Cowboys Camp Opens: Top 10 Summer Battles
10. Can Dustin Vaughan become Romo's primary backup?
A lot of fans were surprised when the Dallas Cowboys decided to keep the undrafted rookie quarterback on their 53-man roster. Vaughan didn't play one regular season snap - surely the Cowboys could've filled his spot with someone who would've at least seen the field. However, this showed how much the Cowboys think of Vaughn's potential. They weren't willing to risk him getting scooped up by another team. Now, entering his second year, the Cowboys will give Vaughan every opportunity to prove himself capable of being Romo's immediate backup. If he can beat out Weeden, the Cowboy will save themselves some cap space, as well as an extra roster spot.
9. Can the Cowboys get more out of Morris Claiborne?
By now, many fans have written off the former 1st round pick as a bust. Claiborne has just 3 career interceptions and has missed 19 of 48 possible games. He also gave up 3 touchdowns in just 4 games last season. Some may call Claiborne a lost cause, but I think the Cowboys believe he still has something to offer. Now healthy, if Claiborne can build his confidence back up, he has a chance to bounce back on an improved defense with better talent around him - especially if the revamped defensive line is able to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With an improved Claiborne, consistent Scandrick, freak athlete Byron Jones & Brandon Carr - who was solid during the later part of 2014 - the Cowboys could have a solid group of CB's in 2015.
8. Who wins the 5th and 6th defensive end spots?
The Cowboys top four defensive ends are set with Hardy, Lawrence, Gregory and (as soon as he shows up) Mincey. However, since Marinelli likes to send pass rushers in waves and Hardy sitting out the first 4 games, the Cowboys will need at least two other edge rushers to step up and make some plays from time to time. Guys like Ben Gardner, Ryan Russell, Efe Obada and Kenneth Boatright will all be duking it out to earn a roster spot. One of the weaker positions in 2014 is suddenly one of the strongest. When it's all said and done, a couple pretty good players will be end up being cut.
7. Who will win the starting strongside linebacker position?
After losing Justin Durant and Bruce Carter in free agency, the Cowboys signed Jasper Brinkley, Andrew Gachkar, Keith Rivers and what seemed like a dozen other LB's to find some replacements. They also drafted Damien Wilson in the 4th round, who they believe can have a similar impact as Anthony Hitchens had in 2014. With Sean Lee set to hold down the weakside and McClain staying in the middle (at least for 12 games, though he'll begin camp today rehabbing the knee), the team will have to find someone to play on the strong side. Hitchens is likely the favorite, but rookie Damien Wilson and veteran Jasper Brinkley are in the mix too, among others.
6. Who will emerge as the backup 3-tech DT behind Tyrone Crawford?
With another offseason to settle into his new position, Tyrone Crawford seems primed for a breakout, Pro Bowl-caliber season. However, things aren't as clear behind him. The Cowboys have some young, talented guys in Davon Coleman, Ken Bishop and Chris Whaley who all have potential, but have yet to fully show what they are capable of. Defensive tackle is a very physically demanding position so at least one of these guys will have to step up and show that they can step in and relieve Tyrone Crawford at times throughout the season. As good as we expect Tyrone to be, he can't do it all by himself.
5. Will Terrell McClain unseat Nick Hayden as the starting 1-tech DT?
Nick Hayden AKA "The Golden Cock" isn't a flashy guy. He doesn't put up big numbers, recording just 2 sacks in his 5-year career. However, 1-tech DT isn't a flashy position. The coaches love Hayden because he is a hard worker with a non-stop motor. That's not to say this position can't be upgraded though. McClain showed flashes of promise last year, but struggled with injuries that kept him from reaching his potential. McClain had 5 QB hurries, a sack and a forced fumble in the final 3 games of 2014. He showed a knack for making plays despite playing a position that doesn't give many opportunities to do so. If McClain is able to stay healthy, he could add another spark to an already improved defensive line.
4. Who replaces Dwayne Harris?
The Cowboys lost more than a return man when Dwayne Harris signed with the Giants this offseason. I'm not saying that the Cowboys should've paid him big money, but he won't be easy to replace. Harris was not only a dangerous return man, he was very good at special teams coverage, was the best blocking WR on the team and was a reliable offensive weapon when called upon. Guys like Lucky Whitehead or Antwan Goodley could win the primary return job, but someone will have to step up on the coverage unit and as a run blocker as well. It may take 2 or 3 guys to truly replicate the impact that Harris had on this team.
3. How will rookies Byron Jones and Randy Gregory hold up against Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith?
The Cowboys landed two of the top defensive talents in this draft when they came away with Byron Jones and Randy Gregory in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the draft. Jones was one of the most impressive players during OTA's and Gregory showed glimpses of his rare pass rush skills while going up against an elite offensive line. However, when Jones is going up against Dez and Gregory faces Smith with pads on, what will the results be? Will the rookies struggle or hold their own? Either way, they will come out of training camp as better players after going up against the Pro Bowlers every day in practice.
2. Can rookie La'el Collins win the starting LG spot?
After another solid draft, Jerry did his thing and convinced this year's most sought-after undrafted player to sign with the Cowboys. Collins was a 1st round pick before going undrafted due to an investigation regarding his deceased ex-girlfriend. However, Collins' name was cleared and the Cowboys came away with one of the biggest steals of the offseason, giving them four 1st round caliber offensive linemen. Collins certain has the potential to be a star, but veteran left guard Ronald Leary won't go down without a fight. If Collins wants to be a starter in 2015, he'll have to earn it.
1. Who will emerge as the Cowboys starting running back?
This is probably the biggest question for every Cowboys fan at the moment. Who will the starting running back be this season? Joseph Randle is arguably a better scheme fit than DeMarco Murray was, but he has shown a knack for getting into trouble off the field. McFadden has a long history of injuries but spent his entire career on an awful Oakland Raiders team. Sometimes guys just need a change of scenery. Regardless of who wins the starting job, both players will likely see plenty of snaps in 2015, but it'll still be a fun battle to watch.
And stick with CowboysHQ.com ... because we will be watching, every day from camp in Oxnard, along with trips to San Diego and San Francisco and then home!
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