With the end to OTAs and the beginning of training camp it is time to analyze the biggest questions facing the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2014 season. The biggest questions heading into camp are can the Cowboys' offensive line keep Tony Romo healthy, can Brandon Weeden be a capable backup, do the Cowboys have a legitimate backup running back for DeMarco Murray, which defensive ends will be the most productive, who will be the starting middle linebacker, and who will be the starting free safety.
Dallas Cowboys Biggest Question: Can the Cowboys OL keep Tony Romo healthy?
The Dallas Cowboys did a great job staying away from Johnny Manziel and picking the best OG in the draft in Zack Martin.
Martin has stepped right into the starting right guard spot and has people talking about the Cowboys maybe having the best offensive line in football. The Cowboys have five very good offensive linemen now in LT Tyron Smith, LG will either be Mackenzy Bernadeau or Ronald Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin, and RT Doug Free. All six of these guys have the prototype size that you want at their positions and five of them have the prototype speed you want with the exception of Frederick being too slow, but he appears to be doing a very good job.
My answer: Yes. As long as the Cowboys stay balanced so defenses can't just tee off on the offensive line.
Dallas Cowboys Biggest Question: Can Brandon Weeden be a capable backup?
Now that we know Kyle Orton will not be with the Cowboys this season it appears the Cowboys will live or die with Weeden as their backup quarterback.
Weeden clearly struggled in his two years while in Cleveland, but I truly believe that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning would have struggled there as well. The Browns have not won more than 5 games since 2007. So you can't put much stock into how Weeden played while in Cleveland.
In Weeden's senior season at Oklahoma State he completed 72% of his passes which is outstanding. He also threw 37 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, nearly a 3 to 1 ratio which is outstanding as well.
Dez Bryant, the Cowboys leading receiver last season has called Weeden "outstanding" and "great", plus they played together at Oklahoma State.
My answer: Yes.
Dallas Cowboys Biggest Question: Do the Cowboys have a legitimate backup RB?
DeMarco Murray is definitely one of the best running backs in the NFL and is in the prime of his career, but in his 3 year career he has never played in every game of the season. The two candidates for the backup role at RB is Lance Dunbar and newly acquired Ryan Williams.
The problem is both Dunbar and Williams have had injury issues during their careers. Dunbar showed last year when he was healthy he could be a good running back averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The problem is that Dunbar only weighs 195 pounds and can't withstand the beating you take when running the football. A knee injury cut his season short after showing that he can be a successful running back.
Ryan Williams has really only played one season in 2012 in the NFL and only played in 5 games that season. The Cardinals were terrible that season and Williams only averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Williams had an injury prone career in college as well, but he showed the type of running back that he can be. He has the skills to fit into the Cowboy offense very well and he is eager to shed the injury prone label.
Let's compare the Cowboys to the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers as far as their backup running backs. Marshawn Lynch reported to camp late and is acting like he might retire, but the Seahawks don't have to worry to much about it, they can say next man up because they have two prototype running backs in size and speed with Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. They are also both in the prime of their careers.
Frank Gore has been the 49ers bell cow for 8 seasons, but he is now 31 years old and in the twilight of his career. Even though Gore has not missed a game in the last 3 seasons, the 49ers saw they needed a good backup running back so they drafted Carlos Hyde who has the prototype size and speed for a running back in the NFL. Before drafting Hyde, the 49ers only had two smaller backs in Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James just like the Cowboys have now.
Oh and by the way the Seahawks ranked 4th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and the 49ers ranked 3rd in the league in rushing yards per game last season.
The Cowboys and the rest of the NFL should take notice and pay more attention to having a strong running game along with a strong defense.
My answer: No. The Cowboys do not have a legitimate backup running back like they need. They will have to pray that DeMarco Murray and undersized backs Williams and Dunbar can stay healthy.
Dallas Cowboys Biggest Question: Which defensive ends will be the most productive?
First things first, rookie DeMarcus Lawrence has a broken foot and will miss between 8 to 12 weeks and 8 year veteran Anthony Spencer will probably start the season on the PUP list. Spencer is 30 years old now and should be able to have at least two more productive years in him and if he can get healthy this year he could help the Cowboys out. Lawrence is a bit undersized, but I feel that he will be productive.
I think there are 3 defensive ends that have really distanced themselves from the rest so far in camp. George Selvie had a pretty good year last year and I see him getting better this year and building on what he did last year. Tyrone Crawford has prototype size and speed, was injured all of last season, but he can be a very productive player for the Cowboys and has looked really good so far in camp. Free agent signee Jeremy Mincey has prototype size and speed and should be a productive player against the run and pass for the Cowboys.
With the injuries at defensive end, 8th year pro Martez Wilson has a chance to get in there and be productive. He is undersized, but has great speed and needs to step up and show what he can do.
The Cowboys have also just signed two defensive ends on Friday in Adewale Ojomo and Kenneth Boatright. Boatright has prototype size and speed and Ojomo has great size and pretty good speed as well. It will be interesting to see what happens with these two players.
Dallas Cowboys Biggest Question: Who will be the starting middle linebacker?
It appears to me that 8th year pro Justin Durant has the inside track on being the starting middle linebacker. At 228 pounds he is on the small side, but has great speed. Jason Garrett has stated that when the coaches went back and watched film from last year they saw really good things from Durant. Durant has also had a problem staying on field. He missed 6 games last year and in 8 seasons in the NFL he has only played every game of the season once in 2012 with Detroit.
Another candidate for the starting middle linebacker position is 4th year pro Rolando McClain, who the Cowboys traded for on July 1st. At 6-4, 259 pounds and reportedly runs a 4.69 40 yard dash he is the absolute prototype middle linebacker. Reports from camp so far are that he is very aggressive, sometimes overly aggressive to where he overruns things. McClain was very productive in Oakland, he had 99 tackles in 2011 and 85 tackles in 2012.
2nd year pro DeVonte Holloman is also a candidate for the middle linebacker spot. He was the middle linebacker in the last game of the year last season versus the Philadelphia Eagles when he totaled 11 tackles. He has shown that he can be a productive player and he has the prototype size and speed to play in the middle.
My answer: I believe that Rolando McClain will end up as the starting middle linebacker.
Dallas Cowboys Biggest Question: Who will be the starting free safety?
After last season in my mind this should be a close race between J. J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath.
It appears that so far into camp J. J. Wilcox is the #1 free safety. He was a running back in college at Georgia Southern and the Cowboys converted him to free safety because he is such a great athlete. It has been reported that Wilcox has been very steady and has had a good camp so far. Last season Wilcox played in 13 games and finished 13th on the team in tackles, had 1 pass defensed, but had no interceptions.
On the other hand you have Jeff Heath. He played in all 16 games last season, finished 6th on the team in tackles, had 3 passes defensed, forced a fumble and had 1 interception. He is also a very good special teams player.
My answer: It will depend how these two play during preseason and how they perform during camp. From what I have seen I would say Jeff Heath should be the starter.