Every year, players who weren't starters work their way up the depth chart. This year the Dallas Cowboys have a couple of players who are primed to steal a starting role.
Last year, players like George Selvie and Nick Hayden began as reserves with varying circumstances leading them to be thrust into the starting defense.
It is paramount the Cowboys create competition throughout the variety of positions of the offense and defense. If the Cowboys truly did create an aura of competition among the team, it would lead to certain backup players outplaying their starting counterparts, thus making them the new starter.
The Cowboys just released their first official depth chart on their team website Tuesday. This depth chart will be the starting point for players to steal starting spots in training camp.
Let's take a look at which players are prepared to break into a starting role.
Last year was supposed to be Tyrone Crawford's time to become an extremely productive player for the Cowboys. However, a torn Achilles tendon stopped this before it could even begin.
Fast-forward to this offseason, and Crawford is second on the depth chart at strong-side defensive end behind the man who replaced him last year, George Selvie.
Through the first two weeks, Selvie has been impressive enough that he has drawn the praise of Cowboys' chief operating officer Stephen Jones:
Stephen Jones says even though he isn't working with the 1's at the moment, Tyrone Crawford might be the best D-Lineman on this team so far.— Jeff Cavanaugh (@JC1053) August 5, 2014
With this sort of praise it seems it is only a matter of time before Crawford is made a starter. Crawford is a big, physical defensive end with incredible strength at the point of attack and surprisingly nimble feet to go along with it. He is one of the rare players who has the ability to excel at both rushing the passer and defending the run.
With the injury to DeMarcus Lawrence, Crawford could also be an option to start at the weak-side defensive end position. Even though his skill set better suits him at SDE, Crawford could be very productive at WDE as well. Either way, Crawford is not the type of talent who should be relegated to backup duty.
If the Cowboys want to maximize the production of their defensive line, Crawford should be the starter at one of the two defensive end spots when the season begins.
Terrell McClain had one of the best offseasons out of any player on the Cowboys' roster. He filled in for Henry Melton at the 3-technique or "under" tackle through OTAs and minicamp. His stellar play led former Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus to proclaim McClain "just might be too talented not to start on this defensive line." However, at the beginning of training camp McClain injured his ankle and hasn't been back since.
It may be risky to state McClain will steal a starting spot when he has been injured for much of camp, but the lack of talent at the 1-technique position coupled with McClain's considerable talent make it much more realistic.
Ahead of McClain on the depth chart is Nick Hayden, who was one of the worst starting defensive tackles in the league last year per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The thing that separates Hayden and McClain is that McClain has adequate pass-rush skills, while Hayden has little to no pass-rush ability.
Obviously McClain has to return to the practice field if he is going to beat out Hayden for the starting job. The good news is that he should be back sometime next week per The Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota.
In the end, McClain's pass-rush ability will lead to him taking over Hayden's starting job at 1-technique defensive tackle.
DeVonte Holloman is another player who is too talented to not be a starter. Holloman is a versatile, athletic player who has the ability to play any of the three linebacker spots on the roster.
Thus far the starting linebackers for the Cowboys are Justin Durant ("Mike" linebacker), Bruce Carter ("Will" linebacker) and Kyle Wilber ("Sam" Linebacker). Holloman is listed as the backup at SLB, but has seen time at all the linebacker spots. Holloman should have a chance to at least overtake Durant and Wilber for their respective starting positions.
This biggest positive Holloman brings to the defense is his coverage ability. Broaddus said, "Other than Sean Lee, DeVonte Holloman is the best cover linebacker on this squad."
Holloman displayed this trait at the Blue and White scrimmage on Sunday. Holloman was lined up at the "Mike" linebacker position and the Cowboys were in a Cover-2 defense. After the snap, Holloman raced down to cover the deep middle zone. About 40 yards of sprinting later, he made a spectacular pass deflection that showed the type of impact he can have on defense.
The Cowboys need an athletic playmaker in the linebacking corps in order for the defense to be able to run at an optimum rate. Holloman could be that guy if given the chance.
Whether it is at the "Mike" or "Sam," Holloman should be starting when the San Francisco 49ers come to town on Sept. 7.
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