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Training Camp

NFC East training camp preview: Eagles' new weapon, Cowboys' Qs

With training camps scheduled to begin this month, it's time to get up to speed on all 32 NFL teams. Below, Nick Shook has the lowdown on position battles, strengths, weaknesses and newcomers in the NFC East.

DALLAS COWBOYS (2019 record: 8-8)

Most important position battle: Center. Travis Frederick has moved on to the spoils of retirement, leaving behind a rather large void the Cowboys were first forced to confront in 2018, when Frederick was sidelined by Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Joe Looney started in his place that season and was average -- at best. Honestly, at various times in '18, Looney represented a glaring weakness on an otherwise-stout line. That's not acceptable for a talented team that's looking to overcome a disappointing 2019 campaign. Up to three players could be in the running for this job on the pivot: Looney, guard Connor McGovern (whoever loses the left guard competition could be shifted to center) and rookie center Tyler Biadasz, a fourth-round pick. If Dallas starts former No. 50 overall pick Connor Williams at LG, McGovern could be the pick at center over Looney and the green Biadasz. We'll leave that up to a camp battle.

Biggest strength on roster: Offensive line. Running back might also be an option here, thanks to the existence of top-five runner Ezekiel Elliott and the promising Tony Pollard, but it all starts up front for Dallas. We covered above how they'll need to determine the future at center after Frederick's retirement, but that doesn't take away from the reliability of the team's two starting tackles (Tyron Smith and La'el Collins) and right guard Zack Martin. Left guard could come down to a battle of the Connors (Williams and McGovern), but this competition should breed success.

Oh, and another candidate for this: quarterback. Yes, I'm serious. Dak Prescott with Andy Dalton as his backup is a very solid approach to the position.

Biggest weakness: Secondary. It's not so much a weakness as it is an uncertainty after the departure of Byron Jones. Dallas spent a second-round pick on Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs and a fourth-rounder on Tulsa product Reggie Robinson II, but might need to figure out both cornerback positions if Chidobe Awuzie makes a move to safety (the Dallas Morning News' Michael Gehlken reported the team is exploring such a switch). Daryl Worley and Maurice Canady also arrived via free agency, while Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown return to make a large group that must be sorted out. Again, uncertainty reigns here more than weakness on a roster that doesn't have many obvious shortcomings.

Newcomer/player returning from injury to watch: Aldon Smith, defensive end. Smith hasn't played a down of football since 2015, yet the Cowboys still felt the 30-year-old's untapped talent was worth taking a flier on once he was reinstated by the NFL. Now he's approaching his first training camp since the Obama administration, and he has the potential to wreak havoc as yet another problem-causer off the edge in Dallas. We're picking Smith purely out of curiosity and the chance of seeing a legitimate impact from someone who hasn't been in the NFL consciousness for quite some time.

NEW YORK GIANTS (2019 record: 4-12)

Most important position battle: Wide receiver. This team, on paper, has three quality No. 2 receivers, but lacks an alpha. I don't expect Golden Tate to rise to that role at this point in his career, nor do I see it coming from Sterling Shepard, but someone -- Darius Slayton, perhaps -- needs to rise to the occasion in this group. It's not as if there are a bunch of jobs to win, with the aforementioned trio essentially locked in, but it's time for someone to stand out.

Biggest strength on roster: Offensive guard. It's not sexy, but I don't care. While the Giants have made plenty of mistakes elsewhere in recent years, general manager Dave Gettleman did not miss when he drafted Will Hernandez, and he definitely didn't hurt his chances when he acquired Kevin Zeitler in the Odell Beckham Jr. deal. Zeitler is an elite guard and Hernandez is on his way to becoming one, giving the Giants a strong foundation at two overlooked but very important positions. If they can fill out tackle in a similar manner with those already on the roster in the next few years, they'll be sitting pretty when it comes to protecting Daniel Jones.

Biggest weakness: Defensive line. Last week, Pro Football Focus ranked New York's defensive line as one of the league's worst (26th), and for logical reasons. Gettleman focused his personnel changes on stopping the run up front, and while that's fine in theory, the approach sacrifices pass rush thanks to an inability to get above-average edge pressure. New York pillaged Green Bay for two of its linebackers and hopes Kyler Fackrell can find some of his Packers magic off the edge, but it remains a gamble that leaves the defensive line vulnerable. This is a group that can get better, of course, with Dexter Lawrence entering Year 2 and Leonard Williams playing under the franchise tag, but it will need improvements in play to no longer exist as a weakness against the pass.

Newcomer/player returning from injury to watch: Andrew Thomas, offensive tackle. Look, this was the pick as soon as Gettleman spent the fourth overall selection on Thomas. Many of us thought he'd be the fourth tackle off the board, not the first, yet here we are, which means it is already time for him to prove himself. Giants fans should hope he fares significantly better than Ereck Flowers did, and if he does well, good on Gettleman for making the call. Danny Dimes' future might ride on it.

