We finally get to see some hints of what the Dallas Cowboys really have for the 2015 season today with the first session of the organized team activities, or OTAs as we all usually refer to them. These nine days of practice over the three weeks are very restricted by the terms of the CBA, so the emphasis is on hints, not hard information. As our own One Cool Customer so clearly laid out in his news post yesterday, this part of the offseason is more about teaching than anything else.
OTA's and mini-camps are where 75-80% of the playbook is installed. The idea behind the install is that when the players arrive for training camp at the end of July, all the basic schemes have already been installed, and the players can concentrate on competing. During camp, coordinators will look to install the remainder of the playbook and in the latter half of camp preparation for the season opener against the Giants will begin.
With that in mind, we'll start our recap of a very slow Cowboys news day with a some looks at what the OTAs might hold.
Some players to watch during the sessions that are open to the media are Greg Hardy, Sean Lee, and Darren McFadden. But there are very serious limitations to what can be done, and as might be expected, head coach Jason Garrett has a very clear approach for the team to follow.
"Everyone's excited to get started and do football, but you have to practice smart," Garrett said. "One of the things we talk to our players about all the time is, given the new collective bargaining agreement, you don't have that many full-padded practices. So, the teams that learn how to practice in helmets and jerseys really are the teams that are the best teams in this league. Because this is how we practice many more times than not.
"So, we have to do a great job teaching tempo and convincing our players about the type of tempo we want to practice with. There's a sense of urgency. There's a pace for these types of events."
One thing to keep in mind: Unless the practices are moved inside AT&T Stadium, they will be on soggy fields. For those who don't live in the Dallas area, there has been record setting rain the past month, and more is expected during the next week or two, at least. Expect the team to take extra care when things are slippery.
Obviously there are some interesting competitions at running back and along the offensive line to watch, especially with Doug Free still rehabbing from injury, but one camp battle that may have very big implications for the future will be going on among the backups to Tony Romo.
The biggest question is what do they have in Dustin Vaughan? My expectation is that this front office and coaching staff are going to work to find out. The only other quarterback that was added to the roster was undrafted free agent Jameill Showers - so it will be up to Vaughan to see if he is once again backing up Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden, or if he can find a role behind just Romo. Look for Vaughan to get plenty of opportunities not only in these OTA practices but in training camp. The goal is to work on cleaning up his mechanics and becoming more confident as a leader.
Defensive tackle Chris Whaley is one of the "red-shirt" players from last year who the Cowboys signed after the 2014 draft with the plan of stashing him on IR and seeing how he could develop. They have some hopes he could help replace Henry Melton. The parallels between the two are striking, with both going to the University of Texas as running backs but finishing their college careers as defensive tackles.
Maybe that's what Marinelli sees. It's what Whaley hopes to be, playing the same three-technique spot as Melton, who had five sacks last season for the Cowboys while coming back from a knee injury that kept him out of all but three games in 2013.
"That's where I feel more comfortable, and that's what Marinelli always talks about -- the under-tackle position," Whaley said. "That's the bread-winner right there. He feels confident about me playing that position, and that's all I've played, so I've got to come out and show it."
The Cowboys originally gave La'el Collins a guaranteed three year, $1,675,500 contract, but the league had a quibble about the numbers they used to calculate the value.
But the league forced the Cowboys to alter the 25 percent increase off the yearly proration of the signing bonus in 2016 and 2017. According to NFLPA figures, Collins' base salaries in 2016 and 2017 are $526,750 and $616,750.
Now Collins' deal is worth a guaranteed $1,599,500.
As noted in the article, it probably will be of no real importance since everyone expects the team to negotiate a new deal with him after two years anyway.
Hardy is, to put it kindly, a colorful dude. He gives himself nicknames, makes some outrageous claims as noted in the title, and even styles himself a bit of a rapper.
The defensive end has published six hip-hop songs on a music-sharing site. In one of his songs, he raps "everybody thinks I'm schizophrenic. I lost my mind, I still haven't found it. Used to get high but I'm still well grounded." (According to the Charlotte Observer).
This is an interesting take on the trade back that brought Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams to Dallas. It skips the whole Sharrif Floyd issue and focuses on the group of safeties that the Cowboys passed on, which initially led to a bit of criticism.
In 2013 safety prospects Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid, Matt Elam, John Cyprien and D.J. Swearinger comprised the top tier. Vaccaro went first drafted by the Saints at 15. The Cowboys were up at 18 and had the pick of the remaining field but instead swapped spots with the 49ers at the 31st position. The 49ers took Eric Reid with the Cowboys selection leaving Matt Elam, John Cyprien and D.J. Swearinger on the board when the Cowboys pick at 31 came up
Dallas did take J.J. Wilcox later in the draft - and according to the PFF grading system, he played about as well or better than any of the safeties the team passed on.
Finally, a Memorial Day look at graduates from the service academies who had significant careers in the NFL. The Cowboys had perhaps the best showing on the list, with the incomparable Roger Staubach coming in at number one, and A-10 Warthog driver Chad Hennings coming in at number six. Hennings, of course, also is remembered for announcing at the NFL draft "America's Team selects . . . "
Hennings is from Van Horne, Iowa, a town of fewer than 700 people, and he won the Outland Trophy as a senior at Air Force in 1987. He was an 11th-round pick of the Cowboys in 1988 but decided to become an Air Force pilot, which is an eight-year commitment. He twice was deployed to the Persian Gulf in the early 1990s, and after four years, he had the rest of his military commitment waived. He joined the Cowboys as a 27-year-old rookie in 1992. He was a reserve for the Cowboys in each of his first four seasons, then became a starter in 1996 through the end of his career. Hennings won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys.