As the Dallas Cowboys are set to kick off training camp in Oxnard, California less than a week from now, there are still several positions where questions still need to be answered.
Thankfully, training camp will answer said questions. We can begin to put all of the speculation behind us.
To get you ready for the start of Dallas Cowboys training camp on July 25th, here are the most important training camp battles to watch.
Interior Defensive Line
David Irving's suspension and Maliek Collins foot injury leave the interior of the defensive line as a huge question mark heading into training camp.
There are guys with potential to make an impact in Datone Jones, Jihad Ward, Richard Ash, Brian Price, Lewis Neal, and Antwaun Woods. They could all get reps on the interior with the first team defensive line.
On passing downs we could also see Defensive Ends Kony Ealy, Taco Charlton, and Tyrone Crawford kick inside.
Who emerges from that pack will be the battle to watch.
Datone Jones and Jihad Ward are my favorites to lead the position in training camp and possibly into week one depending on Maliek Collins recovery.
Datone Jones had some really good reps in David Irving's absence last season as a penetrating defensive tackle.
Jihad Ward was highly thought of by the Dallas Cowboys during the 2016 NFL Draft and could have been an option if Maliek Collins hadn't been available in the third round that year.
As has been in the past, the Dallas Cowboys will likely rotate the spots to find the best combination and to keep guys fresh. Who is a part of that rotation remains to be seen.
Before the offseason workouts and practices began, many in Cowboys Nation had already written in second year Cornerback Jourdan Lewis as the nickel CB in the slot.
When the team practiced during OTAs and minicamp, the third corner on the field wasn't Lewis, but third year CB Anthony Brown. It was a surprise to many, but given new Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard's preference for height and length from his corners, there's been speculation that Lewis doesn't fit the prototype.
My theory is that Head Coach Jason Garrett likes to give the first team reps to the most veteran players on the team early in the offseason. This is why we saw a lot of Chaz Green running with the first team at right guard while Zack Martin was working on his contract extension. It isn't that Green is better than Marcus Martin or Joe Looney or Kadeem Edwards on the interior, but that he's been with the team longer.
Another theory that makes sense is that Lewis may be called upon to play outside as well. We've seen that Lewis is a better outside corner than Brown. Therefore, if Lewis has to play outside due to injury or ineffectiveness to penciled in starters Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones, then he can step in and Brown is more prepared for slot duty.
Training camp sorts out everything and nickel corner in the slot will be no different. If Lewis plays better than Brown he'll be the starter.
At the moment it looks like the safety position is going to be a three-man rotation with Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and Xavier Woods, unless a trade happens for a particular safety from the Northwest.
Heath is the veteran of the group and likely will get the most snaps, but Frazier and Woods have proven effective in particular roles for the team.
Last season, the Dallas Cowboys were struggling against the run and when they inserted Frazier into the lineup on running downs, they became much better at slowing down opposing teams. His ability to get down hill and play sideline to sideline helped the Dallas Cowboys a lot in the second half of the season. His physicality in the middle of the field in the passing game was also an element that had been missing. He still has a lot to prove in coverage to be relied upon as an every down safety, but training camp is the place to prove it.
Xavier Woods was thrust into nickel corner duty early in the 2017 season because of training camp injuries to Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie.
As the slot corner he was pretty good. As he was in college he was an effective player from that area of the field and was able to matchup with opposing receivers.
This was an interesting little stat nugget that I saw yesterday that showed Woods' effectiveness.
In 2017 Obi Melifonwu lined up in coverage 24 times. He surrendered 81 receiving yards. As a comparison Xavier Woods surrendered 83 yards from 187 coverage snaps. Marcus Williams 77 yards from 572 snaps. Adrian Colbert 76 from 291
It's likely that he'll be asked to play more as a traditional safety this season and he has the ability to play in the box or as a deep middle safety. He's the most well-rounded of the three, though he has the least amount of experience.
