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Cowboys Camp 2017: What Starting Positions Are Open?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys' Defense: Pre-Training Camp 53-Man Roster Prediction

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:

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

  • 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.

La'el Collins

G/T La’el Collins

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.

Defensive Line

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.

Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Damien Wilson

Linebackers Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, and Damien Wilson

Linebackers

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.

Nolan Carroll

CB Nolan Carroll (24) in summer practice.

Cornerback

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.

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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!

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1 Comment
  • John Williams

    Agree with your assessments.

    I asked Broaddus last week if Crawford is being considered as a 3-tech on early downs, and seems like Crawford is projecting himself to play at LDE on early downs and then move inside on passing downs. Leads me to believe that Collins is going to stay at 3-tech as long as Thornton or Paea can seize the the 1-tech spot.

    Agree with you on CB. Brown and Scan are locks to start in my opinion. Carroll is interesting considering he will likely be suspended. With Jourdan Lewis missing the start of training camp, to me it gives Awuzie the leg up to start as the third corner. And if they are wanting to save Scandrick for passing situations only, there is a possibility that Awuzie could start week one, which I have long dismissed. Ooops.

    I think the team hopes it’s Cooper at guard. Otherwise they have some problems there.

Dallas Cowboys

Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

Sean Martin

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Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

After hiring Paul Alexander to fill their vacant OL coaching position, the Dallas Cowboys are continuing to retool their offensive staff below Scott Linehan. Sanjay Lal has been hired to coach the Cowboys’ wide receivers, replacing Derek Dooley.

Lal has experience as a WR coach with four different teams, dating back to 2009 with the Oakland Raiders. He was promoted up to this position after serving as the Raiders’ quality control coach from 2007-08.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys have reached an agreement with Sanjay Lal to become the team’s WR coach. Lal was with Indianapolis last season and replaces Derek Dooley on the staff.

Most recently, Sanjay Lal coached the receivers for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. He has also been with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

In this interview with the Colts, Lal mentions being very detail-oriented with a focus on the technical aspects of playing receiver.

Lal beats out former Cowboys WR Miles Austin for this position, earning the right to lead a room of receivers in desperate need of fresh talent. In an offseason that’s been about finding fresh ideas with the coaching staff so far though, the Cowboys have a new voice on offense.

Tell us what you think about “Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach” 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

Cowboys Losing Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus to Colts

Jess Haynie

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Matt Eberflus, Sean Lee

Multiple sources are reporting Matt Eberflus — who has been the linebackers coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys — will leave to join the Indianapolis Colts as the new defensive coordinator. Eberflus has been with Dallas since 2011, having joined Rob Ryan’s staff when Ryan become the coordinator for the Cowboys’ defense.

He has been the linebackers coach during his entire Dallas tenure and was also named passing game coordinator in 2016.

Tom Pelissero on Twitter

With Josh McDaniels ticketed for the #Colts, former #Cowboys assistant Matt Eberflus is expected to come along as defensive coordinator, I’m told. Lot of parts falling in place now.

If not the Colts, some thought Matt Eberflus might end up replacing Matt Patricia as the defensive coordinator in New England. Either way, it does not appear Dallas could have kept him around while Rod Marinelli remains in his current position.

Eberflus’ work in Dallas speaks for itself, and primarily through LB Sean Lee.

He has been Lee’s position coach for all but his rookie season, and in that time Lee has been one of the top defensive players in all of football.

Beyond Lee, Eberflus has also been able to get quality play out of mid-round picks like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. We also saw Jaylon Smith make significant progress this season.

Given Matt Eberflus has never worked with Josh McDaniels before, the fact he was on the Colts’ radar says a lot.

Make no mistake; the Cowboys lost a good one here.

Don’t panic, however. Coach Marinelli has cast a very wide net during his time in the NFL and there are a lot of potential guys, some with plenty of experience, that Dallas might look to.

It’s entirely possible that Eberflus’ replacement will be someone who Marinelli spends 2018 grooming to take over as the defensive coordinator.

Still, of all the coaching changes so far for Dallas, this one hurts most.

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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