Dallas Cowboys: Grading the Strength of Every Position Unit at the Start of Camp
The Dallas Cowboys' 2014 training camp is officially underway. The beginning of each year is always exciting because of all of the optimism and unknowns surrounding camp.
Dallas' biggest question marks are on the defensive side of the ball. The line has been completely retooled and has a major hole at middle linebacker.
The offense should be as confident as ever. It has numerous playmakers all over the field, and as long as quarterback Tony Romo stays healthy, the unit should be among the league’s best.
With that said, let’s take a look at the Cowboys' team grades by position at the start of camp.
The Cowboys are fairly well off at the quarterback position. Tony Romo is near the level of the top-tier players at the position and has the ability to lead his team to a winning record.
He’s yet to win multiple playoff games or take the Cowboys to the NFC title game; however, Romo is one of the better options to have in this league. Last year, he threw for 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
The backup this season will most likely be Brandon Weeden. Although I’m sure there are teams who would like his talents as their backup, Weeden is a step down from Kyle Orton.
Caleb Hanie is on the roster for training camp, but I don’t see him being on the final team. Dallas is set at QB as long as Romo stays upright.
Another position of strength for the Cowboys is at running back. DeMarco Murray became known league-wide last year after putting up his best numbers since turning pro. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards and totaled 10 touchdowns.
Dallas will be expecting an additional big year from its running back. Scott Linehan is the new play-caller, and he loved utilizing both his backs in Detroit last season.
The change-of-pace duties will be on 24-year-old Lance Dunbar. He showed his explosiveness in 2013 and should see a much higher work rate this time around.
The true backup will either be second-year Joseph Randle or veteran Ryan Williams. I don’t see either having a major impact this year, but they provide quality depth at an important position.
Wide receiver may be one of the deepest positions on the roster. Dez Bryant is the leader of the crew—and for good reason. He had more than 1,200 yards and 13 scores a year ago.
The No. 2 spot is held down by second-year receiver Terrance Williams. The former Baylor Bear had a productive rookie season and will look to build upon that in 2014. Williams recorded 44 receptions for 736 yards.
The slot receiver will either be Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris or fifth-round pick Devin Street. No matter who earns the spot, the other players will be key contributors on an offense that loves to pass.
Dallas has five viable options at receiver and maybe even more with undrafted free agents. This unit will help carry the offensive attack.
The Cowboys offense has been extremely consistent for a number of years, and that’s due in large part to veteran Jason Witten. The future Hall of Famer added another 73 receptions and eight touchdowns last season.
Behind him are two players with plenty of potential. Both James Hanna and Gavin Escobar are poised for breakout seasons.
Neither has a lot of statistics to his names, but both have shown flashes of greatness and incredible athleticism. Both will be competing for the backup role and will be very good red-zone options for Romo.
Dallas' offensive line has changed from a position of weakness to one of strength nearly overnight. In just a couple of years, this offensive line has become one of the strongest in the entire NFL.
First-round selection Zack Martin will start from day one along with fellow first-rounders Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. These three, Doug Free and Mackenzy Bernadeau will most likely create the starting five.
Guard Ronald Leary will also be in the starting discussion, but he will have to overcome a strained hamstring that landed him on the team's physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
This unit is as strong as it’s been since the Cowboys won their last Super Bowl. If they stay healthy, the offense will flourish all year long.
Now that we’ve reached the defensive side of the ball, the grades won’t be as pretty. The Cowboys have almost an entirely new defensive line and will rely on this unit to be better than some big names who struggled in 2013.
The most pressure will be on the two biggest names, naturally. New addition Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer will face a lot of demands to perform like they each have at one point in their careers.
The other important members of the line consist of George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey, rookie Demarcus Lawrence, Nick Hayden, Terrell McClain and Tyrone Crawford.
The line has more depth than it did in 2013, when it suffered a lot of injuries and basically had guys off the street play consistently. However, no player is a sure thing, and too many guys are returning from injury to be optimistic here.
The linebacker corps had plenty to be excited about until Sean Lee went down to another injury that will keep him out the entire year. The Cowboys were forced to shuffle players around now and have even brought in the formerly retired Rolando McClain.
Justin Durant will be the starting middle linebacker unless someone surpasses him in camp. McClain has the physical ability, but I don’t know if he’ll be up to speed just yet. Rookie Anthony Hitchens could be an alternative as well.
On the outside, Dallas has a few options who could be bright spots. DeVonte Holloman showed a lot of potential last year, and Bruce Carter did the same in 2012. Kyle Wilber will also compete for a starting spot.
There’s no way you can label this unit as strong, although there is a decent amount of potential. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli better hope some players step up.
Surprisingly, the Cowboys secondary is the strongest part of this year’s defense. Even though I don’t think it will be particularly dominant, the pieces are in place for it to have a solid season.
At cornerback, Dallas has three very good options, some who could be elite. Between Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick, this secondary shouldn’t be easy to pass against.
Although they weren’t bad per say, both Carr and Claiborne can perform better than they showed last season. The Cowboys are relying on both to be leaders.
Barry Church is a very consistent safety who shined in 2013. He’ll have to continue getting better to make this secondary a true problem to play against.
He should have more help this year from his counterpart at safety, though. Odds are J.J. Wilcox will get the starting nod at strong safety, where he can expand upon his rookie year. Matt Johnson, Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton will push for his job.
Special teams is another area of strength in Dallas this year. Although many people overlook special teams play, it does affect the outcome of several games every season.
Dan Bailey is one of the most consistent kickers in the league and has no problem hitting the deep ones. He connected on 17 field goals from 40 or more yards a year ago.
Chris Jones is an average punter who was never a game-changer in 2013. Dallas would love him to extend his average by another few yards.
Dwayne Harris is a fantastic weapon and one of the most exciting players Dallas has. He averaged more than 12 yards per punt return and more than 30 on kickoffs while adding another touchdown last year. He’s a threat to take it to the house with every touch.