With Dallas Cowboys training camp starting this week, we try to determine which of the positional battles is the most important to the team’s success in 2017.
On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys‘ brass kicked off training camp in Oxnard, California with an opening press conference. After opening ceremonies on Monday, the Cowboys will have their first practice session. And they’ll continue to do so through mid-August when they’ll head back home to Frisco, Texas to finish out camp.
Within the next month and some change, the Cowboys coaching staff will make some big roster decisions that will have a major impact on the upcoming season. They are determined in large part by training camp battles. So which one of these positional battles is the most important to the team’s success in 207?
First, let’s determine which positions appear to be fairly set. Quarterback, running back, tight end and special teams I believe are very solid, although there could be depth added. And the development of second-year tight end Rico Gathers is certainly worth watching.
The wide receiver corps will have a heated battle for what could be it’s final spot on the depth chart. It certainly appears Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and fourth round rookie Ryan Switzer are locks to make the team. If Dallas only keeps five receivers on their active roster, then wide outs like Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, Noah Brown and Andy Jones could all be fighting for one spot.
Despite the exciting battle at receiver, it’s unlikely the fifth or potentially sixth player on the depth chart has a major impact on the upcoming season.
The Cowboys’ entire defense is in a training camp battle this year. From defensive end to safety to every position in between, there will be starters determined in every positional group. Sure, there are locks to make the final roster like two-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Sean Lee and former first round pick at safety in Byron Jones.
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But who are the Dallas’ starters along the defensive line? Who starts at the mike and strongside linebacker positions? And who gets the nod to start beside Jones at safety? Who are the Cowboys’ starting cornerbacks? All of these questions will be answered in the next month.
Despite the amount of question marks swirling around the Cowboys’ defense, I believe the most important training camp battle is actually within their offensive line.
The Cowboys have three perennial Pro Bowlers along their O-line. Left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin anchor the league’s scariest positional group. But the offseason exodus of starting right tackle Doug Free due to retirement and left guard Ronald Leary via free agency have left this offensive line with major voids to fill.
Fortunately, Dallas has talented offensive lineman La’el Collins returning from a toe injury. It appears Collins is a lock to replace Free as the starter at right tackle. This leaves the starting left guard position open and available for the taking in training camp. It also means the Cowboys could have a potential weak-link in their O-line. And that could put their season in jeopardy.
The apparent favorite to fill that role is guard Jonathan Cooper. A former first round selection out of North Carolina in 2013, Cooper has spent time with four different teams in the past calendar year.
The Arizona Cardinals traded him, and both the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns simply gave up on the former high pick. All signs point to Cooper not being the same player after fracturing his left fibula during a preseason game his rookie year. Needless to say, I’m not confident in his abilities to be a starter regardless of who lines up beside him.
The fact is, there will be times when the Cowboys’ starting left guard will be targeted by defensive coordinators and expected to stand his ground in one-on-one situations. And it will be the health of starting quarterback Dak Prescott that will be on the line. Do you really trust a former first round bust with that job?
Obviously, Cooper could step up to the challenge in training camp and prove he is worthy of the starting role. And being in the same locker room with three All-Pros should help. But the fact is, one weak link along the O-line can ruin the Cowboys season.
Beyond Cooper, offensive lineman Chaz Green, Byron Bell, Emmett Cleary and Joe Looney all seem to be in the mix in this critical position battle. Regardless of who ultimately wins the role, their play will have a major impact on the upcoming season. In my eyes, that makes the starting left guard position along the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line the most important training camp battle this year.