam Newton to add to his resume. He may not have as impressive a track record as others on here but he looks like he could be a chip off the old block and get the Cowboys where they need to be going.
A popular head coach candidate, Lincoln Riley has shown his creativity and offensive innovation during his short time as Oklahoma’s head coach. It’s uncertain if he’ll get any real offers to be a head coach, but as an OC, he would be a serious grab.
Everyone has seen the work he’s done with Baker Mayfield and now Kyler Murray. How he’s able to incorporate different formations to open up the pass game and have the run game seem unstoppable. Just imagine what he could do with the weapons he would have at his disposal in Dallas.
It's likely that Lincoln Riley is a hot commodity for a head coach position, especially in Cleveland where he could reunite with Baker Mayfield. That shouldn’t stop the Cowboys from trying to lure him to Dallas, though. Lincoln Riley could be the real missing piece that Dallas has been looking for.
Another product of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy is the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. The former running backs coach has the experience under Andy Reid on not only how to run an offense but to use your weapons at your disposal to the fullest.
Maybe I’m over-hyping this man but when you see the work he helped put in with Pat Mahomes and how he uses those weapons around him, it makes me imagine what he can do for the Cowboy offense.
The team has no shortage of weapons and could benefit greatly from a guy like this.
If the Chiefs make it past their first playoff game, Bieniemy could become a more attractive name when it comes time for new head coaches. However, if Jerry Jones comes calling and the right offer is met, who’s to say?
If Kris Richard can be lured from Seattle to fix the Cowboys defense, Eric Bieniemy can be lured from Kansas City to fix the Cowboys offense.
Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta
The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.
As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.
The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.
It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.
Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.
Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.
If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.
The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.
In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.
Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.
It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.
The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.
Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.
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