Top 10 Stories to Watch at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp: Vets on the Bubble
By Matthew Postins
Vets on the bubble
Training camp is as much about proving yourself as it is about protecting your job, and there are several veterans entering Dallas Cowboys training camp this season that have jobs that might be on the line. Here are five players that enter training camp on precarious footing:
Doug Free. This might seem to be a bit of a stretch, given how last season played out. If you don’t recall, Free took a pay cut and played much better in 2013 than he did in 2012. But that doesn’t mean that Free couldn’t potentially lose his job. How, you ask? Well the big competition up front is inside, where Zack Martin, Ron Leary, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Uche Nwaneri are duking it out for the two starting spots. Let’s say all four of them play lights out in training camp and all deserve a starting spot. Let’s also say that Free’s level of play in preseason falls below expectations. I could see the Cowboys taking Martin, who can play tackle, and sliding him into Free’s position, in this scenario. That’s probably a bit of a stretch, but if you’re Free do you really want to take that chance, especially since your deal becomes much more cap-friendly — as in he could be released — in 2015?
Mackenzy Bernadeau. Speaking of the offensive line, it’s much more likely that Bernadeau ends up as the odd man out in that four-way competition at guard, especially when you consider Martin really has the right guard job locked up. Bernadeau is finally in a good place physically for the first time in three seasons. He isn’t recovering from injuries and he’s coming off some steadier play at the end of last year. But it doesn’t mean squat if he can’t beat out Leary or Nwaneri at left guard. One thing to keep in mind — Bernadeau is valuable because he’s versatile, as he can also play center and back up Travis Frederick. That’s important because Frederick is the Cowboys’ only center on the roster. Bernadeau can’t show a slip in this training camp or this preseason.
Nick Hayden. I don’t think enough is said about the hard work Hayden gave the Cowboys last year. He was one of the few defensive linemen to emerge unscathed from last year’s disaster and played with a purpose. That said, the Cowboys have put him in a competitive situation, as they’ve brought in Amobi Okoye, Terrell McClain and Henry Melton. Ben Bass is back from injury. There is talk of moving Tyrone Crawford in there, as well. Hayden should approach training camp as if he has everything to prove, because given the pieces the Cowboys have around him in competition, he does. The slightest slip could put him on the bubble.
Caleb Hanie. He has toiled in relative obscurity as a backup for six seasons. Dallas doesn’t necessarily offer him a chance to shine, but it does offer a chance to keep a job, especially now that Kyle Orton has been released. That plays right into Hanie’s hands. It will be hard for him to beat out Brandon Weeden for the backup job. In fact, Hanie’s biggest obstacle is the Cowboys’ recent insistence on keeping just two quarterbacks. That could change with Tony Romo’s back situation, but clearly Hanie needs to give the Cowboys a reason to keep him beyond having a warm body on the roster.
Sterling Moore. The Cowboys keep brining the former SMU product back and he keeps performing. So why shouldn’t Moore feel more secure? Because the Cowboys have investments in Morris Claiborne and B.W. Webb, along with financial investments in Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick. That makes Moore a fifth corner in any pecking order. Heck, last year he had a solid camp, played well in the preseason and the Cowboys still released him. So no guarantees here. He may not supplant any of the four players mentioned earlier, so it’s about compelling the Cowboys to keep a fifth corner. He might have better odds if he could play safety.