The Dallas Cowboys have wrapped up the twelve practices allowed during the offseason. Only six of them were open to the media, but there was still a lot for us all to digest. The front page writers here at BTB were soaking in every bit of information we could, and we all came away with our own impressions. As we enter the “dead zone” until the start of training camp, here are what several of us saw as the most significant things to be gleaned.
Tom Ryle: The apparent decision to make La'el Collins the starting right tackle.
Up until OTAs got started, the official line from the front office was that they liked Collins at left guard, and were planning on keeping him there. But that apparently changed once Doug Free retired. And just as surprising, Collins seems to be making the change with little problem, although his college background certainly helps. Now he seems to be all but locked in at tackle, and the team has been trying out various solutions at guard. My bet is that the team will give Jonathan Cooper first crack at winning the job after working him a lot at center to have some flexibility. But with the three Pro Bowl talents already in place on the line, don't expect that to be a major problem for the team once camp rolls around.
VAfan: How quickly Ryan Switzer assimilated himself into the receiving corps.
With Cole Beasley and Lucky Whitehead on the shelf throughout OTAs and mini-camp, Ryan Switzer wasted no time in moving in and taking on the role of slot quick-guy, building a fast rapport with Dak Prescott. Now that we've learned that Cole Beasley was fighting hamstring issues going back to the end of last year, which may have caused his production to tail off a bit at the end of the season, perhaps Switzer is going to get more snaps than we might have anticipated - since Beasley was ranked as the fifth wide receiver in the NFL in both DVOA and DYAR by Football Outsiders last year. As we've noted in a couple of articles, he's also likely to put pressure on Jason Witten's snaps, as someone is going to have to come off the field if the Cowboys go with a double-slot offense on occasion. You can't have too many weapons, and Switzer is rapidly shaping up to be a dangerous one.
Danny Phantom: The thing I am most surprised by is how so many of the veterans are defending their turf and not letting these young guys come in and steal their jobs.
After the Cowboys scored Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods, I thought to myself there is a small possibility that all three of those guys could end up being starters on the team before the season ends. Now, with the way Anthony Brown and Jeff Heath have been playing, it wouldn't surprise me if only Awuzie broke into the starting group come playoff time.
Even Anthony Hitchens appears to be trying to put the Jaylon Smith era on hold for a bit with his strong play.
And these veterans are all young players still, but it seems like getting any time in the Cowboys system does wonders for them. Just looking at the way Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are conducting themselves in camp blows me away considering these kids were just rookies last year.
RJ Ochoa: The clear growth of Dak Prescott.
This might have been predictable, but that's precisely why I'm so pleasantly surprised at how much Dak has taken the reigns as the leader of the team. It isn't real. It's Varsity Blues. It's Friday Night Lights. It's every classic cliche living itself out in the most perfect way. From everything we've seen, he is the absolute unquestioned authority. I'm so surprised because it was too predictable to actually happen, but Dak is all about making everything happen whether predictable or not.
Joseph.Hatz: The lack of bad news.
Since everything on the field has more or less been hit on from Collins to Dak to the Switzer love fest I'll go with the fact that there have been no significant injuries or lingering drama as we head into training camp. In 2014 Sean Lee was out for the year by this point, in 2015 Dez Bryant hadn't taken part in a single practice due to ongoing long-term contract negotiations, and last year Maliek Collins broke his foot during OTA's and was slated to miss most of training camp and the preseason. Aside from dealing with the expected David Irving and Nolan Carroll suspensions, which sadly should be second nature for the organization at this point, it's been as smooth an offseason as one could hope for. Let's just hope it stays that way.
One.Cool.Customer: How the plan in the secondary seems to be coming together.
This is the time of year we're drinking the Kool Aid by the gallon, but I can't help but wonder whether the secondary has taken a significant step forward. It may be simply the allure of the shiny new toy, but Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis have sure gotten a lot of positive press over the last few weeks, as have Byron Jones and Jeff Heath at the safety spots. I can't remember the secondary getting such positive reviews at this time last year, but that may have been because Ezekiel Elliott was hogging all the headlines last year and nobody bothered much with the secondary full of veterans.
On a related note, outside of Nolan Carroll's DUI, I don't believe I've heard anything about the two veteran DBs the Cowboys brought in, Carroll and Robert Blanton.
Dawn Macelli: How staying the course is panning out so well.
I cannot help but think that everything is following a well thought out plan. Sure Dallas probably got lucky and grabbed more talent than they anticipated when they got a pass rusher and two high level DBs in the first three rounds, but I think that they are right where they hoped to be. What is more intriguing to me is that I think there is another phase to the plan to be added next year. Everything seems to have been geared towards putting together a war party on defense during this offseason and acquiring draft picks to move up in 2018 so that they can grab a War Daddy to lead it.
Stay tuned, folks, things are about to get interesting.
Michael Sisemore: The way the defense is shaping up.
Let's stick with a theme to the Cowboys this offseason that I penned about a month ago, versatility and athleticism on defense. Despite everything we've come to think about what Rod Marinelli demands, it seems that versatility and athleticism are the difference makers. That's what they're building toward, a very versatile defense that can attack offenses with a cerebral approach even though it's a simplistic scheme. The better athletes you have, the more versatility you will find. Think about it, Byron Jones drafted as a corner, plays predominately at safety, can be used as on special assignment to erase athletic tight ends. The second-round pick, Chidobe Awuzie, has already been practicing at outside corner but has moved all over the formation and is another player that can be used for multiple roles. Damontre Moore is doing anything he can to make the roster and so far he's been impressive, including playing the gunner position on special teams.
I fully believe that the Cowboys and especially guys like Marinelli with his assistant coaches are staying simple to their methods but crafting an incredibly versatile defense. One that will allow for them to prepare for multiple types of offenses. You look at the roster on defense and it's hard to dismiss those two quantifiers. We will find out how it all shakes out before the season begins and this isn't a finished product by a longshot. With that said, it's encouraging that the Cowboys are headed in the right direction on defense. This young defense will take time but certainly won't be short on quality athletes with the versatility to get creative.
There you have it, a variety of perspectives. But there may be much more, so feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments. We have over a month to hash things out, so every bit helps.