Having the Dallas Cowboys coaches in charge of the North squad was not only a potential advantage for the team in evaluating half the talent present at the Senior Bowl. It also meant that there was a lot of attention from writers who are very familiar with the team as well as the usual overall coverage of what happened. The practices leading up to the game are generally seen as more valuable than actually playing the game itself, with many scouts leaving once practices are done. Here are a few somewhat random observations about what we may have learned.
There was a bit of surprise about the Cowboys keeping the coaching staff almost completely intact after the hugely disappointing 2015 season. But all reports comparing the practices they ran with the South squad activities handled by the Jacksonville Jaguars staff indicate that people were far more impressed with Dallas. The pace was brisk and very productive, a hallmark of how Jason Garrett conducts business. Both writers and players were very complimentary of how the Cowboys' coaches handled business, especially Rod Marinelli's work with defensive linemen. It may be faint praise considering who they were being compared with, but there was a clear difference to almost everyone who commented on it.
Going into the week, the big name to watch was quarterback Carson Wentz. Although he was not without a few issues, particularly some accuracy concerns, he didn't seem to hurt himself much, and the consensus is that he is firmly in the first round mix. The question becomes just how high he could go. His two main competitors for the top quarterback in the draft, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch, were ineligible, so it is going to be a challenge for teams to figure out how to rank the three. But already rumors are swirling linking Wentz to the Cleveland Browns. They hold the second overall pick and have a crying need at quarterback. This obviously creates a lot of mixed emotions among Cowboys fans who have climbed on the Wentz train. Balancing that is the fact that Dallas now has the best information of any team about what he can do and how he might develop. If Wentz does make it through the first three picks, then we can only hope that the Cowboys will be well prepared to make the right call on whether he should be their guy at four, or to move in a different direction.
The rest of the quarterbacks present were generally seen as lackluster. This is shaping up to be another draft with a small handful of NFL capable prospects and a bunch of other QBs that are not likely to ever amount to much. Not a good sign for the Cowboys as they have to wonder what the post Tony Romo landscape will eventually be like.
The clear star of the North practices was wide receiver Braxton Miller. No one had anything bad to say about him, and most were clearly impressed how the recently converted former quarterback has made such a successful transition. The clearest thing about how good he was: Frequently, defensive backs would be complimented on their performance, with the same caveat: "When they weren't covering Miller." He may have played himself into the first round, but it he is still there when pick 34 comes around for the Cowboys, a lot of us may be screaming at out TV or computer for Dallas to send his name in. He appears to be a rare talent, and also helped himself by showing some real ability as a return man before he cramped up on the third day of practice.
On the South squad, the standout was defensive lineman Noah Spence. He was all but unstoppable for most of the practices. Now the question will center around his history of failed drug tests that led to his being permanently disqualified from the entire Big Ten. Each team has its own tolerance level for that, and you can be sure all 32 franchises are going to do their homework on him. Someone will probably get a very good player in him, but it will be interesting to see just how far down the draft he gets taken.
Given their needs on defense, the Cowboys probably paid a lot of attention to some names that stood out the past week. Some that you may want to keep an eye on:
Defensive backs Jonathan Jones from Auburn, Deiondre' Hall from Northern Iowa, Eric Murray from Minnesota, and Maurice Canady from Virginia.
Linebackers Deion Jones from LSU, Reggie Ragland from Alabama, and Kyle Fackrell from Utah State.
Defensive linemen Jarran Reed from Alabama, Austin Johnson from Penn State, Sheldon Rankins from Louisville, and Javon Hargrave from South Carolina State.
It will be interesting to see how those players might fit for Dallas. Not all may be on their board, but they are all names to remember.