During the offseason, it can be pretty hard to get the right information unless you put your ears to the ground. We scour over multiple reports, listen to tons of podcasts, refresh Twitter feeds for any piece of information relating to the team. We'll go through anything to get our Cowboys' juices flowing, heck, I would love to watch one preseason game right now. Still, we have a way to go before training camp, all we can do is live in the here and now. After deciphering through all that we've heard out of Valley Ranch this week, here's a bit of a recap.
Randy Gregory Is On A Different Level
If you heard the latest episode of Talkin' Cowboys, Nate Newton, and Mickey Spagnola delve into what they've seen in these practices. Newton says that he can't help gluing himself to the pass rushers on this team being as it's the biggest question mark left. Gregory has looked completely different than what he was in his rookie year, though he's still green, Newton sees a player that can be "something special" for the Cowboys going forward. Which, admittedly, has him upset that Gregory will miss four games. It's hard to stop and start in the NFL and though all this offseason work has Gregory looking like he's "on a different level", it's not going to be easy missing those games. Gregory even caught the eye of former Cowboys' brain trustee, Gil Brandt:
The second-year player could have a bright future in the NFL, if he can figure out what it takes to be a professional off the field. His quickness and length as a pass rusher were easily identifiable at the OTA practices. If the four-game suspension he faces doesn't hurt him, I think he'll end up having a very good year.
From the few minutes they spent talking about Gregory, it has to make you feel good about his prospects as the right end of the future. There are a lot of things to digest here but all we can hope for is that Randy Gregory is putting in the work, the team is certainly still counting on him to be a factor when he gets going in the second quarter of the season. For all his faults, this was still a pass rushing prospect that at one time was considered a Top-5 pick in the draft. I'll leave you with a quote from Rod Marinelli about his approach to Gregory:
"I'm training him like it's his opening season. I'm going to grind on him, he needs the work to get better, He's getting a lot of looks and he'll continue to get that."
The Benjamin Button Effect
Speaking of that report from the legendary Gil Brandt, another thing stood out to me. I touched on it the other day as well when this column was first published. Again, I know this is practice, but you have to feel good about what you're hearing about the two old guys on the team. Tony Romo and Jason Witten have been there every step of the way throughout the offseason program. They say sometimes veterans don't need the work all that much from OTA's but I would disagree. Having an offseason where Romo isn't recovering from some type of injury has been invaluable for him but for everyone else as well.
Brandt went as far as to say that both Witten and Romo seem to have a young man's giddy up in these practices. Not only have we heard reports about Romo's participation, but he seems to have no issues making all the tight throws that need to be made and Brandt was impressed with some improved velocity. With Dez Bryant easing back into the swing of things, time with Romo for guys like Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, and even Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams has been excellent for team chemistry. Two amazing leaders heading into their 14th season together, Gil adds:
But what really stood out to me was his [Romo's] attitude. We had a chance to catch up after an OTA practice last week, and he showed a lot of enthusiasm. I'm sure it feels great to get back to football after an injury-riddled season that saw him play in only four games.
Romo wasn't the only one. Tight end Jason Witten could have passed for a player coming into his second season. He came into the OTAs in great shape, maybe the best I've seen him, and had no problem syncing right back up with his quarterback.
Concerns Growing Over RoMac's Absence
At this point in time, why is anyone surprised when Rolando McClain misses voluntary practices? There is a definite reason as to why he only receives one-year deals. The guys at Talkin' Cowboys debated the issue for an entire segment where they seem to be concerned about his reasons for missing practice. It's been disclosed as "family situations", but who really knows? Perhaps, McClain will come back to practice this week but I wouldn't hold your breath. He's likely to show up when things become mandatory. There have always been these types of caveats with McClain and though it's annoying, he's not considered a team leader by any means.
"We want all of our players here," Garrett said. "Sometimes situations come up where they have to deal with things. In each of those cases, it’s family situations. So we have to be respectful of that. We certainly want our players here. We believe in OTAs. We believe in the offseason program. It’s not a mandatory time, though. It’s a voluntary time. We try to be respectful of the situations they’re dealing with."
He's borrowed assets, nothing more, nothing less. It's a shame because he really is an outstanding player but he does everything on his time. They've known that since signing him two seasons ago. Rolando McClain is of extreme value to the defense as a player, there isn't currently a "healthy" player with more to give at his position right now. The combination of size, quickness, and football acumen is great. He's been a solid playmaker for the defense, but he's on borrowed time. If things progress well enough for Jaylon Smith after he redshirts in 2016, then it will probably be the end of McClain's tenure in Dallas. Let's just hope that McClain shows up in shape when mandatory minicamps begin.
The Four Horsemen?
The Cowboys may look to keep four backs on the roster including a full back. Lance Dunbar's position with the team may not be all that safe. Every year he has been with the team, he's unfortunately been hurt. Of course, the way he started out last season gives you hope that they finally know what to do with him. However, I get the impression that this team really likes the situation they are in at running back. Who knows how true the rumors about trading a running back were, but Stephen Jones made the right decision to hold tight for the time being
The difference between this year and last year at running back is insane to think about. First of all, they just spent the fourth-overall pick on a future franchise player that is receiving all kinds of glowing remarks. Don't forget that they also signed Alfred Morris, a back who has looked incredibly sharp and quick, who is perfect for the scheme they run and has made a few Pro Bowls. Then they have the guy that was fourth in the league in rushing last season with 1,089 rushing yards. Each of those three could be starting running backs for a number of teams. Hopefully, this is the season they finally realize they don't need a fullback. Can you imagine those top three plus a gadget back like Dunbar or Darius Jackson? Why be in any hurry to let one of those guys go?