Dallas Cowboys 2013 Training Camp Preview
Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Preview
After a disappointing 8-8 finish and once again no playoffs in 2012, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he wanted change; no, I don’t mean loose coins. He wanted to send a message to head coach Jason Garrett and the entire coaching staff that he will not put up with the Cowboys being a mediocre team anymore; I think that message was heard from Garrett all the way down the chain.
The first order of business was getting rid of some of the coaches on the staff whose assigned units weren’t performing to the best of their abilities, specifically the defense, running backs, tight ends and special teams.
The Cowboys fired Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator after two seasons of utter disappointment. Ryan is known to talk a big game, but at the end of the day, that’s all he and his defense were, just talk. To replace Ryan the Cowboys brought in the father of the Tampa Cover 2 and defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin, who at the ripe age of 72 has seen just about all there is to see in football.
The Cowboys also fired running backs coach Skip Pete after the team turned in its worst rushing performance in club history and allowed tight ends coach John Garrett and special teams coach Joe DeCamillis to leave before they got their walking papers.
Then you also have the addition of Derek Dooley, who took over for Jimmy Robinson as the wide receivers coach, Bill Callahan, who is taking over the play calling and Frank Pollack, who is going to take over as the offensive line coach now that Callahan will be doing the play calling.
The Cowboys must figure out whether these pieces will fit their new system and they must do it quickly. So, let’s preview the Dallas Cowboys’ 2013 Training Camp.
Tony Romo is the Cowboys starter and isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future because, as you know, he signed a six-year $108 million extension. In 2013, the Cowboys will need Romo to eliminate his late game woes and better his decision-making if they’re going to be successful; it has to start in training camp.
To back Romo up, the Cowboys brought in Kyle Orton. Now, Orton hasn’t had true success since 2005 when he had 10 wins as the quarterback of the Chicago Bears, but he’s a better option than the Cowboys have had in quite some time. The expectations for Orton aren’t very high, so if it comes down to Orton actually seeing significant playing time, it probably means something went terribly wrong.
Running Backs and Fullbacks
DeMarco Murray is penciled in as the starting tailback for the Cowboys, but he’s had back-to-back seasons where injuries have forced him to miss time. It’s a lofty expectation to think that Murray can actually play a full 16-game season, but it’s something he’ll have to do. Especially, since the Cowboys drafted Joseph Randle and both Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner have been impressive during OTAs.
Randle is being projected as Murray’s backup, but even that can’t be said with certainty because no one expected Dunbar to be impressive during OTAs. Then you have Tanner showed up lighter and more explosive, but, in my opinion, will have to have an amazing training camp to even make the team.
With the Cowboys trying to implement “12” and “13” personnel schemes, which relies on fielding two and three tight ends without a fullback, it may mean that Lawrence Vickers is on the chopping block. It also doesn’t help Vickers that Caleb McSurdy is being used at fullback, and is a far cheaper option than Vickers at this point.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are going to be your Day 1 starters barring injury. We know that. However, the Cowboys still have questions regarding each receiver that will have to be answered during training camp, and let’s not forget that they will have to adjust to the hiring of Derek Dooley as the team’s receivers coach.
Bryant will have to prove that 2012 wasn’t a fluke year, and Austin will have to prove his worth, given that he can get past the hamstring problems that have plagued him recently.
The fun part will be the battle for the No.3 receiver, which includes Dwayne Harris, second-year receivers Danny Coale and Cole Beasley, and rookie Terrance Williams.
The Cowboys hope Williams can be the deep threat that made the 2011 offense so explosive, while not completely alienating any of the other receivers. Harris will continue being the team’s punt returner, but he’s expected to challenge Williams for the No.3 receiver spot. Should Harris win the No.3 spot he could easily be in for a breakout year.
We must also not forget about Beasley, who also makes things happen when the ball is in his hands. I think the odd-man-out will be Coale, who, if not cut, could be practice squad material again in 2013.
At tight end, Jason Witten has a firm grip on the starting job, and is looking to continue to improve on his record-breaking 2012.
The addition of tight end Gavin Escobar is one that confused a few Cowboys fans, but given that the Cowboys are trying to implement more “12” and “13” personnel formations, it makes sense. Escobar offers the Cowboys great size and speed out of the position, but he will have to fend off Hanna for the No.2 tight end spot.
The Cowboys offensive line is collectively one of the most underachieving groups on the team.
The one bright spot being left tackle Tyron Smith, but even he struggled adjusting to playing left tackle in 2012. The interior of the line was atrocious, highlighted by the disappointing play of Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings both of whom are facing stiff competition from Ronald Leary for a starting job.
