Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Five Wonders: Durant a starter or gone?
By Todd Archer
IRVING, Texas -- With the Dallas Cowboys holding their final open-to-the-media organized team activity today at Valley Ranch, what better time than now to bring back Five Wonders?
The Cowboys could use Justin Durant to fill in for Sean Lee or look to go younger at the position.
I believe Justin Durant will be the opening day starter at middle linebacker with Sean Lee out for the year. He has the most experience. He was OK in his spot work there last year before getting hurt himself. But let's say things don't go well for him in training camp and the preseason and he outplayed by DeVonte Holloman or Anthony Hitchens. I wonder if it would be worth it to keep him around. If he is cut (or traded) then the move would save $1.25 million against the cap. Every little bit of room helps. I know what you're saying. The Cowboys can't entrust the position to two players with little to no experience. Well, why not? They did it last year when they cut safety Will Allen and named J.J. Wilcox the starter. Wilcox almost immediately got hurt and that put undrafted rookie Jeff Heath in the starting lineup. Was cutting Allen a mistake last year? Perhaps it was, but he did not play that well and he was not a big special teams help. It would be a risky move, but Durant will not be around in 2015. Is it better to get Holloman or Hitchens the work with the future in mind? The coaches who are fighting for their jobs might think otherwise, but it's something to ponder.
• One of the biggest benefits of practicing against a team in training camp is to break up the monotony. You hear players all the time say they just enjoy seeing another color jersey on the practice field. So that's what the Cowboys will get when they work against the Oakland Raiders, as expected, in Oxnard, Caliornia. But I wonder if there is more of a benefit in the player evaluation side of things. In addition to the monotony of camp, players can figure out offensive and defensive tendencies. Players have been known to see the practice scripts over the years, which give them a heads up as to what to expect. When that happens, they'll obviously look better than perhaps they are. With the Raiders bringing in fresh schemes on offense and defense, a corner won't be as familiar with the routes, splits and speed and a receiver and offensive tackle won't know every move he'll see from a defensive end. It will only be two practices, but those sessions figure to be the most hotly contested of the summer and the personnel department will have some fresh tape to see.
• I'll admit I don't know much about Terrell McClain. He did not play very much for the Houston Texans last year. The Cowboys signed him to a modest deal that included a $300,000 signing bonus. But I wonder if McClain will be this year's version of George Selvie. Last summer Selvie had the look of a training camp body with the injuries the Cowboys suffered along the defensive line. He ended up not only making the team but he started every game and had a career-high seven sacks. McClain has been one of the more impressive players in team drills during the OTAs. The line has had a hard time blocking him. He has had to play the three-technique mostly because of Henry Melton's recovery from knee surgery, and has shown the ability to pressure the quarterback and make a tackle or two for a loss. I think he ends up as the starting nose tackle on this defense when Melton is back on the field.
• The Cowboys finally found a home for Kyle Wilber late last season when they were forced to move him to outside linebacker. He started the final six games on the strong side and had 31 of his 42 tackles. He also had two tackles for loss and two quarterback pressures. He has been working with the first team in defense so far this offseason and looks the part. But last week's OTA offered up another opportunity for Wilber that I had not previously expected. Perhaps it was due to a shortage of defensive ends because a number of them were sitting out the team drills, but Wilber moved to defensive end in two-minute drills. I wonder if he can play a split role the way the New York Giants use Mathias Kiwanuka. He played linebacker in his career and would put his hand on the ground in pass-rushing situations. I'm not saying Wilber will be Kiwanuka, whom I believe has been a little underrated, but Wilber can add to his versatility by showing the ability to play both spots.
• What would a Wonders be without checking in on a contract situation? I wonder if the Cowboys should look at extending the offers to receivers Dwayne Harris and/or Cole Beasley this summer. What? Hear me out. Both players are expected to be restricted free agents after this season. The bottom tender offer for a restricted free agent this year was about $1.4 million. The Cowboys thought that was too high of a price for Phillip Tanner and chose not to tender an offer to the running back this year. That number will go about in 2015 when the team will have to make decisions on Harris and Beasley. I do believe it will be easier to justify putting the tender on Harris because he is a valuable special teamer in the return and coverage games. Beasley is a punt returner, but not nearly as effective as Harris. But Beasley will have a role in this offense because of his work in the slot. It should be noted that he is only running routes in the slot during the offseason, so with that comes some limitation on what he would be paid in the future. Can the Cowboys figure out a way to give Beasley a little bump in pay this year, a good base salary in 2015, but less than the projected RFA tender and buy out his unrestricted free agency year? It sure would seem possible and it would guarantee Beasley a job in the future with a quarterback that really believes in him in Tony Romo.