Dallas Cowboys: michael cox

Eight in the Box: NFC East camp battles

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each NFC East team as training camps get underway.

Dallas Cowboys: No. 2 tight end

The Cowboys used a second-round pick on tight end Gavin Escobar, even though starting tight end Jason Witten isn't going anywhere, and they liked what James Hanna showed as a receiver during his 2012 rookie season. They also signed veteran Dante Rosario and continue to look out for a more blocking-oriented tight end. What this all means is that the Cowboys would like to use more two-tight end sets in 2013 (and presumably beyond), largely eliminating the fullback position from their offense and offering quarterback Tony Romo a greater variety of options in the passing game. Training camp will help reveal the depth chart and the ways in which these guys all can expect to be used. Was Escobar drafted because they liked his ability to do something specific? Can Hanna hold him off for reps? How does Rosario factor into the mix? Change is afoot in the Cowboys' offense, and the tight end position is a big part of it.

New York Giants: Starting running back

David Wilson, their first-round pick from the 2012 draft, emerged as an electrifying kick returner in his rookie season and flashed big-play ability out of the backfield. He is the odds-on favorite to seize the starting running back role following the team's release of Ahmad Bradshaw. But, as is often the case, things aren't that simple. The Giants liked Andre Brown a lot as a goal-line back last season and used him a couple of times as a starter, with some success. He's back, and he doesn't intend to hand the job to Wilson without a fight. The Giants' backfield depth chart also includes veteran Ryan Torain, third-year fan favorite Da'Rel Scott and rookie Michael Cox. And these are the Giants, remember -- a pass-first offensive team that needs its running backs to pick up the blitz and help keep Eli Manning safe. Wilson offers the most upside as a runner, but it's entirely possible he could lose the starting job to a better blocker during this camp.

Philadelphia Eagles: Starting quarterback

What else is there? This is the big story of the Eagles' camp and will be one of the big stories in the NFL for the next month. Veteran Michael Vick has the experience, the foot speed and the arm strength, but new coach Chip Kelly wants a quarterback who can avoid turnovers, get rid of the ball quickly and make good, fast decisions in tight spots. These have not been Vick's strengths, which is likely why he faces a challenge from second-year quarterback Nick Foles and maybe even rookie Matt Barkley or veteran backup Dennis Dixon. Vick has to show that he's capable of running Kelly's offense the way Kelly wants it run -- and that he won't revert to his career-long tendencies to try to extend plays and make something happen with pure athleticism. If he can rein it in and operate the offense efficiently, it's his job. If he can't, one of the younger guys could snatch it from him and cost him his roster spot entirely.

Washington Redskins: No. 2 wide receiver

This would be the "Z" receiver in the Redskins' offense. Pierre Garcon plays the "X" position -- the outside receiver who lines up on the line of scrimmage. Santana Moss likely plays the slot again. The "Z" is the outside receiver opposite Garcon -- the "flanker" who lines up off the line of scrimmage to keep the tight end eligible and motions to different parts of the formation if that's called for. The candidates here are Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan and Aldrick Robinson. Morgan is the most polished and well rounded of this group, but he has trouble staying healthy. Hankerson is the one the coaches believe has the most upside, but he hasn't been able to develop consistency in his game. If he could, he'd be a valuable piece, because the Redskins believe they can use him in the slot as well. Robinson showed a lot of potential as a favored deep threat last season for Robert Griffin III, but he also has a lot to learn before he's a complete enough player to be used reliably here. Watch to see if Hankerson shows drastic Year 3 improvement in camp. If he does, it's likely his spot to lose, especially if Morgan is banged up as usual.

Eight in the Box: RB status check

May, 24, 2013
5/24/13
11:07
AM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC East team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Dallas Cowboys

After a season in which they ranked third in the league in passing yards and 31st in rushing yards, the Cowboys seek greater balance in their offense. Any balance, actually. The starting running back remains DeMarco Murray, whose toughness and physical style give the Cowboys an extra dimension when he's on the field. Murray's problem is staying on the field, as he's had to miss nine games over his first two NFL seasons due to injury. The team let Felix Jones leave as a free agent and drafted Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle in the fifth round. It's no coincidence that Randle is a back who didn't miss a single game in his college career. The Cowboys needed someone durable and reliable to back up Murray, who's already struggling with hamstring problems this offseason, and neither Lance Dunbar nor Phillip Tanner showed enough in limited work last year to prove he was the backup they needed. What the Cowboys need at running back is to get and keep Murray as healthy as possible and to get Randle up to speed so he's ready to step in when he's inevitably needed as the fill-in starter.

New York Giants

The Giants let starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw depart via free agency, a difficult choice necessitated by salary and health concerns. That likely leaves the running game in the hands of 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, who opened eyes as a big-play threat and a kick returner in his rookie season, and Andre Brown, who functioned as a reliable goal-line back before an injury ended his season. Either should be able to handle full-time starter duties, and it's likely the team will split carries somewhat between them anyway. What the Giants need to do is establish whether Wilson and/or Brown can handle the pass-blocking duties at which Bradshaw excelled for so long. If one of them demonstrates superior performance in blitz pickup, that's likely to give him the edge for playing time over the other. With fullback Henry Hynoski out now with a knee injury, and with excellent run-blocking tight end Martellus Bennett now a Chicago Bear, the Giants remain on the lookout for reliable blocking backs. The recent injury to Tim Hightower shows that, and it remains to be seen whether Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott or seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox can be part of the solution.

Philadelphia Eagles

Every prediction about Chip Kelly's offense claims certainty that the Eagles will use the run game and the screen game more this year than they did in the past. LeSean McCoy remains the starter, and one of the best running backs in the league when healthy. Bryce Brown showed when McCoy got injured last year that he could handle starter's responsibilities brilliantly, but his fumble problems obviously must be overcome if he's to be trusted with significant carries. The Eagles signed Cowboys castoff Felix Jones for depth, and they still have Chris Polk, so the candidates for carries are plentiful this offseason. What remains for the Eagles is to establish the manner in which they'll distribute those carries (and catches) among their backs in an offense that will try to run as many plays as possible every game.

Washington Redskins

Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris came from the back of the depth chart last offseason to overtake Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster to claim the starting running back job, and he quite literally ran with it. A perfect fit in Mike Shanahan's one-cut zone-blocking run schemes, Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie and delivered a 200-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece in the regular-season finale/division-title game against the Cowboys. Shanahan does love to play the volume game at running back, and he still has Helu and Royster as well as late-round 2013 draft picks Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison. What remains for the Redskins is to figure out the pecking order behind Morris and work to find ways to use the talent they have at running back to ease some of the physical pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin III. It's also important to note that Washington was able to re-sign fullback Darrel Young, a key figure in a run game that led the league with 169.3 yards per game in 2012.

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