The Dallas Cowboys are a young football team. They are much younger than years past. Given that, it will be huge for the Cowboys to figure out some question marks on their roster once they head to camp. They will need to know they have quality players/depth at certain positions as they head into the 2018 season. Let’s take a look at three training camp battles that should provide for some attention.
The battle: Geoff Swaim vs. Blake Jarwin vs. Rico Gathers vs. Dalton Schultz
With the way the Cowboys’ offense sustains drives and generates first downs, they simply cannot phase out the tight end position. Jason Witten was not spectacular over the past few years, but he was still a reliable player for Dallas with his ability to subtly beat defensive backs and pick up first downs. He was also still a pretty good run blocker.
There is a real chance the Cowboys could take a tight end by committee approach in 2018 to take advantage of each player’s individual skillset. Geoff Swaim enters the battle with the advantage given that he has the most experience. Blake Jarwin has been the recipient of optimism from the coaching staff. Rico Gathers has the most potential, but there is an injury concern due to concussions and a question over how well he understands the game. Dalton Schultz is a Stanford product and was drafted in 2018 to be the Cowboys’ tight end of the future.
Due to the experience, this battle may not be that close. Swaim is clearly the favorite, but do not be surprised if one of the young guys like Gathers and Schultz can put a show and nip at Swaim’s lead for the position.
The battle: Cedrick Wilson vs. Noah Brown
It may not seem like an important battle, but the Cowboys need all of the help they can get out of the wide receiver position. The group at the position is a mix of old and new, and they have some young guys who are deemed for bigger roles. Allen Hurns will likely be a starting receiver, with Terrance Williams, Michael Gallup and Cole Beasley rotating in depending on the situation and the personnel.
Despite drafting Gallup in the third round, the Cowboys felt it was necessary to add Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson on Day 3. He could very well challenge second-year player Noah Brown for a bigger role in the offense. Brown only had four catches in his rookie season in 2017, but he was on the field for 161 snaps, which was roughly 15% of the time.
Brown may have a slight advantage given his experience from last year, but his limitations are more due to lack of breakaway speed and suspect route-running. At the age of just 21-years-old, Brown has so far been mainly a blocking WR, but that is a very important position for the Cowboys. On the other side, Wilson is the son of a former NFL player. On tape, he is a natural on the field, showcasing a unique and mature understanding of the game. With his soft hands and his smarts, Wilson could end up receiving more of the reps by the end of training camp.
DT1 (In David Irving’s four-game absence)
The battle: Jihad Ward vs. Brian Price vs. Richard Ash
With Irving slated to sit out the first four games of the season, the depth of the Cowboys’ defensive line will immediately be pushed to its limits. Last season Irving teamed up with Maliek Collins to play the interior once Irving's suspension was over and Stephen Paea retied.
But Irving couldn’t complete the season due to injury. Dallas saw contributions in bursts from Richard Ash and Brian Price in 2017, but neither one of them are imposing to the point where they should be in a starting role. After the free agency signings and the draft strategy, Ryan Switzer became expendable. Dallas traded Switzer to the Oakland Raiders in return for Jihad Ward, who became available under the Raiders’ new coaching regime.
Rod Marinelli has history with Ward from coaching the former Illinois product during the 2016 Senior Bowl. Ward has never really been used in the right capacity or in the right role. He will have the opportunity to be a contributor in Dallas given his positional flexibility. Under Marinelli, Ward will get coached up and continue to improve, given him the advantage to man this position until Irving comes back from suspension and is capable of playing starting minutes.