NFL Mini-Camps are a time for teaching, improving, and familiarizing. However, these Dallas Cowboys have another difficult piece to add to the puzzle. With an overwhelming number of new faces and much intense competition for starting roles, the 2012 Dallas Cowboys have the immediate task of developing a depth chart pecking order.
While it’s great to have several players going full tilt for certain spots, it can also be a detractor come training camp in late July. One huge key to all successful NFL teams is continuity and familiarity among starters. This is a luxury Dallas is far from achieving at the moment, yet needs to make a top priority to begin the process during mini-camp.
Repetitions among a consistent core of starters can never be underestimated when entering the regular season. There are three main areas on the Cowboys roster with fierce competition defining their nature. Along with these many internal battles comes an increasing need to weed out true contenders from the depth players. Below are the three groups that possess the highest level of uncertainty and greatest demand for order.
THIRD WIDE RECEIVER
As has been well publicized and hotly debated for months now, the Cowboys third wide receiver position is submerged in a very deep, completely unsettled competition. Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes, Danny Coale, Raymond Radway, and Dwayne Harris are the key entries at the moment.
It’s nice to know there are at least five players with enough promise to be in contention. Yet at the same time it’s also a complication to get these guys crucial repetitions with Tony Romo.
While not a glaring setback at the moment, come training camp there needs to be a somewhat set method to handing out the number of key opportunities. This can only be achieved by strongly narrowing down the candidates.
The familiarity and rapport built between the starting quarterback and his key wide receivers are crucial to passing success. In the NFL, the QB needs to have a good idea where his guys will end up when presented with a certain wrinkle or player positioning in coverage. Just as well as a wide receiver needs to know what the QB will expect him to do when confronted with change.
The third receiver is already a low option on the totem pole of most passing plays. So running several guys in and out of that spot come August becomes counter-productive. By that time, coaches need to have the list narrowed down to three guys or less with a legitimate chance of securing the role.
With the limited information of the present, my opinion is Ogletree, Holmes, and Coale will be the lead focus of the third wide receiver position when training camp arrives. When it all shakes out, Ogletree will unjustifiably have the lead heading into the Giants game based on experience.
However, early in the season either Holmes or Coale will finally get real game day opportunities and show they are naturally the better option. Ogletree will quickly be unseated and never return to that spot, just as 2011.
Kevin Ogletree is Kevin Ogletree, you and I both know what he is as a football player. If he secures the number three WR spot in Dallas, a huge step backward will have been taken on offense. To get over the hump and become a contender, Dallas must avoid any significant backward motion like this.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
The offensive line is a beast of its own unique mold. These guys have an absolute necessity to understand what they are doing as a unit and be able to effectively communicate instant assignment changes. Many of the Cowboys o-line difficulties last year came from a lack of communication. Which naturally was often the pitfalls of starting a brand new center.
By the end of mini-camps, Dallas must settle on the two main contestants for each starting guard and the center position to develop this crucial continuity and chemistry within the line. It seems Phil Costa and Bill Nagy will be the main players battling at center. However, Mackenzy Bernadeau should be in that mix once healthy. Either way, this list needs to be trimmed to two by at least early August.
The guards are a little more tricky. Nate Livings seems to be the lead for one spot, however behind him it’s a free-for-all. Bernadeau is in that mix as well as center. Then you have David Arkin, Ronald Leary, Bill Nagy (if he doesn’t unseat Costa), and Kevin Kowalski fighting for a role.
Altogether there are six possible guards for four spots on the two-deep. This list needs to be trimmed to four key players getting the majority of snaps for the starting and back-up guard spots.
My guess is Livings and Nagy will be one-two at left guard, with Leary and Arkin manning the right side. Costa should hang on to his center spot if not strongly outplayed by Nagy. I have a feeling, management and coaches greatly want to avoid starting a new center for a second year in a row. The growing pains at that position are just too damaging.
Bernadeau will not win a second-string spot at either guard position. Leary’s potential and both Arkin and Nagy’s improvement will hold him off. If Bernadeau can’t wrestle away back-up center from Kowalski once Nagy goes back to guard, then his signing becomes a complete waste of financial resources. Which is exactly what I graded it as the day it went down.
Dallas was never in dire need to land depth at the guard spot, the glaring hole was to find two very capable starters. Along that line of thinking, Bernadeau never fit the bill through his ability, nor the substantial tab paid to bring him in.
The situation at safety is also a land of confusion. The Cowboys field Gerald Sensabaugh and….. Who really knows at the moment? Right now a handful of uncertain players are hoping to snag the starter role.
The current mini-camp will provide the first look at rookie Matt Johnson, and also shed light on Brodney Poole’s intentions. Did he come here to resurrect his career and be a force, or merely fill a roster spot?
And I’m certainly not writing off Barry Church to jump in the middle of the fray and make a case to start. It would be really nice to see one of these guys step up, come on hard, and begin to abruptly lock down the open starting spot across from Sensabaugh.
With a fairly good grasp on what Brodney Poole and Barry Church bring to the table, I may even value Church a tad higher if he progresses with the real off-season.
Matt Johnson is the guy I have a solid feeling about. From college production and scout evaluations it seems like he is the type of high-energy, fly-around safety that has been missing in Dallas. Whoever wins the job, I’d like to see someone command the position with confidence.
While the mini-camps will offer much teaching and improvement to all players, by their conclusion the practices must also provide a real first glimpse into the shape of the 2012 Dallas Cowboys. A fluid two-deep pecking order must have been established to not hinder consistency being shaped in training camp.
Forming a solid plan of how to initially distribute the key assignments during training camp is highly necessary to begin a strong rapport between starting units. There are some teams out there that already enter camp fairly set with starters and will be furthering their starting bond with every snap.
Hopefully, Dallas won’t allow itself to get too far behind the eight ball trying to figure out who fits where and are the best options. Keep in mind, there are also several current starters at other positions on this team who have never played a down in Dallas.
So the adjustment period and consistency needed runs much deeper than just settling on the leaders of unmanned positions. Should be an interesting ride. I’m just happy the time has finally arrived to put down the evaluation sheets and get familiar with these new Cowboys on a real practice field.
Topics: Abe Elam, Andre Holmes, Barry Church, Bill Nagy, Brodney Pool, Dallas Cowboys, Danny Coale, David Arkin, Dwayne Harris, Gerald Sensabaugh, Kevin Kowalski, Kevin Ogletree, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Matt Johnson, Mini Camp, Nate Livings, Offensive Line, Phil Costa, Raymond Radway, Ron Leary, Safety, Wide Receiver