During OTAs, we got a preview of some of the position battles to keep an eye on when the Cowboys begin preseason camp. At that time, there will actually be full contact so that could change the outlook of things some.
Here are the position battles that I think will be the ones to watch:
1. Center: Frederick and Costa
The Cowboys used their first pick of the draft on center Travis Frederick. While he can play guard, all indications are the Cowboys plan to use him at center but a healthy Costa may not hand it over without a battle. Last year Costa played little due to a back injury but he has looked competitive during OTAs while the rookie Frederick has looked slow.
The Cowboys rushing game needs help and it appears they will be moving to more of a zone blocking scheme which requires a mobile center. Cowboys analyst Bryan Broaddus has pointed out that Costa just moves better than Frederick. Prior to the draft, Frederick had a 40 time that was far less than stellar so they should have known he was not very mobile.
And on that note, ever get the feeling that GM Jerry Jones is disconnected to what Dallas is trying to do as a team on the field? Well you should because once again that looks like the case.
Will Costa win the starting center position as Dallas runs the ball in preseason? Could Costa actually prove to be a better fit in this new run approach? Or will Frederick be played there in order for the front office to save face with their top pick? Can the heavy footed Frederick start at guard for the Cowboys? It’s going to be an intriguing battle to watch.
2. Strong Safety: Will Allen, Matt Johnson, and JJ Wilcox
Strong safety is an area where the Cowboys need a player to step up with the departure of Sensabaugh. It appears that free safety will be handled by a recovering Barry Church but the strong safety position appears wide open after OTAs.
Will Allen is an experienced NFL journey man who Dallas picked up in the off season. He has already missed workouts with an injury. Allen would appear to be an adequate player to man the position but I believe Dallas has higher expectations for rookie JJ Wilcox and second year player Matt Johnson.
Last year Johnson missed the season with injuries and he appears ready to compete now however his missed time last season has Henderson, his position coach, describing Johnson as just like a rookie. Wilcox has displayed outstanding athletic ability and instincts during OTAs and while he isn’t very experienced, probably has the most upside potential.
I think it will be interesting to watch how quickly Wilcox develops in the preseason camp as he is capable of winning the spot. Another battle to watch and an important piece of the Cowboys’ new Kiffin led Tamp 2 defense.
3. Strong Side LB: Justin Durant, DeVonte Holloman and Alex Albright
In the off season, Dallas added Lions LB Durant to compete for the LB spot. Going to a 4-3 defense, it’s a given that Lee will be in the middle with Carter on one side. But Albright and Durant will battle for the third spot. Durant appears to be similar to Connor who Dallas let go, in that he is solid against the run but has weaknesses in pass coverage. I don’t view Durant as a significant upgrade over Connor.
Albright has been a good special teams player for Dallas and in preseason last year, looked very impressive as an inside LB in the 3-4 defense. I think Albright is going to fit in well in the new 4-3 defense as a LB.
Holloman is a rookie that Dallas drafted as a LB although at South Carolina, he often played strong safety. Holloman brings an ability to defend passes well and probably better than either Albright or Durant.
Could Holloman be a guy who comes in on passing situations (primarily 3rd down) to help with coverage? The battle between these three in preseason will be a good one to watch as well. All three are capable of competing for playing time at that LB spot.
4. Guard: Macknezy Bernadeau and Ron Leary
I think Livings will start at one guard with Bernadeau representing a weak link in the Cowboys offensive line at guard. Expectations are that Leary, an undrafted guard last season, will compete with Bernadeau for playing time. Dallas failed to draft a guard (mistake in my view) but it’s possible that their top pick center Frederick, could end up at guard if Costa starts at center.
Will Leary turn out to be all that Jerry Jones (and only Jerry) thought he was? Will Frederick be forced to play guard after losing the starting center spot? Or does Bernadeau maintain the spot by default? It’s an area where Dallas needs to improve and will be worth watching.
5. Right Tackle: Doug Free and Parnell
Last season Doug Free way underwhelmed us with his play and began sharing time with tackle Parnell. Parnell played better than expected while Free’s play actually improved with this shared time arrangement. The Cowboys did bring Free back this year for less pay but will he man up and own the spot this season or is it time for Parnell to step up into a starting roll?
Right tackle is another position where I thought Dallas needed an upgrade either in free agency or the draft but that didn’t happen. So we are left to watch these two battle for the spot like a couple of rams butting heads over territory.
I suppose another alternating situation could be done again this season.
My Take: There are other interesting battles to be watched in the preseason but these are the 5 that I think could provide the biggest impact and be the most interesting to watch play out.