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Dallas Cowboys Most Important Training Camp Battles

John Williams

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Ranking The Dallas Cowboys Rookies Through Week 8

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.

Slot Cornerback

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.

Cowboys Need Depth of 2017 Draft to Shine in 2018 1

Dallas Cowboys S Xavier Woods

Safety

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.

Tom Kislingbury on Twitter

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.

Tight End

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.

Wide Receiver

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.

Allen Hurns
Michael Gallup
Cole Beasley
Tavon Austin
Terrance Williams

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.

Backup Quarterback

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?



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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1 Comment
  • Russ_Te

    Between Lewis and Brown, slot CB should be staffed adequately and if I want the best development curve for Woods then I’m parking him at FS and not moving him around much. I appreciate a FS blitz now and then, but IMO Woods is too small to man the box area and stay upright all year. Like the team did with Lawrence at LDE last year, just put Woods at FS and let him win or lose the job.

    TE: I likewise think Gathers has a chance to impress, and that Dak – needing an inside weapon – might feed him the ball this preseason in an effort to install him as same.

Game Notes

Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Dominate Jaguars Top-Ranked Defense

Brian Martin

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Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Dominate Jaguars Top-Ranked Defense 1

After watching the Houston Texans defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the Week 5, I decided to lower my expectations heading into this week's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, the Cowboys offense has been one of the worst in the league this season and they were going up against the top-ranked Jaguars defense. Boy was I surprised at what took place Sunday afternoon.

I don't know how you started off your football Sunday, but I decided to watch the Texans take on the Buffalo Bills. I didn't have much of a choice since I live in the Houston area and it was the only game on TV, but I still wanted to see how they played after beating my Cowboys in overtime a week prior. I was disgusted at what I saw and unfortunately took it out on my cold beverage.

The Texans looked nothing like the team we saw against the Cowboys. They were pretty much dominated by the Buffalo Bills, which I'm ashamed to say put me in a rather foul mood ahead of kickoff time in Dallas. I was expecting another sloppy performance, but what we all witnessed was anything but that.

The Dallas Cowboys offense pretty much moved the ball at will against the Jacksonville Jaguars top-ranked defense. I don't think anyone could have predicted that, especially considering the Jaguars were the best overall defense in the league and where the top-ranked in the passing game as well. I thought if the Cowboys were going to have any kind of chance it was against their 14th ranked run defense.

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Well, the Cowboys ended up dominating on the offensive side of the ball and completely exploited the Jaguars defense both on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Dak Prescott, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, and Wide Receiver Cole Beasley all raised the level of their game and were big contributors to the 40 points the offense put on the board.

Prescott may have thrown for little less than 200 yards, but he was able to connect with Beasley nine times for 101 yards and two touchdowns. With all of the struggles in the passing game for the Cowboys, these two need to continue to connect like this.

Where Prescott was the most impactful against the Jaguars was with his feet. He was really close to being the Cowboys leading rusher with 82 yards and a TD on just 11 carries, but Zeke ended up surpassing him in the end with 106 yards and a TD on 24 carries. Regardless, the Jaguars defense didn't have an answer for Prescott's feet Sunday afternoon.

I have hope once again that this offense is clicking, but I've gone down this road once before. The Dallas Cowboys are still right in the mix of things in the NFC East division and will have a chance to distance themselves next week when they take on the Washington Redskins.

Now, here's the difficult part of all of this. The Cowboys now need to carry over this impressive offensive performance against the Jaguars into next week against the rival Redskins. We've all seen them riding on a high before this season, only to crash back down to earth the following week. They can't afford to do that with a division foe up next on the schedule.

What did you think about the Dallas Cowboys offense against the Jaguars?



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Game Notes

DAL 40, JAX 7: Cowboys Answer The Bell In Dominant Win

Kevin Brady

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DAL 40, JAX 7: Cowboys Answer The Bell In Dominant Win

It seems like a pattern is developing here during the 2018 Dallas Cowboys season.

For a team and an offense which has looked absolutely horrid on the road, the Cowboys appear to be one of the better teams in the conference when playing at home.

That trend continued today as the Cowboys dominated the now 3-3 Jacksonville Jaguars from start to finish, en route to a 40-7 home victory over last year's AFC semi-finalist.

