[Chart last updated: 7/1/14… see update notes from 7/1/14]
• On the initial draft I had DeMarco Murray down as good starter before Khaled persuaded me that I was letting his injury history negatively affect my judgement (we’d agreed that each player would be graded on their demonstrated ability, not time on the field – unless the two were related). He’s 100% right – when you get Murray in the backfield he usually delivers at a high level. Not only is he an exceptional runner but he’s also a better than average receiver and a good pass blocker. A superb combination I need to appreciate more while moderating my griping about playing time.
• I was really torn at how best to represent the likely scenario at guard. My view is that Mackenzy Bernadeau is a better player than Ronald Leary and he should retain his starting job with Leary being replaced by Zack Martin (or at least that being the initial plan). However, I get the feeling the Dallas Coaching staff sees it the other way around and it will be Bernadeau seeing second string reps and that’s how I’ve completed the chart. Obviously Leary is the younger player (three years) but the difference in performance levels was so noticeable I don’t think the 28-year-old player should be penalized.
I’ll make one further point – getting a rookie player to switch sides (as well as positions) is never a good idea. I’ve written on the subject before but “muscle memory” is a difficult obstacle to overcome at the best of times never mind while simultaneously taking a step up in class.
• What to make of Morris Claiborne? In his first season, despite having some real trouble in run support, his coverage improved as the year went on and clearly that is the important part of his role. He ended the year with a positive coverage grade (+2.7) even if his base statistics (e.g. a QB rating of 107.8 when thrown against) belied the truth.
However, last year, while he managed to sort out his issues against the run, his performance against the pass declined markedly, giving up broadly the same amount of yardage in 126 fewer coverage snaps. He’s played a few good games but they are an exception at the moment and need to become at least 50% of his performance canvas.
Most of the offense seems set and bar Zack Martin (as discussed above) it looks like last year’s O will be this year’s O.
As for defense, as poor as the Cowboys look on paper it doesn’t seem like there will be much up for grabs in terms of starting battles. I never see the D-line in those terms anyway – there may be starters, sure, but the rotational nature of the position group means that everyone will still get a chance to shine.
With the linebackers the only weak link is Bruce Carter but it doesn’t appear he’ll have too much by way of challenge. Not watching any college football, my knowledge on the subject is limited, but it appears Anthony Hitchens is more suited on the inside or strong-side. If he (or indeed any of the other linebackers) has the coverage skills required, they could test him but it’s questionable. Therefore the only obvious competition I see is:
1. Free Safety
A game of musical chairs ensued at this position in 2013. Will Allen started in possession and did nothing terribly wrong before being replaced in week three by J.J. Wilcox. It seemed like the Cowboys were just returning to their original preseason strategy of starting Wilcox – a plan that was hampered by the tragic death of his mother. Once installed, he too gave a reasonable account of himself before his worst game coincided with an injury that took him out for three weeks. In the interim Dallas turned to Jeff Heath who only looked totally out of his depth once (along with everyone else – in the debacle against the Saints) and Wilcox, on his return, was left to back-up duty. It’s difficult to call a winner here and although it’s possible that someone else may stand up to be counted, the Cowboys believe that one of these two will be their FS of the future.
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