Despite completing four weeks of OTAs and mini-camp practices, several things remain unsettled for the Cowboys. When the team reports to training camp on July 28 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions still need answers.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rob Phillips, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp.
Today, the staff continues the series with a focus on entire positions, and which units will be the most difficult to cut.
*14) Which will be the toughest position to trim at final cuts? *
Rob Phillips:Widely considered a weak spot last year, the defensive line suddenly has much improved depth and talent. At end, Jeremy Mincey now becomes a rotation player with Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy (when he's eligible to play) adding to the pass rush and DeMarcus Lawrence likely manning the left side. Ben Gardner could be a training camp surprise and Jack Crawford showed flashes last year, but how many snaps could they realistically get? What about fifth-round pick Ryan Russell, whom the team likes? And let's not forget about Efe Obada, who has an uphill battle to make the squad but the Cowboys are more than intrigued by his athletic ability. At tackle, can backups Terrell McClain and Ken Bishop push for playing time? It's a good problem for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Guys like Mincey and Hardy could move inside in sub-packages to bolster the pass rush from the tackle spot. Marinelli wants a deep rotation and versatility, and he appears to have both on paper.
Nick Eatman:Had I answered this question a week ago, I still think it would be linebacker. Now that we know of Rolando McClain's four-game suspension, I think it clouds the position even more. Players facing suspension in the regular season can complicate things in training camp. You still want McClain to be a part of things, if he's healthy enough to practice, but the mindset of camp is to get ready for the season. So Jasper Brinkley and Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens need plenty of MIKE reps. One might argue that it gets easier to cut down because when McClain goes to the suspended list, it frees up a spot, and gives the Cowboys at least four weeks to evaluate another linebacker. Still, it seems like a position that has plenty of question marks. Traditionally in a 4-3 scheme, teams keep six linebackers and maybe seven. By my count, this team will keep Lee, Hitchens, Wilson, Wilber, Brinkley and Gachkar at the start of the season, with McClain coming back in Week 5. That excludes seventh-round pick Mark Nzeocha and Cam Lawrence and former first-round pick Keith Rivers, who is ought to prove he still has something left in the tank. [embeddedad0]
David Helman:There are only four running backs on this roster right now – six, if you include fullbacks. That seems simple enough. You cut two guys and move on. But with this much uncertainty at the running back position, that's easier said than done. In a perfect world, you want Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle to take advantage of an opportunity and shoulder the load. But even though they're the most proven backs in this offense, I still view them as unproven commodities. It's incredibly easy to envision Lance Dunbar doing great things in this offense, but he hasn't done them yet – and isn't that the same thing we said last summer? How does Ryan Williams factor into all of this – especially if he leads the team in rushing this preseason, like he did last year? Is it worth carrying a fullback if all four running backs are excelling, or do you part ways with Tyler Clutts and Ray Agnew? And that doesn't even include the possibility of the Cowboys acquiring a new ball carrier later this summer. What happens then? There aren't a lot of cuts to be made here, but the way the coaches decide to make them will be important.
Bryan Broaddus:I am looking forward to seeing how these young receivers battle for roster spots. The question will be whether this staff keeps five or six. I think there is a chance that they keep five, and that is counting Lucky Whitehead as a return man. As many positive things as I have heard about Devin Street and where they see him as a fit, if he gets out-played by one of the rookie receivers – his spot could be on the line. As far as the other possible choices, I really like what I have seen from Deontay Greenberry, Antwan Goodley and Nick Harwell. I am still waiting on George Farmer to show me something, but that's what training camp is for. The bottom line is that if all play to their capabilities, then just trying to select one or two could make those final cut meetings very interesting and painful for the staff.