FRISCO, Texas — Now that NFL rookies have had their time to acclimate absent veterans, it's time for the position battles to get underway as the Dallas Cowboys fire up OTAs (Organized Team Activities) ahead of Memorial Day. The veterans are now in the building and on the field with the first-year players and coaches are leveling up their playbook installs, so the rubber is now beginning to meet the road this offseason.
As things rapidly build toward minicamp and ultimately training camp in July and the preseason in August, the offensive side of the ball is the one that carries the most questions for the Cowboys — some positions having been upgraded while others feel less so, and are instead leaning heavily on needing someone to step up and lead the charge.
In assessing each role on offense, it's not hard to understand just how much needs to be figured out over the next three months.
Quarterback: The new rule regarding teams carrying an emergency quarterback has to have Will Grier smiling, considering it virtually guarantee he'll be suited up for each game in 2023, but he'll need to have another stellar training camp — this time without suffering injury — if he hopes to actually get onto the field ahead of a healthy Cooper Rush in the event Dak Prescott is injured; challenging Rush for the role of QB2. And since the Cowboys have yet to sign another quarterback for developmental purposes, it's Rush's job to lose at QB2 and Grier's job to take … if he can.
Running back: The decision to part ways with Ezekiel Elliott creates a gargantuan void that needs to be filled somehow opposite Tony Pollard, and the first nod there likely goes to Ronald Jones, a two-time Super Bowl winner signed this offseason. Enter rookie dynamo Deuce Vaughn though, who will make it insanely difficult to keep off of the field in RB2-focused situations, but who'll also have to try to hold off a promising talent in Malik Davis and veteran Rico Dowdle. This will easily be one of the best position battles this summer, especially when tossing in rookie fullback (flexback) Hunter Luepke.
Offensive line: This one is a doozy. The signing of Chuma Edoga pits him against incoming rookie fifth-round pick Asim Richards in the battle for left guard, but both have the ability to flex and, as such, will also compete for the possible job at swing tackle. But wait, there's more. Insert Matt Farniok and Matt Waletzko as notable players who will also be in the battle for left guard and swing tackle, respectively, while Farniok also gets a chance to improve at being insurance in a Tyler Biadasz-less world. Also, toss in Brock Hoffman, Alec Lindstrom, Earl Bostick and T.J. Bass, and the fact it's unknown where Tyler Smith will start (LG1? LT1?); and there's A LOT for the Cowboys to sort through here.
Wide receiver: Let's kick the tires and light the fires, folks. This battle will undoubtedly be one of the more fun to watch, especially with the addition of Brandin Cooks. Expect Cooks to hit the ground running this summer in tandem with CeeDee Lamb, but questions regarding Michael Gallup's readiness to regain stride are abound. There's no reason he shouldn't get back to top form in 2023, and assuming he does, it's the battle for WR4 that takes center stage — Jalen Tolbert finding himself going head-to-head with Simi Fehoko and nine other bodies at WR (including 2022 camp star Dennis Houston). Maybe KaVontae Turpin gets in on the party as well, but since there's only so many passes to go around, this fight should get hot-and-heavy.
Tight end: This time last year, it was Dalton Schultz as the unequivocal TE1 of this unit, but the youth movement has officially taken over the position in Dallas. Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot both got off to hot starts as rookies in 2022 and, as such, helped fuel the decision to wave goodbye to Schultz, and the addition of Luke Schoonmaker as a second-round pick in April further solidifies it's all about the up-and-comers for the Cowboys. But does Ferguson own the throne by default, or will Schoonmaker force him into more of a 1B role? Can Hendershot's fantastic ability to stretch the field and deliver YAC unsettle the others, and how will Sean McKeon factor into this year's version of the Four Horsemen? I fully expect the Ferguson vs. Schoonmaker vs. Hendershot clash to deliver fireworks on a regular basis.