The Dallas Cowboys offense has some very interesting camp battles going on for the save positions. But these are surpassed by defensive battles. While the team still felt bad about last season’s ineffective performances, they brought in Dan Quinn and a ton of new players to try and fix the issues. Now we see so many fascinating battles unfolding, and unlike attacking, that also includes some starting jobs.

Pass rushers

We know DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are the nominal starters. (Nominal means Gregory may not be on the field for the first downs when the Cowboys make sure they won’t be nicked to the ground, but will be forward and to the right of center for assists.) Tarell Basham looks toward being a solid bet for the next man in the rotation.

Then it gets really, really interesting. Drafted Chauncey Golston is a player who could be lined up for an IR hideout as he’s still on the PUP roster. Dorance Armstrong has had a good camp so far, but we’ve seen him do it before to be pretty poor in the regular season. There was a lot of hope for Bradlee Anae when he arrived at camp, but he didn’t make much of an impact and also missed out on some time including not making it to Canton for the HOF game. Perhaps that opens a door for Ron’Dell Carter, who has shown some so far. Even Azur Kamara, a guy many don’t even realize he’s on the squad, started playing a bit and had two QB hits in Canton.

Who completes the group after the first three is a very open question. The remaining preseason games could go a long way in answering things.

Inside defensive line

Neville Gallimore may be the foundation that things are built around in just his second season. Trysten Hill and Justin Hamilton are the only other returning veterans from last year, which says a lot about the gravity of the defensive tackle situation.

This means a lot of new players will be called up, especially with Hill also a player who could be heading into another year on IR as he hasn’t been cleared to train yet. Brent Urban looks like a very solid bet to be in contention not only to make the squad but could well start alongside Gallimore. And the HOF game saw some very encouraging work from rookies Osi Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna. A lot of people thought Carlos Watkins was just an insurance agent, but he had good days at camp and could play a bigger role. Hamilton is a possible sleeper.

To complicate matters, Dan Quinn likes to move his defensive lineman. Gregory was seen lining up as a 3-tech, and there were sightings of DT rushing in from outside. Just like in attack, the flexibility of position gives players a leg up on this team.

Some of these players still have a lot of time to carve out a niche. And it’s hard to pinpoint those who are definitely out of the race. Even Hill could get strong if he was activated.

Linebackers

Since the project’s conclusion, many screenings on the list have featured the same five names: Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Micah Parsons, Jabril Cox, and Keanu Neal. These were seen by most as the only five linebackers the team will wear, which is supported to some extent by just three others in camp, Francis Bernard, Luke Gifford and Anthony Hines III.

Well color me skeptical. Linebacker is a good position for special team resources, and they’re unlikely to want to use one if they only have five on the roster. Expect them to wear six this year, as John Fassel will want a linebacker to use the kicking cover.

Bernard was the favorite for this job, but now he’s nicked. Gifford had a good performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Canton. Hines is probably a long shot, but it flashed. He should be a priority for the practice team if he doesn’t pierce.

Parsons and Vander Esch should be the starters in the nickel, for what it’s worth.

corner half

You can never have too many good cornerbacks. The Cowboys are doing pretty well on the majority. Now they have to determine if they are good enough.

Trevon Diggs is locked up as a starter and appears to be enjoying his job against CeeDee Lamb after a strong rookie campaign. Kelvin Joseph apparently made up for lost ground by missing so many OTAs. If there is one surprise in this group, it’s Maurice Canady, who seems to get a pick in every practice and land one in the scrum against the The Los Angeles Rams. Sitting under the COVID provisions didn’t hurt him when it came to his performance on the pitch.

Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis are both back from last season, but they don’t get much love from the fans. It does not matter. Only the opinion of the staff counts. What is still under development is the role of each. And they face an interesting challenge in OTA sweetheart Nahshon Wright, who’s got a lot of work and is likely on the roster from a combination of that work and his draft status.

This could leave Reggie Robinson II as a strange man, even if they go in depth and wear six corners. He’s certainly working hard to earn a spot. There’s also a bit of sleep in recent signer Kyron Brown, who also flashed a bit in the HOF game. CJ Goodwin will likely be in the roster, but he would be almost strictly a special teams ace and he would be a fit in the overall defensive unit.

Who starts outside of Diggs is just as up for grabs as who is the last man on the list.

Security

With the team very likely to get heavy at the cornerback, they can just roll with four safeties, and could possibly only wear three, although that looks rather thin. Donovan Wilson is the clear leader in strong security, and Damontae Kazee is probably free starting security.

Darian Thompson is a player much overlooked, but he’s been more than solid in camp. The team signed Malik Hooker earlier in the camp. Like Kazee, he is coming out of a serious injury and has yet to be cleared for training. When in good health he has the talent to be a great help and can play both free and strong in safety. We know how much the team loves flexible positions.

Jayron Kearse and Israel Mukuamu could also be considered. Kearse’s experience could earn him a spot, but Mukuamu could benefit from a year on the practice squad as he is in the process of being converted from the corner to safety.

The most likely scenario is that Wilson, Kazee, Thompson and Hooker will be the safeties at the start of the season, but that is not declared with much confidence.

Special teams

We cannot forget the specialists, because the situation there is interesting. Neither Bryan Anger nor Greg Zuerlein, both of Fassel’s favorites, have trained. Last year’s starting punter Hunter Niswander takes care of both the kicking and kicking duties. The team almost completely avoided field goals in practice. This led to a rather dismal performance for three of Niswander in the HOF game.

But aside from having a more than acceptable 50 yards per punt average against the Steelers, he seems to be doing pretty well on the kickoffs. And that adds an interesting dimension to things. The team may find some value in having a bettor who can also let Zuerlein save his leg just for the placement attempts. Don’t be surprised if Niswander beats anger because of this.

The big picture is that there will be a lot of calls for staff to make, and we may be in store for a surprise or three.