Cowboys training camp kicked off earlier this week, and it has fans and media buzzing with the return of regular season football inching closer.
But after the initial excitement of training camp, the hype starts dying down as fans get bored seeing non-starters get playing time in preseason games. But there are some important competitions going on in the preseason this year that are worth tuning into.
Here are the three biggest position battles going on in Cowboys training camp:
Defensive End: Sam Williams vs Dante Fowler
When Randy Gregory opted to sign with the Denver Broncos over the Cowboys in free agency, it left a gaping hole on the defensive line. Gregory has been in Dallas since he was drafted in the second round back in 2015. But the Cowboys acted quickly and acquired players who can fill Gregory’s shoes.
Fowler signed as a free agent after two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and spent the 2020 season under then Falcons coach Dan Quinn. In 2019, Fowler’s 11.5 sacks, 58 tackles and 16 tackles for loss were all career highs. But in the 2020 and 2021 seasons combined, Fowler has recorded just 7.5 sacks.
Williams, on the other hand, was a second round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. At 6’4, 265-pounds, Williams’ 4.6 40-yard dash is quite impressive given his size. It’s also indicative of his playing style. The 23-year-old uses his speed to get by opposing tackles and in 2021, it helped him tally 12.5 sacks, good enough for the single-season record at Ole Miss. He also had 15 tackles for loss and jarred out four fumbles last season.
Edge: Fowler has a better shot at getting the starting job in Week 1. But this doesn’t mean he’ll retain it for very long. Fowler is entering his eighth season as a pro, and that experience will help him earn a starting spot while Williams acclimates to his new environment.
After the early weeks of the regular season, Williams could very well end up snatching the starting job if he makes the most of his playing time.
Left Guard: Tyler Smith vs Connor McGovern
Just because Smith was the Cowboys’ first selection in this year’s draft doesn’t mean a starting spot is guaranteed. At 6’4, 324-pounds, he certainly passes the eye test. Smith utilized his size and physicality to overpower defensive linemen during his college days at Tulsa. But he needs to work on his technique if he wants to make it in the NFL. Smith was also a left tackle in college, but Dallas’ coaching staff opted to start his career at guard until he learns the ropes in the pros.
McGovern was a third round draft pick in 2019 but didn’t get on the field in the regular season until 2020. He’s served as a fill-in along the offensive line when other players have been sidelined due to injury. McGovern has started 14 games in his career and has proven to be a suitable backup, but not a starter.
Edge: This competition is Smith’s to lose. He has a higher ceiling than McGovern, especially considering Smith could one day fill the shoes of future Hall of Famer Tyron Smith. Tyler also has the opportunity to train with Tyron and Zack Martin, which should help him reach his potential as a pro.
Wide Receiver: Jalen Tolbert vs James Washington
Tolbert was drafted in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. At 6’3, 190-pounds, he has a unique build for a receiver. The former South Alabama Jaguar has the height to reel in contested passes downfield, but he can also blaze past defenders with his 4.9 40-yard dash speed. Tolbert has a knack for getting chunk yardage on his receptions. Last season at South Alabama, he averaged a whopping 17.98 yards per reception.
Washington is entering his fifth NFL season after spending the last four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Washington’s best season came in 2019 when he was thrust into WR1 duties due to injuries. That year, he had 735 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Washington has a career average of 407 yards per season.
Edge: Expect Tolbert to assume WR3 duties behind CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. Tolbert may be a riskier WR3 option because his floor could be lower than Washington’s. But Tolbert has a far higher ceiling than Washington.
Another wrinkle to add in this competition is KaVontae Turpin; a wide receiver Dallas signed yesterday out of the USFL. He’s the reigning league MVP and is also a return specialist. While he likely has the lowest odds to be WR3, he’s a player to keep an eye on.