With less than a week to go before the Cowboys have their first practice of their 2015 Oxnard sojourn, it's time for the camp previews to hit the presses. As per usual, Todd Archer is the early bird:
Archer pens a comprehensive list of "to watch for" items in Oxnard. Here's the one that caught my eye:
Bubble watch: [Rolando] McClain was the Cowboys’ most productive defender in 2014, but he put himself in this spot by violating the league’s substance abuse policy and landing a four-game suspension. There is no doubt he is skilled, but the Cowboys have more linebacker depth this year than they had last season. The Cowboys needed McClain last season and had to live with his uncertainties. With the addition of Brinkley, the potential of Hitchens and the possibility of moving Lee back to middle linebacker, if McClain does not show dedication this summer he could play his way off the roster.
Machota offers five key differences between the 2015 Cowboys and the team that prepared to begin camp one year ago. Here's one whose virtues we have been extolling since January:
Continuity with the coordinators. Garrett wasn’t the only coach getting a new deal in January. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan both received new three-year contracts. Even though Bill Callahan had the title of offensive coordinator last season, Linehan was calling the plays. A second year with him should help the players feel more comfortable with his calls, allowing Linehan to expand his playbook. For the first time since Rob Ryan in 2012, the Cowboys will have the same defensive coordinator as the previous season.
The gents at the Mothership continue their game of 20 questions with one about camp MVPs. I found Rob Phillips' answer to be the most interesting:
We know Dez is going to stand out. How about the guy going against Dez for at least part of practice each day? Orlando Scandrick is one of the most competitive guys on the team and I fully expect him to enter camp motivated with Pro Bowl aspirations, not to mention the responsibility that comes with a new contract and the longest veteran tenure on defense. Receivers/cornerbacks and pass rushers/blockers get the most attention in camp because you can see clear one-on-one winners. Scandrick has a knack for getting around the ball, and this upgraded pass rush will help. He’ll draw arguably the toughest assignment in practice, and just making things interesting against a receiver of Bryant’s caliber will earn him MVP points in my book.
Archer shares an early 53-man roster projection. There are precious few surprises, so few, in fact, that I couldn't find anything particularly quote-worthy.
Toddzilla adds to his roster post by predicting the starting lineup. Of course, most positions are already secured. Here's his take on one of the few that isn't:
Left guard (Ronald Leary): La'el Collins will push him this summer for the starter’s role, but Leary's experience and strength give him the edge right now.
In separate post, Archer shares his reasoning for installing Leary as the starter at left guard:
In 2012, Leary was the big catch as an undrafted free agent with the Cowboys guaranteeing him more than $200,000. He has started 31 of the last 32 games and been solid. He is strong and is good enough athletically to get to the second level in the running game. He won’t just give up his job.
Speaking of the Cowboys' O-line:
Mays' list of the ten best O-linemen predictably had the Cowboys three young studs on it. What is surprising is the order in which they are ranked: Zack Martin sits at the ninth slot, while Tyron Smith comes in #7. Guess who is the highest-rated Cowboys O-lineman? Yep, guy who goes by the name of Fredbeard:
6. Travis Frederick (C, Cowboys) Admit it: You laughed when the Cowboys took Frederick in the first round in 2013. It’s fine. I did, too. Well, now Dallas is laughing all the way to the bank. Two years in, for my money, Frederick is the best run-blocking center in football. The Cowboys running game starts with him. Sure, it literally has to, but schematically, what Frederick is able to do frees up the rest of the line in a way most centers can’t.
"Matches" serves up a list of the ten highest and ten lowest paid Cowboys, and it proves instructive: four of the ten top earners are defensive backs (Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church); towards the bottom of the payscale, reside some very nice bargains:
– La’el Collins - $442,000
– Joseph Randle – $632,220
– Randy Gregory – $693,624
– J.J. Wilcox – $751,517
– Terrance Williams – $779,868
– Tyrone Crawford – $828,813
Championship caliber teams need this combination of production and low price to be successful. That the Cowboys have so many is a testament to the fine roster-building work they have done in recent years.
Archer's position reviews continue with a look at the defensive line. The key question, of course, is what kind of production the Cowboys will get from Greg Hardy:
Had Hardy's suspension remained at 10 games, then it would have been difficult to expect him to make a dramatic difference to the Cowboys. Now that it is four games, then he can be a game-changer. While he has some financial incentive to rack up sacks this season, Hardy is on a one-year contract and has an incentive to put up big numbers so he can get a big contract from the Cowboys or another team in 2016 and beyond.
Cole sat down with the Cowboys' new defensive end at the annual Rookie Symposium. He asks about Gregory's freefall during the draft; here's the response:
You just have to be patient. It was frustrating, but I dug my own grave and I owned up to it. The best thing I could was learn from it. I think I have learned from it, and I think I'm with a great organization, the Dallas Cowboys, where they can help me. In just the couple of months I've been there, they've done a lot. I have a support group there and they believe in me. I'm glad they believe in me.
The kid certainly seems to have his head screwed on straight...
Sheridan, the Eagles' beat writer, writes that it's the Cowboys who stand between Philly and a division title. And the key is the quarterback:
Murray or no Murray, the Eagles have to expect Romo and Bryant to keep Dallas in contention in 2015. Once again, it feels very much as if the Cowboys will be the Eagles’ primary concern among NFC East opponents. Their ability to match up with Dallas will likely determine the Eagles’ chances of winning the division title and going to the playoffs.
Here's the straight dope:
Sources indicate that investigators are attempting to preserve any electronic communication -- text messages, emails, etc -- that might indicate the two teams worked together to keep their receivers' price tags lower.
The teams could've very well worked in concert. Bryant's deal only differed from Thomas' in the amount of guaranteed money. Otherwise, both stars received five-year, $70 million deals.
With that number, though, it will be tough to prove either player suffered financial harm as an end result. Depending on NFLPA evidence, a case could be a lost cause.
Machota is becoming the Dallas Morning News' version of Todd Archer: prolific, but with consistent, quality content. Here, he steals from your truly and offers a preview of the 2016 draft. Here's the guy we all covet at a position I haven't yet covered:
1.) Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. The sophomore rushed for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, leading the Buckeyes to a national title win over Oregon at AT&T Stadium. In Ohio State’s final three games, Elliott averaged 232 yards and scored eight touchdowns. If the Cowboys are still in need of a workhorse back next year, this Heisman Trophy contender could be the guy.
Barnwell sets out to
revise eviscerate the NFL Network's annual top 100 list. Here, he gives us players ranked 100-61; we'll get the rest in a second installment. A couple rankings of note: DeMarco Murray comes in at #100 after being fourth-ranked by NFL players. And then there's the Senator:
79. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys (93) We just take Witten’s dull greatness for granted at this point. He hasn’t missed a game since the fifth week of his rookie year in 2003, leaving him with the current longest consecutive games played streak for a non-specialist. Witten has fumbled as many times in the past 10 years as Travis Kelce and Larry Donnell each did last season (four, and that includes one Witten fumble in the playoffs). He has slowed down a bit over the past two years as the Cowboys have run the ball more frequently, but Witten still has the fourth-most catches in league history through his age-32 season, a stat that Chase Stuart drives home when writing about Witten’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
Let Number 82's "dull greatness" sink in for a moment. Then go online and buy a Jason Witten jersey, pay the extra cash for express shipping, and wear it proudly from the moment it arrives...