To help ease their interior line woes the Cowboys drafted Travis Frederick and were projecting him to be the starting center, but with the hiring of offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who will be establishing a zone-blocking oriented system, Frederick may wind up playing guard. This means that Phil Costa could be the Cowboys starting center.
When we talk about who has the most to lose along the offensive line it has to be Doug Free, who has already lost half of his pay, and could lose his starting job to Jermey Parnell.
On defense is where the Cowboys will have the most questions to answer during training camp because of the change from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense.
For starters, the Cowboys must find out whether DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer can successfully transition to a different position after playing outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. For Spencer, it’s crucial that he plays well because he’s on a one-year franchise tag and couldn’t come to a long-term agreement with the Cowboys.
Along with Ware and Spencer, the Cowboys will also have Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore, Ben Bass, Kyle Wilber, and Tyrone Crawford among others changing positions to fit the new scheme.
Ratliff is being projected as a better fit for the 4-3 because he will have the chance to use his speed to get to the quarterback. Hatcher, who is in the final year of his contract, is also being projected as a better fit in the 4-3 and could be a crucial part to the success of the defense because like Ratliff, he will have the chance to use his speed to get to the opposing signal caller.
Lissemore, who missed time because of injury is expected to be Ratliff and Hatcher’s main backup and could see significant playing time if Ratliff isn’t healthy. Bass has looked good and appears to be healthy; it wouldn’t be a surprise if he also sees an increased role in this new defense.
At defensive end the Cowboys will use Wilber, and Crawford as the team’s primary backups. Wilber is making the transition from outside linebacker to defensive end and has looked pretty good in practice. Crawford is expected to challenge Spencer for the starting job and could ultimately make Spencer expendable at season’s end.
The linebacking corps will also be undergoing change in the 4-3 alignment, particularly in its assignments.
Sean Lee will be moving from inside linebacker to middle linebacker and is seen as a better fit for this system because it will take advantage of his ball-hawking skills and his ability to read and react to plays. It would benefit the Cowboys greatly if Lee was locked up long-term before training camp.
Bruce Carter will be moving from inside linebacker to weak side linebacker and is drawing comparisons to Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks because the 4-3 could be the perfect fit for a linebacker with his skills. A successful transition could mean a breakout season for Carter.
The Cowboys also added linebacker Justin Durant to man the strong side and it could be one of the most underrated signings of this offseason. Durant is a gritty six-year veteran with a high football IQ and that should go a long way in helping the Cowboys establish a dominant defense.
To back those guys up the Cowboys also have guys like Ernie Sims, Alex Albright, rookie DeVonte Holloman and undrafted free agent Brandon MaGee. Holloman will probably not see the field much, but is expected to make significant contributions on special teams.
The Cowboys for the first time in a long time have a crowded secondary, which will make for some good training camp battles.
Barry Church is being projected, as one of the starting safeties, who plays next to him, however, is yet to be determined. It was speculated that Matt Johnson would be the Day 1 starter opposite Church once Gerald Sensabaugh was released, but as time has progressed free agent addition Will Allen and rookie J.J. Wilcox have closed the gap between themselves and Johnson.
Wilcox still has a lot of work to do before he can be considered for the starting job, but given the fact that he’s turning heads, it can only mean he’s closer than anyone could have expected.
The Cowboys re-signed Danny McCray, but unless something drastic happens during training camp, I cannot see him as being more than a special teams player.
Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will be the two starting corners. It’s behind them that the fun starts as Orlando Scandrick will have to fend off rookie B.W. Webb for the slot cornerback position.
After a solid first season the Cowboys will need Carr to be noticeably better in 2013 to validate his $50.1 million price tag. What that means is that the Cowboys need him to cause turnovers. The same goes for Claiborne, who admitted he had an up-and-down rookie season, but has added muscle to his frame to better handle his new responsibilities in the 4-3 scheme, and has put himself in a position to have a breakout year.
Scandrick has looked good in OTAs, and like Carr will need to validate his price tag with a solid 2013. Webb still has a long way to go before he can push Scandrick out of a job, but he’ll get his chance to prove if keeping Scandrick is worth the price.
When it comes to special teams, everything is pretty straightforward for the Cowboys.
Dan Bailey is going to be the placekicker; Chris Jones is going to be the punter; J.P. Ladouceur will be the long snapper.
I would, however, like it if the Cowboys went ahead and ended the suspense by re-signing Bailey to a long-term contract, seeing that he’s in the last year of his rookie deal.