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Dallas Cowboys: Which Starting Positions Are Up For Grabs?

Brian Martin

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Dallas Cowboys: Which Starting Positions Are Up For Grabs?

From top to bottom, the Dallas Cowboys have one of the deepest rosters they have had in recent memory. There should be plenty of competition at just about every position, but there are only a few starting positions that are still up for grabs.

Offensively, the Cowboys are pretty much returning the same unit that vaulted them into the playoffs last season, but as things stand right now there are a few starting positions that could be up for grabs. The defensive side of the ball is an entire different story for the Cowboys. It’s a unit that might be completely overhauled and there are plenty of starting spots that have yet to be locked down.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at exactly which positions are up for grabs currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster.

RT Chaz Green

Photo by Ray Carlin/Icon Sportswire

Right Tackle

With Doug Free‘s retirement, the Dallas Cowboys have to find a new starting right tackle. The Cowboys didn’t draft any offensive tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft, so that would suggest the new right tackle is currently on the roster.

Chaz Green is likely the most talented and preferred candidate to become the starting RT in 2017, but his long list of injuries is a major concern. Green has yet to finish a season healthy since entering the NFL and that has to be under consideration before naming him the starter.

Green will have to beat out some competition before being named the starter at RT. Emmett Cleary, Byron Bell, and perhaps La’el Collins will all be battling it out throughout the rest of the off-season to earn the right to sit at the top of the depth chart at right tackle.

La'el CollinsLeft Guard

Just like with Doug Free, the departure of Ronald Leary could mean the left guard position is up for grabs. Odds are though La’el Collins is already the hands-down favorite to once again take over the starting responsibilities, but he could also be in the mix at right tackle.

The Dallas Cowboys brought back Jonathan Cooper, a former first-round draft pick, which gives them some flexibility with how they want to go about shaping the offensive line for 2017. I don’t think anything is set in stone just yet, which means this could be a position battle worth keeping track of throughout training camp.

The Cowboys are going to want to get their best five players on the field and Collins’ position flexibility means he could be in play at both right tackle and left guard. I think he is the key to solidifying the offensive line in 2017 wherever he ends up playing.

S Byron Jones

Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Strong Safety

The only sure thing at the safety position for the Dallas Cowboys is that Byron Jones will be starting in 2017, but his counterpart has yet to be named. The departures of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox creates an open spot at strong safety and all eyes will be on this position throughout the rest of the off-season.

Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, free-agent signee Robert Blanton, and rookie Xavier Woods will all be competing to earn the spot opposite Byron Jones. I think you’d also have to consider rookie Chidobe Awuzie because of his versatility to play any position in the secondary.

Regardless of who earns the starting spot opposite Byron Jones, it looks as if the safety position will be more athletic and talented in 2017. This is definitely going to be one of the more exciting position battles to watch.

CB Orlando ScandrickCornerback

The Dallas Cowboys used three of their nine draft picks on cornerbacks and even Orlando Scandrick’s name surfaced as a possible trade candidate. I don’t think there is one player among the Cowboys CBs that is guaranteed a starting position, which could mean that we see entirely new faces in 2017.

Scandrick is probably the closest sure thing the Cowboys have to earn a starting job, but the trade rumors cause a little but of doubt in his job security. Nolan Carroll might be the next in line to earn a starting spot because of his veteran experience, but I don’t think that’s guaranteed either.

I fully believe that whoever separates themselves during the off-season practices will find themselves starting when the season kicks off. I don’t think it matters what their salary may be or their level experience. It will be an open competition worth following.

LB Jaylon Smith

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker

As things stand right now, the only starting spot not up for grabs is Sean Lee’s weak side linebacker position. Yes, there is hope that Jaylon Smith will be the starting middle linebacker for the Cowboys, but we are anxiously awaiting to see what he looks like once he can finally get the pads back on.

So, the middle linebacker position and the strong side linebacker position could be up for grabs still. The Cowboys could go with some kind of rotation until things sort themselves out and that could possibly go on into the season. It’s probably not the ideal scenario, but that’s how things could play out.

All eyes will be on Jaylon Smith, and for good reason, but this will be yet another position battle to keep a close watch on throughout the remainder of the off-season. Especially considering how important the linebackers are in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defensive scheme.

DE DeMarcus LawrenceDefensive Line

I could have split up the defensive tackle and defensive end positions individually, but the Dallas Cowboys have a lot of players with the versatility to play either position. I personally don’t think that anyone is guaranteed a starting spot.

DeMarcus Lawrence has been the starting DE on both the left and right side over the past several seasons, but hasn’t been able to take his game to the next level because of injuries and off the field issues. He is going to have to fight for his job just like everyone else.

At defensive tackle Maliek Collins has earned the right to start and he can play either of the two interior DTs positions. The remaining spot is still up in the air, but with the way Marinelli likes to rotate his defensive line might make this open starting spot unimportant.

It is really going to be interesting to see how the entire defensive line rotation shakes out and who can secure themselves one of those open starting spots.

✭✭✭✭✭

With all of the open starting spots up for grabs, this off-season will definitely be worth paying extra close attention to. There is lot of youth being inserted into the roster and the 2017 season could see a lot of young players playing key roles for the Dallas Cowboys. However things play out, this off-season may be the start of something great.

How do you see these open roster spots being filled?

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Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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2 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    Offense will be almost the same but I think Chaz greens injury history will push somebody else in the rotation and I think lucky gets beat out by Switzer for the last wr slot

    Defense on the other hand will be interesting I think they Go Lawerence and Taco with the End position, Collins and Paea inside , Lee. Smith. Wilson at LB, Brown. Awuzie. Scandrick(if not traded)or Lewis at Corner , and Byron and Woods at the safety(I’m sorry Jeff Heath fans). This defense will be legit and their young I can’t wait till the season. Let’s go

    • Brian Martin

      There are definitely a lot of roster battles that will be interesting to keep track of. It’s going to be a fun numbers game when it comes down to creating the 53 man roster.

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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