Predicting the Winner of the Dallas Cowboys' Biggest Training Camp Battles
Training camp hasn't begun just yet for the Dallas Cowboys, but that doesn't mean it's too early to predict some eventual position starters.
Dallas has more than a few starting jobs that are up for grabs on both sides of the ball. Names like Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley and J.J. Wilcox will be fighting to start Week 1 against San Francisco.
With the Cowboys' most heated battles about to begin in Oxnard, California, let's take a look at the eventual winners of these starting roles.
No. 4 Wide Receiver: Cole Beasley
With Miles Austin gone, it's safe to assume that the Cowboys drafted Devin Street to take over Terrance Williams' old role as the slot receiver. That leaves Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley to fight over the No. 4 position.
Perhaps the biggest thing working against Harris' chances for this role is his fine ability as a returner. He returned both kicks and punts for Dallas last season, tallying a touchdown in his latter duties.
Because of Harris' stellar work on special teams, the Cowboys might be hesitant to use him a ton in the passing game. If the veteran were to get injured, that would be a significant blow to the special teams unit.
Beasley was more involved in the passing game than Harris was in 2013 and should be again this season. The SMU graduate performed well last year primarily as the team's No. 4 option, recording 368 yards and two touchdowns on 39 receptions.
While he wasn't really a factor in deep-pass situations, Beasley proved to be a solid option in short and mid-range passing situations. If he can play as well as he did last season during training camp, this spot is Beasley's.
No. 2 Running Back: Lance Dunbar
Last season, Joseph Randle primarily served as DeMarco Murray's backup, tallying 164 yards on 54 carries. As the team's No. 3 option, Lance Dunbar recorded 150 yards on 30 carries.
Randle might have had the backup role secured much of last year, but it's clear who the more productive back was.
In his rookie season, Randle looked indecisive more often than he was hitting a hole and rushing past defenders.
Dunbar, on the other hand, made quick decisions and fought for all of his 150 yards. Easily his most memorable game last year was Thanksgiving Day against Oakland when he tallied 82 yards before suffering a season-ending injury.
If his 2013 season was not cut short, Dunbar would have overtaken Randle as the No. 2 running back option. It won't be the easiest of camp battles, but expect Dunbar to grab hold of the backup spot that is very much up for grabs.
No. 2 Cornerback: Morris Claiborne
Morris Claiborne became yet another young player to suffer the effects of a sophomore slump in 2013.
Due to stellar play by Orlando Scandrick and lackluster play by himself, Claiborne was demoted to the No. 3 cornerback last year.
Scandrick defended four more passes, tackled 40 more ball-carriers and recorded one more interception than Claiborne last year.
Last year was a career best for Scandrick, and he could easily play to that same level come training camp. Even if he does just that, though, he will be demoted back to his old nickel corner role.
Dallas moved up to No. 6 overall in the 2012 NFL draft to grab the LSU product, who showed promise in his rookie season. Claiborne tallied two fumble recoveries, 43 tackles and eight passes defended in his first pro season.
The Cowboys are not going to let a top-tier investment like Claiborne sit on the bench, regardless of how well Scandrick performs in camp.
The coaching staff is going to give Claiborne the opportunity, at least for the first quarter of the season, to live up to his potential.
If he struggles out of the gate, though, it won't take long for Scandrick to resume the No. 2 corner role. It might not be fair, but this position is already Claiborne's due to his high draft status and potential.
Starting Strong Safety: J.J. Wilcox
The only certainty at safety heading into Cowboys camp is that Barry Church will be one of the two starters.
Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton, Jeff Heath, Ahmad Dixon and J.J. Wilcox will all be trying to start alongside him. There are plenty of names trying to become the other safety in Rod Marinelli's defense, but Wilcox is the one who will come out on top.
Despite being on the Cowboys roster the past two seasons, Johnson has never played a down in a regular-season NFL game. He has suffered an injury in the preseason each of the last two years.
Heath was an undrafted free agent last year and took Wilcox's former starting role. Despite some decent play last year, though, Wilcox was drafted with the hope of him starting sooner than later. Heath was brought in to be more of a depth guy than anything else.
The same could be said of fellow young players Dixon and Hamilton. Both were selected in the later rounds of the draft when they came out of college. It would take a truly stellar training camp for either to be in the conversation for the starting job.
Based on process of elimination alone, this position is Wilcox's to lose. As long as he puts together a solid camp, his competition has little chance of besting him.
Starting Middle Linebacker: Justin Durant
With Sean Lee gone for the 2014 season, rookie Anthony Hitchens and veteran Justin Durant are the most likely replacements at middle linebacker. Expect DeVonte Holloman and newcomer Rolando McClain to be in the mix during camp as well.
Hitchens was taken in the fourth round of this year's NFL draft, with more than a few analysts believing Dallas reached at pick No. 119. Holloman and McClain simply aren't ready for the responsibility that comes with Lee's position.
McClain is trying to revive his career after burning out in Oakland and Baltimore. Holloman has played sparingly since being drafted by the 'Boys in the sixth round of the 2013 draft.
Durant is the most tenured of the bunch and started six games last year at linebacker due to injuries at the position. This defensive unit has seen plenty of turnover since the 2013 season ended.
As the starting middle linebacker, Durant can bring some stability and a dash of veteran leadership to a new-look Dallas defense.