FRISCO, Texas— Rookie mini-camp is in the rearview mirror and OTAs are underway at the Star in Frisco as the full picture around the Dallas Cowboys roster before training camp begins to form. With key veteran plays and draft picks both contributing to new faces around the building, there’s plenty of intrigue at key positions on both sides of the ball as summer approaches.
On the defensive end, in particular, Dan Quinn has reloaded the guns he had in 2022 with new three-tier artillery from the NFL’s No. 13 defense in total yards allowed a year ago.
However, with the departure of players from last year’s defense and the arrival of new faces, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty as to how certain position groups will come off. Here are the five positional battles to watch closely as the season approaches.
linebacker: With the departure of Anthony Barr, a hole is left in the second tier for a variety of young players to compete in 2023. Going into the OTAs, Leighton Vander Esch and Damone Clark are the only linebackers on the roster who have had a time significant play last season, leaving an opening for Devin Harper, DeMarvion Overshown, Jabril Cox or Malik Jefferson to land a potential starting role this coming season. With Micah Parsons’ instant tally mostly dominated by his defensive presence (80.5% at the defensive end in 2022), a dependable second-tier force will be needed when he attacks the backfield.
defensive tackle: Adding a reliable stopper in Mazi Smith to plug in midfield was perhaps the biggest addition to the defense this offseason, but some uncertainty still exists with the staff around the first-round pick. It’s hard to imagine a world where two of Jonathan Hankins, Neville Gallimore and Quinton Bohanna are left on the roster after preseason. That being said, there is plenty of playing time sitting on the table with the departures of Carlos Watkins and Trysten Hill. There are possibilities with Chauncey Golston or rookie Viliami Fehoko Jr. taking on inside defensive line responsibilities with Mazi Smith, or perhaps Osa Odighizuwa taking some extra playing time after his breakout campaign last year.
Cornerback: The addition of Stephon Gilmore in the secondary will ensure the reliability of the border against Trevon Diggs, and after DaRon Bland’s breakout campaign in 2022, there is clearly a top three in the cornerback group. Bland served as an instinctive ballhawk in the secondary in 2022 and can refine his nickel ability going forward with that reliability on the boundaries, but who backs him up and plays on the opposite side on four and five sets wide remains a question mark. with who can play a key role in the depth of the border as well as behind Gilmore and Diggs. Nahshon Wright and especially Kelvin Joseph face an essential training camp and pre-season to make their presence felt as a reliability on the frontier while Jourdan Lewis will also have to continue to prove his worth at the nickel, especially after a major injury. Going up in the sixth round to catch Eric Scott Jr. in the draft also screams at me watching the depth of the cornerback, as he transforms to look like a player who can compete for legitimate playing time as a rookie to push a player who has been in the building either in the depth chart or off the roster.
EDGE: The peak position in 2023 is perhaps in the healthiest state it has been in decades for the Cowboys given the talent that there is in the group as well as the availability that each main contributor has demonstrated throughout their respective careers. It’s more than safe to call Micah Parsons the leader of this group with DeMarcus Lawrence right behind as a reliable veteran on the opposite side. Dorance Armstrong’s emergence in 2022 has provided even more on-court presence as the season progresses, and an opportunity still awaits either Sam Williams, Dante Fowler Jr., or the trio of three undrafted free agents that included Isaiah. Land, Tyrus Wheat and Durrell Johnson. to make a similar impact in 2023. The safe money would most likely lie in the corner of Sam Williams, who showed flashes of his athleticism and violence during his rookie season and is only getting better with the experience he is gaining in the league.
Security: The defensive backfield group made huge strides in 2022 as the three-headed monster of Donovan Wilson, Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse was a big reason the Cowboys were eighth in the league in total yards by the passes allowed. Letting Kearse operate in open space with Wilson and Hooker providing even more box presence than they were already used to allowed the trio to play to their strengths as the season progressed. While there aren’t a ton of questions with this group, the depth behind them does have some question marks. The foursome group of Markquese Bell, Tyler Coyle, Juanyeh Thomas and Israel Mukuamu each have limited to none experience, and likely only three can make the final roster after preseason. Mukuamu’s versatility and Bell’s potential give them the best chance of securing a spot, but Coyle and Thomas will need to show their worth either in the secondary or on the special teams to make sure they’re not the odd one out. .