IRVING, Texas – Full-team OTAs are finally upon us at Valley Ranch, which means we'll get our first look at the Cowboys' veterans on-field since the loss to Philadelphia last December.
There's no shortage of stories worth keeping an eye on as we get into these spring practices – both for the offense and defense. Here are eight issues you'll want to keep an eye on as we go forward.
- In 2013, Sean Lee and Lance Dunbar had their seasons cut short with injuries, but expect both to be ready to go Tuesday when the team takes the field at Valley Ranch. Henry Melton will not be as fortunate and will make his first appearance in a Cowboys uniform when the team travels to Oxnard, California, in July.
- There will be plenty of focus on the defensive line and how Rod Marinelli, Leon Lett and Ben Bloom choose to line up their guys. With no Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye in the mix, we will most likely see Tyrone Crawford play the under-tackle or three-technique with Ben Bass and Davon Coleman as the backups. I am interested to see where they play Terrell McClain because I have always thought that he would be a candidate to play as the nose or one-technique. I had been hearing whispers that he might even see some action at the three. This position in my opinion is the most unsettled where those tackles line up.
- Look for the majority of the quarterback snaps for the three-day camp to fall on the shoulders of Brandon Weeden, Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan while Tony Romo continues to recover from the back surgery that ended his 2013 season. Kyle Orton will most likely not make an appearance until the mandatory minicamp on June 17, while he continues to work through the issues of whether he wants to continue his career.
- Zack Martin lined up during the rookie minicamp at the right guard and this front office along with the coaching staff has had a history of taking those first round selections and plugging them right in the starting lineup. It will be interesting to see if they do this with Martin considering the way that Mackenzy Bernadeau played last season. I won't be surprised if Bernadeau opens with the first group on Tuesday, with Martin working with him in a rotation.
- Keep an eye on how Darrion Weems and Jermey Parnell rotate as we work toward training camp in Oxnard. There has been a great deal of time and resources devoted to both of these players, but where Weems might have the advantage is that he has worked some at guard. If the front office decides to go light at offensive line to carry another receiver, quarterback or defensive linemen, whatever player can do the most could get the nod. Tuesday will be the start to how this might play out.
- The decision to carry three running backs and a fullback will most likely not be decided until the second or third preseason game, but if the club decides to go with no fullback, it would make it easier for Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams and Ben Malena to make the squad. My gut tells me the coaches really like Lance Dunbar, so how many spots are available? If you go on just talent alone, Williams is the best of the group but is going to have to develop some special teams traits. This is where Malena has an advantage over the other two. Something to watch is how these guys are used in those situations.
- BW Webb is coming into his second season and there should be improvement in his game just from the experience factor of his rookie season. I have never questioned Webb's ability to cover, but if he doesn't play with more of an aggressive mindset, then he will be of no use to this defense. There were too many situations where his soft positioning in coverage put him in terrible shape in dealing with the routes. Looking at the young corners on this team, will guys like Terrance Mitchell, Dashaun Phillips or Tyler Patmon put Webb's spot in question? During the rookie minicamp, I thought Mitchell and Patmon were outstanding, but how will they respond when they have to deal with the likes of Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and the quickness of Cole Beasley? My gut says this front office will carry six corners and four safeties when they break camp in Oxnard. Who gets the nod behind Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick? That should come down to these kids and possibly Sterling Moore who -- might be an option to play some safety as well. [embedded_ad]
- It sounds like J.J. Wilcox will get the first shot to line up opposite Barry Church at safety. I have said all along that what this defense needed was a guy that could play as more of a center fielder with range. I am not sure Wilcox can provide that type of play, but I have been proven wrong before. The best candidate for the job in my view would be Matt Johnson, but until he proves he can step on the field and line up without getting injured, then I have to reserve my thoughts that he can handle the job. Keep an eye on Jakar Hamilton and rookie Ryan Smith. Both of these kids played big time football in the SEC and have been up to the task in those types of games for their programs. As much as I loved the tape of Ahmad Dixon as a hitter, he really lacks in the ability to cover unless he can drive on the ball in front of him. Where Dixon will help this squad the most is as a faster Danny McCray on special teams, but he will need to play with the same smarts McCray showed while performing his job. Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor were both on the board in the first round when this club picked at 16, instead opting to take guard Zack Martin. It will be a move that is questioned if a quality starter is not found next to Church.