Every offseason, rookies and new veteran acquisitions go to the Dallas Cowboys’ OTA’s and training camp to battle for one of the 53 roster spaces available. Given that about 35 spots are locked up before any given season, that means the 50 or so other players are fighting for 23 slots. In addition to these guys competing just to make the team and earn a paycheck, the 35 players who have guaranteed jobs are still fighting to mainatin their position (or move up) on the depth chart.
Let’s break down some of the players involved in the important position battles on the Dallas Cowboys:
If ESPNDallas or the Cowboys’ own website represent Cowboy Nation’s mindset (and typically it does to an extent), then the largest, most important, seemingly most covered position battle of the century is between Bruce Carter and Dan Connor at linebacker. While this is a bit of a hyperbole, it truly is the most covered position battle in recent memory. Most of the Cowboys’ starting positions (at least until Jason Garrett arrived) have been locked up before any practices or drills took place each season, so this is the first true position battle for an every-down position (kickers don’t count) since Tony Romo vs. Drew Bledsoe in 2006. So obviously this story will get over-saturated (along with the battle for slot receiver) with coverage, but that doesn’t make the story any less important.
This battle could have a make or break impact on the Cowboys’ run defense given the severe struggles at the position opposite Sean Lee in 2011. Bruce Carter has a slight advantage because Connor underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and the Cowboys have a second round pick invested in Carter, so he has to be considered the early favorite. The Cowboys don’t want a repeat of the Jacob Rodgers situation where a second round pick coming off of an injury never got to see the field. You should see Bruce Carter lead throughout training camp and ultimately win the job in the most tightly contested of the Cowboys’ offseason position battles.
Connor may actually be the better player, but for the reasons listed above, he will probably be the number three option for the Cowboys at linebacker. Considering Sean Lee’s long-term injury history and Bruce Carter’s short-term one, it wouldn’t be surprising if Connor started five or six games this year. Rob Ryan will be sure to get him on the field in some crazy packages regardless of whether or not Connor wins the starting job.
Slot Receiver Raymond Radway had a gut-wrenching injury in the last three seconds of the final game of the 2011 preseason when he went for a jump ball against the Dolphins and ended up breaking his leg. The Cowboys immediately placed him on IR and his season was finished, but the Cowboys saw enough from Radway to keep him on the team, and they couldn’t have been more right.
Slot receiver, another significant area of need for the Cowboys, has been covered almost as much as linebacker. Laurent Robinson, who was a godsend for the Cowboys last year, left a gigantic hole at slot receiver when the Jaguars grossly overpaid him in free agency. Many people consider Radway the favorite to win the job based on his performance in the preseason last year, but rehabbing a catastrophic injury like he suffered might set him back some.
The Cowboys thought they got a steal when they drafted Harris in 2011 two to three rounds after his pre-draft projection, and most draft analysts agreed. Harris was active for the the first 5 games of the 2011 season before being placed on the practice squad. He was then activated for the last three games of the season and was used as a punt and kickoff return man. This is his last real chance to make an impact, as slot receiver seems like a distinct possibility for the the top four rounds of the 2013 draft if he and Danny Coale don’t get their act together. Operating under the assumption that Danny Coale will make the squad as a fourth or fifth receiver and Raymond Radway will too, that leaves Dwayne Harris against Kevin Ogletree, so it seems that Harris will again ride the practice squad bench.
Kevin Ogletree has had an infuriating existence as a Dallas Cowboy. It seems like he has made key mistakes at every key moment that a fourth receiver possibly could. And despite this, Ogletree will be on the roster this season and has about a million dollars coming his way. Considering he is a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ slot receiver, you’d think that the Cowboys brass would have given up on him by now, but by some miracle he’s still there. Unfair as it is, and despite his mind-numbing ineptitude (he is a jack of below average trades) he has about the same chance of being slot receiver by the time all is said and done as Raymond Radway.