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?