Training camp is still several months away for the Dallas Cowboys, They haven’t even had their rookie minicamp yet, electing to wait until this Friday to kick that off. But already some of the more interesting storylines are shaping up. Here is a look at what should be some of the most interesting to watch on the offensive side of the ball.
Resetting the offensive line.
The big news over the weekend was that La’el Collins was going to focus on right tackle leading up to training camp. This was part of the domino effect from Doug Free retiring. Had Free come back for another year, then Collins would almost certainly have returned to the starting left guard position, because Free is a better option at RT due to experience and his underappreciated leadership role. But now, the Cowboys have to come up with a new solution. Prior to Free’s decision, there was a belief among many that Collins would not move from guard in order for the Cowboys to avoid having to work in two new players. But the team obviously sees things differently, at least at the moment. Where the RT job was thought at first to be a competition between Chaz Green and Byron Bell, Collins is, for now, in the mix. And with Jonathan Cooper on the roster, the LG position is also one to watch. Meanwhile, the competition for backup jobs is also going to be wide open.
If Collins should turn out to be the best option at RT (emphasis on the “if”), and Cooper should emerge to claim the guard spot, then Dallas would have an offensive line composed entirely of first-round caliber players. That could mean that Green is back to being the top contender for swing tackle, with Bell (who has position flex) now in the mix as a backup guard/tackle, but players like Emmett Cleary are also in the mix. Joe Looney may be the best option to backup the center position.
Of course, the Cowboys have the luxury of the three Pro Bowl perennials, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin, to provide stability. While there are now a bunch of questions, the odds remain that Dallas should be able to come up with good answers.
The fifth (and maybe sixth) wide receiver spot.
The only real surprise of the draft was that the only two offensive players Dallas selected were both receivers, Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown. You can go ahead and pencil in Switzer on the 53-man roster, along with writing Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley in ink. That leaves a real battle for the last spot or two, depending on if the Cowboys want to go a bit deeper at wide receiver. Given that the term “Dak friendly” is already being tossed out frequently as the staff seeks to reshape the offense to best suit Dak Prescott, six is a very real possibility.
Several analysts have expressed puzzlement over the drafting of Switzer, such as this comment from NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.
The addition of WR Ryan Switzer didn't make much sense with Cole Beasley on the roster.
That seems more a lack of imagination than anything, as the thought of a four wide receiver set with both Beasley and Switzer would appear to be a real challenge for defenses. What is going to be a real fight will involve Brown, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, and Andy Jones, with a couple of other candidates hoping to make a splash in the preseason. Butler and especially Whitehead are now on the bubble. Wide receiver is almost always a riveting battle in camp, and this year clearly looks to be another one.
Cooper Rush versus the world.
The Cowboys need a third wide quarterback, even if it is one stashed on the practice squad. Dallas is also expected to sign UDFA Austin Appleby, but he seems much more likely to be a camp arm. Rush, however, has a lot of traits that make him a very good prospect as a developmental quarterback, with a possible future as the QB2. Kellen Moore has long been a staff (read: Scott Linehan) favorite, but his long-term future frankly seems to be in the coaching ranks.
The question remains whether the Cowboys would roll with Rush as the emergency backup behind Prescott and Moore, or seek to sign an experienced veteran QB before the end of the season. Jason Garrett has a preference for more experienced backups, but that would mean having to keep three on the roster - and that does not look like something the team will want to do with its need at other positions this year. They will probably give Rush every opportunity to prove he is worth keeping around - and at the same time trying to make sure he doesn’t look too good in preseason so he gets poached if they try and get him to the PS.
Rico Gathers versus his own inexperience.
Based on what has been stated publicly so far, all indications are that Rico Gathers has a future with the Cowboys. The only question is whether that future is now. He is fighting for position on the depth chart with both James Hanna and Geoff Swaim. All reports are that he is the most physically talented of the trio, but he is also still very much learning how to play football, especially at the pro level. If Dallas elects to go with four tight ends on the roster, he seems certain to make the 53. But if they only keep three, then Gathers will have to beat out Hanna or Swaim, or face another year on the practice squad. And he is a player that may be of real interest to other teams, which makes getting him through waivers a real question.
We heard repeatedly how Gathers was all but unstoppable in the red zone. If he shows that in preseason, then Dallas will have to find a place for him on the 53-man roster. How well Hanna has recovered from the dreaded bone bruise may be a big factor here.
Can Alfred Morris keep his job?
With the league’s leading rusher returning in Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys are in very good shape at running back. More importantly, Zeke also led the league in carries, and showed no real sign it was too big a load for him. When he did need spelling, Darren McFadden was able to handle that. But Alfred Morris was largely a non-factor last season. He really seems to be a runner who has to be in the game for a while to find his rhythm - and there is just no room for that when Elliott is the starter.
He may represent another place the Cowboys can go short to free up a roster spot somewhere else. There are also reports that Rod Smith has been moved from fullback to running back, his college position. This may be another threat to Morris. It certainly looks like the team is not averse to moving on from him.
While the big excitement of the draft was about the defense, it is clear that there are a lot of interesting battles brewing on the other side of the ball in Dallas. It’s going to be fun to watch.