For the Dallas Cowboys, football is finally here. Yes, it is still weeks until the games count, and over a week until the first preseason action. We won’t even see the players in pads until Wednesday. But in Oxnard, the 2017 edition of the Cowboys held their first practice of training camp. And almost everything was very, very positive.
Almost. There was one huge exception, the strange story of Lucky Whitehead leading to his release from the team. Accused of shoplifting in Virginia, he maintained he was not even in the state at the time. That was no help for him. The team elected to part ways with him in a move that was seen as driven by much more than the latest misadventure. But in a strange way, it is likely to be something that works out in Dallas’ favor. The staff got to send a rather unequivocal message that there are definite limits to what they will tolerate. And Whitehead, who was almost certain to be cut eventually with the arrival of Ryan Switzer in the draft, will not be taking snaps that can be better used elsewhere. It is never a good thing to see a player have his career put in jeopardy, but the staff obviously felt his wounds were self-inflicted.
Everything else was good. It is important to not read too much into things, given the limited nature of what the team was doing, but here are some things that stood out for me.
Last year, Dak Prescott got off to a bit of a slow start. He was not practicing very well early, and many believed that Jameill Showers was actually ahead of him the first couple of weeks. That rapidly changed, of course, but this year, there were no reports of any struggles or poor execution on his part. It is just work against air, but it is still nice to not hear anything negative from the observers.
The most watched player of the day was clearly Jaylon Smith. In the walkthrough earlier in the day, he had elicited some concerns, but those were obliterated in the afternoon session. There were countless Tweets about him, many almost giddy with excitement. The best one summed up things nicely, and was exactly what we were hoping to see.
If there is something Jaylon Smith still can't do, nobody at camp saw it today.— One Cool Customer (@OCC44) July 24, 2017
This doesn’t mean Smith is going to be ready to start in the season opener, but it continues to build optimism that he will be able to contribute in some capacity this year.
Another thing fans are very interested in is how the pass rush will turn out. Bryan Broaddus noted something interesting in the morning walkthrough.
I observed DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Taco Charlton, Damontre Moore and Charles Tapper all take snaps at right defensive end in the walkthrough.
Clearly, the staff is trying every possible option to find a rusher to open the season. David Irving is of course suspended for the first four games, so it makes a lot of sense to focus on the other resources.
However, during the second session, it was obvious that the starters on both sides of the ball were primarily players from last season. Rookies and free agents were relegated to backup spots for the most part, with the one notable exception being Nolan Carroll, who will likely be suspended himself after his DWI arrest. This is another thing that not too much should be read into, since the focus now is on getting everyone on the same page. Experienced players have an advantage here, and allow the staff to make the best use of their time. There won’t be any real opportunity for new players to move up the depth chart until the pads come on and, more importantly, the preseason games start. That is when the real battles will commence.
It is also well worth noting that there were no freak injuries. Only two players, Justin Durant and Richard Ash, were held out of practice, as was expected.
Overall, there was lots of positive news and, outside the one obvious thing, no real bad feedback. That is largely to be expected at this point. All across the league, teams and their fans find reasons for optimism at this stage of camp.
Still, it was a good start for Dallas’ 2017 camp. There is a lot more to come, and it won’t all be as good. But for now, celebrate a bit. Football is back.