It's generally considered a little early for most players who won starting jobs in training camp to worry about their position on the depth chart. Then again, the NFL is a week-to-week league now, and unless making big money on a long-term contract, most players have to be watching over their shoulders constantly.
The Dallas Cowboys are 1-0 after finally defeating the New York Giants in a home game in Arlington, TX. A good start is one thing, but Week 1 of the 2013 regular season showed some holes on the Dallas roster that will be addressed sooner than later.
Every NFL team has its own set of circumstances heading into every regular season, and the Cowboys certainly had theirs last summer. Several injuries forced established players to the sidelines throughout training camp, and some of those players will be returning soon.
Don't expect much in the way of changes to the Dallas starting lineup moving forward, but there will be a few. The following players need to either show up against Kansas City next weekend or risk falling down the depth chart to a more situational role—or possibly to the bench until they're healthy.
Being a starting player on any football team can be a subjective term beyond the depth chart. For example, wide receiver Dwayne Harris might not be among the top two receivers on the Dallas depth chart, but in a given game he may end up starting should the Cowboys line up with three wide receivers on the first play. Keep this consideration in mind while digesting the following five players who are firmly under the microscope for one reason or another.
All stats courtesy of ESPN
All contract data courtesy of Spotrac
Rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams is a good example of what I just pointed out regarding Harris.
Williams does not start, but he's a guy who Dallas would love to see contributing on offense more than Harris. As a third-round selection in the 2013 NFL draft last April, Williams is a talent who certainly could have been selected much sooner.
Having said that, Williams looked a little shaky in his first NFL game against the Giants last weekend. He was targeted four times and ended up catching two of quarterback Tony Romo's passes for 32 yards.
The two that were not caught were arguably a bigger concern than the two that were.
Williams' first miss ended up an interception that was returned to the Dallas 1-yard line. The other was a gorgeous Romo pass down the middle of the field that bounced right off Williams' left shoulder pad and fell incomplete—this drop would have likely been a big play had the ball been caught, seeing as Williams was wide open.
Good things are ahead for the former Baylor receiver, but we might see a little more from second-year veteran Cole Beasley pretty soon if Williams still shows growing pains against the Chiefs on Sunday.
Second-year veteran Morris Claiborne isn't exactly proving to be the most durable player on the Dallas roster.
After being selected sixth overall in the 2012 NFL draft, Claiborne would miss most of his rookie offseason due to an injured wrist. He would play in a couple of preseason games before starting 15 regular-season games last season.
This year is looking a little more dire, however.
Claiborne missed the entire preseason this year nursing an injured knee suffered in early August. To make matters worse, Claiborne suffered a dislocated shoulder in the third quarter against New York, although he did return to action after the shoulder was put back in place—ouch!
It's hard to overlook Claiborne's huge whiff against Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. After dodging some pressure up front late in the first half, New York quarterback Eli Manning launched a bomb to Cruz that went 70 yards for a touchdown—this was before the shoulder injury mind you. Granted, veteran safety Will Allen was just as awful on the play.
Claiborne's long-term standing on the Dallas roster is not a question, but the franchise may have to consider putting its first-round draft pick on the shelf until he's healthy, no matter how long that takes.
This is where not having cornerback Mike Jenkins, now in Oakland with the Raiders, hurts a little—and third corner Orlando Scandrick needs to be ready on a moment's notice.
It's well-known by now that the 2012 free-agent expenditures on offensive guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau were a horrible idea—the former has already been released, and I'm convinced that the latter is headed in the same direction.
After signing a four-year, $11.5 million contract less than two years ago, Bernadeau has suffered numerous injuries and has never shown that he will be a long-term solution on the offensive line.
Perhaps the biggest issue facing Bernadeau is a guy named Brian Waters.
Dallas signed Waters off his couch earlier this month to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, a move that was seen coming for weeks.
DallasCowboys.com contributor and scout Bryan Broaddus offers his opinion on why Bernadeau could play a key role against Kansas City, given the presence of Chiefs nose guard Dontari Poe. This could very well be true, but if we're simply comparing physical dimensions and experience, I have to think that Waters is in line for playing time very soon—I don't believe that left guard Ronald Leary is heading to the bench.
At 6'4" and 333 pounds, Bernadeau is a bit larger overall than Waters.
However, Waters is still a better offensive lineman at 6'3'' and 320 pounds. Waters has also been to eight Pro Bowls and picked up a Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award in 2011.
The writing is on the wall here, and I expect Waters to play against his former team in Kansas City this weekend.
The story of offensive tackle Doug Free is pretty tired and tepid at this point. This is a player who was thought to be a long-term solution at right or left tackle just two years ago. Since that time it's been a downhill run for Free at either position.
Things reached a breaking point over the summer when Dallas used leverage to force Free into taking a large pay cut to remain with the team. Even prior to that, the Cowboys did absolutely nothing to shore up one of the most critical positions on the offensive line during the 2013 NFL draft.
It's hard to say that Jermey Parnell, Free's understudy at right tackle, is ready to jump in and start over Free. It's also hard to imagine Free moving inside to play either guard position given the signing of Waters, an idea explored during the preseason.
Romo was only sacked twice against the Giants, but he also suffered bruised ribs when taking simultaneous hits from New York defenders Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Trattou. On that play, Free was completely blown up by linebacker Jacquian Williams, a sixth-round selection in the 2011 NFL draft who weighs all of 224 pounds. This cleared the way for Kiwanuka, the first defender engaged by Free, to reach Romo.
No, Free doesn't cost the Cowboys nearly what he would have financially following the salary reduction.
I wonder exactly what the true cost will be to the franchise so long as Free is asked to remain as one of Romo's top two blockers in pass protection.
Defensive end George Selvie hasn't been with the Cowboys for very long, but all he has done since signing with the team as training camp opened is make plays.
Selvie is a classic 4-3 defensive end who stands 6'4'' and weighs 270 pounds. Following an impressive preseason amidst limited action, Selvie stamped some validation to his presence as a starting defensive end with Dallas during the season opener against the Giants.
Selvie tallied one sack, a tackle for a loss and also recovered one of three New York fumbles last Sunday night.
With incumbent starter Anthony Spencer trying to get on the field for the first time as a defensive end in Dallas' new 4-3 scheme, Selvie seems to be giving the Cowboys the luxury of time in terms of not rushing the seventh-year veteran back into the fold.
Chances are that Spencer comes back as a starter, possibly this week against the Chiefs. Since this is doubtful given his recent knee scope, I would expect that Selvie has at least one more opportunity to hold off Spencer to make a better case to keep his job.
Remember that Spencer is now 29 and is playing under the franchise tag for the second straight year. He's definitely undersized for a 4-3 end at 6'3'' and 250 pounds. Spencer and his agent were unable to reach a long-term deal with Dallas during the preseason, an indicator that it might be better to get as long a look as possible at Selvie before Spencer returns.
If Selvie continues to be as productive as he has been to this point, it could create the best competition on the entire depth chart. This is a good thing since Dallas has 15 regular-season games remaining to determine what to do with Spencer.