Let me say one thing right now: I am ready for some football.
And it is almost here. The Dallas Cowboys arrive in Oxnard on Friday. The Hall of Fame game is just over two weeks away. And real, it counts and everything football is five weeks after that.
Of course, there is a lot to do in training camp, although I think in some ways the Cowboys face fewer questions this year than most. That is not to say that the ones remaining are not pretty important.
With training camp cranking up, the coaches now are faced with figuring out the roster. And the first order of business is sorting out who the starters are going to be.
The team, of course, is not starting from scratch with that. They come into camp with, for lack of a better term, incumbents on the roster for all the starting positions. I think that the process starts with that lineup, mostly based on last year's starters (with the modifications necessitated by the switch to the 4-3). Here is the way that shakes out.
Note that this is not in all cases the way I expect things to wind up at the end of camp. In reality, I am pretty sure there is at least one other name that has been penciled in, but in going through the hallowed process, this is where everything starts for the offense and defense. I have gone with 11 plus 1 starters here. On defense, that reflects the role the nickel corner has in today's pass oriented game, so that is listed as the extra starter. On offense, we are all aware of the increased role everyone expects for the 12 formation this year, but with the departure of Lawrence Vickers, I believe that also signals that the Cowboys will have two predominant formations they use. The 11 formation is likely to see as much, or almost as much use as the 12, so the third wide receiver is the extra starter there.
|QB||Tony Romo||FS||Barry Church|
|RB||DeMarco Murray||SS||Matt Johnson|
|TE||Jason Witten||CB||Brandon Carr|
|TE||James Hanna||CB||Morris Claiborne|
|WR||Dez Bryant||CB||Orlando Scandrick|
|WR||Miles Austin||WLB||Bruce Carter|
|WR||Dwayne Harris||MLB||Sean Lee|
|LT||Tyron Smith||SLB||Justin Durant|
|LG||Nate Livings||DE||DeMarcus Ware|
|C||Phil Costa||DT||Jay Ratliff|
|RG||Mackenzy Bernadeau||DT||Jason Hatcher|
|RT||Doug Free||DE||Anthony Spencer|
The first thing that you probably noted deals with the bearded elephant in the room, but I will get to him later. There is only one name on this list that was not with the Cowboys last season, Durant, who was brought in specifically to be the third linebacker, the Sam in this case, for the 4-3. Considering that last year the team had three free agents who were brought in to start, and that was without a change in scheme involved, it at least shows that the coaches have faith in the players they already have.
Otherwise, on defense, I don't see much chance for a lot of change to come here. Johnson is probably the most likely player to get bumped off the starting lineup at safety, with Will Allen and J.J. Wilcox both having a shot at winning the job. This could also be a place where the starter could evolve over the season. Allen could be the starter for the opening game against the New York Giants, with Johnson or Wilcox taking over later in the season as they get more playing time. Essentially, they are both first year players, although Johnson has the advantage of a year with the team, but the scheme change partially negates that.
Offense has much more going on here. Harris is going to face a challenge from Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and/or any other wide receiver who rises up in camp. Hanna may be pushed by Gavin Escobar or even Dante Rosario, but I think that is less likely, with some roles already shaping up to use all four of the tight ends I expect to be on the final 53.
And then there is the offensive line, and the big name here is Travis Frederick. He is almost certainly going to be starting. It is still an open question as to whether he is going to be at center or guard, however. None of the interior linemen from last season are on very firm ground. I am sorry to disappoint the Jermey Parnell fans out there, but with the likelihood of a major shakeup in the interior positions, I don't see the coaching staff putting another relatively new and very inexperienced player at RT. But Fredbeard is basically a lock to get one position, and Ronald Leary is looking to have a good chance to join him. It is conceivable that there could be a complete changeout of all three interior positions, as I discussed in my post predicting the way the O line will develop, but I am trying to show the way the coaches will approach things here.
Another factor in this is that both Livings and Bernadeau are still fighting some nagging injury issues. Both are expected to be ready for camp, but I am not sure that is going to hold up. I would not be surprised to see one of them still struggling because of those injuries, and that might force the team's hand in coming to an injury settlement with, or just outright cutting one or both of them, depending on how it works out.
One good thing that I think is clear from this is that most of the starting positions are not only pretty solid, but in very capable hands. Outside the center and guard positions, most of this camp is going to focus on the backups, and this year Dallas has what appears to be better quality depth to work with than it has in years. Yes, a lot of that depth is untested, but based on early reports, there is potential for good things. But I think the team already has a very solid idea of which players it is going to keep this year. Unless there are some major developments in camp, I would not be surprised to see the almost identical roster projections Joey Ickes and I did just after minicamp being right at 50 positions. Of course, that is why they have camp and preseason games. The downroster competition will be very interesting to watch this year, with special teams considerations as always being the difference for several players.
That is more potential than reality, however. What is reality is that the Cowboys have a pretty solid base of starters to work from, outside those three O line positions. It is just another reason I am feeling pretty optimistic about this season.
But that is my job here. Oh, and one thing I have not mentioned lately: