5 starting jobs up grabs for Cowboys, including multiple OL spots

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The Dallas Cowboys have had quite the offseason, one filled with questionable moves. No one knows for sure what’s going to happen in 2022, but the decisions to move on from wide receiver Amari Cooper and right tackle La’el Collins, among others, will be highly criticized if things don’t go right for the Cowboys this upcoming season.

Their replacements will be held up to scrutiny if they aren’t up to the task. The Cowboys created unnecessary voids with some of their choices and they’re going to find out if they were right soon enough as battles for playing time get sorted out.

No team stays the same from year to year, and that is certainly true with the Cowboys. With training camp coming next month and the 2022 season arriving soon thereafter, Dallas has some intriguing position battles to keep an eye on. Here are five starting jobs that could be up for grabs with the Cowboys as the rest of the offseason unfolds, and camp looms.

Right tackle

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The assumption is that incumbent RT Terence Steele has the job locked down. After all, he has been answer when the team hasn’t had Collins in the lineup over the last two years. Steele has earned the nod as the leading candidate after signing as undrafted free agent, his play has improved in his first two seasons in the NFL.

However, the Cowboys did draft tackles in the last two drafts and the competition might be stiffer than most expect.

The team selected Josh Ball in the fourth round of the 2021 draft and Matt Waletzko in the fifth round this year, so Steele does have some challengers.

Ball didn’t play a snap last season because of injuries, but he has the pedigree, starting at tackle for Florida St. as a redshirt freshman. The Cowboys do seem to like Ball and he’s got an outside chance of beating out Steele for the RT job. It’ll be interesting to see how a year of learning and two off-season’s have helped prepare Ball.

It remains to be seen what Waletzko can do at the professional level, but his size and skill set is intriguing. The Cowboys have hesitated to add any veteran tackles this offseason, a sign they like both Ball and Waletzko.

It’s clearly Steele’s job to lose, but as we’ve seen under Mike McCarthy, competition is real and the best player will win the starting RT job. Steele isn’t good enough to come in as the walk-in starter and rest on his laurels, he’ll have to earn it. This might not seem like it, but keep an eye on the battle for the starting RT gig.

Center

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Another place along the offensive line that could be in line for some unexpected competition is center. Tyler Biadasz has started 29 games for the Cowboys over his first two seasons in the league, but that hasn’t stopped the team from exploring their options.

The Cowboys have used the offseason to evaluate last year’s seventh-round pick Matt Farniok at center. In his limited snaps last season, Farniok had some impressive plays that might have led to the Cowboys taking a long look at getting him into the starting lineup. While at Nebraska, Farniok played tackle, guard and center, so he does have the versatility to move around the offensive line.

Along with Farniok, Dallas continues to work in veteran Connor McGovern at center this offseason. This is nothing new, the Cowboys used McGovern at center some last year too as a possible way to find the best five offensive linemen. Biadasz kept the job, but it hasn’t stopped the team from exploring McGovern as an option.

The team also signed both Alec Lindstrom (Boston College) and James Empey (BYU) as undrafted free agents and they’ll have the opportunity to win the job as well. It’s pretty clear the Cowboys are trying to find out what they have at center and who is their best option. Biadasz is first in line, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another starting center for the Cowboys this fall.

Safety

(AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)

The Cowboys have been stuck in a cycle of trying to find good safety for a long time now. Last offseason, the team signed three and two turned out to be solid players and keepers.

Jayron Kearse had a career year and Dallas re-signed him to a two-year deal. After turning out to be one of the Cowboys’ best defensive players in 2021, there is little doubt Kearse will be lining up as one of the starters at safety. The spot opposite of Kearse is where the competition begins.

Malik Hooker, the other veteran signed in 2021, came on after a slow start because he was coming back from a torn Achilles. However, Hooker’s play got better as the season went on and he  impressed enough to get a two-year contract from the Cowboys as well. Hooker’s coverage ratings were the best of his career and he showed up in the run game as well.

Now an extra year removed from his injury and the Cowboys could be getting a player finally ready to reach the potential that made him the 15th overall pick in the 2017 draft.

Competition for a starting job will likely come from Donovan Wilson, who was coming off his best season in 2020, before falling off last year. Wilson had 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2020, all places where he failed to record a statistic during the 2021 campaign. Injuries limited Wilson’s production, but if he’s healthy he’ll fight for a starting job.

The Cowboys do use their safeties interchangeably and they’ll use three safeties simultaneously on the field during the season, so this might be a moot battle to be called a starter, but Dallas does have a starting job at safety up for grabs.

Defenisve end

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The Cowboys have one side of their defensive line all locked up with DeMarcus Lawrence ready to go on the left side. Opposite of Lawrence, the starter is a mystery right now.

Candidates to be the right defensive end include Dorance Armstrong, who was re-signed to a two-year contract this offseason, veteran edge rusher Dante Fowler, who played under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in Atlanta, second-year DE Chauncey Golston and rookie Sam Williams, who the Cowboys drafted in the second round this year.

There doesn’t appear to be a leader in clubhouse yet, but Golston could also be a candidate to move inside after bulking up this offseason. Versatility is nice, but the defense needs a starter and if the Cowboys are thinking about dual roles for Golston, it might be hard to envision him as a starter at DE.

Williams was selected high in the draft, so the team might want to get him prepared for the future and start him right away, but there is a learning curve for the rookie.

The Cowboys might not want to put too much on Williams’ plate so early, which would leave Fowler as another option. The veteran pass rusher has a double-digit sack season under his belt, but he hasn’t come close to replicating his 11.5 sack total from 2019 since. Although he has the ability to start, Fowler also feels like a designated pass rusher for Dallas.

Armstrong could be the answer and had a career year in 2021, but that was as a spot starter and he might be best served as Lawrence’s backup on the left side.

This could be the biggest position to watch this summer and right now it’s anyone’s guess as to who will line up across from Lawrence at defensive end.

Defensive tackle

(AP Photo/Brett Duke)

This is a position that has strong numbers and solid players, but no one has locked a starting defensive tackle spot for the Cowboys. Neville Gallimore has the strongest hold on a starting job, but the other DT spot is up for grabs.

Gallimore only played in five games in 2021 because of an elbow injury, but did have 1.5 sacks during his sophomore season. The potential is there for a big year from Gallimore, who needs a partner up front.

Trysten Hill, a second-round pick in 2019, second year DT’s Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna, veteran Carlos Watkins and rookie fifth-round pick John Ridgeway are the players fighting for a starting job. Hill has flashed some potential since being drafted, but he hasn’t shown the consistency to be the shoe-in starter and Odighizuwa had two sacks as a rookie in 2021. If Odighizuwa can make that second-season jump, he might have the most potential to become a starter.

Watkins was the starter for 14 games last season and a veteran who has the ability to play end if asked as well, but he doesn’t have the potential to be anything more than a role player. Hill, Odighizuwa, and Golston, if they move him to DT, are more likely to be boom players on the inside.

Bohanna and Ridgeway are more traditional run-stuffing tackles, and the Cowboys are desperate for their skill sets after getting gashed in the run game last season. Either could become a starter because of their specific role, but Bohanna didn’t show much last year and Ridgeway is a rookie. It might be tough for Ridgeway to make an impact, yet there’s the potential for him to win a starting job.

There’s no shortage of options and the competition for the starting defensive tackle spot for the Cowboys will be fun to watch unfold.

You can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi

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