The first addition of the series that will investigate every position battle during the rest of training camp. I will mainly focus on those trying to fill the back of the 53 Regular Season roster, as opposed to the established starters. Following the recent look into how Rolando McClain affects the Linebacker position, I will start with focusing on the battle there.
With the loss of key contributors Justin Durant and Bruce Carter, many were left to believe that Linebacker depth may be an issue this season, especially when taking into consideration Sean Lee's injury history.
Fourth Round draft pick Damien Wilson has been a pleasant surprise on all accounts.
First-hand testimony from Coaches, Jerry Jones, and Cowboys Break co-host Bryan Broaddus have all been extremely positive about the rookie from Minnesota. Combined with the versatile Anthony Hitchens, who is entering his second year after a very productive rookie campaign, there is a lot of promise.
The key to the Linebacker core will be the health of Sean Lee. By all accounts, he is healthy and cannot wait to get back on the field. While he has been moved to Will Linebacker (Lining up to the weak side of the defense) in order to preserve his health, he will still have the opportunity to show his playmaking ability.
While Rolando McClain is suspended, his spot on the roster is secure going into the season. However, he will not count towards the official 53 going into Week 1. Those who I feel have already solidified their position for the 53 are:
- Sean Lee
- Anthony Hitchens
- Jasper Brinkley
- Kyle Wilber
- Damien Wilson
There may be some questions as to why I would already place Wilber and Wilson on the roster, allow me to explain beginning with Wilber.
There is still a possibility that Wilber may be the starting Sam Linebacker after finally settling down to one position with the improved Defensive Line depth. I expect to see him on several Special Teams units as well.
I am putting him on the roster now at this point due to how solid he is. While mostly lining up at Sam he has some flexibility to slide to the Mike (Middle Linebacker) in an emergency. Wilber is a very solid player that will keep himself positioned to make plays, and is not one to make the mental errors that plagued Bruce Carter's run in Dallas. However, he will not make very many impact plays which will cause him to have some detractors, but not everyone needs to be a superstar.
While I have Brinkley as a lock for the depth he provides at Mike, where he could also possibly start, Damien Wilson has impressed so much I do not believe he would make it to the Practice Squad if cut. Recently in camp he has shown the ability to play every Linebacker position. At times in practice, he has lined up at Will with Hitchens at Mike and Lee at Sam.
That lineup was probably to see how Wilson looks from the Will position, however there is a possibility he could start at Sam. Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus and Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli will determine if that is the best three at Linebacker. His main competition for a starting position will come down to Jasper Brinkley at Mike and Kyle Wilber at Sam.
Personally, I believe the starting Linebacker group will be Sean Lee (Will), Anthony Hitchens (Mike), and Damien Wilson (Sam). That lineup is how Hitchens has the opportunity to play at his best position and would provide a lot of athleticism at Linebacker. If Wilson were to struggle, there is enough flexibility to adjust the lineup without much problem.
If the Cowboys are to keep six Linebackers (highly likely) that leaves a remaining spot which at this point should go to Gachkar. He will more than likely be on every Special Teams unit and by all accounts is an upgrade at Linebacker over Cam Lawrence. Anytime Lawrence had to play on defense there was a noticeable drop-off, Gachkar should provide a bit more stability.
At this point, I believe 7th Round draft pick Mark Nzeocha will find his way to IR (Injured Reserved) as he has missed all of Training Camp trying to show he has healed from an ACL injury. At this point, it is unreasonable to believe he could return to camp and make the team.
That leaves Donnie Baggs, Jonathan Brown, Ka'Lial Glaud, recently signed Dakorey Johnson, and Keith Smith to battle for one or two of the ten practice squad spots. Keith Smith stood out Sunday against the 49ers with some key tackles, but has done little of note in practices. From camp footage, the most impressive has been Glaud thus far, yet it will probably come down to the final two Preseason games to determine who will be kept around.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Cornerback
The Dallas Cowboys have spent a lot of draft picks the last few years to build up their cornerbacks group. There is a lot of potential heading into 2019, but Dallas needs these young players to take the next step if they want to compete for a championship. This weekend's start to training camp will be an important part of the process.
Dallas' best move to help the cornerback position was switching Byron Jones back there in 2018 after a few seasons at safety. Jones went to his first Pro Bowl and has positioned himself for a big contract extension.
Byron is currently set to play 2019 on his fifth-year option of $6.27 million, which is a steal for a CB of his caliber. Whether or not the Cowboys allow him to enter unrestricted free agency next year, or get a new deal signed, will be something to watch for throughout the upcoming season.
Jones' future may be in question, but we at least know he'll be the team's top corner this season. None of the other Dallas CBs can enjoy that same certainty in 2019, as depth chart positioning and job security are all in flux right now.
