In his press conference after the first day of OTAs Coach Wade Phillips formulated what may be the theme of this year's training camp activities:
"Competition makes you better. The real good guys compete all the time, and they're competing with themselves trying to get better. The Tony Romos of the world, those kind of guys. There won't be anybody coming in and beating him out, but he’s competing all the time to try to get better."
For all others, training camp means other guys competing for your job, according to Coach Phillips.
"Some guys are more motivated by somebody else being there. You'd like them all to be self-starters [and be] guys that compete to get better all the time, but it doesn’t always happen. So if you have competition at any position it certainly helps."
Competition is the name of the game for Cowboys Training camp, but the players may end up battling more than just other players. Here are some of the training camp battles on offense to look forward to:
1. Wide Receivers vs. The Depth Chart
Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Roy Williams are locks and Kevin Ogletree has a good shot, but all bets are off as to who goes where on the depth chart.
Let's assume the Cowboys keep only five wide receivers. Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd have both asked to be traded. Hurd could be let go. Crayton may still have a great deal of value for the team, but it looks unlikely that he can overcome his wounded pride. That leaves one spot on the depth chart for any of the following players:
Manuel Johnson and Jesse Holley have had a year on the practice squad to hone their craft, and did that so well that the coaching staff awarded them the game balls after a victory over Philadelphia. Apparently, the coaches credit their work as a key factor in the team limiting DeSean "sting they ass" Jackson to three catches for 47 yards.
Titus Ryan was brought in primarily as a return guy but his speed has coaches turning their heads so fast they might develop whiplash before TC even starts.
Verran Tucker, Terrell Hudgins and Rashaun Greer are all UDFAs who will give it everything they've got to make the roster.
2. The O-Line vs. Hudson Houck
3. Cowboys vs. Penalties
The Cowboys tied for third with Philadelphia and Baltimore in the NFL with 115 penalties last season, three penalties behind league leaders Green Bay, and ranked fifth in penalty yards. And if you think that releasing Flozell Adams will solve the penalty issue, then think again, because the issue is much more systemic.
No other team has a longer active streak of being in the league top 10 in penalty yards than the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are the only team to finish in the top ten for four consecutive seasons (2006-2009), and are also the only team with a four year active streak of 800 or more penalty yards. Runners up with active streaks of three consecutive seasons: the Packers and the Raiders.
4. Dez Bryant vs 1st Round Expectations
The last two wide receivers the Cowboys selected in the first round were Michael Irvin in 1988 and Alvin Harper in 1991. And if that doesn't set the bar high enough for Dez Bryant, why not give him the number 88 jersey as well? Way to manage fan expectations, Mr. Jones.
5. Stephen McGee vs. The Clipboard
So far, McGee did a bang-up job as a clipboard holder, but he wants and needs to show more in 2010. McGee did see action as the scout-team QB, and his spot looks pretty safe for 2010 behind John Kitna, who by the way didn't get any younger last year. But McGee needs to show that he has progressed to where he at least is an adequate backup or he might not make into his third season in Dallas. Matt Nichols' chances of making the roster are slim at best.
6. TE vs FB vs. H-Back vs. Offensive Shemes
With the success of the 2 TE set last season, a resurrection of the H-back position (possibly at the expense of the fullback) may not be completely out of the question, and no, H-Back is not a halfback. H-Back is a hybrid position, a cross between a tight end and fullback. The H-back can line up in the backfield or on the line or be sent in motion, and some might argue that Bennett last year was more successful as a H-back than as a pass-catching TE, but that’s a whole different subject.
The Cowboys are already stacked at TE with Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett and John Phillips, yet saw fit to invite not one but three more TEs to camp in Scott Sicko, Nick Tow-Arnett and Chris Gronkowski.
A lot of tight ends are either finesse, pass-receiver types of tight ends or they're blockers. All three Cowboys UDFAs do both pretty well and would fit the mold of a fullback/H-back/tight end hybrid.
Depending on how training camp shakes out, there might be one additional spot available for a fourth tight end. Strangely enough, this most likely hinges on whether David Buehler can be successful as a place kicker, thus opening up one additional roster spot.
7. David Buehler vs The Uprights
Right now the coaching staff is favoring David Buehler to take over field goal duties, and potentially free up a roster spot. In his last season at USC, Buehler made 9 of 13 field goal attempts for a FG percentage of 69%. Not great, but definitely an improvement of the combined 64.5% of Nick Folk and Shaun Suisham. The Cowboys have hired Chris Boniol to help him, but have so far also retained Connor Hughes. Just in case.
What are the battles you'll be keeping an eye on in OTAs and training camp, and why?