I've contended that with Xavier Woods at safety, the Dallas Cowboys could stay in their base 4-3 alignment when teams line up in 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 RB). His ability to cover from the slot could allow Dallas to go single high safety and keep their three starting linebackers on the field on early downs. Obviously, when it gets into more obvious passing downs situations, you'll want to bring on your third corner, but with Woods you don't have to.
For all the hand wringing that Cowboys Nation does over Jeff Heath, he's a good player. Is he great? Nope, but he doesn't have to be great. He just has to be in the right position, which he usually is.
Playing safety in the NFL is as difficult a job as their is in this day and age of the league and Heath, while not a Pro Bowler is a role player that you can win with.
I spent a lot of time talking about the tight end position a couple of weeks ago and so I'll refer you to my discussion on how I think the Dallas Cowboys could end up using a committee approach to solve the tight end dilemma.
The experience is lacking. Anything we think about the tight end position at the moment is just speculation.
Generally people think that Rico Gathers doesn't have a shot at the roster, but in this writer's humble opinion, that's a bit premature.
When it comes to position battles, training camp and the preseason usually leads to the cream rising to the top. While the team has been slow to heap any kind of praise on Rico Gathers, that isn't because they don't think he's capable. It's been a tough love approach and they're hoping that he can take another step forward to being a tight end in the National Football League.
We saw last preseason that Rico had the ability to catch the ball and be an effective red zone weapon against players who were not likely to be on their team's active roster. Now we, as well as the coaching staff and front office, need to seem him take a step forward in his progression.
Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin seem to have the inside track at first team reps at the moment, but that doesn't mean they are locked in as your TE1 and TE2.
A lot can happen over the next six weeks that could create opportunities for Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers to ascend the depth chart and both are talented enough to do that.
How much of a transition to the NFL game have they made will be the thing to watch during training camp.
I think it's safe to say that we know who the Dallas Cowboys top five wide receivers are going to be when they make their final cuts to get to 53.
Barring a trade or a Terrance Williams suspension this is what I expect the top of the WR depth chart to look like.
The big question is going to be, "Are the Dallas Cowboys able to keep six or seven wide receivers?"
Roster composition is always a key element when you think about the depth chart. Needs at other positions or their desire to keep a player at another position could impact what the Dallas Cowboys can do at WR.
Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown, Cedric Wilson, and Lance Lenoir will have to show the Dallas Cowboys front office and coaching staff that they can't afford to let one of these guys go.
Noah Brown and Deonte Thompson have the best shot at making the final roster, but it wouldn't surprise me either if the Dallas Cowboys decided to release Thompson and try to squeeze Noah Brown to the practice squad.
I believe that they'll go with at least six, but who the sixth is, is the million dollar question.
This may not seem to be a big question to many as Cooper Rush, the incumbent, played well enough last preseason for the Dallas Cowboys to release Kellen Moore and go with Rush as the backup.
The coaching staff trusted Rush enough to be able to come into a game and manage the offense. Cause in reality, that's all your asking your backup quarterback to do.
The depth chart got a bit foggier when the Dallas Cowboys spent a fifth round pick on Western Kentucky star Mike White. Reports from The Star were that the team loved White and were thrilled to add him to the team.
What that means for the depth chart is an interesting story to follow during training camp. Rush obviously has the edge in the backup quarterback battle, but you can't ignore the draft pick that the Dallas Cowboys used on White.
The best case scenario is that they both play really well in the preseason and somebody comes calling offering a late round draft pick on one of them.
Dak Prescott is a really durable quarterback who hasn't missed a start in two years, so it's unlikely that the Dallas Cowboys would require them to play much. Anything can happen in the NFL and having a backup quarterback who is capable of managing a few starts is almost necessary in today's NFL.
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Which camp battles are you going to be watching when the Dallas Cowboys report for training camp on July 25th? Who do you think are the favorites to emerge from the camp battles listed above?
