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Cowboys 2015 Training Camp: Very Early Glimpses Of The Position Battles

Much change is likely to come, but the first look at the way the players are lining up gives us some hints about what the staff is thinking.

The camp battles have begun.
The camp battles have begun.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Every day in training camp is important. The evaluations for the players that are in competition for a spot on the roster actually began the day the 2014 season ended, but now it has gone to full speed. The pads are about to come on for the first time. That will be very important, but the way the players are being lined up already shows us what the coaches may be thinking about how things will play out.

There were several things that stood out in this aspect from the first practices. While the running back situation is going to have to wait on how Darren McFadden heals up from his disappointing hamstring problems (and it hurts to have to bring up the "H" word so soon), here are a few that are beginning to take shape.

The most interesting news was how the linebackers were deployed. Leading up to camp, most of the projections were that the team would put Jason Brinkley in as the starting MIKE with Anthony Hitchens as the SAM. The team threw a curve there. Sean Lee was where everyone expected at the WILL, but Hichens was the first team MIKE with Kyle Wilber at the SAM. The second team had rookie Damien Wilson playing WILL, with Brinkley in the middle and Andrew Gachkar the SAM. This may represent some long-term thinking that Hitchens may be able to claim the MIKE for several seasons to come, and a belief that Wilson will follow in his footsteps as a versatile backup. It also shows that the team may see Gachkar as having more to contribute on defense than Cam Lawrence could, while not costing anything on special teams. Brinkley is still valuable as a depth player, but making him the starter carried some aspects of the dreaded "progress stopper". This alignment may have a very good chance of lasting all the way to the regular season. Although the team is searching for some more linebackers to share the load through camp and the preseason, the team does look to be in good shape as far as the eventual 53-man roster is concerned.

On the offensive line, Ronald Leary is still the starter. He certainly has earned that right. Many writers still are projecting La'el Collins to supplant him before the season starts, but that is far from a given. In an interview offensive coordinator Scott Linehan indicated that there is no rush or pressure to move Collins into the starting lineup.

"We have five starters on our offensive line that are returning that are going to have something to say about that. They're not going to want to let this young guy go in there and just right away get in there spots.

"It's going to be great competition, but I think the thing we have going for us is we don't have to have him be in there right away, throw him right in the fire if we don't have to. And if he's ready, he's ready. If he's not, he's not. We'll let the competition play its way out."

Linehan is not the only one who feels that Leary has something important to bring to the table. All Pro center Travis Frederick was asked about who he would take with him if he got into a street fight.

"I think I'm going to have to take Ron on that one. Ron Leary. He's got kind of a killer instinct. We talk about how offensive line is a group position. Not only do we all have our positions, but everybody kind of has a role. Ron's kind of that guy who takes care of everybody. He's the enforcer, if you will."

Coming from a guy who brings a load of attitude on the field himself, that is a major endorsement. Leary has not gotten the press that Frederick, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin have, but his fellow linemen know who he is. Collins may be fated to be a backup his first season in the league - and there is nothing wrong about that.

Everyone is expecting great things from first-round pick Byron Jones, but long-suffering corner Morris Claiborne got the nod to run with the ones to start camp. This may be largely a result of his status as a veteran, but it also shows that the team is going to give him every chance to finally live up to at least some of the promise that led the team to trade up to get him in the draft. Even if he does see Jones move ahead of him on the depth chart at some point (which is likely), an NFL team can never have too much depth at corner. Playing in relief would still allow Claiborne the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the team. He is playing to earn another contract this year, and whether or not that would be with Dallas, having a good year would only help the team.

The returns are quite preliminary, but now we have some real data to work with. There is a lot more to come, of course. But the first drills have now been run. Things are off to a good start in Oxnard.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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