A couple of under-the-radar rookies I'll be keeping my eyes on: UCLA corner Darnay Holmes, a former five-star recruit out of Calabasas High School (California), and Ohio State receiver Binjimen Victor. Holmes is the type of athlete who just finds a way to impact every game in which he's a participant, no matter the size of the role, as evidenced by his leading the Bruins in interceptions as a true freshman in 2017. I expect the fourth-round pick to find a way to make the Giants better, too. As for Victor, I feel as if the undrafted free-agent signee's a quality receiving prospect who was overshadowed by other, more popular players on his team at the powerhouse that is Ohio State. I felt similarly about Terry McLaurin entering last season, and that turned out all right.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2019 record: 9-7)

Most important position battle: Linebacker. Philadelphia said goodbye to defensive mainstay Nigel Bradham a few months back and watched Kamu Grugier-Hill follow him out the door for greener pastures elsewhere. As a result, the Eagles will be leaning on Nathan Gerry and T.J. Edwards to fill the void. And they need to figure out which of their new arrivals -- Duke Riley (who was actually acquired last season via trade), Jatavis Brown (free-agent signing), Davion Taylor (third-round pick) or Shaun Bradley (sixth-round pick) -- will step up to make an impact. If we had to lean toward one candidate, I'd choose Brown, who knocked the socks off the Chargers to start his career before falling back to earth and eventually moving on because he didn't continue on his upward trend. Perhaps a change in scenery is what he needed most.

Biggest strength on roster: Defensive line. We'll keep this brief. The offseason addition of Javon Hargrave makes this group strong from end to end. I pity the interior linemen who have to prepare to face Hargrave and Fletcher Cox on Sundays. Whomever Dallas selects as its starting center will have his work cut out for him in Weeks 8 and 16 -- as will the rest of the offensive lines with Philadelphia on the schedule.

Biggest weakness: Linebacker. As we covered above, this is a weakness driven by a lack of experience. The oldest member of the entire linebacking corps is 26-year-old Alex Singleton, a former Canadian Football League standout who has yet to make his mark in the NFL. Next to him in age is Brown, who is also 26 and is entering his fifth NFL season. One of Philadelphia's projected starters, Edwards, is a former undrafted free agent. These guys are greener than their home jerseys, and they'll have to learn quickly.

Newcomer/player returning from injury to watch: Jalen Reagor, wide receiver. The Eagles have needed help at receiver for a while now, but this became particularly noticeable last season, as injuries undercut their potential at the position. When they get back both DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery -- the latter of whom is still recovering from Lisfranc surgery -- they should be better off, but the most exciting potential exists in Reagor, a possible home-run hitter who excels at making the difficult look easy. His quarterback situation at TCU was abysmal, meaning a pairing with Carson Wentz could prove bountiful for a guy who led all first-round receivers in contested catches made in their respective college careers with 27, per PFF.

WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (2019 record: 3-13)

Most important position battle: Left tackle. Washington finally ended the Trent Williams saga with a mid-draft trade that sent him to San Francisco and left behind a large void on this roster. It wasn't an unfamiliar void, though, seeing how Williams didn't play a down last season, either. That's where Geron Christian existed before he was unseated by veteran Donald Penn, who is not returning in 2020. Instead, Washington added Cornelius Lucas, a former undrafted free agent who is now on his fifth team in seven seasons. Neither of these players inspires a ton of confidence, but one will have to win the job. It's the second-most important position on the offensive side of the ball, after all.

Biggest strength on roster: Defensive line. Washington's selection of Chase Young at No. 2 overall further bolstered a group that has consumed immense draft capital in recent years. It will be interesting to see how a switch to a 4-3 front affects the depth chart, but there's talent all over this position group. If Montez Sweat can improve on his seven-sack rookie campaign, that will only help further.

If Derrius Guice can make it through a full season healthy, the running back room has a lot of potential with him, Adrian Peterson and rookie Antonio Gibson. Bryce Love and Peyton Barber also loom as contributors, though one (maybe two) won't make it to the final roster.

Biggest weakness: Tight end. Jordan Reed's departure wasn't a surprise, but Washington hasn't exactly replaced him with a first-round pick. Richard Rodgers and Jeremy Sprinkle are the first two men up at the position, and it gets kind of ugly from there (former quarterback Logan Thomas is also on the roster). A little bit of intrigue remains in the room in LSU product Thaddeus Moss (son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss), who made it to the DMV as an undrafted free agent.

Newcomer/player returning from injury to watch: Antonio Gandy-Golden, wide receiver. Washington scored big with Terry McLaurin last season, but he needs a legitimate running mate. I know, I know: Steven Sims Jr. is an exciting and hard-working prospect, but let's throw some fresh spice into this group. Washington waited until the fourth round to spend a pick on a true receiver in a deep class at the position, taking the Liberty star whose 6-foot-4 frame should complement the 6-foot McLaurin nicely. Now he just needs to get up to speed at the professional level.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.

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