We are now days away from the start of the Cowboys 2016 Training camp. Finally, right? With camp comes competition, starting positions and backup jobs are all in jeopardy as players will be fighting day in and day out to earn a spot on this years Cowboys’ roster.
Cowboys’ camp is filled with “sexy” position battles, such as the backup quarterback position and the number two receiver role. Possibly the most intriguing battle of all might be one you haven’t thought about yet, the battle for the “swing tackle” role.
What is a swing tackle?
In simplest terms, the swing tackle is the first-backup offensive lineman who can fill in at both left and right tackle if needed. While he is the “sixth man” of sorts and wouldn’t be in the weekly starting lineup, the importance swing tackle position cannot be understated.
In 2014, Jermey Parnell filled this role for the Cowboys and was needed to actually start at right tackle during Doug Free’s absence. While Parnell certainly didn’t play poorly, there was still a noticeable drop-off in his play from that of Free’s. Of course there will be a drop-off when any backup fills in for a starter, but Parnell was about as good a backup tackle as you could ask for.
Parnell’s departure has left the Cowboys with questions about their swing tackle role for the past two offseasons. With the reported signings of tackle Cameron Bradfield and Darryl Baldwin, there now seems to be three players legitimately competing for this very important role.
The Cowboys drafted Chaz Green in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft to the surprise of most of the football world. While the team had been declared the owners of the league’s top offensive line, they still found it necessary to select an offensive lineman with one of their first three picks.
Green spent most of the 2015 season injured, after undergoing hip surgery during the offseason. This offseason, however, was filled with hope for Green’s future, as the team seems to believe Green is set to show why he was worth a third round pick. It was even rumored for a while that Green would have a chance to compete for the starting right tackle job with Doug Free, something that seems well out of the realm of possibilities at this point.
Others, including myself, remain skeptical. I didn’t see a whole lot out of Green during his time at Florida to make me believe is he up to the challenge of starting in the NFL as a tackle, but I hope to be proved wrong. His chances don’t look great after the Cowboys recent moves to add two offensive tackles, however.
Bradfield was the first of two offensive tackles signed to the Cowboys this week. These moves came to the surprise of many, especially considering the optimism around Charles Brown and Chaz Green among many Cowboys fans and writers.
Bradfield has something Green doesn’t have, NFL-game experience. While he hasn’t played in the league since the 2014 season, Bradfield did start 27 of his 41 career games over three years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Most importantly, he did so at both right and left tackle.
Now it is hard to know how much Bradfield has left in the tank, or even if he can play at all anymore, but his experience, size, and relatively young age give him a shot to compete for the swing tackle role.
The second of two tackles signed to the Cowboys this week, Darryl Baldwin might as well be a rookie. After signing as an undrafted free agent to the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, Baldwin saw no game action during his rookie year, and was only on the roster for three preseason games.
What gives you hope with Baldwin is his excellent length. At 6’6″ 305 pounds, Baldwin has good arm length and knew how to use it at Ohio State. His upper body strength and pass blocking punch also give you some hope that he could carve himself out a niche as a swing tackle.
Baldwin started all of his college games at right tackle, however, and is probably nothing more than a camp body. With that being said, I would be surprised if Baldwin made the final 53-man roster at all.
What should they do?
As you can see, the Cowboys offensive line depth, especially at tackle, is lacking. Bradfield gives a sort of veteran presence to the bench, but the ceiling of this swing tackle position will go as high as Chaz Green will.
Green has to make good on his third round selection, and if he doesn’t, we will all look back at rounds two and three of the 2015 draft with a ton of questions about the team handled their picks.
Hopefully for the Cowboys, Chaz Green can come through. But I certainly have my doubts.