For a team coming off a 4-12 season, the Dallas Cowboys are an anomaly. Normally, a team with that poor of a showing the previous year would be experiencing some significant turnover, or at the minimum some true offseason battles for starting positions. This is not the case for the Cowboys in 2016.
I'm reminded of this fact by a recent mailbag article by Bob Sturm.
Q: Which training camp battles would you be most excited to see come late July?
Well, to be honest, this roster doesn't seem to have a whole lot of competition to start. I will write the 22 starters out on May 20th and I bet (injuries pending) that I can go 20 for 22 for opening night: Romo, Smith, Collins, Frederick, Martin, Free, Witten, Bryant, Williams, Elliott, Beasley on offense (11 personnel). Then, on defense: Crawford, Crawford, Thornton, Collins (this one is the questionable one), Lee, McClain, Hitchens, Carr, Scandrick, Jones, Church.
As I read that, I realized that's pretty much true. On the offensive side of the ball, that prediction has about a 99% chance of being correct. The only possible changes, besides coming out in a formation other than 11 personnel, would be if Chaz Green somehow has a spectacular camp and moves Doug Free out of the lineup or Brice Butler makes a move on Terrance Williams. But knowing the Cowboys coaching staff and how they value continuity on the offensive line and respect experience, it's almost a lock that Free will end up being the starter. Brice Butler could maybe move in front of Terrance Williams. That is certainly within the realm of possibility, but the odds say the Cowboys will be content with staying the course on offense.
On defense, the Cowboys have a few more options, but that's only because of the four-game suspension to Randy Gergory and the expected four-game suspension to DeMarcus Lawrence. If those suspension weren't happening, the Cowboys starting defense would be just about as predictable as the offense.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton and Randy Gregory would be the starters on the defensive line. Since the Cowboys use their nickel as their predominate defense, the linebackers would be Rolando McClain and Sean Lee while the corners would be Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. I agree with Sturm that Anthony Hitchens would be the third linebacker and that Claiborne is the third corner. They would swap in and out depending on the defensive formation. The safeties will be Byron Jones and Barry Church.
With the suspensions in play, I disagree slightly with Sturm on the defensive line. I think the Cowboys will start out with Jack Crawford, Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton and Benson Mayowa. The Cowboys gave Mayowa more money that most would have expected him to get, they will want to get him playing time and see if their investment was worth it. Tyrone Crawford will kick out to end some of the time, but will likely still get plenty of reps at the 3-tech.
So for the first game of the season, my starting lineups would look like this based on 11 personnel on offense and nickel formation defense.
Tony Romo, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free
Jack Crawford, Tryone Crawford, Cedric Thornton, Benson Mayowa, Rolando McClain, Sean Lee
Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Bryon Jones, Barry Church
(Anthony Hitchens as the third linebacker in the base replacing Morris Claiborne)
Agree? Got a different lineup you think is better? Let us know in the comments.