Dallas Cowboys' 5 Biggest Question Marks Ahead of Training Camp
Training camp is just around the corner and NFL teams will be trying to address as many questions as possible before the start of the 2014 season. The Dallas Cowboys have several decisions to make involving their roster this summer, which will drastically shape the direction of this year’s team.
Head coach Jason Garrett is under the spotlight this season, with owner Jerry Jones expecting a playoff berth at the minimum.
Dallas has plenty of talent scattered around the depth chart but several positional uncertainties as well. Let’s examine the team’s biggest question marks heading into training camp.
Who Is the True Backup Running Back?
The first major question the Cowboys must address is that of the running back position. The good news is there’s no question regarding the starter.
DeMarco Murray is and will be starting as long as he remains healthy. The backup spot is where things get interesting.
The current options on the roster are Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle and veteran Ryan Williams.
Dunbar and Randle are the favorites to earn the spot seeing as they were both on the team last year. Neither of them had a lot of touches to show for, however, Dunbar was definitely the more impressive of the two. Against Oakland, he totaled 82 rushing yards on 12 carries.
It will be tough to say who is the real backup even after the year starts. I think Dunbar will be the change-of-pace option and the one who gets the majority of plays when Murray is taking a breather. Although, if Murray were to get injured for a period of time, Randle is more suited to take on the role of the every-down-back.
Perhaps this summer things will become clearer.
What Will the Defensive Front Look Like?
The defensive front will be one of the biggest talking points surrounding Dallas in training camp. Between the quality of players who have both left and joined the team, the defensive line is extremely fascinating.
Of the players returning from last year’s team, defensive end George Selvie has the best chance of starting. He had a career year in 2013 in which he recorded seven sacks in his first year with the Cowboys.
The other two favorites to start are both coming off major injuries last season. Newly acquired Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer each missed the majority of 2013, but they come into the new year with high expectations. Both players’ contracts revolve around them needing a quality 2014 campaign.
The other ends who will compete for time are Tyrone Crawford, Jeremy Mincey and rookie Demarcus Lawrence. Compared to last year, this crew has legitimate depth.
On the inside, Nick Hayden returns and will most likely fight for the starting job with free-agent addition Terrell McClain. Even though this group doesn’t have the flashy names it once showcased, it could wind up being a very pleasant surprise.
Where Will Zack Martin Start?
One of the bigger surprises of the offseason was when Dallas made its first-round selection. In typical form, the Cowboys made an un-ordinary pick, but this time it’s one that actually made sense.
By taking Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin, the Cowboys solidified one of the most important facets of the team. Everything revolves around the line creating holes and giving the quarterback time. Dallas now has one of the better units in the entire league.
Martin will without a doubt start when the season begins, however, where will that be?
The most obvious choice would be at guard for now. Tyron Smith is locked in at left tackle and Travis Frederick at center. Martin could potentially swap spots with Doug Free at right tackle, but I’m not sure the coaches will want him playing that spot his rookie season.
This leaves Martin as one of the starting guards. Hopefully the rookie will be able to flourish at the position and eventually move outside to tackle. Dallas will also be stronger with this decision by moving either Mackenzy Bernadeau or Ronald Leary to the bench.
Nevertheless, the Cowboys are always trying different things. At OTAs, Martin took some time taking snaps at center. I don’t particularly see this being a long-term thing but clearly the Cowboys are enjoying Martin’s versatility.
Which Receiver Will Start in the Slot?
Another question mark on the offensive side of the ball revolves around the receiving corps. Like running back, Dallas is secure with its top pass-catcher in Dez Bryant and even No. 2 option Terrance Williams.
The question heading into camp is who will take command of the No. 3 slot position?
Part of the reason Dallas’ offense will be so powerful again this year is because of the depth at key places. Wide receiver is no different.
Some options available for the slot receiver include Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and fifth-round pick Devin Street. A lot of teams would love to be in Dallas’ position in having to decide which one of these young receivers will be its No. 3.
My summer prediction is that Beasley will win the job and have a great impact on the upcoming season. He did very well for the Cowboys a year ago in the slot and looks poised to expand his repertoire. He caught 39 passes in 2013, many of which were third-down conversions.
No matter whom Dallas lands on to fill this important spot, the receiving corps has plenty of alternatives if its first choice doesn’t fit.
Who Is the Middle Linebacker?
The biggest question heading into training camp is who is going to try to replace Sean Lee at middle linebacker. Lee has been one of Dallas’ best players when he’s remained healthy but unfortunately he will miss the entire year.
The next step for the coaching staff is finding someone who can try to fill this void.
So far in minicamp, outside linebacker Justin Durant has been taking the first-team reps at the position. He’s played in the middle previously in his career, but his natural spot is along the outside.
After Durant, the team doesn’t have many options. Second-year DeVonte Holloman filled in for Lee last year somewhat but keep in mind the defense will need outside linebackers as well.
The remaining choices consist of an interesting crew. Rookie Anthony Hitchens played middle linebacker at Iowa but can Dallas really start a fourth-round pick at one of the most important places on the field?
Next is Orie Lemon. The 26-year-old has been with the team the last two seasons, although, he’s played in just eight games in his career.
Lastly there’s recently acquired Rolando McClain. The former top-10 pick was an absolute stud at Alabama but has consistently run into trouble in the NFL. The Cowboys traded for the recently retired linebacker for practically nothing so the risk here is minimal.
This obviously isn’t the scenario anyone wanted heading to training camp, but it does seem like there’s some quality choices for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to choose from.