Dallas Cowboys 2014 Training Camp Position Battles

Safety JJ Wilcox drafted in the 3rd round of 2013.

Safety JJ Wilcox drafted in the 3rd round of 2013.

Most of the starting positions on the Dallas Cowboys team are pretty clear heading into training camp, but I’m going to identify few position battles that have yet to be determined and will be interesting to watch.

Linebackers:
All three positions (Mike, Will, and Sam) are up for grabs actually and it isn’t easy to narrow it down to two players at each spot either. With the early injury to Sean Lee, things really got thrown up in the air. The Cowboys have a lot of important decisions to make here during preseason for sure.

During earlier workouts, it appears the Cowboys are looking at Justin Durant at the middle LB but I think that could change during preseason as I really like DeVonte Holloman‘s chances to earn that starting spot. As a former safety in college, Holloman displayed good pass coverage instincts last season and I think he may represent the best option to replace Lee. Recently Dallas signed LB Rolando McClain who is attempting to revive his career. He certainly will get a chance in preseason to show what he can offer at MLB but I would keep expectations low for Rolando working out in the middle.

Rookie Anthony Hitchens was drafted in the 4th round and has experience playing weakside LB in college. He will likely get a look at both the middle and weakside spots during preseason. They also drafted rookie Will Smith who has experience as a weakside LB but could get a look in the middle too.

Kyle Wilber returns after a solid performance at the strong side spot last season and Wilber is the favorite to start at the strong side spot. Wilber brings some stability to the LB situation.

Bruce Carter who struggled as weakside LB last year, has not been moved yet to another LB spot so it appears the coaches just hope he will improve this season with more familiarity with the 4-3 defense. Indications are Carter is off to a good start this season.

Projected Starters:
Sam– I think Wilber starts at the Sam spot opening day.
Will– I look for Carter to start at the Will but definitely think the starter could change often during the course of the season. Look for the rookies to see more action here as the season progresses. Carter’s experience will get him the start initially, but Dallas may have him on a short leash after last season’s performance.
Mike– I look for Holloman to beat out Durant who I actually think will be fortunate to make the roster at all. Hitchens may work his way into playing here some too during the season. McClain is a wildcard for the middle spot and may show us he is serious about reviving his career.

The LB position battles will be interesting to watch and subject to change on a daily basis.

Safety:
The battle here will be the spot opposite of veteran Barry Church. The early favorite appears to be second year safety JJ Wilcox who ran with the first team often in preseason workouts. Wilcox appeared too inexperienced last season but hopes are that he will be much improved this season. So far he has looked more comfortable and mobile after losing some weight, according to reports out of preseason workouts.

There are a few other players that figure in the mix as well including Jeff Heath who saw plenty action last season. Jakar Hamilton is also a player we should hear from in preseason who is fighting for playing time. And the Cowboys have two rookies Ahmad Dixon and Ryan Smith who figure to see playing time in preseason. Even the often injured Matt Johnson is still hanging around but I don’t look for him to stay on the field enough to compete.

Who will emerge as the starter is a battle to watch in camp. All of them are relatively inexperienced making this safety spot really wide open.

Projected Starter:
At this early time, the spot would appear to be Wilcox’s to lose as I think Dallas wants their 3rd round pick to pay off. However a lot can change at this position during the course of the preseason and season.

Hamilton and Smith have shown some good pass coverage instincts for the position and that’s what the Dallas defense needs opposite of Church. If either can show good cover skills in the preseason, they must be considered as a starter.

During preseason, keep an eye on the Auburn rookie Ryan Smith who appears to bring some swag in pass coverage that the other guys just don’t seem to offer. Heath provided value on special teams last season and can’t be ruled out as a starter at safety yet.

Left Guard:
The Cowboys took another step to having one of the better offensive lines in the entire NFL by drafting Zack Martin in the first who will start at left guard. Determining the final piece of the line is who will start at left guard? That will be a battle between Ron Leary and MacKenzy Bernadeau.

Leary started there last season while Bernadeau started at right guard. Bernadeau has experience at playing center as well and may prove to be a valuable back up. During preseason workouts, both rotated with the starters and 2nd teams.

Projected starter:
I think Ron Leary will be the starter at left guard and it makes sense to have Bernadeau as a back up at guard and center since he has game experience at center.

Three positions that should offer interesting coverage during camp.

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