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Halfway home: How things are trending for the Cowboys in Oxnard

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The final answers are still a ways off, but some things are beginning to take shape.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
Still waiting on a decision for Zeke.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It is hard to believe after we waited so long for things to kick off, but the Dallas Cowboys have now completed half their scheduled practices in Oxnard for 2017. With the HOF game and Jerry Jones’ induction completed, it will not be long before the team is back in Dallas for good. Very few of the questions we had about the team have been definitively answered at this point. But some rather preliminary trends are already discernible. Other things are very much still in the “to be determined” category. Let’s go over the current state of America’s team.

The Zeke saga is still not over - but maybe soon.

Of course, that has been the general feeling for weeks now. But Jerry Jones, just prior to the festivities surrounding the donning of his gold jacket (and those really great custom Nikes), stated that he does not see any suspension coming.

“I don’t want to, basically, be too – let’s say proactive – about how I feel, because that’s not going to make any difference here at all. What I don’t want to do is hurt things,” he said. “But I think that, when you look at everything I’m aware of, that I’m not anticipating a suspension.”

At least one astute observer of the Cowboys thinks this is not just idle speculation.

For now, we still have to wait. But maybe with just a little optimism.

Meanwhile, the depth at running back looks good.

While Darren McFadden wasn’t exactly overwhelming in his carries during the HOF game, both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith did impress at times. It appears more and more that the team will carry four running backs, with both Morris and Smith making the team, plus Keith Smith at fullback.

And you better count on four tight ends, too.

The biggest splashes in the HOF game came from Rico Gathers, who had a very nice touchdown grab that showcased exactly what he brings to the table, plus a catch where he went to the ground but was untouched, jumped right back up on his feet, and absolutely trucked a defender. It is likely that both James Hanna and Geoff Swaim will make the roster if they stay healthy, so with the veteran Jason Witten, the team will have to find room for all of them. Gathers just showed too much for there to be any real chance of getting him through waivers to stash on the practice squad again.

Wide receiver is pretty well set.

The only receiver who outgained Gathers in the HOF game was Brice Butler. He just was continuing what has been a very commanding camp performance, and looks to have the fourth receiver slot locked up (counting Ryan Switzer as the fifth WR/return specialist). More importantly, Butler looks like a very capable fill-in for Dez Bryant if needed, allowing Terrance Williams to stay in the WR2 spot where he seems most effective.

The offensive line questions seem to be half answered.

La’el Collins has not had any real struggles in switching to right tackle. Right now the judgment is that he is at least an equivalent player to Doug Free, and may be better in the run game. If he continues to improve as camp winds down, he could look to be a true upgrade. He certainly has more athletic ability than Free, but will need to display it to make up for Free’s veteran savvy.

The left guard job is not really clear yet, and Chaz Green’s injury is just keeping it muddy. His history of not being able to stay on the field is troubling, and really the man reason he has not taken a lead for the job. Now the door is open for Johnathan Cooper, although Emmett Cleary and Joe Looney are not out of the mix. And maybe one of the long shots will step up and get considered.

Quarterback is a given.

Of course, the fortunes of the team will be very dependent on Dak Prescott. But he has had an excellent camp to date, with no signs whatsoever of a “sophomore slump”. And the backup situation didn’t look bad at all in the opening preseason game.

The pass rush is still a mystery.

The defensive line did not record a sack in the HOF game, which is depressing. Still, it must be remembered that the Cowboys sat DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea, David Irving, and Maliek Collins for various reasons. That is most of the D line talent the team has on the roster. Until we see all or at least most of them on the field, we just won’t know.

Linebacker could be a real strength.

Again, the key players, Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens, were out. Oh, and that Jaylon Smith fellow, who just keeps exceeding expectations. It showed at times in the HOF game, but Lee is the best defender the Cowboys have. And if you want a dark horse candidate to make the team, consider Joseph Jones, who led the team in tackles in the game with nine.

The secondary will be exciting to watch.

Chidobe Awuzie almost had an interception in the game that could well have gone for six. Byron Jones was second in tackles. That’s the good news. Anthony Brown left with a hamstring problem that is hoped to be minor. And the Arizona Cardinals had way too many wide open receivers in the game. The young secondary players that the Cowboys are putting so much hope in will likely be much the same, some good plays mixed in with some mistakes due to inexperience. At the moment, we can just hope the former outweigh the latter.

There is a snapshot of where things stand for the Cowboys. It is now just five weeks until the first game of the season against the New York Giants. Things can change, but a lot is already fairly well known. Most of the questions will revolve around depth.

And things do seem to be moving very quickly indeed. That is one definitely good thing.