The fences and bleachers at the River Ridge fields in Oxnard were packed with Cowboys fans decked out in blue and silver on the first day of Cowboys camp, and they got their money's worth (although technically, many of the visitors didn't pay more than the $10 parking fee):
We got the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders doing their stuff; we had some Oxnard dignitaries earning cheers for calling the Cowboys America's team; flag-carriers from the nearby Navy base did their thing; Jerry marveled over how far Dak and Zeke have come in just 12 months; and we had guy on a trumpet playing the national anthem.
That was all Jerry-time. Then the whistle blew and it was Garrett time, the circus was over and the Cowboys got down to the business of training camp.
The day started with some special teams drills with most of the star players remaining in the locker room while this was going on. The team then broke into smaller groups for positional drills and some 11-on-11 drills later on.
The positional drills looked like they were being run at full speed, the 11-on-11 drills felt like they were being run at 3⁄4 speed. The players didn't wear pads today, and there was no tackling of any kind, so there's only so much we can infer from what we saw during the first day of camp.
Still, here are five things that caught my eye:
If there is something Jaylon Smith still can't do, nobody at camp saw it today.
Jaylon Smith's left foot was heavily taped today, so it was hard to tell whether he was wearing a brace or not, but you certainly couldn't tell from the way he was moving.
Smith looked every bit the player he was in college (plus another 15 pounds of muscle mass or so), and he seemed to move as if he's fully recovered from his knee injury.
It's early days, and we'll reserve judgment until we've seen him in pads and hitting people, but the Cowboys gamble in the second round of the 2016 draft seems to be paying off.
The starting defense
If training camp is all about competition for roster spots and starting spots, then these are the 11 players on defense who'll have to defend their starting spots:
Tyrone Crawford - Cedric Thornton - Maliek Collins - Demarcus Lawrence
Damien Wilson - Anthony Hitchens - Sean Lee
Nolan Carroll - Jeff Heath - Byron Jones - Anthony Brown
Orlando Scandrick would come in for Damien Wilson in the nickel formation.
Green vs Cooper
In one of the few real battles for a starting spot on offense, the left guard position will likely be decided between Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper. Both players shared first-team reps. In related news, La'el Collins took every first-team snap at right tackle.
The Cowboys have him listed at 6-6 and 290 pounds, and while I did see a very tall player wearing the No. 80 jersey, that player moved nothing like a 290-pound man. Gathers is fast, athletic, and dynamic compared to his tight end colleagues, and if he really does weigh 290 pounds, the he is stunningly fast, supremely athletic, and incredibly dynamic.
But this being Dallas, I'll spend the rest of camp trying to figure out if he can also block.
Watch out for:
- DT Stephen Paea: Cedric Thornton may be the incumbent starter at the 1-technique, but Paea looked quick in limited action with the second team. This will get interesting when pads come on.
- LB Mark Nzeocha: Nzeocha warmed up on the cords with the training staff, but then took part in all the linebacker drills. He looked smooth, and even got some second-team reps as the backup for Damien Wilson at the SAM position.
- TE James Hanna: Sidelined all of last year, Hanna looks fully recovered and moved easily across the field. Ezekiel Elliott may not know it yet, but he'll be very happy to have a healthy Hanna back on the team.
Keep in mind that the first day of camp was mostly just drills against air. But it's hard not to like what we're seeing.
The Cowboys made a point about saying that the road to the Super Bowl starts in Oxnard. They may be on to something.