Previewing Cowboys Camp Battles: Part One

There will be a lot at stake, once the club reconvenes in Oxnard, California for their 2014 Training Camp. This year, there's legitimate competition for many spots. Here's CowboyHQ's 'Previewing Camp Battles: Part One':


I wasn't a psychology major, but my degree does reside in the social sciences. I couldn't tell you about the specific mechanisms of a person's id, ego and superego that make them do what they do, especially as it pertains to individual achievement. What makes one person more driven than another? What makes them predisposed to performing their best when everything is on the line? I haven't a clue.

What I do know, however, is that without competition, an individual is highly unlikely to reach his potential. People generally need external forces to motivate them to greatness.

Sometimes it takes the form of a perceived slight. Someone didn't think you were good enough and you are destined to prove them wrong. No one gave you the shot you know you deserved. Whatever that case may be, the one thing you can always count on to bring out the best in people, competition.

That's exactly what several Cowboys on the 90 man roster will face come late July. Dallas has done a good job of creating competition for several key positions, including some starting ones. To see how we ranked and projected the 53, go here. Let's take an overview of the oncoming camp battles that figure to be the talk of August.

Middle Linebacker:Justin Durant vs Devonte Holloman vs Anthony Hitchens

This position battle may very well determine the success of the Cowboys 2014 season. If they find a player capable of dropping into the deep middle of the field, while also getting the rest of the Front 7 in proper positioning, while also being able to cover backs out of the backfield with success, then the team might be able to put forth a consistent defensive effort. Durant has the experience, entering his eighth year in the league, and might actually be the most athletic of the three. Amongst the draft community, great things were predicted for the under-drafted Holloman.

He showed his flashes with an 11 tackle 2 sack game against Philly in the 2013 finale. Hitchens, of course, was the fourth round pick this year for the specific purpose of dedicating a guy to being the backup MLB. Whether the team of training experts that Jerry Jones had assigned to bringing him up to (warp) speed is able to do that and give him a shot to win the job in camp remains to be seen.

X-Factor: Outside vet brought in during camp.

Prediction: Holloman wins the job, Hitchens becomes the primary backup during the season.

Left Guard: Mackenzy Bernadeau vs Ron Leary

For my money, Bernadeau had the better season last year, with Leary giving up a fair amount more QB pressures and being called for way more penalties. Bernie accepted a pay cut in the offseason in return for guaranteed money, and Leary is entering his third season in the league.

Having Bernie able to play both guard and center is a plus, and may make him more valuable as a backup if he doesn't dominate the battle in camp. Offensive lines are about continuity, and for that reason, teams would rather only replace one player if an in-game injury happens. If Bernie starts and Frederick is injured, then you have two players in new positions.

X-Factor: Recently signed G Uche Nwaneri

Prediction: Leary (assuming he untangles his legal entanglements) gets the nod and stays at LG

Strong Safety: J.J. Wilcox vs Matt Johnson vs Jeff Heath

Who will win the role opposite of Barry Church? Before the passing of Wilcox's mother last summer, he was in line to be the starter heading into 2013. He was starting by Week 3 and acquitting himself well until injury. That allowed Jeff Heath to step in and show a few flashes. I'll be honest, others are more enamored than what Heath showed than I am.

On the other hand, Wilcox's potential is extremely intriguing to me and I think he's going to open a lot of eyes this year. Matt Johnson is a unicorn, for better or worse, and hasn't practiced this offseason. Anyone surprised?

X-Factor: Jakar Hamilton, a player with SEC pedigree, had a tremendous spring and could throw his name into the ring.

Prediction: Wilcox holds the spot down, but Cowboys run with 5 safeties for depth and ST.

Starting Cornerback: Brandon Carr vs Orlando Scandrick vs Morris Claiborne

By almost all accounts, Orlando Scandrick was playing the best out of all three corners by the end of the 2013 season. With an out from Brandon Carr's expensive contract in full view, and time running out on Morris Claiborne to prove he is capable of living up to his draft billing, Scandrick might just remain as the starter he was when he replaced Claiborne.

On the other hand, Mo has been doing his best to show the coaching staff that Year 3 will be magical for him. The move to more press coverage helps both he and Carr, who has yet to live up to the $50m price tag his free agent contract was worth in 2012.

X-Factor: There is none; these are the three guys fighting for two starting spots.

Prediction: No losers. Cowboys will primarily nickel coverage and all three will log over 850 snaps each (pending health).

Dime Corner: B.W. Webb vs Sterling Moore vs Terrence Mitchell

Very interesting battle of young guns. Underlying the competition is the thought that if someone plays with enough skill, they could convince the club to move on from Brandon Carr's expensive contract in 2015 (using June 1st rule, would save them over $5m in '15, and $6.4m in '16 from projected cap charges).

For some reason, the club was hesitant to bring Moore back last season, waiting until Webb's confidence was completely shaken down the stretch. Moore's a young vet, but Terrence Mitchell plays like he's been in the league for a while. It will be a very interesting battle to say the least.

X-Factor: UDFA Tyler Patmon was raved about his awareness from his tryout and the first few OTAs while Mitchell was finishing his semester at Oregon.

Prediction: Mitchell gets the nod as the fourth corner, but Dallas keeps six corners on the roster and one in the chamber (Practice Squad)

Stay tuned for Part Two, where we will look at the defensive end battles, as well as a couple of skill positions who's depth charts are in flux.

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