Dallas Cowboys: 5 Questions That Still Must Be Answered This Preseason
This preseason version of the 2014 Dallas Cowboys is likely a whole lot different from what we’re going to see at the end of the season.
The Cowboys have so many question marks across their roster that it’s simply really difficult to get a firm grasp on the team.
The Cowboys aren’t really in a position to experience much bad luck this year, so they really need fortuitous outcomes from most of their current issues. That means getting quality play out of on-the-fence players and no serious injuries throughout the year.
Here are the five biggest questions that the team still must answer this preseason.
Can Morris Claiborne Step Up?
We’ve been waiting for cornerback Morris Claiborne to break out for a while, but his time is now.
With the four-game suspension of cornerback Orlando Scandrick, Claiborne is going to be starting on the outside for Dallas for at least the first month of the year.
During that time, the Cowboys will play the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints. That’s probably a pretty poor overall group in terms of wide receivers, with the best of the bunch arguably being Michael Crabtree in San Francisco (while the Saints clearly have the top overall passing game).
What we need to see out of Claiborne is just consistency. He’s played well at times during his career, but there have been some really poor showings as well.
If Claiborne can keep his confidence level up, it will help him overcome his average measurables.
Who Can Be an X-Factor at Defensive End?
With rookie DeMarcus Lawrence out for the first month of the season at a minimum, the Cowboys are really bare at the defensive end position.
The team is hoping that Anthony Spencer can return at some point before Week 1. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan (h/t Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram) that it might happen.
Spencer’s return will be big for Dallas, whenever it happens, but it’s not a complete fix. Remember, Spencer is a 30-year-old defensive end who played in one game last year and has recorded more than six sacks in a season just once during his seven-year NFL career.
The player I really like to step up is Martez Wilson. He’s a converted linebacker with elite measurables and the big-time predictors of success at the position, including long arms and a history of college production.
Is Tony Romo Fully Healthy?
Quarterback Tony Romo is going to play against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday night. Jones told 105.3 The Fan (h/t Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News) that the QB had a “good weekend” and will take “some snaps” Saturday.
It’s pivotal that Romo is healthy for the duration of the 2014 season, so his first action will be big—even if it’s in a preseason game.
Romo hasn’t been throwing many deep balls and has been missing on them when he does, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, so there are some concerns that maybe his back isn’t fully healed right now.
The fact that the Cowboys have held Romo out of practice at times has fueled the speculation.
Romo will try to play whether he’s healthy or not, but if his back truly isn’t 100 percent, it could increase the probability of the quarterback just not having a choice.
Who Is Going to Be the 3rd Running Back?
A team’s third running back typically isn’t a huge deal, but the Cowboys’ No. 2 back, Lance Dunbar, is a scatback of sorts, meaning he wouldn’t handle too much early-down work if starter DeMarco Murray were to get injured.
Murray has seemed to shed the injury-prone label, but let’s not forget he has still missed at least two games in all three of his pro seasons.
Ryan Williams is competing with Joseph Randle for the No. 3 job, and Randle appears to have the clear edge, as he played ahead of Williams in Week 1 of the preseason. I think Williams probably has more explosiveness, but Randle really showed well at times in the first game.
Is Gavin Escobar Going to Be a Serious Contributor?
The second-year tight end has the potential to really help the Cowboys this year, particularly in the red zone, but we don’t really know exactly how he will be used.
The Cowboys have been hyping him up and even moving him out wide in practices, according to Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News, but they’ve also been promising more from the team's No. 2 tight end for years, dating back to Martellus Bennett’s days in Dallas.
I have reservations about predicting a huge year from Escobar right now just because there are only so many passes to go around. Dez Bryant will be the No. 1 guy, and tight end Jason Witten will get his work as well.
Throw in a little Terrance Williams, and there might not be all that many throws left for Escobar.
The thing that Escobar has working in his favor is the addition of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who seems like he wants to take advantage of Escobar’s skill set. My guess is that Escobar won’t see enough targets to do a lot of damage in terms of bulk stats, but I could see a 35-catch, six-touchdown season.
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