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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.


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

Should Gregory’s Potential Reinstatement Alter Cowboys Draft Plan?

Sean Martin

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Cowboys en Español: Buenas Noticias para Jaylon Smith, ¿Fin de Randy Gregory?, ¿Adiós a Lucky Whitehead?

A lot has happened with the Dallas Cowboys roster in a short period of time leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft. Just four days away now, the Cowboys are still adjusting to life without Dez Bryant, and may be preparing to welcome back Randy Gregory this season.

After months of speculation about the Cowboys' exiled pass rusher turning his life around for the better, the end result may be Gregory triumphantly returning to the field and filling a considerable position of need in Dallas.

Through Gregory's numerous absences from the Cowboys, the team has searched for temporary fixes at his right defensive end spot until drafting Taco Charlton in the first round last year. In his rookie season, Charlton looked much better at left end behind DeMarcus Lawrence than he ever did rushing against left tackles.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

ALERT: Sources offer me very positive reports on #Cowboys DE @RandyGregory_4 coming bid for NFL reinstatement, as @BobbyBeltTX also notes. Randy Gregory has a chance to be a terrific story.

Randy Gregory can beat left tackles with speed and bend, but also has more career suspensions than he does sacks. Finding another defensive end with these traits in the draft could put the Cowboys defensive line over the top, but doing so with this year's class could cost them a pick better spent elsewhere.

Of course, this will be the case if Gregory does complete a comeback that the Cowboys have been understandably quiet about until recently. Stephen Jones has said the plan for Gregory is to apply for reinstatement following the draft.

The Cowboys "smart" approach of rebuilding their front four on defense as if Gregory would never see the field again has yielded them plenty of success - at all but the spot Gregory would line up at. DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Maliek Collins, and Taco Charlton should all inspire hope for this unit in 2018.

This is more than we were ever able to say about forgotten defenders like Benson Mayowa, who remains a free agent RDE.

Sean's Scout: Cowboys Can Fix RDE Problems with BC's Harold Landry

The same can be said about prospects like Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport. At this point though, it feels like a priority draft pick spent at DE is a sudden sign of nervousness about Randy Gregory's return by the Cowboys.

This team has plenty of depth to deploy Rod Marinelli's patented "waves" of pass rushers, finally entering a season with an elite talent at DE too. The opportunity to have DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory attack opposing quarterbacks from opposite sides is a reality the Cowboys are prepared to work towards.

They should do so looking elsewhere early in the draft, coming back to defensive end if a developmental player they like falls.

Tell us what you think about "Should Gregory’s Potential Reinstatement Alter Cowboys Draft Plan?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Player News

Cowboys Quarterback is playing Moneyball

Shane Carter

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Jekyll or Hyde: Year 3 "Prove It" Season For Dak Prescott?

A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 PlayoffsMoney talks, and no one talks louder than the Dallas Cowboys. It’s hard to find a more affordable Pro Bowl player than Dak Prescott. A former fourth-round pick from Mississippi State, Prescott is only scheduled to make around $680,000 in 2018. It’s only his third year, but it may be his most important when it comes to his future with the Cowboys.

When a team drafts its franchise quarterback, they usually only get about two seasons to prove they’re "the guy."

Every year, teams draft someone, usually in the first round, with hopes that he'll be their sought after franchise quarterback. However, by being drafted so high, there’s little margin for error afforded to them.

In Dak Prescott’s case, being drafted outside the first round, he wasn’t expected to contribute near as much in his first two seasons as he has. A day-one starter for the then injured Tony Romo gave him his opportunity and he has made the most of it.

In two seasons, Dak Prescott has a 22-10 record, made the playoffs and Pro Bowl, completed 65.2% of his passes and has added a new dimension in the Cowboys offense thanks to his mobility in and out of the pocket. However, I wouldn’t be the first to tell you that his year two wasn’t as good as his year one was. Prescott lost four more games, completed fewer passes and more interceptions in year two.

To be fair, some of his issues attributed to the injury of Tyron Smith, Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and many of his receivers dropping more passes than we’ve previously seen. These issues will have to be cleaned up not only for the team, but for Dak Prescott’s future.

According to Spotrac.com, Dak Prescott’s market value today is around $25 million a year, which would make him among the most paid players in the league. In comparison, Kirk Cousins will be paid the most in the league at $28 million this year, while Aaron Rodgers will make $22 million.

So, the Cowboys quarterback's market value is among the best in the league.

Cowboys fans everywhere are rooting for him to succeed but year three will be crucial. If he can improve on his play from a year ago and keep winning games, he would likely see his extension happen sometime around his fourth season.

People have already seen Prescott at his highs and lows. Going into 2018 with a new receiving core, the return of Ezekiel Elliott and a new left guard will get rid of any excuses.

If Dak Prescott really is who he believes he is, and who fans know he can be, then the Cowboys have their quarterback. If not, then the search will continue.

Prescott should be plenty motivated to be the Cowboys quarterback for the present and the future. Also, he should be motivated by how much money he could get it.

It is a game, but it’s still a business. And C.R.E.A.M.


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Player News

Cowboys Expected to Pick Up Byron Jones’ Fifth-Year Option

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Film Room: Cowboys DB Byron Jones Is A Vital Piece To A Rebuilt Defense

2018 should be a huge year for the Cowboys' 2015 first-round pick Bryon Jones. After being used all over the secondary, it seems like he'll finally find a position to stay next season. The announcement was made that heading into his contract year, Jones would be moved to the cornerback position full-time.

Fortunately for him, the Cowboys are now expected to pick up his fifth-year option. This may come as a surprise for Cowboys Nation, given there haven't been any hints by the franchise to do so. However, it definitely will be a wise decision.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

The #Cowboys are expected to pick up the fifth-year option for Byron Jones, source said. That should give him $6.17M salary for 2019, one that is guaranteed for injury. The 2015 first-round pick should benefit from a full-time move to corner.

Since he played most of his snaps as a safety in 2017 (his third year in the league), Byron's fifth-option will be less expensive than one from a cornerback. This is obviously good news for the front office since it means more cap space will be available in 2019.

Hopefully, Byron finds success under the new secondary coach in Dallas, Kris Richard. With him moving to cornerback full-time, we might just see his incredible athleticism translate into consistent impact on the field.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Byron Jones said ever since Kris Richard was hired as the Cowboys' new DBs coach he talked about moving Byron back to CB. "I think it will be a good move for me and the team.

Jones has a ton of talent but bouncing from one position to another is not good for player progression. Heck, we talk about how hard it is for many talented prospects to come into the NFL and adapt, now imagine a player who's played in different spots in the secondary all through his first three years.

If #31 becomes a quality starting cornerback in 2018, the CB room will be loaded in Dallas.

Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis showed us they could become the next great CB duo for the Cowboys in their rookie seasons. Anthony Brown had a rough 2017, but can still play at a decent level if he's not asked to be CB1.

Add Byron Jones to the mix, and Cowboys Nation should be really comfortable with how this position will look next season.

Picking Byron's fifth-year option will be a wise decision for Dallas, and Cowboys fans should be happy about it. Let's go!

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Expected to Pick Up Byron Jones’ Fifth-Year Option" 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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