Five Battles to Watch in the Dallas Cowboys Training Camp

Daniel NationsContributor IMay 27, 2009

DENVER - AUGUST 16:  Cornerback Mike Jenkins #31 of the Dallas Cowboys defends against the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on August 16, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Cowboys 23-13.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Football is the ultimate team sport, but before there's a team, the players will battle it out for a spot on the roster.

For some, like 2008 first-round draft pick Felix Jones, their spot on the team is secure. But for others, like 2009 seventh-round draft pick Manuel Johnson, they'll need to show the coaching staff a lot to make the 53-man roster.

Unlike last year, when the starting positions were mostly set going into training camp, this year will see players battling it out to become starters as well as latch on to the end of the roster. So while there is no first-round draft pick to get excited about this year, there are plenty of position battles to watch.



Terence Newman is a lock for the No. 1 cornerback position, but we still don't know if it will be Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick lining up next to him. While Jenkins was a first-round pick last year, Scandrick played like a first-round pick.

Wade Phillips had both lining up at the starting position during Tuesday's practice, and this is a battle we'll see throughout the preseason. Win or lose, both players will figure heavily into the defense this year.



The safety position is so up in the air right now, we don't even know if the battle is going to be for the strong safety position or the free safety position.

Ken Hamlin has lined up at free safety since coming to the team in 2007, but there has been some talk of moving Hamlin to strong safety and using Pat Watkins or Orlando Scandrick in the free safety position.

While Gerald Sensabaugh was brought in to help fill the void left by Roy Williams' departure, Sensabaugh has played both strong and free safety over his career. Look for this one to be a race to get the two best players on the field.


Nickel Linebacker

With Kevin Burnett playing ball with the Chargers, a hole has opened up in the nickel defense. The nickel linebacker is a specialized position requiring a linebacker capable of covering the tight end or backs coming out of the backfield, as well as providing pressure against the pass.

While Bobby Carpenter will figure into the mix, he hasn't exactly shined since being drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft.

The Cowboys also drafted a couple of players that might fill this role. At 6'1", 241 lbs. and running a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, third-round pick Jason Williams has the size and skills to fill this need. But don't count out sixth-round pick Stephen Hodge, who is transitioning from strong safety at TCU to linebacker in the NFL.


Wide Receiver

While the departure of Terrell Owens put the wide receiver in the spotlight this offseason, the Cowboys stood pat during free agency and throughout the draft until selecting Manuel Johnson with their last pick. While the first four slots will go to Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, and Sam Hurd, a real battle is brewing for the fifth spot.

Third-year receiver Isaiah Stanback looked to have a leg up on the competition, but that leg gave out on him when he succumbed to a knee injury. While Stanback's knee should be OK for training camp, the dent in his durability factor might have him on the outside looking in when it comes to the final cuts.

This could open the door for a player like Manuel Johnson, who was having a breakout senior year with Oklahoma before a grotesquely dislocated elbow injury took a bite out of his production. Rookie free agents Kevin Ogletree and Julian Hawkins, as well as practice squad player Travis Wilson, will also be battling for a spot.


Kickoff Specialist vs. Depth

The Cowboys' selection of kicker David Buehler could best be described as the "Huh?" heard round the world. After all, the Cowboys already have one of the best young kickers in the league, so what gives?

The Cowboys envision Buehler as a strong contributor to special teams. Not only is Buehler known for booming kickoffs, but he could also contribute to coverage units, having run a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash and having some experience on coverage units at USC.

But while a few extra yards on kickoffs might be a good gamble for a fifth-round draft pick, it might not be such a good gamble for the 53rd roster spot. Look for Buehler to be competing against that sixth cornerback or wide receiver.