Earlier this week we looked at "Five Training Camp Battles On Offense", today we turn our attention to the defense. Easily the biggest and most publicized battle is for the starting safety spots, but there are more battles than that, although we'll start with the safeties.
1. Safeties vs. NFL experience
Free agent acquisition Will Allen is the only safety on the roster with any notable NFL starting experience, having notched 33 starts in 130 games over a nine-year career. Barry Church has played in 33 games but only started four, and after that, the Cowboys safeties do not have any NFL experience.
Church and Matt Johnson may be penciled in as the nominal starters for now, but that can quickly change. The competition for the two starting spots is probably as wide open as it can get.
2. The battle for the 4th corner spot
"Remember, your fourth corner – you’ve got three corners on your team when you play nickel – one corner gets hurt, [the fourth corner is] one snap from being a starter. So your corners are very, very valuable."
"We have a couple of good corners here now, we really do. But we need competition, and we’ve got to make sure we’ve got depth at corner. Now, the third defensive tackle is very important because if one of those tackles gets hurt – or third defensive end – it’s very important. He’s one snap away. But the fourth defensive tackle, the fourth defensive end is not one snap away. The fourth corner is one snap away."
3. 1-tech vs. 3-tech
Conventional wisdom has it that Jay Ratliff will play the 1-technique, and that Jason Hatcher will be the 3-technique. More recently though, we've been hearing whispers of both Ratliff and Hatcher playing the 3-technique in a rotation. Who then mans the 1-technique? Sean Lissemore is an option, but he played a lot better at DE than he did at NT in the 3-4, so would he also be a 3-technique in a 4-3? And where does Tyrone Crawford, who's supposedly bulked up to play the 3-technique, fit into all of this? There are still a lot of moving pieces in the interior of the defensive line, and the only thing we know for sure is that the Cowboys currently have nine guys (excluding Josh Brent and Brian Price) listed as DTs.
The Giants, to name just one 4-3 team, rarely keep more than four DTs on their roster. The Cowboys may keep more to ease the transition to the 4-3, but it's going to be tough making the roster at DT this year.
4. DE depth
The battle here will be to find enough bodies to even get a competition going. Who exactly will be competing for the two backup spots behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer? Right now, it looks like the only candidates are Kyle Wilber and probably Alex Albright. That's a little scary.
5. The third linebacker
Justin Durant brings 67 games of NFL starting experience with him so he is probably slotted as the starter. The Cowboys project sixth-round pick DeVonte Holloman as a strongside linebacker, and UDFA signing Brandon Magee could play both the strong- and the weak side. Alex Albright could also be in play if he isn't moved to DE and even Caleb McSurdy could be in the mix for the SLB spot.