BREAKING: Ezekiel Elliott Handcuffed After Incident with Security Guard
TMZ has released footage of Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott being handcuffed and escorted by police after an altercation with security at a Las Vegas music festival over the weekend.
Elliott was not arrested and no charges have been filed.
Ezekiel Elliott handcuffed but not charged after incident at Las Vegas music festival https://t.co/NJQ6csGgnv
The video shows Zeke engaged in what appears to be an argument with a female companion. Elliott is seen following her through the crowd, and then security starts to get involved after Zeke moves his body to block her from walking away.
One of the security guards says something that attracts Elliott's attention, causing him to move in closer. The guard falls backward from minimal contact. It as soon after that police get involved.
There isn't much here that would cause trouble for the average player, but that's hardly Elliott's situation. He's one of the most prolific stars in the NFL and already has history with the league for domestic violence and personal conduct issues.
Remember, no charges were filed when the NFL gave Elliott a six-game suspension in 2017 after accusations from an ex-girlfriend of domestic violence.
We will have to wait and see how Roger Goodell chooses to treat this latest issue.
Ezekiel Elliott ‘Excited’ About Dallas Cowboys ‘Promise’ in 2019
There's a lot to look forward to as the team gears up for offseason training activities and minicamp. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys look like a potential contender in the NFC after making it to the divisional round of the playoffs before falling to the NFC representative Los Angeles Rams by a score.
The offseason additions the team has made in addition to the draft have many in Cowboys Nation excited about the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2019 season. That includes Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I'm just excited about the group of guys we have. I'm excited about the talent we have on this team. I'm excited about the leadership group we have. I think we have a lot of the right pieces. I think we have a lot of promise for this season.
I think the Cowboys are right to be optimistic about their team heading into the season. They had one of the top 10 defenses in the NFL and an offense that was trending in the right direction over the last half of 2018.
On both the offensive and defensive side of the football the Dallas Cowboys have gotten better as a team.
The offense sees the return of Travis Frederick to the middle of the offensive line and though Joe Looney was good, he's no Travis Frederick. Frederick's return will improve communication along the offensive line and improve their run blocking up the middle; an area where the Cowboys struggled with consistency in 2018.
Another veteran returning to the Cowboys for 2019 is Tight End Jason Witten. Though he's slowed down some at 38 years old, having his leadership and veteran presence on a team attempting to make a deep playoff run is very important. Witten's as steady a player as has been in the NFL and should still be able to make plays in the run and pass game.
The additions of Randall Cobb and Tony Pollard give the Dallas Cowboys a more versatile group of players for new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore to toy with. This versatility will allow them to keep teams off balance. With Randall Cobb, the Cowboys will be able to move Amari Cooper around the formation in order to find favorable matchups in the passing game. Tony Pollard gives the Cowboys a durable gadget option and big-play threat in the run and pass game. Pollard's ability as a returner could help the Cowboys get more favorable field position in 2019.
Ezekiel Elliott himself stands to benefit a great deal from the additions and changes the Cowboys made to the offense. Pollard is an upgrade as a running back to Rod Smith, so the Cowboys can cut Ezekiel Elliott's workload a little and keep him fresh by expanding on the two series a game the coaching staff used to give Smith.
On defense, they added Robert Quinn to a defensive line that already boasts one All-Pro pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence. Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder, and Trysten Hill provide depth to an interior that struggled against the Rams in the playoffs and the Indianapolis Colts during the regular season. The defensive line.
In addition to all that, the Cowboys will get to see what kind of progress their 2018 rookie standouts make in year two.
Leighton Vander Esch was a second-team All-Pro in 2018 and should have won defensive rookie of the year with his play. Connor Williams looks to have gained the necessary size and strength to play left guard in the NFL. A second offseason at guard should help him to improve at his new position. Michael Gallup was a revelation in the third round of the draft last year. After slowly being worked into the lineup over the first half of the season, he emerged as the Dallas Cowboys second wide receiver.
