Hard to believe but we have almost made it through the doldrums of the offseason. The Dallas Cowboys officially head to Oxnard, California one week from today to start becoming the 2013 version of the team. Each player has different motivations and expectations in regards to their time at camp. For guys like Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, it is a chance to hone their skills and keep themselves going at an upper echelon level. Rookies like Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams and J.J. Wilcox will be competing to earn significant playing time, if not a starting role on this team. Whatever it is, the players that will be headed to camp all have something to improve upon and therefore something to prove.
Some position battles however will be crucial to the success of the team as a whole. Today we will dissect the most important, hotly contested areas that right now may have serious question marks.
We know Romo will be the starting quarterback, Witten will be the starting tight end and DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith have their starting roles locked down as well. It is highly likely that Miles Austin will be the complimentary receiver to Bryant and that first round draft selection Travis Frederick will be the opening day center. Beyond that, the three offensive line positions are completely up for grabs. This is without a doubt the most important decision to be made. The offensive line’s inabilities to provide Romo with the necessary time to pick apart defenses and create open running lanes for Murray have been well documented. In order for this team to get to where they would like to be and where they believe they should be, the line must hold its own. With Smith locked in at left tackle and again, Frederick likely claiming the center spot. who fills the two guard spots as well as the right tackle position?
At guard, one would think that last year’s incumbents Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau would go into this year penciled in at starter. Unfortunately for them, neither player did much to solidify that thought. Both missed much of the spring practices and OTA’s. This has allowed other options such as Ronald Leary, Phil Costa and Kevin Kowalski to get the bulk of the reps and make a push for the two spots. Ultimately, I think Costa sneaks in and wins a spot, leaving the possibility that whoever he beats out between Livings and Bernadeau may not be on the team at all.
As far as the right tackle position is concerned, we are all very familiar with the struggles of Doug Free however it’s not like Jeremy Parnell was so definitively better that he’s going to jump right in and become a starter. The third option here, Darrion Weems, seems even less likely to be a player in this discussion. Does Free use the much publicized almost release as motivation to improve and reclaim his spot as the starter? Does Parnell continue to improve and finally surpass Free? I have a feeling that the latter occurs and Free is used as the swing tackle, largely due to his familiarity with both sides.
SECOND TIGHT END
Usually when a team uses its second round draft pick on a player, that player is going to be afforded every opportunity to win a starting spot and I am sure that will be no different here. Gavin Escobar was drafted for a reason. I am sure he will see plenty of playing time and be used as a red zone threat given his dominating size and soft hands. I also think a lot of people are forgetting about James Hanna. Thankfully, Hanna did exactly what you would hope he would have by showing a growth from year one to year two. Hanna was one of the most impressive standouts during the spring practice sessions. We know Dallas plans to utilize more two tight end sets this year, what we do not know is who that second tight end will be. My feeling is that Hanna wins that spot and is used between the twenties while Escobar gets more red zone looks.
Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are the present and future of the Dallas defense. If those two stay healthy, it will be amazing to watch them fly around the field making tackles and breaking up passes. The third spot however is wide open. Dallas used the free agency period like a miser uses their checkbook. Very few additions to the team were made in this manner, however one of them was LB Justin Durant. Dallas did not stop there though as they resigned veteran Ernie Sims, drafted DeVonte Holloman and added another linebacker after the draft signing rookie free agent Brandon Magee from Arizona State. Factoring in Alex Albright and last year’s seventh round pick Caleb McSurdy, six guys will be competing for one spot. This may represent the most vigorously fought for spot in all of camp. While Magee looked pretty good in OTA’s and Albright just keeps showing steady growth, I believe this will come down to Durant versus Sims. Sims filled in admirably last year when it seemed like every one on the defense suffered a season ending injury at some point but Durant was given more money and brought in for a reason. It is my opinion that Durant will probably win the job.
Barry Church will be the opening day starter at safety. Before last year’s season ending Achilles tendon tear, Church was the star of camp and showing good play in the first three games of the season. The second spot though will be an exercise in experience versus youthful exuberance. Will Allen was brought in as a free agent to compete for a spot but Dallas did not stop there. Using their third round pick on J.J. Wilcox and signing undrafted rookie free agent Jakar Hamilton bolstered the spot as did getting much ballyhooed 2012 draft pick Matt Johnson back in the fray. Allen will be entering his 10th year in the league, the other three have never played a snap in the league. This would lead you to believe that Allen has a leg up but the star of this year’s OTA’s was Wilcox. He exhibited a knack for being around the ball and showed a fearless desire to hit anything he got his eyes locked on. Johnson, meanwhile, has been described as a cerebral player who just always seems to be in the right spot. This position will likely see Allen start initially but Wilcox and Johnson will be given plenty of opportunities and it could just be a matter of time before one of them wins the spot permanently.