The long offseason is almost over as training camps are set to begin and specifically your Dallas Cowboys report to Oxnard on Tuesday. Now is the time for us to start figuring out if these Cowboys are prepared to build off their 12-4 campaign. However, don't say that to Jason Garrett, who believes it's not a building process but a full restart from the 2014 season.
With that in mind, there are quite a few new faces and some old that must have a quick start to this training camp to jump-start the season. For better or worse, even with a team planning on contending, there are some guys that have to fight to even be a part of that plan. Let's note some guys to watch.
5. La'el Collins, OG
When the Jones' convinced him to come and play for Dallas, they knew that it would be hard work for the former first-round talent. Collins is given the task of trying to unseat Ronald Leary. Leary has been an unsung hero of this offensive line for two years now. Though Cowboys fans were all ecstatic when Collins chose to take his talents to Dallas; it was never a sure-fire fact that he was going to become the starter. Collins has every bit of a first-round pedigree in him but probably translates better in the NFL as a guard. However, this isn't the Zack Martin-type acquisition for Dallas. Collins needs to get off to a quick start and loosen his hips and gain some strength to his game. What Leary has been his best at is using his power and strength to take defenders out of the play. If Collins can develop some of these traits and add it to his already impressive agility and speed for the game, then he just may turn some heads. All in all, for the Dallas Cowboys, this is a fantastic problem to have.
4. Ben Gardner, DE/DT
After spending his first season red-shirting, I don't know if there is more anticipation for a guy than what the fans have for Gardner. The Cowboys are in the process of rebuilding their young defensive line and what better for them than to have a seventh-round pick emerge. Gardner has completely transformed his body into an NFL-ready defensive lineman in his year absence from playing time. He was a great player at Stanford and just exudes that high motor guy that Rod Marinelli loves. Gardner is also very versatile and can play tackle, too. Ben has high hopes to become a productive member of the defensive line rotation or "rushmen" as Marinelli has coined the phrase. If he can get off the ball with quickness and penetrate the pocket using his technique, he is a guy that can be all of the above for the Cowboys. You are only as good as the depth chart behind you and the Cowboys sure hope Gardner is ready to roll in 2015.
3. Brandon Carr, CB
There is not one player on the team that needs to get his "groove" back more than Carr. Last season, Carr started off a little slow and fell behind in this defense. We have all seen the good Brandon Carr and the coaches believe if you have seen it once, it can be done again. For Carr, he just needs to show the Cowboys the same guy that got him through the doors at Valley Ranch. Unfortunate personal concerns surely affected his game last season. 2015 is a new year for Carr and perhaps a very telling one. He'll be moved back on the right side of the defense, a place where he has seen the majority of his NFL success. Sometimes when the light is not shining their way, people have an amazing way of gaining the light back. That's what needs to happen for Brandon Carr and it starts in Oxnard by taking advantage of every rep he gets against which ever receiver lines up opposite him.
2. Randy Gregory, DE
With Greg Hardy currently suspended for the first four games, Gregory should get a little more exposure early in the season. Of course, the Cowboys would like for him to gain even more weight and that is a process for him, but they also need to see some action, too. Gregory was doing well before the Cowboys broke for some vacation time. Now he needs to climb back on that horse and continue to build himself into a future star for this defense. Some folks would argue that rookie pass rushers don't do much and that there isn't much pressure on him. You could argue the opposite, that Gregory needs to establish himself in a role for this upcoming season. Just be good at whatever you are asked to do. In his call from Marinelli, he asked to be pushed very hard and that's exactly what he's going to get. It will be fun to watch more battles with Tyron Smith in the future.
1. Darren McFadden, RB
Though Joseph Randle will get first crack at the starting role, it's McFadden that needs to step up the most here. He is by far the best pass-blocking running back on the roster and has the best pedigree for the position. There may be more confidence in McFadden than Randle because some fans still have some trust issues with Joe. McFadden has the name recognition, meaning that every outside eye will be looking his way in camp. Run DMC needs to prove that those years in Oakland were not entirely his doing and that he's ready to be what many believed he was coming out of college. Any running back would be excited for the opportunity to run behind this offensive line, now it's Darren McFadden's chance to show he's willing and able to fill a big question mark for this team. The eyes of Cowboys Nation will be firmly planted on the running back situation because we know what it meant for this team in 2014.Can McFadden be a lead-dog? He has to decide if he's ready for that type of role and if he's going to be a difference maker that Oakland thought he could be back in 2008.