Here is the current CB depth chart headed into training camp:
- Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie
- Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
- Michael Jackson, Donovan Olumba
- C.J. Goodwin, Chris Westry
- Treston Decoud
Will this list hold as is, or will we some shifting over the five weeks of training camp and preseason?
The battle for snaps between Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis will be an intriguing ongoing storyline. Awuzie was the starter last year, and will hopefully make a big developmental leap in his third year.
But Anthony Brown has proven himself a capable player despite being just a 6th-round pick in 2016. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Brown will certainly be pushing for a significant role this season to hopefully help his free agent marketability in 2020.
If things go like they did last year, both Awuzie and Brown will get plenty of playing time. The true enigma of this bunch is Jourdan Lewis, who is hoping to be more than just the number-four CB in 2019.
Though he was drafted a round later than Awuzie in 2017, Lewis was generally considered the superior talent by most draft analysts. He fell due to a domestic violence accusation a month before the draft for which he was eventually found not guilty.
Jourdan was looking good at the end of his rookie season, but the arrival of Kris Richard as Defensive Backs Coach last year seemed to cause a regression. Lewis only got in on a little over 18% of the total defensive snaps in 2018, while the top three all had 67% or higher.
Despite his few opportunities, Lewis still had one of the biggest plays of the year with his interception that sealed Dallas' stunning upset over the New Orleans Saints. His potential has been noted, with Coach Richard even calling him an "exception" to his general preference for bigger, stronger cornerbacks.
But even if the team likes Jourdan, can he beat Awuzie or Brown? Could he perhaps have more value in a trade, with two years left on that rookie deal, to a team in greater need at CB?
The idea of moving Lewis, which existed prior to the draft, gained steam when Dallas used a 5th-round pick this year acquire CB Michael Jackson out of Miami. He fits that prototypical build at corner, and perhaps the Cowboys are hoping he can show enough early to provide an adequate replacement if they want to trade Jourdan.
If not Jackson, prospect Donovan Olumba is another option. He nearly made the 53 last year but got squeezed out when Dallas only kept four cornerbacks. After a year on the practice squad, Olumba is back and could be ready for a roster spot.
Veteran C.J. Goodwin has bounced around the NFL since 2014 but has some real-game experience. If the young guys aren't in a position to be game-day active, perhaps he would be the best option. Dallas added him in the middle of the 2018 season and he was helping on special teams and as a reserve corner at the end of the year.
Undrafted rookie Chris Westry, listed at 6'4", is another intriguing player to watch in camp. That rare size is something you can't teach, and hopefully Richard can develop Westry enough to get something out of the physical gifts.
This should be a fun 2019 training camp at cornerback, with competition potentially at every spot on the depth chart except the very top. And while secure at number-one, even Byron Jones has his own question marks around his long-term future in Dallas.
We'll start getting some answers in just four more days!
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OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence and CB Byron Jones to Start 2019 Camp on PUP
The Dallas Cowboys will be missing two of their defensive leaders when they open 2019 training camp this Saturday. Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will both start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List as they recover from offseason surgeries.
Lawrence, who got a new five-year contract in April, immediately underwent shoulder surgery once his deal was finalized. DeMarcus reportedly was waiting for contract negotiations to be completed before he had the procedure.
Jones had hip surgery in late May. He is playing 2019 on the fifth-year option from his original contract, and is no doubt hoping for his own long-term extension sometime in the near future.
Sources: DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones will open Cowboys camp on PUP and won't practice in California https://t.co/jzWV5FjBO6 via @sportsdaydfw
Neither Lawrence or Jones, who are both coming of Pro Bowl seasons in 2018, are expected to be absent once the regular season starts in September. But either participating in this year's training camp is doubtful, and even preseason appearances are in question right now.
With DeMarcus out at DE, newcomers like Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder will get plenty of chances to show their stuff. It's also a nice opportunity for Taco Charlton, assuming he's recovered from his own offseason surgery, to get some work against the first-team offensive line.
No Byron at CB will give Jourdan Lewis a nice opportunity to work with the starters as well. He was likely stuck at the 4th spot behind Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown but should now get more time on the field and against the best competition.
Breaking News: Allen Hurns Released
The Dallas Cowboys are releasing Wide Receiver Allen Hurns after just one season with the team according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Cowboys releasing WR Allen Hurns, per source.
Hurns was brought in as a possible replacement for Dez Bryant considering they had a similar skill set, but that never quite worked out. He only managed 20 receptions for 295 yards and 2 touchdowns in 7 starts. He's coming off a horrific leg injury suffered in the Cowboys playoff win against the Seahawks last season.
This saves the Cowboys 5 million in cap space putting them around 24 million overall heading into the 2019 season currently. This now opens up snaps for some of the younger receivers on the Cowboys roster.
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