Can David Buehler be consistent enough to keep his job?
With the Cowboys more than a week into training camp, the reps have been shared around and not it's time to see where the battles lie. The Cowboys are set at a lot of positions especially on defense where most of the line and all of the linebackers returned from last year's team, however that doesn't mean that there isn't some drama going on when it comes to who's starting.
Kicker: Usually when the first battle you talk about is at kicker, it only goes downhill from there. However this has become an interesting story. David Buehler was a model of inconsistency last season and as a result the Cowboys signed Kris Brown after the season ended.
Once the lockout ended Brown was promptly cut and the Cowboys signed undrafted rookie Dan Bailey, the 2010 Groza Award winner (Nation's best kicker) out of Oklahoma State. During the first week in camp Bailey has been kicking the cover off the ball making his missing just three kicks during the first week in camp.
That puts Buehler (who's missed about five more than Bailey according to the Cowboys website) behind Bailey. The Cowboys made this battle even more complicated on Tuesday by signing 2009 Groza Award winner Kai Forbath out of UCLA. The good news (for Buehler) is that Forbath will start his time on the Cowboys on the non-football injury list with a quad strain.
While Jerry Jones talked about the possibility of keeping two kickers over the weekend, Jason Garrett wasn't nearly as optimistic about it. While Buehler has the stronger leg, Bailey is more accurate and with the kicking line of scrimmage moved up to the 35-yard line this season, has been able to get the ball into the back of the end zone.
The real starts will being once the pre-season starts and these guys will be kicking to put up points and eventually could end up in a game winning situation.
Safety: Until Tuesday night, both spots were wide open, but with the Cowboys reaching an agreement with Gerald Sensabaugh the Strong Safety position is locked as he automatically becomes the starter.
That leaves the free safety spot open and right now Akwasi Owusu-Ansah who spent most of last year on injured reserve, is playing with the first team. That leaves Danny McCray and Andrew Sandejo as the backups.
It's hard to tell who's the lead man in this because while Owusu-Ansah has the job for now, the first week of camp saw a lot of big plays from the Cowboys first-team offense, although some of that can be contributed to the Cowboys offense knowing their entire playbook and the defense still learning theirs.
Wide Receiver: The first two spots at this position are locked up with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, however the third receiver position is still up for grabs. Right now Kevin Ogletree is the front runner, with Manuel Johnson, Titus Ryan and others in the fold.
Basically this is Ogletree's job to lose. If he can show during the pre-season that he get open consistently and catch the ball, the job will be his. If not it's anyone's guess who will man that spot for the Cowboys, but with teams having to deal with Austin's ability to catch and run away from everyone and Bryant's speed and leaping ability, whoever the third receiver is would have a ton of one-on-one chances to get open over the middle and make some big gains.
Middle Linebacker: Keith Brooking is the starter, but right now he's dealing with a hamstring injury. That leaves Sean Lee to take his place and with Brooking getting slower and Lee getting better, at some point the Cowboys are going to have to give that spot to Lee. That could happen if Brooking comes back and isn't the same linebacker he was in his first year in Dallas.
This change could also happen during the season if the Cowboys aren't getting great play out of Brooking early on.
While this isn't exactly the most exciting stories of the pre-season, take solace in the fact that these battles indicate that the Cowboys have a lot of good veterans at most positions and that they'll be in the thick of the NFC East race.