Breaking Down Dallas Cowboys' 2-Deep Depth Chart at the Start of Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys are expecting to make some noise this season, and that all starts with training camp.
Although depth charts aren’t too important this time of year, they can help get a grasp on the overall outlook of the team.
Dallas has several superstars on its roster; however, all-around depth might be more important during the grueling NFL season. It’s almost inevitable that players will get hurt, making the need for quality backups crucial.
With training camp just underway in its first week, the potential Cowboys roster could change in numerous ways.
That being said, let’s take a look at Dallas’ two-deep depth chart at the beginning of camp.
Tony Romo (starter), Kyle Orton
Despite the popular belief that Dallas doesn’t have a quarterback who can lead it to a Super Bowl, it is very strong at the position.
Say what you want, but Romo is one of the better quarterbacks in the entire league. If the Cowboys didn’t lock him up long term, there would have been at least 10 teams vying for his talents. Romo has all the tools it takes to be successful. Besides the offensive line, his offense is loaded this year. He just needs to put it all together.
Backup Kyle Orton is no slouch, either. Although he doesn’t see the field much, he’s considered one of the best backup options around the league.
In fact, as a Cowboy, Orton is 9-of-10 passing with a touchdown.
There’s no doubt that Dallas is solid at this position.
DeMarco Murray (starter), Joseph Randle
Dallas’ running game was one of the weakest parts of its 2012 team. This had a lot to do with starter DeMarco Murray missing significant time with an injury.
There’s little doubt that Murray will be the starter in Week 1. What’s more important is that he’s available for Week 17.
Murray has shown glimpses of greatness during his first two seasons, but he’s also shown that he’s injury prone. For Dallas to improve in this area, he’ll need to stay healthy all season.
Behind him is rookie fifth-round draft pick Joseph Randle.
The Cowboys chose Randle to replace the departing Felix Jones and to provide a formidable backup. He should earn the backup role and provide quality playing time to keep Murray fresh.
Dez Bryant (starter), Miles Austin (starter), Dwayne Harris, Terrance Williams
Wide receiver just may be the strongest part of the 2013 Cowboys. From top to bottom, there is a great mix of skillful veterans and young players.
Bryant is one of the best in the NFL and will only continue to get better. His statistics could be downright scary this year.
Austin is still a solid No. 2 and can make big plays when he needs to. Like Murray, he just needs to stay out of the injury report and Dallas will have one of the best receiving combinations.
Behind the starters are two promising youngsters.
Harris solidified himself as the No. 3-slot receiver last year. His speed and quickness is incredible and can stretch defenses vertically for big plays.
Rookie Terrance Williams will also see a lot of playing time this season. The big target from Baylor was a star in college. If he can play at an elite level early, he could wind up playing the outside opposite of Bryant, pushing Austin to the slot.
Together, this group is very strong.
Jason Witten (starter), Gavin Escobar
Dallas’ tight ends are another area of minimal concern for the coaching staff.
Witten is a Pro Bowl player every year, and until he starts to show any signs of diminishing, he’s one of the best players on the roster.
At the backup position, I chose second-round selection Gavin Escobar over second-year end James Hanna.
Although I know people will disagree with this choice, there are several reasons Escobar will win the spot.
Escobar was drafted four rounds ahead of Hanna, with the coaching staff obviously aware it had a similar player on the roster. Both are strictly receiving tight ends and can bounce around to a number of areas on the field.
The rookie gets the nod because he’s going to be very difficult to cover (he’s slightly bigger than Hanna). Also, his upside is extraordinary, and if Dallas uses him properly, it could have the next Gronk.
Tyron Smith (starter), Doug Free (starter), Jermey Parnell
The tackle spot is definitely one of the bigger concerns for the Cowboys.
Smith is a monster and like many of the other young players, has the potential to become one of the league’s best. Beyond him, however, there are plenty of question marks.
The starting job on the right side is Free’s to lose. The bad news is he just might lose it.
After looking promising in his first few years at tackle, Free had an awful 2012 campaign and needs to bounce back well this summer.
Parnell would be the guy to step in if Free doesn’t win the job or if (knock on wood) Smith suffers an injury. Darrion Weems is a young kid who provides some depth behind them.
