IRVING, Texas – In less than two months, the Cowboys will have a host of new faces around Valley Ranch, ranging from draft picks to rookie free agents.
Typically, it can be anywhere from 20 to 30 new players who will be fighting to make the roster.
So before we get to that point, let’s focus on last year’s rookies who are still around and wrestling for a spot.
Many coaches have said players often make the most progress from their rookie year to their second season. So let’s look at 10 rookies from last year and rank them in order of their expected role for the 2013 campaign.
Again, it’s not a ranking based on their production as rookies, but how they’re projected to fit this year.
>>Photo Gallery: Top Sophomores-To-Be
Honorable Mention – Caleb McSurdy: Drafted in the seventh round out of Montana, some scouts were very excited about his potential, especially on special teams. A torn Achilles injury in training camp wiped out his season, but he should be healthy enough to compete again by the start of this year’s camp, if not much sooner in the minicamps. Moving to a 4-3 scheme is something he’s familiar with and can likely play inside or outside.
10. Ben Bass: He’s another player that should benefit moving to a 4-3. He wasn’t big enough to play nose in the 3-4 and hadn’t fully grasped the defensive end spot in that scheme. Here he’ll be a 3-technique tackle who can get up the field and rush, something we saw him do effectively in the preseason games.
9. Danny Coale: After a disappointing rookie season that was marred by injuries, Coale will get the chance to work into the rotation at receiver. When he was finally practicing at the end of camp, Coale started to flash some potential. With Kevin Ogletree likely out of the mix, Coale should be right in the competition with Beasley, Harris and Armstrong, and perhaps other rookies drafted or signed in free agency.
8. Ron Leary: Jerry Jones said recently that Leary “has a real chance” to compete for playing time this year. Jones also added Leary might have set a record for training camp snaps, having to play both guard and some center because of injuries. He wore down some before the season began, but a year on the practice squad should give Leary a shot to compete this season.
7. Lance Dunbar: Didn’t even start the season on the team but by the end, took a few backup reps behind DeMarco Murray. Dunbar gives the Cowboys something they didn’t have at tailback – pure speed. He’s a quick, shifty back that will likely get stronger and bigger this offseason. He’ll have competition for the No. 2 spot but he should factor into the equation somewhere.
6. Kyle Wilber: Injuries to his finger and then thumb slowed his progress early on. By the time the season began, it was hard for him to catch up. Wilber did have some 3-4 experience, but he’ll have a role in this 4-3 scheme, possibly as an outside linebacker or situational pass-rusher.
5. Cole Beasley: Some might argue for him to be higher on this list, and he could be. Right now, it looks like he’ll be battling for a third- or fourth-receiver spot. But who knows how far Beasley can take this thing. To make the team like he did was a big surprise for most. He is a good route-runner with great hands. There is a spot for that in the NFL and he proved it last year.
4. Matt Johnson: Again, this list is about expectations and the Cowboys are expecting big things out of Johnson, who was snake bitten by injuries in every way last year. Three separate hamstring issues stunted his progress, which didn’t even start until late June because of school obligations. But look for him to have a shot to compete for a starting job, assuming, of course, that he can stay healthy.
3. James Hanna: He only hauled in eight passes for 86 yards, but by the end of the season, it was clear the sixth-round pick from OU had caught on nicely to the offense. The Cowboys were using him more and he is expected to be the No. 2 tight end behind Jason Witten this year.
2. Tyrone Crawford: This switch to a 4-3 could benefit Crawford as much as anyone on this defense. He looks like a perfect fit for the defensive end spot opposite of Ware. Last year, Crawford showed flashes early in camp and then later in the season as well. Depending on what happens with Anthony Spencer, Crawford could compete for a starting job.
1. Morris Claiborne: As the No. 6 overall pick, Claiborne is expected to be a top player for this team for years to come. Last season he had some troubles along the way, but for the most part, he gave a solid rookie effort. Teamed up with Brandon Carr on the other side, Claiborne figures to be much better in 2013. >>Photo Gallery: Top Sophomores-To-Be