by Dallas Cowboys Mailbag, Rob Phillips & Jonny Auping
With a few players who can play more than one position on defense - safety/linebacker, linebacker/pass rusher, edge rusher/defensive tackle - wouldn't this allow the team to go heavy at several positions? And should they? - BRYAN SCOTT / RED LION, PA
Rob: I agree there seems to be enough position flexibility on defense to potentially keep an extra player at, say, quarterback or offensive line. I'm very curious to see which defensive tackles emerge and how that position gets sorted out, because there's a logjam even with Trysten Hill starting camp on Active/PUP. But the unfortunate reality of the NFL is that injuries happen, so there's just no way to know on July 23 that the Cowboys will have as much defensive versatility as we think by the end of preseason.
Jonny: Well, it will sort of work out that way, but as you point out, what they're really going heavy on is players who can do more than one thing just in case they need to shift positions. They'll definitely coach their young players to have versatile skill sets, but I think they are going to be clear in what positions they are playing. They don't want to bring players into Week 1 and tell them their role is "Swiss army knife." Injuries and unforeseen circumstances happen, but you want to give your young players clear goals. Even a guy like Keanu Neal shouldn't be thinking about safety unless it's a bridge that needs to be crossed. Clearly he could do it if need be.
Although I wasn't happy to see them playing all year, I felt Terence Steele, Brandon Knight and the other offensive line reserves got invaluable playing experience. Do you see improvement in either player during this offseason? - WILLIAM TROMPETER / OKLAHOMA CITY, OK
Rob: Based on the limited reps we've seen so far, sure, I think there's a chance both players take a step forward. Knight can play guard, too, so that helps his roster chances. And I don't think there's a clear frontrunner for the swing tackle job. Ty Nsekhe and rookie Josh Ball are part of that conversation, but we probably won't have a better idea until padded practices and preseason games.
Jonny: I don't think there's any doubt they improved in the experience. It's sort of a matter of whether they clearly improved enough to be viable or if the coaching staff saw enough from them to know they can't rely on them. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. I would be comfortable if either had to start two games this year, but I don't think it's crazy to say that similar O-Line injury issues as last year would probably be a disaster again if it happened this year.