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Training camp battles that could shape the Cowboys in 2020

Training Camp got underway in the NFL this week and the Dallas Cowboys will spend the summer working through how to construct their roster for the 2020 season
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Devin Smith (15) escapes tackle attempt by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Jack Cichy (48) after catching a pass for a first down in the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Training camp for the Dallas Cowboys is upon us, and with the depth of the team, and questions to answer about the roster, there will be some fierce battles to watch. 

There won’t be any preseason games to evaluate players this year, so the coaches will have to decide based on what they see in practice and in the annual Blue-White scrimmage in late August.

Here are the top position battles to pay attention to for the Cowboys this summer:

Fourth (and Fifth) WR spots

The top three wideout spots are locked down and the Cowboys boast one of the best WR groups with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb in front. However, after that, it gets dicey for the team. Cedric Wilson has flashed potential, but injuries have slowed his progress down. This will be a big year for Wilson to make his case.

2015 second-round pick Devin Smith used a great 2019 preseason to earn his way onto the roster, but was used sparingly under the former staff. Smith has the pedigree and the skill set to stake his claim to a roster spot, but he’ll need to prove he can consistently get it done.

The best of the rest includes holdovers Noah Brown, whose best asset under the former staff was as a big bodied blocking receiver, Jon’Vea Johnson, who is currently on the Covid-19 reserve list for having contact with the virus and Ventell Bryant. Johnson was impressive in camp last season and was kept around after the team placed him on injured reserve last August, while Bryant’s role on the team in 2019 was mostly on special teams.

The Cowboys might get a surprise from an undrafted rookie free agent like Aaron Parker or Kendrick Rogers, but it might be too much to ask for young players to make an impact without preseason games to showcase their talent.

It will be an interesting group to watch and evaluate to see who gets kept under Mike McCarthy, who has an affinity for young, developing WRs. The Cowboys are set at the top, but need someone to emerge as a viable option after the big three.

Starting center/guard

The Cowboys have done an incredible job of building up depth and versatility along their offensive line, yet two starting spots are up for grabs. Connor Williams, Connor McGovern, Joe Looney and rookie Tyler Biadasz will compete for the openings. 

Veteran Looney filled in admirably two years ago when he stepped in for Travis Frederick as the starting center. With Frederick retiring after the season, Looney will get first look at the starting job once again, but Biadasz has the pedigree coming from Lineman U at Wisconsin. 

The 2020 fourth-round pick was one of the best interior linemen in college football before shoulder and hip injuries derailed his play last year. If Biadasz is fully recovered, and can get back to his old form, the Cowboys may have a steal on their hands and a starting center for years to come.

It would also be foolish to downplay McGovern’s chances to win either spot in the starting lineup as well. He missed his rookie season with a pectoral injury, but the 2019 third-rounder has experience at center and guard and he’ll push to win a job. 

Williams remains the incumbent on the inside, but nothing will be handed to the 2018 second round selection out of the University of Texas. After a couple of years of looking to break in on one of the top units in the league, this is a make or break season for Williams.

CB playing time

The Cowboys lost Pro Bowl corner Byron Jones in free agency, but they restocked to make it a deep group. Figuring out who will get most of the playing time will be fascinating to watch play out.

Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown are the best returning options, and Awuzie should benefit from a change in scheme. Awuzie was already a bit underrated, but finally being able to make plays on the ball will likely change the perception of him in 2020.

However, the veteran out of Colorado might possibly be playing some safety as well, so it will be something to pay attention to in camp.

Lewis and Brown are the team’s best slot options, which leaves a possible starting CB spot open on the outside. Dallas drafted Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson, as well as adding veteran CB Daryl Worley to the mix. Even if Awuzie does get moved, that leaves three or four players for one or two starting CB spots. 

C.J. Goodwin might not be heavy in the CB rotation, but he’ll likely make the roster based on his special teams play. Chris Westry, Deante Burton and Saivion Smith will have to have outstanding camps to make the roster as it stands now.

This might be the best training camp battle for the Cowboys this summer. As the old saying goes, you can never have enough corners, so Dallas stocked up on depth but will need to see who will earn the premium playing time. 

Placekicker job

Figuring out who will kick doesn’t seem as exciting as other position battles, but games in the NFL are often won and lost by the kicker. Just ask the 2019 Dallas Cowboys who faltered under a struggling Brett Maher before turning to Kai Forbath too late.

Once Forbath joined the team in December, he was perfect on his kicks (10-10) and earned a new deal from Dallas, but the Cowboys did bring in former All-Pro Greg Zuerlein as a free agent for good money to compete for the job. This might be one of the more underrated competitions in training camp.

Which training camp battle do you think will be the most important for the Cowboys in their quest to return to the playoffs? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.