Nate Livings (starter), Travis Frederick (starter), Mackenzy Bernadeau (starter), Phil Costa, Ronald Leary
The Cowboys’ interior line did very little to help the team succeed last season. The group faced some injuries, but overall, just didn’t produce.
Enter: first-round pick Travis Frederick.
Frederick played center in college and will probably do the same for Dallas, even though he could potentially play guard.
Livings and Bernadeau get the nod to start currently from their experience from last year. However, this is far from set in stone. Costa would be the starting center if Frederick were to move to the guard spot and could also realistically contend as a guard himself.
Second-year guard Ronald Leary has plenty of upside as well. With an outstanding training camp, he could find himself starting.
Jay Ratliff (starter), Jason Hatcher (starter), Sean Lissemore, Ben Bass
Defensive tackle isn’t a strong point for this team, but it has the potential to be a very good position.
Both Ratliff and Hatcher are explosive guys who have proven they can blow up lines and disrupt backfields.
Hatcher played well last season, but he’ll need his counterpart to play like he did a few years ago. It hasn’t been too long since Ratliff was a great nose tackle and an impact player. Perhaps with his health, he’ll be able to regain that form.
The backups heading into camp will be just that in Week 1, barring injury.
Lissemore is a consistent, tough veteran, while Bass is the more explosive young gun. Both will see plenty of time come the regular season.
DeMarcus Ware (starter), Anthony Spencer (starter), Kyle Wilber
The defensive end spot is one that is very top heavy for the Cowboys.
Ware and Spencer were two of the best outside linebackers while in the 3-4 scheme. The move back to the 4-3 should only make them better.
Instead of having to worry about different assignments and issues in coverage, both players can simply focus on getting to the quarterback. I think they’ll each have fantastic years and improve upon their numbers from a year ago.
The problem is the lack of depth.
Tyrone Crawford was injured on the first full day of practice and will miss the remainder of the season. This puts a lot of pressure on second-year end Kyle Wilber.
If something were to happen to either starter, Wilber is now the only real option to replace them with.
Bruce Carter (starter), Sean Lee (starter), Justin Durant (starter), Alex Albright, Caleb McSurdy
Another position where Dallas is loaded at the starters, but lacks a lot of depth, is linebacker.
As long as Lee and Carter are breathing, they’ll each be starting at the middle and weak-side positions, respectively. Lee just turned 27 while Carter is still 25 years old. Together they should be an incredible tandem.
The only competition in camp will be for the strong-side spot.
Durant is the favorite at the start of camp, mainly because of his experience. It is possible, however, that Albright or rookie DeVonte Holloman could push him to the brink with great performances.
McSurdy is the only real backup in the middle right now, unless some rookies or undrafted free agents step up.
Brandon Carr (starter), Morris Claiborne (starter), Orlando Scandrick
Carr and Claiborne should make for one of the better cornerback duos in the NFL. Both players are young and can play much better than they did in 2012.
Look for each of them to increase their interception numbers playing in Monte Kiffin’s defense.
Scandrick is very good No. 3 corner and has been for years. As long as he doesn’t have to cover a team’s top option, he’ll do just fine.
The Cowboys also have fourth-round pick B.W. Webb on the bench.
Barry Church (starter), Will Allen (starter), J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson
The Cowboys’ safety situation hasn’t been comfortable since the days of Darren Woodson and Roy Williams. This year isn’t different.
Barry Church will be a starter this season unless something dramatic happens. Look for him to be the free safety no matter what.
The other side is far from set.
The strong safety spot is going to be a three-way race between the veteran Allen and two unproven players in Johnson and Wilcox. Allen is obviously the safe choice for now because of what he’s accomplished in his career.
There are big expectations for both the other contenders, though. Johnson was supposed to start last year before he got hurt but hasn’t looked too great in practice thus far.
Don’t be surprised if Wilcox exceeds expectations and really pushes for the starting job. The 22-year-old is ultra athletic and plays with a head of steam. Numerous times he’s laid out teammates during “nonhitting drills” at camp.
If he can show he’s capable of playing the position (he recently switched in college), he could be the guy.
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