Looking forward to training camp, I put together a list of 10 training camp battles I'll be watching. Some are traditional battles - Player X vs. Player Y for a particular role. Some are more concept battles, or group battles. They're not just about who will make the roster or not, but who will play important roles and what they must do. They're sort of in order of importance, starting with the lesser battles.
TE vs. FB vs. Offensive Schemes
The Cowboys have been dabbling with more 2-TE sets in the recent OTA's and mini-camps, utilizing Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. With two TEs it's usually a FB who gets sacrificed unless it's short yardage. Deon "Cricket" Anderson is the incumbent FB joined by contenders Julius Crosslin and Asaph Schwapp. How much will the FB be used and will they carry only one on the roster? They also have to consider what they want their third TE to be, is he going to be used out of the backfield as a blocker on a significant amount of plays? This could affect the battle between rookie John Phillips and holdover Rodney Hannah. What the offensive scheme is geared more toward in 2009 will help decide which of these guys make the roster and how they will be utilized.
David Buehler vs. The Endzone
They brought in Buehler to improve the kickoffs. They can't afford to keep him around and take up two roster spots with kickers if he isn't providing a serious upgrade in touchbacks and deep kicks. Nick Folk is as close to a lock as you can get for kickers to remain as the guy on FG's. In camp, Buehler has to prove he can consistently hit the endzone with his kicks. Only then, can they think about other special teams' roles for the rookie.
Eight more battles after the jump.
Manuel Johnson vs. The Rest
For argument sake, let's say the Cowboys keep six WR's. Roy Williams, Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton are locks. Sam Hurd has a very good chance at remaining and Isaiah Stanback is probably going to get another year to prove his worth. (Of course, injuries can always change this scenario). If those five retain their spots on the roster, then you have one open WR position. And a long list of unknowns ready to fill it. I separated Manuel Johnson out because he was drafted this year, meaning the Cowboys are intrigued enough to give him an opportunity. But this is really a battle between Johnson and guys like Mike Jefferson, Kevin Ogletree, Julian Hawkins, and Travis Wilson - and possibly a guy from 4th and Long. Can anybody make an impression at camp?
These guys represent a larger battle between guys who have been on the team, and some new faces, to grab some of the last spots in the secondary. Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick are going to be the top corners. Ken Hamlin and Gerald Sensabaugh are going to be the top safeties. After that, there's a mad scramble. Alan Ball and Courtney Brown have been tried at corner and safety. Pat Watkins is going to battle at safety. Throw into the mix draft picks Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith and Mike Hamlin, and you have a royal rumble to fill out the rest of the secondary. I give a little edge to the draft picks only because the other guys have had their time in Dallas and have yet to impress. The rookies will get to show their stuff and if they show potential, they could be kept over the veterans. Ball, Brown and Watkins all need to impress at training camp to remain with the Cowboys.
I don't know if this is a true battle or a media-created battle given Kosier's absence from practices while still recovering from injury. I'll admit, I've bashed Kosier before for being the weak link along the line before. Last year opened my eyes - without him, we suffered. But, will Kosier be healthy and remain healthy? Montrae Holland is a big lineman, the kind Dallas prefers. Now that he's been with the team for a year, we'll get to see if he really is the better option at guard. Then again, this could be much ado about nothing; Kosier might walk right back into his place and not miss a beat.
Anthony Spencer vs. Offensive Tackles
The Cowboys have definitely thrown in their lot with Anthony Spencer. After releasing Greg Ellis, Spencer is the clear starter opposite DeMarcus Ware. So how will he perform? We've seen bits and pieces of his talent, but can he create the need for offensive coordinators to pay attention to him, thus lessening the attention to Ware. The Cowboys need a credible threat opposite Ware so teams don't start throwing two and three blockers his way on a consistent basis. Spencer has to be able to beat offensive tackles so that he will also demand chip blocks and occasional double-teams, in hopes of freeing up Ware.
Brandon Williams vs. Victor Butler vs. Rookie Expectations
The Cowboys are now depending on these two guys to make the transition from DE to OLB as the primary backups on the outside. While battling each other, they're also battling the need to be at least a credible players in that role. Either player could be one injury to another player away from getting significant playing time. Can a rookie making that transition fill that role? Is one, or both, capable of meeting the expectations being placed on them? We'll find out this year and our first real look will be at training camp.
Bobby Carpenter vs. The Rookies vs. His Reputation
Going into training camp, Carpenter will get the first look as the inside linebacker in the nickel defense. This is his last chance to create a home for himself with the Cowboys. Last year, Carpenter had a great camp but it didn't translate into serious playing time. This year, the Cowboys don't have Kevin Burnett to fall back on, so Carpenter is going to get his chance. But he'll also have to compete with rookies Jason Williams and Stephen Hodge. Can Carpenter turn around his bust reputation this year?
Patrick Crayton vs. Miles Austin
Who will be the starter? All signs point to Austin. Jerry Jones has talked about him enough this offseason and the offense could clearly use his speed on the outside. Patrick Crayton has been solid for the Cowboys outside of a couple of high-profile mistakes. Crayton is a known quantity, we know he can produce, his numbers will tell you that. But is he better off being the third WR and playing in the slot? That's what the Cowboys want, but Miles Austin has to finally get past the ‘potential' label and actually make things happen. If the Cowboys can get that out of Austin, they'll be very happy with their WR situation behind Roy Williams.
Mike Jenkins vs. Orlando Scandrick
One of them will start on the outside opposite Terence Newman, the other will be the nickel corner. Either way, they're both going to be playing significant minutes. But I'm intrigued to see which one comes out on top for the traditional second CB role. Both are clearly talented and showed a lot of potential last year. This year will be about building on that momentum for each player and carrying their good work over to a new season. The battle between them at camp to be the ‘starter' will be fun to watch, even though in the end both will be playing a lot.
Any battles you would add to the list?