Before the Dallas Cowboys training camp officially starts at the end of July in Oxnard, even before the OTAs officially start, we get the benefit of a rookie minicamp this weekend. And the theme of that minicamp, like every other offseason activity under Jason Garrett, will be "competition", a point that Garrett has hammered home with the subtlety of sledgehammer in his tenure as a head coach in Dallas.
And with rookie minicamp just around the corner, it's not too early to look at some of the training camp battles that are shaping up. And those battles may be more than just player versus player battles. Here are some of the training camp battles to look forward to.
1. Wide Receivers versus The Depth Chart
Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and in all likelihood, Terrance Williams. That's about as far as it goes at wide receiver right now. Nobody has a spot after that, not even Dwayne Harris, who came on pretty strong at the end of last season.
Let's be generous and assume that the Cowboys keep six wide receivers this year. That's three open spots on the depth chart for any of the following players 10 players: Anthony Armstrong, Cole Beasley, Tim Benford, Danny Coale, Jared Green, Dwayne Harris, Greg Herd, Carlton Mitchell, Darrin Moore, and Eric Rogers.
Three open spots. Ten competitors. This is going to be one tough battle.
2. Travis Frederick versus 1st Round Expectations
The Cowboys tried justifying the trade-down in the draft by pointing to the additional value they received with Terrance Williams in the third round. And while the Cowboys had Frederick rated as a second rounder, they still picked him in the first, and expectations are that he'll perform exactly like you would expect the top center taken in the draft to perform.
But have a look at the Pro Football Focus grades for the rookie seasons of the first center drafted in each of the last three drafts:
2012 - Peter Konz: -14.6
2011 - Mike Pouncey: -0.3
2010 - Maurkice Pouncey: -3.0
Expectations are sky-high for Frederick, both from the Cowboys-critical media and the fickle Cowboys fanbase. If Frederick doesn't significantly improve overall O-line play from the center position, he'll quickly be labeled a bust. In order to take some of the pressure off Frederick's rookie season, they Cowboys may be well advised playing him at guard the first year as he adjusts to the tempo and competitive level of the NFL.
3. Lawrence Vickers versus the Two Tight End Set
Strange as it may sound, Gavin Escobar may ultimately cost Lawrence Vickers his job. The likely move to a Patriots-style offense with a stronger reliance on multiple TE-sets does not bode well for the sole fullback roster spot currently held by Vickers. Additionally, Vickers' salary makes him a potential salary cap casualty anyway, and he may not win this battle regardless of the fight he puts up.
4. Jermey Parnell versus everybody
Biggest offseason battle to watch. Parnell out to prove he is not only an upgrade over Free, but upgrade over everyone. He has come to play— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) May 7, 2013
5. Phillip Tanner versus the Jitterbug
New running backs coach Gary Brown has two key pieces in place for a productive running game. One is lead back DeMarco Murray, the other is rookie Joseph Randle. If Murray can stay healthy for a season, he has the potential to be an elite back in the league. The problem with that is so far, Murray has been unable to remain injury-free, which is why the Cowboys brought in Joseph Randle, who'll hopefully allow the Cowboys offense to continue without missing a beat even in case of a Murray injury.
But early in January, Gary Brown also mentioned another type of runner for the Cowboys offense.
"You probably just want a guy that’s going to come in and complement [Murray] in the way maybe of just being, maybe more of a jitterbug type guy," Brown said. "It’s hard to say. I’ve only been here a few days."
Tanner (5-10, 217) certainly isn't a jitterbug. But Lance Dunbar (5-8, 191) and Kendial Lawrence (5-9, 194) could certainly play the part, especially considering that their 40-times (Dunbar: 4.47; Lawrence: 4.32) are better than Tanner's 4.57. After a lackluster 2012 season, Tanner may have fallen out of favor with the Cowboys, but is being a "jitterbug" enough for either Dunbar or Lawrence to grab that No. 3 RB spot?
What are the battles you'll be keeping an eye on in OTAs and training camp, and why?