Now that the Dallas Cowboys have free agency and the NFL draft behind them, the roster is starting to take shape. It’s still a work in progress of course, but with undrafted free agents signed and brought in recently, we can certainly get an idea of where the most intriguing battles are likely to occur in preseason camp.
Some positions would appear to be pretty much a lock while others appear to be wide open for the taking, and those are the battles that could provide fans the most interest in camp.
I have identified the 5 position battles that will be interesting to watch unfold and see who emerges as the starters.
1. Guards– Kyle Kosier was released. This is an area that really needs to improve for the Cowboys based on last years lack of success in the interior line.
New faces: Bernadeau Mackenzy and Nate Livings were signed through free agency and come in with starter experience but are no means a lock to start in Dallas. Mackenzy actually will be recovering from hip surgery and will get off to a slow start in preseason camp. STORY
The Cowboys did not draft a center or guard in the 2012 NFL draft.
Guard Ronald Leary went undrafted and the Cowboys signed him as an UFA. Leary has health concerns but was expected to get drafted. Jerry Jones appears to have a “man crush” on Leary referring to him as a “pet cat”. HERE Pet cat? Really? Anyway, Based on their “bro-mance”, I would say Leary is going to get a serious look at guard.
Returning: David Arkin and Bill Nagy were drafted last year but were lost to injuries last season. The Cowboys still like these two and expect them to compete for playing time in 2012.
Wouldn’t rule out the Cowboys picking up a guard that gets cut by a team during final cuts. It will be interesting to see who stays healthy and steps up in camp to anchor the interior of the offensive line. The Cowboys have a new offensive line coach in Bill Callahan which adds an element of things are going to change.
2. Wide receivers With the departure of Robinson and Holley, the Cowboys will need at least a couple of guys to emerge as contributors and depth providers. We know we have Dez and Austin who are going to start but both have been injured at times in the past. Kevin Ogletree comes back but isn’t a lock to start at the 3rd WR spot.
New Faces: Va. Tech WR Danny Coale drafted in the 5th round and looks ready to play the slot right away. He should figure into the mix for the 3rd WR spot for sure.
Saalim Hakim; WR; Tarleton State is an undrafted free agent that is creating some buzz in camp. Inexperienced, very raw but also very quick (4.29 in the 40….WOW) but probably not quite ready to earn playing time just yet. Still interesting to watch develop in preseason.
Returning– Some guys on the practice squad last year will get their chance in 2012. Andre Holmes is a guy that is talked about and sounds like he has a great deal of potential. He offers excellent size at 6-5/ 208 but hasn’t played in games yet, so they just don’t know what they have here.
Dwayne Harris drafted last season and played some last year. He demonstrated kick/punt return skills. It’s his time to step up and show he can make plays.
Raymond Radway was having himself an impressive preseason last year but unfortunately went down with a serious injury when he suffered a broken left fibula and tibia in the last game. He possesses excellent speed and if now completely healthy, I look for Radway to be determined to show he can play and help this team at WR in 2012.
It should be an interesting battle between some talented but young guys at WR. Who will take the 3rd WR spot? Who will provide depth and who will be on the practice squad is all up for grabs.
3. Inside Linebacker– Parted ways with veterans Bradie James and Keith Brooking. We know we have rising star Sean Lee but the other spot is a not completely locked up yet.
New Faces: Dan Connor comes over from the Panthers and joins fellow Penn ST. LB Sean Lee. Connor is a solid run stopper and will be there if Carter doesn’t take the spot.
Caleb McSurdy was drafted in the 7th round but as a small school late round pick, I have doubts that he will be in the mix to play in 2012.
Returning– Bruce Carter appears healthy now after drafted last year with a known knee injury from college. Carter was a very athletic LB at UNC and made plays on a regular basis. He has a real talent for blocking punts and kicks too. The other LB spot is Carter’s to lose however at this point he is simply unproven for the Cowboys.
Orie Lemon shows promise and could become a real surprise in camp. A “sleeper” if you will.
Interesting battle shaping up between Carter and Connor in camp to line up with Lee. Keep your eyes on Lemon too!
4. Safety- Elam was released. Sensabaugh returns and figures to be a starter but after him, I think it is wide open. Safety is another position of concern that has a lot of room to improve over last season.
New Faces- Brodney Pool was brought in from the Jets and brings experience and a familiarity with coach Ryan’s defense. Likely to start with Sensabaugh but he will be challenged for that spot.
Matt Johnson was drafted in the 4th round and brings an ability to make plays on the ball and a good hitter. He should contribute on special teams. The staff evidently likes this guy and selected him earlier in the draft than he was projected to go so I get the impression they are going to give Matt a real good look at safety. NFL analyst Bryan Broaddus likes Johnson’s chances to get playing time at safety. HERE
Returning– Sensabaugh who is expected to start at one safety spot. Barry Church provided depth last year and had some good games. Church is capable of earning playing time for certain and figures in the mix too.
It will be very interesting to see if Matt Johnson can adapt to play at the NFL level quickly and challenge the safeties for playing time. It’s an area where coach Ryan will be looking for someone to step up and own it during the season. With added depth, I figure Ryan will have the starters on a shorter leash than last year.
5. Corners- An area of need that Jerry Jones has given a great deal of attention in the off season but now we will have to see how it all shakes down. Terrance Newman was released.
New Faces: Signed Brandon Carr from the Chiefs and is expected to start in place of the departed Newman. Drafted Morris Claiborne with the 6th pick and he is expected to start at the other corner occupied by Mike Jenkins last season.
Returning– Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins. Where these guys fit into the picture isn’t crystal clear yet so it makes for an interesting camp. Scandrick had a tough season in 2011 covering the slot receivers and it is possible that Jenkins may help with those duties.
Whether Jenkins plays with the Cowboys next season or not, remains to be seen. But if he does stay, it will be interesting to see how his role in the secondary is defined during camp. Also the Cowboys have a new secondary coach in Jerome Henderson which means a new approach and we will see which guys he prefers.
These 5 position battles should be good ones to watch and those who emerge from the pack, will play an important role in the team’s overall success next season.