Dallas Cowboys Players Facing Make or Break Training Camps
The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from training camp, where the fate of numerous players will be determined.
Some guys are simply looking to make the 53-man roster, while others will be trying to solidify a starting spot.
Training camp is an important time for players to show what they’ve got. A lot of guys don’t get enough playing time during regular-season games, so camp is necessary for them to gain the team’s trust.
Veterans will need to stave off some young guns aiming for their position. At the same time, rookies and unproven talents will battle it out to move up the depth chart.
With that being said, here are five Cowboys whose 2013 training camps will immediately affect their futures.
All statistics via Pro Football Reference unless indicated otherwise.
Doug Free, Tackle
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Doug Free’s career has taken many turns the past few years. Like so many others, his performance on the field has dipped significantly since signing a big contract.
Free has started every game for Dallas the last three seasons, but his job security is very thin. After a few solid years at left tackle, his play really took a turn for the worse in 2012.
Dallas’ line was by far its biggest problem on offense, and Free was one of the main proponents. At times he looked overmatched at right tackle and wasn’t helping Tony Romo or the running game at all.
His play was so unproductive that toward the end of the season he started splitting time with backup Jermey Parnell.
This summer, training camp will tell the coaches a lot about Free. He recently took a pay cut from his bloated contract, but Dallas hopes he can play to the potential they originally signed him to.
If he doesn’t show that he’s back to his old ways, Free will most likely begin the season on the bench with his time as a Cowboy expiring.
Phillip Tanner, Running Back
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Phillip Tanner is battling to make the team in 2013. In two years with the Cowboys, he’s had minimal time to showcase his talent during the regular season. In 13 games last year, he only had 25 carries for 61 yards.
Dallas would love to keep Tanner around again, but the backfield might be too cluttered this season.
DeMarco Murray is undoubtedly the starter, and fifth-round draft choice Joseph Randle is projected to be his backup. Fighting for the third spot will be Tanner, along with Lance Dunbar and undrafted free agent Kendial Lawrence.
Although Tanner had similar statistics to Dunbar, it appeared Dunbar was the more explosive of the two in their limited playing time. He also provides a threat in the return game that Tanner doesn’t.
Dunbar had 261 kick return yards in 2012, which could make the difference in deciding who makes the roster.
However, with all of the injuries Murray has suffered and the recent cutting of fullback Lawrence Vickers, it’s possible Dallas keeps four running backs for insurance purposes.
Tanner will still have to prove his worth at camp to ensure he’s not the player left out.
Justin Durant, Linebacker
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Justin Durant signed a two-year contract with the Cowboys this summer in hopes of being the third starting linebacker. The former second-round pick has spent his first six years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions.
The veteran is the favorite to start at the other outside linebacker spot opposite of Bruce Carter, but he’ll have to earn that right. Durant is coming off arguably his most productive season in 2012, when he recorded 82 tackles and had three pass deflections.
Even though he’s the only guy with a lot of experience vying for the strong-side position, there’s plenty of young skill behind him.
Both Alex Albright and rookie DeVonte Holloman have high expectations and will compete for the spot.
There’s little doubt that all three of these guys will make the final roster, but it’s very possible that Albright could outplay Durant in training camp. If that’s the case, Albright will get the starting nod and the veteran’s days in Dallas could be numbered.
Danny Coale, Wide Receiver
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Danny Coale spent the 2012 season on the practice squad while battling injuries. Although he never saw the active roster, the Cowboys still believe that he can contribute to the receiving corps.
Dallas spent its fifth-round pick on Coale last year and don’t want to see that go to waste.
Unfortunately for Coale, the receiver position might have the most depth on the Cowboys roster. Their top four players (Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams and Dwayne Harris) are all locks to make the team. This leaves at the maximum two spots remaining for Coale to fit in.
He showed potential coming out of a big school in Virginia Tech, and now he just needs to translate that to the practice field.
A variety of things could happen to Coale during training camp. If he exceeds expectations, he could easily make the active roster. However, if he does the opposite or suffers another injury, he could find himself cut or back on the practice team.
Matt Johnson, Safety
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Matt Johnson probably has the biggest make-or-break training camp on the team. He’s currently projected to be the starting strong safety on the Cowboys depth chart.
Johnson missed the entire 2012 season due to hamstring injuries. Even with his lack of proven ability, the starting position is his to lose this summer.
The problem for him is there are two very different options fighting for the same spot.
Veteran Will Allen signed with Dallas this offseason and provides experience at the position that no one else on the roster has. Also contending is rookie third-round draft pick J.J. Wilcox.
Wilcox is extremely athletic but is still learning how to really play safety after recently switching positions in college. The pace of his development will affect Johnson and his starting title.
Dallas clearly has high hopes for the second-year Johnson, but he’ll have to stay healthy and show on the field that he’s ready to start.