The voluntary part of the offseason is done, and all the Dallas Cowboys have before the long break leading up to training camp is a three-day minicamp. And while that will be the last and most important snapshot for the team, there already have been some interesting storylines develop.
The RT job seems to be a done deal, with LG completely up for grabs.
Going into OTAs, the general feeling among everyone outside of the Dallas staff was that the team was going to try a variety of options to replace Doug Free, and they really preferred to keep La’el Collins at left guard. After all, that is what Jason Garrett and others said repeatedly.
However, all indications are that Collins is now the preferred solution at right tackle - and is apparently working out very well there. It may well already have become his position to lose. There is still a long way to go, of course, but at the moment, Collins seems to be flourishing at the position he played in college.
Now the Cowboys have to find their new starter at LG. Some injury concerns have created a bit of confusion there, with Chaz Green and Emmett Cleary both getting some work. Meanwhile, Jonathan Cooper, who was thought to be a real challenger, has mostly worked at center when the media was around. That may have been more because of that injury thing, in this case to Joe Looney, who was not able to work as the backup center. (Our media maven Landon McCool delves into this and a lot more in his podcast, so if you haven’t listened to it, do so post haste.) This is likely not going to clear up until training camp, although past history indicates that the staff will not go very long until having their starters identified. What looks pretty obvious is that given a choice, the coaches would much rather be uncertain about the guard position than tackle.
It may not be very clear, but it is not at all certain Jaylon Smith will be a starter to begin the season.
This is not a very popular take among the waves of optimism, often stemming from Smith himself, but it may be time to brace yourself for the team bringing him along just as deliberately and carefully in the regular season as they are now. Dawn Macelli has already alluded to this in her look at expectations for Smith, and this is just taking it a step further. Smith will play this year, but someone else will be the starting Mike against the New York Giants on September 10th. The leading candidates there are Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. Mark Nzeocha could be a part of this mix depending on how he recovers from his recent knee scope.
But Smith will have to prove he can play first, then will have to claim the starting job. He may come along rapidly, or they may have to use him in certain situations, like some blitzing, to minimize the effect of having to wear a brace. There is just no real reason to expect that brace to be gone this season, if ever, and that is going to dictate how slowly Dallas has to bring Smith along. And despite our fervent hopes, it may keep him from ever becoming the player he could have been. However, the team is obviously taking the long view on him, and if he is still more limited than we would like this year, he still has a couple more years to either heal or adjust to his ankle. Just be prepared for the team to remain patient, even if you aren’t.
Damontre Moore may be a find.
There are two real reclamation projects for the Cowboys this year, Moore and Cooper. While Cooper has been cross-training as a center, Moore has been working hard at what he is expected to do, rushing from the defensive end position. Bryan Broaddus was particularly impressed by his work against Tyron Smith.
It doesn’t happen often when working against Tyron Smith, but give Damontre Moore some credit for the jump that he got off the snap to beat Smith around the corner for a sack. Moore was able to time it perfectly and was up the field as Smith was scrambling out of his stance with no chance to defend. Moore has been the one end that understands that to have any type of success against Smith, you can’t let him get his hands on you. Moore will duck, dodge and dive on his rushes to give himself a chance.
With a lot of focus on Taco Charlton, David Irving, Benson Mayowa, and DeMarcus Lawrence, Moore has been somewhat overlooked. But finding a consistent pass rush remains one of the top priorities for Dallas, and they will take it from whoever proves himself. Rod Marinelli needs at least four rotational ends, or more. If Moore becomes part of the solution, he will be a tremendous find for the scouting staff, as well as a real success story for Marinelli and Ben Bloom as coaches.
Brice Butler is coming on strong.
Coming into the OTAs, Butler was something of a favorite among fans to lose his job, if you want to put it that way. But so far, he has been putting up an impressive fight to hang onto his job, as Broaddus also noted.
I thought this was another one of those practices where Butler showed up, proving that he’s not going away quietly. Someone is going to have to take his job.
Right now, all indications are that the top four wide receivers are going to be Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams on the outside, with Cole Beasley the top slot receiver and Ryan Switzer serving as both a second very dangerous slot threat and a return man. Butler could be a very valuable fifth man for that group, which would leave players like Noah Brown, Andy Jones, and Lucky Whitehead trying to make a case for the team to carry six WRs on the 53-man roster. Brown and Jones would both be candidates to try and get to the practice squad, leaving Whitehead in the most tenuous position.
Nolan Carroll’s expected suspension may actually work to the team’s advantage.
We still are waiting for official word from the league on disciplinary action stemming from Carroll’s DWI arrest, but that seems almost certain. While having to rely on rookies is not ideal, that would open snaps for Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Marquez White. That could be important, especially for White. Awuzie and Lewis will make the roster if healthy, but White has a much bigger challenge as a sixth-round pick. If he can rise to the challenge while getting some playing time in Nolan’s absence, he can do himself a world of good. All three can benefit from getting on the field more than they would otherwise. We just have to hope they won’t have rough debuts.
Those are some of the things that were not really expected before OTAs. The minicamp will provide more data for all the players involved. It won’t mean as much as what camp and preseason games reveal, but those are still quite a ways off. It does give us some interesting things to chew on during the long, dry spell between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp in Oxnard on July 22nd.