The Cowboys have completed their OTAs and minicamp practices. The offseason is history. Training camp in Oxnard is up next in late July.
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 2016 season.
Today, our staff continues the series with a focus positions that could use more depth heading into 2016.
No. 10) Which Position Could Use More Depth?
Bryan Broaddus:Linebacker. There are names on the roster but they're unproven at this point. Barring a trade or free agent signing, your likely starters opening day are Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber. Behind them sit Mark Nzeocha, Andrew Gachkar and Damien Wilson. Look a little further down the list and you see names like Deon King, Brandon Hepburn and Derek Akunne. I have a good idea what you are going to get from Lee, Hitchens, Wilber and even Gachkar. Where I have concern is how Nzeocha and Wilson are going to perform in camp and these preseason games? My fear is that other than Lee, none of these linebackers play well enough and the front office is forced to make a deal and they have to burn a draft pick or depth like Ronald Leary or Darren McFadden. It would be comforting to see Nzeocha and Wilson step up and play at a level to push Hitchens and Wilber for their spots – then you have options instead of questions.
Rob Phillips:Defensive end is the obvious answer for a reason. The Cowboys are going to miss DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in the first four games, period. You can't lose your two most talented defensive ends for a month, in a league predicated on strong pass rush, and avoid challenges. The Cowboys obviously saw untapped potential in Benson Mayowa and their fourth-round pick, Charles Tapper, a terrific athlete who wasn't an edge rusher in college. But entering last season, Lawrence and Gregory were guys expected to become difference makers. Lawrence looked well on his way to becoming a double-digit sack type of player. Gregory had an outstanding rookie training camp but battled injuries. Without them, the rotation will be thin for that first month, and while others must step up, the best solution would be a Cowboys offense scoring points and gaining leads again. Opposing offenses didn't have to take chances last year, and the result was another low sack total and a monster drop in takeaways.
Nick Eatman:I think the obvious answer here is quarterback. I tried to go through the roster and look at all of the other positions and find areas that could be upgraded from top to bottom. But how is this not quarterback? Last year was proof enough how different things are from the starter to the backup – or backups in last year's case. And so what changed? The undersized guy who has yet to win a game in his career is your backup quarterback with a rookie draft pick in the mix. They didn't exactly address the position this offseason with proven talent. I do think Moore will be better and more comfortable in the offense. But I also thought Weeden and Cassel could win a few games each, and that obviously didn't happen. So considering the injury history recently with Romo and the inexperience behind him, coupled with what we saw last year, I think the answer is definitely quarterback.
David Helman: By now I think I've made my concerns about defensive end well known, so I'll turn my focus to another position that troubles me – cornerback. On the surface, yes, the Cowboys appear to be set. The trio of Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne is solid, if not spectacular. But if we're talking about depth, then the guys behind them aren't too inspiring. Deji Olatoye showed flashes last year, and the Cowboys had a fourth-round draft grade on rookie Anthony Brown. But there's not a whole lot in the way of proven talent behind the starters on the depth chart. That's a problem when you consider that Claiborne has appeared in just 40 of 66 possible games during his career because of injuries, not to mention the fact that Scandrick is one year removed from a debilitating injury of his own. On top of that, both Claiborne and Carr are scheduled to enter free agency next spring, which doesn't leave the team with much to work with in the future. So the short-term and the long-term look a bit troublesome in my opinion. Regardless of how well the corners perform this season, I think corner has to be one of this team's biggest priorities in the 2017 NFL Draft.
See all the best photos from Cowboys minicamp by photographers James D. Smith and Jeremiah Jhass.