The offseason practices are in the rearview mirror as the Cowboys are heading towards training camp, which begins on July 24 in Oxnard, Calif.
That's usually the place where many of the questions regarding this team start to get answered.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rob Phillips, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – are attempting to answer 20 pressing questions as the team gets ready for camp and the 2017 season.
Today, we continue the series discussing who will start at cornerback and safety in the Sept. 10 season opener after the defense underwent considerable roster turnover in free agency this past spring, losing three 2016 starters in the secondary.
5) 20 Questions: Which Players Will Make Up Starting Secondary Week 1 vs. NYG?
Helman:The fun thing about the modern NFL is that you get to cheat when you're answering a question like this. Traditionally, we think of the starting secondary as four players – two corners and two safeties. But the Giants employ three fantastic receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. They also have a dynamic tight end in first-round draft pick Evan Engram. What I'm trying to say is that it shouldn't be surprising if the Cowboys open the season with five or even six defensive backs on the field. To answer the question more directly, I expect veteran experience to carry the day to start the season. I think your starting outside corners will be Anthony Brown and Nolan Carroll, with Orlando Scandrick manning the slot. I think Byron Jones and Jeff Heath will be the primary duo at safety, with an assist from Kavon Frazier. I see Chidobe Awuzie as a do-everything utility man to start his career – much like Byron was in 2015. He might not be a starter in name, but I expect Awuzie to get a lot of snaps at several different positions – including potentially some safety.
Phillips:I'm sticking with experience, at least to start the season. Tentatively I'd list Nolan Carroll at left cornerback, Anthony Brown at right and Orlando Scandrick in the slot, which is essentially another starting job. Jeff Heath has the inside track at the other safety spot next to Byron Jones. Third-round pick Jourdan Lewis can back up Scandrick. Second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie can be in the same role Jones was two years ago. Should he play corner? Safety? Injuries could determine where he's needed. Preseason will be so critical in seeing how much these young guys improve in camp and how much they can be counted on for meaningful snaps.
Eatman: Let's start with safety. I think Jeff Heath and Byron Jones will handle those two positions with relative ease. I don't see Heath having much competition for the starting spot at this point. At corner, I see Scandrick, Awuzie and Carroll as the top three corners for that first game. Not sure what the situation will be with Carroll because of his off-field incident. If he's available, he probably starts over Jourdan Lewis. But I'm predicting the rookie from Michigan will have a good camp and will be in the mix. No, I haven't forgotten about Anthony Brown. He'll be used in different packages but starting this first game, I don't see him as a top three player. I like Carroll matching up with Brandon Marshall and maybe Awuzie or Lewis against Shepherd with Scandrick and some help facing Beckham.
Broaddus:Great question. Barring any type of injury or suspension, Nolan Carroll opens at left corner, Orlando Scandrick at right corner with Jeff Heath and Byron Jones at safety. Anthony Brown will be the nickel and will play outside shifting Scandrick into the slot. There are guys in the front office that would like to see Jourdan Lewis on the field in one of these roles but understand that things need to play out. Coaches tend to work the veteran guys first, then add the young guys as they go. You never know what is going to happen during camp but it's a pretty nice mix of guys and the competition should be good.