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20Q: Shorter Camp To Affect Position Battles?


Editor's Note:With the understanding that position battles, roster spots and other football questions take a major backseat to the bigger issues that have been presented by COVID-19, our staff will attempt to tackle 20 of the bigger questions that this team and league faces as we get ready for the 2020 season. Today, we continue the series discussing the Cowboys' position battles.

Without question, this will be an unprecedented training camp.

The NFL and NFLPA has worked diligently to adopt a revised collective bargaining agreement that includes new health and safety protocols, as well as an adjusted preseason schedule, as the league moves forward with plans for a full season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One agreement was to eliminate preseason games this year given teams' inability to meet or practice in person this offseason. Now the next few weeks are devoted to a gradual ramp-up of football activities, with padded practices permitted to start Aug. 17.

That said, it'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys pick the 53-man roster and decide players' roles with less evaluation time.

So, how will a shorter camp affect position battles? The staff discusses.

Nick Eatman: Of course, it's going to affect the position battles. It's like the difference in a football trailing by 14 points in the first quarter and trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter. The pressure is certainly on and there's little room for error. It'd be one thing if you've got a dead-even race for one spot, which rarely happens. I do remember Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick battling for a starting cornerback spot on year and they actually split reps. But most of the time, there's an incumbent starter and someone has to knock them off. I don't see there being enough time for anyone to knock off Joe Looney at center. I don't see enough time to realistically move a veteran cornerback to safety full time. You need an offseason for that. What's going to be very tricky is if we see the bottom roster spots go to rookies – who have not played a single preseason game – or veterans who have more experience on special teams. For example, Francis Bernard or Justin March at linebacker? Or a receiver like Aaron Parker or maybe Cedrick Wilson and/or Ventell Bryant? I do think having 16 practice squad spots will make it easier to keep the rookies there and keep more veterans on the team.

David Helman: One of my biggest questions about this training camp is whether the coaching staff can manufacture an added level of competition on this roster. Obviously, every day is a competition, and there are still going to be three weeks of practices leading up to the season. But it's hard to gauge the back of your roster without a preseason. It makes me wonder if Mike McCarthy & Co. intend to add scrimmages to the schedule – similar to the Blue/White scrimmage we're used to seeing in Oxnard, except perhaps with more contact. Otherwise, it's hard for me to imagine the young guys on this team winning many roster battles. Given these circumstances, being a seasoned NFL veteran just seems like too much of an advantage. That's why I don't expect there to be a lot of drama with the starting lineup – unless the coaching staff can find a way to let the rookies show their stuff.

Rob Phillips: In addition to their draft class, the Cowboys are excited about the undrafted rookies they signed in early May. But I agree with Nick and Dave: I'm curious how much the coaching staff will lean toward experience when deciding the 53-man roster. Their evaluations largely will be based on a max of 14 padded practices. Teams will have a larger practice squad this year (16 players), but it just seems like a taller climb for rookie free agents to make the 53. We'll see. On a broader scale, here's a glass-half-full view that I think holds water: with no preseason games, there's going to be literally zero tape on the Cowboys' offense and defense under new head coach Mike McCarthy. Sure, teams are always careful to give away much in preseason games, and the offense isn't expected to see major changes with Kellen Moore returning as offensive coordinator. But there are sure to be some adjustments with McCarthy's influence, and on defense, it's yet to be seen how defensive coordinator Mike Nolan truly plans to implement his scheme. That could be an advantage for Dallas, at the least for the season's first few weeks.

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