Dallas Cowboys: Top Position Battles to Watch in Camp
If there’s one thing that head coach Jason Garrett has done well during his stint leading the Cowboys, it’s preach competition, and the Dallas Cowboys will arguably have more position battles in camp than ever before. That’s a good thing, but it certainly puts the starting lineup in a state of flux.
From wide receiver to safety to the offensive line, there aren’t many “locked up” starting or backup spots on the Cowboys in 2014. It’s imperative that the Cowboys choose the right man for the job in these situations, which might not always be the person who played the best during camp.
Training camp is important, but it’s just one small sliver of the season. We all intuitively know that if Tony Romo doesn’t play well during camp and in the preseason, he’s still going to be the Cowboys’ starting quarterback.
That same leeway should extend to other players, too, based on certain factors that predict success. If a seventh-round pick just barely outplays a second-rounder during camp, for example, the second-rounder should still win the job simply because you’d expect him to play the best moving forward.
With that said, here are five important position battles to watch for the Cowboys during training camp, along with the projected winner.
WR: Chris Boyd vs. Devin Street vs. L’Damian Washington
Is Cole Beasley going to be the Cowboys’ No. 3 receiver? I think it depends on how you define that role. Beasley will certainly work as the third receiver at times out of the slot, with Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant outside.
However, there will likely be times when the Cowboys want to use a different type of receiver in the slot (maybe even Williams). Beasley doesn’t work on the outside and he also probably shouldn’t be on the field much near the goal line.
Long term, though, I don’t think Beasley is going to keep the slot receiver job, especially with the rookie talent the Cowboys have in Chris Boyd, Devin Street, and L’Damian Washington. My favorite of the bunch is Boyd, but this will be an interesting battle to watch throughout camp.
Prediction: Street wins because he was drafted.
S: Matt Johnson vs. J.J. Wilcox
It’s looking like J.J. Wilcox will start at free safety alongside Barry Church. I liked Wilcox last year and I don’t think his underwhelming rookie season is cause for concern; playing just one year of safety at a small school, we should have known it would take Wilcox time to develop in the NFL.
Wilcox doesn’t have a ton of competition—a lot of fairly high-upside players who aren’t necessarily nipping at his heels right now—but I think Matt Johnson could surprise if healthy. The key is that he remains on the field, which I think is probably a 50/50 proposition.
Prediction: Wilcox wins, but Johnson pushes him if healthy.
CB: B.W. Webb vs. Sterling Moore vs. Terrance Mitchell
The Cowboys were happy with the way that cornerback Sterling Moore played last year, although it’s worth noting that he saw very limited action. Moore played only 87 snaps all year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), allowing a touchdown and six catches on 11 targets.
Basically, we can’t really draw any conclusions from Moore’s 2013 season because there wasn’t much of it to assess. I like that he’s heavy (204 pounds) for someone who stands just 5’10”, but like B.W. Webb and Terrance Mitchell (both 5’11”), the height is a concern.
This trio will likely compete for dime cornerback duties behind Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne.
Prediction: Moore wins.
RB: Joseph Randle vs. Ryan Williams
Speaking on running back Lance Dunbar, Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas recently wrote:
He has the ability to be a change of pace runner for DeMarco Murray. But does this mean he will see a huge role? Not necessarily because I think Murray will still be on the field for the bulk of the game. And if something happens to Murray, I think they would keep Dunbar in the third down role, expand it a little, but use Joseph Randle or Ryan Williams, whoever wins the third back job, as the every-down back.
As much as Dunbar might see a bigger role as a receiver in 2014, he’s unlikely to be a workhorse in the backfield, even if Murray gets injured. That true No. 2 role is probably going to be between Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams—with the loser likely not making the team.
Again, this one could come down to health. If Williams remains on the field, he might offer the Cowboys more upside as a true backup to Murray.
Prediction: Williams wins.
LG: Mackenzy Bernadeau vs. Ronald Leary
Last year, veterans Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary had very similar seasons on the inside. Playing left guard, Leary allowed a pressure on 4.0 percent of his snaps in pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus. Bernadeau was at 3.8 percent on the right side.
In the running game, the Cowboys averaged 4.21 YPC when Leary was at the point of attack. It was 4.85 YPC with Bernadeau. With Zack Martin penciled in as the starting right guard, this is going to be a really interesting battle to watch throughout camp.
Prediction: Bernadeau wins.
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