Quarterback Dak Prescott had possibly his best game of the season, making up for his poor performance in Houston a week ago. While Prescott only threw for 183 yards on 17 completions, it was his 82 rushing yards on 11 carries which put this offense over the top. Plus, the Cowboys were in "kill the clock" mode for basically the entire second half.

The real story here was the offensive line, however. The o-line which has been heavily criticized by the fan base during the season, and has shouldered a heavy amount of the blame for the poor offensive production, finally stepped up and played to their standards this afternoon. Prescott had great pass protection all day, which was evident in his passing numbers and Cole Beasley's receiving performance.

Dallas is now 3-3 on the season, tied with the defending champ Eagles and a half game behind Washington for first place in the NFC East. Next week the Cowboys have a huge game in Washington with first place on the line.

Other Notes

  • Cole Beasley proved once again why he's worthy of the pay day he'll get (probably somewhere else) this offseason. Beasley caught 9 balls for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, dominating man coverage all game long.
  • These linebackers are legit. Both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were all over the field today, anchoring a group which was impressive yet again.
  • Brett Maher simply can't miss, going 4 for 4 on field goal attempts including a 55 yarder in the second half.
  • Ezekiel Elliott went over 100 yards rushing again this week, and it was somehow still a quiet day for him in the grand scheme of things.
  • Byron Jones was the best cornerback on either team today, deflecting 3 passes and staying sticky to the Jacksonville wide outs all day. He's been incredible this season and Sunday's game was no different.
  • Oh, and Randy Gregory sack alert! Party!



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Player News

David Irving Ready to “Be Put Through Ringer” in First Action with Cowboys

Sean Martin

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David Irving Ready to "Be Put Through Ringer" in First Action with Cowboys
(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

The Dallas Cowboys patience in Defensive Tackle David Irving is set to pay off on Sunday, as Irving will play in his first game of 2018 after being suspended for the first four weeks. Irving was eligible to play last week in the Cowboys overtime loss at the Texans, but did not make the trip to Houston as he dealt with off-field concerns.

The Cowboys defense has performed admirably without Irving, but in a needed game against the Jaguars, it could be up to this defense to win the game for Dallas - something a disruptive player like Irving has the ability to do on any given snap.

While the plan is for the Cowboys to ease Irving into this game, his impact from the DT position might be enough to leave him on the field as much as needed in a tight game.

Kate Hairopoulos on Twitter

Irving said the coaches want to play him 10-15 snaps Sunday. "That's what they say now but if it's a close game, I know good and well Marinelli is going to be sending me out there & putting me through the ringer. I'm ready for it.

Like a good left-handed pitcher in baseball or three-point specialist in basketball, the Cowboys have afforded Irving a long leash despite his unreliability thanks to a 6'7" and 290 pound frame that makes him a menace for opposing guards.

The 3T-DT position is a pivotal one in Marinelli's scheme, and one the Cowboys have afforded Irving every opportunity to fill, yielding results whenever the former Chiefs practice squad steal suits up.

Filling in for Irving through the Cowboys first five games of the season has been reliable veteran Tyrone Crawford. Expected to play at defensive end this season, Crawford has recorded 14 tackles and one sack from the 3T position.

With Irving back in the "Hot Boyz" rotation, it will be interesting to see if Crawford once again goes out to right defensive end, where Randy Gregory has struggled to make the most out of his own return from suspension.

Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli is not expecting similar struggles from Irving, prepared to put him "through the ringer".

Where Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard calls the Cowboys defense, Marinelli is still one of the most respected coaches at The Star, demanding a lot of his defensive line in particular. It's the pairing of Marinelli's motivation and Irving's intangibles that have the Cowboys defense on the brink of taking another step toward's one of the league's best.

With their own offense set to line up against perhaps the best overall defense in Jacksonville on Sunday, Irving's return is just in time. The NFC East is far from out of reach for the Cowboys, who will be at full strength on defense once Sean Lee returns as early as next week.

The Cowboys have never lost a game in which Lee, Irving, and Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence play at least 20% of the team's snaps on defense. Perhaps this stat will have to be adjusted to include rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in short time, but for now the Cowboys are hours away from fighting for a 3-3 start to 2018, doing so with one of their most important defenders back in the lineup.

Tell us what you think about "David Irving Ready to “Be Put Through Ringer” in First Action with Cowboys" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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