The NFC East and the NFC is a tough place to play. Every year, it's an uphill climb to win enough games to win the division or make the playoffs, but the Cowboys have put themselves in a fantastic position to do just that. Though no team has been a repeat winner of the NFC East since the early 2000s, the Dallas Cowboys have built a team that will be able to compete with any team in the NFL.
From the roster to the coaching staff, the Dallas Cowboys have built a squad that should get anyone excited. Are there questions as the team heads to training camp? Of course. But every team has questions at one position or another. The Cowboys have done an excellent job to minimize those questions through free agency and the draft and have one of the best teams in the NFL on paper.
The excitement that Ezekiel Elliott feels is warranted. The Dallas Cowboys do have a lot of promise as we look ahead. Now as they get ready to start ramping up practices, it's time for Elliott and the rest of the team to go prove it.
And I have a feeling they'll live up to that "promise."
DT Leonard Williams May be Available, Should the Cowboys Explore a Trade?
Per a report by Rich Cimini of ESPN, the New York Jets may be exploring a trade for their star defensive lineman Leonard Williams. With Williams set to hit free agency in 2020, the theory is the Jets may not be interested in locking up Williams long-term after just drafting Quinnen Williams with their top five selection in 2019.
Here's what Cimini had to say in his report:
"There's already talk in league circles that Gase could be looking to move on from Williams, who will be a free agent after the season. He's due to make a guaranteed $14.2 million in the final year of his contract. Gase hasn't said anything about Williams that would spark speculation, but it's not hard to connect the dots when examining the defensive line situation."
Rich Cimini - ESPN.com
Williams has been a really good player for the New York Jets who has played 3-4 defensive end and some defensive tackle for the Jets in his four-year career. A former sixth overall pick has had as many as seven sacks and as few as two sacks a season, but he's played in all 64 games in his career, starting 63. He's stayed healthy and been productive on a Jets defense that hasn't been very good over the last few years.
For the Cowboys defense, he would project as a 3-technique with the ability to be the Cowboys 1-technique in passing situations. Among interior defensive lineman, Leonard Williams finished 21st in run stops per Pro Football Focus and sixth in total pressures with 53. Williams was third among interior players in QB hits with 16 ahead of Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Lineman Chris Jones and Seattle Seahawks Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed. For reference, DeMarcus Lawrence had 63 total pressures and 11 QB hits in 2018, while Tyrone Crawford had only 37 total pressures.
The Dallas Cowboys have been working to reinforce their defensive line this offseason after struggling in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams when the Cowboys gave up over 200 yards rushing. Though they like Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins, they obviously weren't satisfied with the going into 2019 with just those two in the Dallas interior.
In free agency, the Cowboys added Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder and then drafted Trysten Hill with their second-round pick. They also added Daniel Wise, a player that was seen as a fourth or fifth rounder in most people's minds as an undrafted free agent and will compete for a roster spot.
As intriguing as Covington, Hyder, Hill, and Wise are in addition to Maliek Collins and Woods, Williams would be an immediate upgrade at 3-tech and the Dallas Cowboys should explore it, even if they don't plan on resigning him beyond 2019.
The Cowboys could swap expiring contracts by sending Maliek Collins to New York and a draft pick. Collins is unlikely to be resigned by the team in the 2020 offseason as they have plans for Hill as their 3-tech of the future.
The Dallas Cowboys showed with the trade for Robert Quinn that they're alright going after the one-year rental player. Leonard Williams would make their defense better for 2019 and while they have high hopes for Trysten Hill, Williams is a known asset right now and wouldn't prevent you from giving Hill snaps at 3-tech.
For a team hoping to make a Super Bowl run, adding a player like Leonard Williams makes a lot of sense. He's another disruptive player that would immediately improve your pass rush and also helps your run defense. The Dallas Cowboys have a team ready to win now, so now's the time to go get players that help you do so.
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