The road to Super Bowl 50 starts in just a few short weeks when NFL training camps open up. No matter what happened a season ago, every team resets in some capacity when training camps open. For every team, there will be battles for positions throughout camp. The Dallas Cowboys open camp July 28th in Oxnard, California and have several things to address to get ready for the journey of the 2015 season.
Last season, Dallas surprised many people by winning not only the NFC East, but also a Wild Card round game against the Detroit Lions before falling to the Green Bay Packers in controversial fashion. The controversy occurred when Dez Bryant caught a pass from Tony Romo on what would have been the go-ahead touchdown, but the referees ruled that it wasn’t a catch and Dallas was unable to make the comeback. Whether it was a catch or not is still debated to this day.
Speaking of Mr. Bryant, he and the Cowboys are nearing a long-term deal that the talented receiver covets. He wants to be paid like an elite NFL wide receiver, which he is. Bryant is threatening to hold out until a deal is reached, which would see him missing training camp. He’s even threatened to skip the team’s first game of the season against divisional foe New York Giants if a deal is not reached. There were reports that the Cowboys believe Bryant is bluffing about skipping the season opener due to him having money issues, but that remains to be seen. If he were to miss the first game, he would be missing out on a $750,000 paycheck, which is why Dallas believes he’s bluffing. The two sides are expected to reach an agreement later this week, with just the specifics of the deal needing ironed out. He finished the 2014 campaign with 88 receptions for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns, which led the NFL.
Along with Bryant’s production, a big reason Dallas saw success last season was due to running back DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL with 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns (he and Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks each had 13 touchdowns). Murray left the Cowboys for NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. Now Dallas is left to fill the void of the league’s leading rusher. That battle will feature Joseph Randle, who has shown glimpses of being a productive NFL back and Darren McFadden, who signed with the Cowboys in the offseason after spending the first seven seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Randle rushed for 343 yards and three touchdowns last season while McFadden played his first full season of his career and rushed for 534 yards and two touchdowns. Joseph has a slight advantage as he already knows the system, but if McFadden can stay healthy – something that has hindered his NFL career – he will make the competition a good one. For his career, McFadden has rushed for 4,247 yards and 25 touchdowns, sporting a 4.1 yards-per-carry average. A bonus for both of these backs: the offensive line, which is considered one of, if not the best offensive line in football. Murray can thank his linemen for having such a huge season in 2014.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dallas has some questions that will need addressed during camp. First off, who will play the third cornerback position? Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr will be cornerbacks one and two. The third spot is up for grabs. The Cowboys are hoping that Morris Claiborne can step up, stay healthy and play with confidence this season. The former 6th overall pick in the 2012 draft will need to show the coaching staff that his previous injuries won’t come back to hurt his progression, yet again. The Cowboys’ first round draft pick from this season’s draft, Byron Jones (27th overall), will have a chance to become a starter. The 6’1″ corner out of the University of Connecticut has a good size and is very instinctive. The best thing for the Cowboys in this situation is that Jones can play either cornerback or safety, as he was once a safety in college before turning into a cornerback.
The other part of the defense, and most importantly, is which players step up at the linebacker position. The duo or Rolando McClain and a returning, healthy Sean Lee will be put on hold as McClain will miss the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. McClain contributed 81 tackles in 13 games in 2014. Lee, who missed the entire season due to a broken arm, returns as the captain of the defense. There will be 10 guys competing for four or five spots at the linebacker position. Anthony Hitchens, who is entering his second season, shows great promise for Dallas this season. After losing Bruce Carter and Justin Durant to free agency, the Cowboys were able to sign veterans Keith Richards, Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachker. Brinkley will likely be a middle linebacker, being he’s played there his entire six-year career.
For the Cowboys, the road to Super Bowl 50 starts July 28th. Will they be able to maintain their winning ways in the division and take another step forward in the postseason? Training camp is where we start to see some of the landscape of this team shape up.