The Most Intriguing Rookie Storylines at Dallas Cowboys OTAs
The Dallas Cowboys’ Organized Team Activities (OTAs) begin on Tuesday, and much of the attention will surround the new faces—the Cowboys’ 2014 rookie class. With nine draft picks and 24 undrafted rookies, the ‘Boys have a whole lot of evaluating to do on the youngsters.
With no third-round pick, the majority of the rookie attention will be on first-round offensive lineman Zack Martin and second-round defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. This is one of the rare situations in which the second-rounder is getting a lot more press than the first-round pick, likely due to a combination of his position and the fact that Dallas moved up so far to grab Lawrence.
As the Cowboys head into their OTAs, let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing storylines for the Cowboys’ rookies.
1. Will Zack Martin Stay at Guard?
Zack Martin is going to start OTAs at right guard, according to Charean Williams of the Star Telegram:
Zack Martin's versatility is a big reason scouts were so excited about him. The Cowboys will start him at right guard, a position he never has played.
Martin, a Notre Dame product, was the No. 16 overall pick. He is expected to start, but he'll have to hold off veteran Mackenzy Bernadeau, who made 11 starts at right guard last season and 14 in 2012.
The move inside makes sense to start given the Cowboys’ personnel, but it all comes down to right tackle Doug Free. If he performs like he did down the stretch in 2013, the Cowboys can’t afford to leave him out there.
In many ways, Free and Bernadeau aren’t competing against Martin, but against one another. Bernadeau is in the worst spot, but Martin could end up replacing whichever one is the weakest link along the line.
2. Will Demarcus Lawrence Be an Immediate Starter?
Defensive end Anthony Spencer is a candidate to start the season on PUP, according to Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News. Said Vice President Stephen Jones:
We’re eyes wide open on this. I won’t be totally surprised if he starts the season on PUP. Anthony thinks he might be back. I hope he does. We came into this knowing that he could be a PUP guy.
Head coach Jason Garrett added, “I don’t know if you can count on any injured player to come back. You’ve got to make sure you have safety nets and reinforcements.”
The Cowboys traded up to nab Lawrence because they think he has enough ability to be an immediate impact player. They’re banking on that being true, too, since it seems very improbable that the Cowboys’ opening day starting defensive end duo will be anything other than Lawrence and George Selvie.
3. Who Will Win the Rookie Wide Receiver Battle?
The Cowboys’ trio of rookie wide receivers—fifth-rounder Devin Street and undrafted free agents L’Damian Washington and Chris Boyd—all seem to be on relatively equal footing right now. Street might have the advantage as the one who was drafted, but both Washington and Boyd were more effective red-zone targets in college, which could be valuable to Dallas this year.
Whoever wins this battle is going to compete with Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley to be the No. 3 wide receiver. It makes sense for Dallas to side with one of the rookies since they have huge size advantages over Harris and Beasley, but the Cowboys seem to like Beasley, especially as a third-down specialist.
First downs are very replaceable, however, whereas that’s not true for scoring. Street, Washington and Boyd should all be able to replicate where Beasley excels as a pass-catcher, while Beasley can’t do what will give Street, Washington and Boyd immediate value—remaining relevant in the red zone.
One thing to watch is which of the rookies performs the best in the slot, since that's likely where he'd need to make an impact as the No. 3 receiving option.
4. Do the Cowboys Need a Pure Blocking Tight End?
The answer to the question “Do the Cowboys need a blocking tight end?” will determine whether or not rookie Jordan Najvar makes the roster.
He had 35 career catches at Baylor, according to Sports Reference, so he’s not currently a threat as a receiver. He might already be the best blocking tight end in Dallas, though—certainly superior to Gavin Escobar and James Hanna.
The answer to this dilemma will also be vital to rookie fullback J.C. Copeland’s chances of making the roster. His biggest competition for a spot, outside of fellow fullback Tyler Clutts, is Najvar. The Cowboys could keep both players, but it’s also possible that they’ll retain either a fullback or a fourth tight end. If Najvar doesn’t make the roster due to a lack of receiving ability, Copeland should make it as a younger alternative to Clutts.
5. Will P Cody Mandell Impress?
Although it might seem trivial, one of the Cowboys’ top position battles is at punter, where undrafted rookie Cody Mandell will compete with Chris Jones. Mandell averaged 47.1 yards per punt in 2013—more than Jones’ mediocre 45.0-yard average.
There’s really no downside to Dallas going with the younger leg in Mandell, so the real player to watch is Jones. Unless he’s sensational in OTAs and training camp, he’s going to lose his job.
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