Sports Outside the Beltway

Dallas Cowboys Camp Battles

CowboysBlog’s Joe Rodriguez has a rundown of some training camp battles to look out for as several young players battle veterans for starting spots.

On the offensive side, it’s the battle of the running backs, with Julius Jones in the last year of his rookie contract trying to hold off fan favorite Marion Barber, last year’s touchdown machine. Rodriguez thinks Jones will shine with Bill Parcells gone. I hope he’s right. Regardless, presuming both stay healthy, both will see a lot of touches again this year.

Defensively, most of the action is at linebacker, with six studs battling for four starting slots. The rotation last season:

    OLB Demarcus Ware
    MLB Bradie James
    MLB Akin Ayodele
    OLB Greg Ellis

That’s two first round picks on the outside and a 5th rounder and free agent on the inside. Battling for spots are last year’s first round pick, Bobby Carpenter, and this year’s first round pick, Anthony Spencer.

It looks like Wade Phillips will move Carpenter back inside, which frankly makes him a wasted pick at the 18th spot, as that’s way too high to take an inside ‘backer. Still, he’s got the athleticism and pedigree to beat out James. It’s almost inconceivable that Spencer, hand chosen by Phillips, won’t crack the lineup. Whether that’s by displacing Ellis or through creative scheming that uses three “outside” linebackers is hard to say.

Indeed, it’s rather likely that there will be a heavy rotation, such as not seen in the Jimmy Johnson pre-free agency era. There’s a lot of talent at linebacker and Phillips has shown he knows how to get the most out of his guys in the 3-4.

The only other significant battle in the starting rotation will be at free safety, with Patrick Watkins trying to earn his job back by holding off veteran free agent Pat Watkins. Frankly, I don’t care which gets the starting job so long as somebody finally provides some insurance against Roy Williams’ inability to handle pass coverage.

One battle Joe misses: Kicker. The Cowboys re-signed the mediocre Martin Gramatica to a fairly expensive contract in the offseason and then drafted Nick Folk in the 6th round. Unless they want to waste a roster spot by having a kickoff guy and a field goal guy, somebody’s going to be hitting the road. My hunch–based on nothing other than the fact that they used a draft pick on a kicker–is that Folk will win the job.

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