There is less than a week remaining until the Dallas Cowboys will be in Oxnard for training camp. Holy cow, we made it. While the Cowboys have plenty of off the field work to do over the rest of the summer with contract situations involving Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs, Terence Steele, Tyler Biadasz and as of Wednesday morning Zack Martin, the purpose of this time of year is obviously work on the field.
As a team with plenty of veterans the Cowboys don’t exactly have a ton of open roster spots available; however, there has definitely been some turnover since last season. A focus on where things can be improved means we could see some changes in the starting lineup relative to the group that took the field in the Divisional Round last time we saw them play a game.
Which spots specifically are up for grabs? There are five that stand out.
Who is actually going to start at left guard
This has been a talking point for months now and thankfully we are finally going to start to draw some real conclusions as to what the Cowboys are going to do about who is going to start at left guard.
Reason for confusion here really lies within the different adventure paths that the Cowboys can choose to take and the subsequent questions that each one spawns.
- Tyler Smith at left guard: What happens if/when Tyron Smith gets injured?
- Matt Farniok or Chuma Edoga at left guard: So Tyler Smith is playing left tackle? Where is Tyron?
- Terence Steele at left guard: Who is playing right tackle? Tyron? What about the health thing?
- Josh Ball at left guard: Seriously?
- Asim Richards or T.J. Bass at left guard: Are we going to trust this to a rookie? Also, where is Tyron lining up?
There are various amalgamations that we can make along the offensive line that seem solid on paper, but this is not Madden and we cannot turn the injuries off. This isn’t a case where we are just chicken little-ing and worrying about the worst case scenario. Tyron Smith has missed time in each and every season since 2016 (all of Dak Prescott’s career). You have to budget for that.
Also, is Terence Steele even healthy and ready to go right now? This is a question that we didn’t ask because it only really has to do with right now but, um, we are sort of in the right now.
Starting tight end
Jake Ferguson could grab the starting tight end position and totally run away with it, but there is skepticism based on his supremely small sample size from last year. Plus it is not like the Cowboys spent a second-round pick on Luke Schoonmaker to be a dust collector.
Unlike left guard there is no solution there that presents a slam dunk sort of answer in terms of something that is obvious. Ferguson probably makes the most sense, but his seniority is hardly existent (he had just 22 targets last year!).
It makes sense for Ferguson to be given first opportunities here but now that we are talking about training camp as opposed to OTAs it will be fascinating to see how soon Schoonmaker can crack into first-team snaps.
The reserve tackle who isn’t a borderline starter
Back to the offensive line. It seems like we are all at a place where we have to accept that the Cowboys do not have a conventional setup. They have three tackle options who we all really like but only two spots to play them (unless Steele really is an option at left guard). It is difficult to refer to one (Tyron?) as the swing tackle, so we will just live in the moment and move on.
But if we do that then we move on to new questions and worries like who the top “reserve” tackle really is (again excluding the main three). Is it Matt Waletzko? We obviously barely saw him last year so that seems like a big responsibility to entrust to a mostly unknown commodity. Will Josh Ball be a factor if he is not working at left guard himself?
Whether or not Jalen Tolbert is WR4 plus who fills the fifth and sixth spots
CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup are the top three wide receivers on this team. Boom. Done. Right on.
Jalen Tolbert is WR4, right? There is no real immediate alternative so it feels safe to also write down in marker, although last year serves as a reminder to always be ready to adjust. Is it not possible that Tolbert gets beat out for that fourth spot? A world of infinite possibilities leads me to say yes, but who is going to beat him out for it? The options aren’t exactly robust:
- Simi Fehoko
- KaVontae Turpin
- Dennis Houston
- Dontario Drummond
- Jalen Brooks
- Jalen Moreno-Cropper
These feel like the most logical options but again it also feels rather safe to give Tolbert the edge over them all. If we do that though, who slides in at WR5 and WR6 if they carry that many?
Fehoko seems rather safe as well. Honestly the biggest question here might be how the Cowboys value KaVontae Turpin in a world where a returners’ value is shrinking because of adjustments in how the league is going to allow kickoffs to be fielded. It is a tale as old as time to be fascinated by who is going to take the final receiving spot on the Cowboys roster, and perhaps either of the Jalens can challenge the way that Dennis Houston did a year ago.
The fifth cornerback spot
Like at wide receiver, the Cowboys are very set at the top with their cornerback group: Trevon Diggs, Stephon Gilmore, DaRon Bland and Jourdan Lewis.
Now it is worth mentioning that Lewis is a candidate to start the season on PUP which means that he won’t factor into roster math the way that the others will. But if we remove Lewis from consideration in this sense, it is very easy to slide rookie Eric Scott Jr. in as number four on the team’s list. Now we have a solid four with a fifth in waiting.
Who is the fifth in the meantime, though? Kelvin Joseph who the team is considering working at safety as well? Nahshon Wright if turns things around? C.J. Goodwin exists here in some ways because of the position listed next to his name on depth charts, but we all know his contributions really come on special teams. Also what about Israel Mukuamu?
If there truly is one roster spot (as opposed to a starting role) on the Cowboys roster right now that is going to come down to two players it feels like a cornerback spot with Joseph and Wright. Needless to say they both need to have quite the camp and give the team plenty of reason not to give up on them before their third NFL season even begins.