The Cowboys begin their Organized Team Activities today, which will consist of three series of practices over the next few weeks. During this time, there will be no contact and most of the action will just be football drills as all the players become acclimated to their new surroundings. This is more of a teaching opportunity and a chance for players to get on the same page before training camp begins. New draft picks, undrafted signees, and veterans alike will take part in these activities as they will get their first look at the new coaches and their individual responsibilities. While evaluations will take place later in training camp, there will be many eyes on these guys as they are asked to do different things. How well they respond in certain situations could play a role in what they are asked to do later.
So, what are some things we could see during OTA’s? From the health of certain players to which guys are getting first team reps - there will be no shortage of interesting story-lines for Cowboys fans. Here are the five things I’ll be watching for during OTA’s:
1. How are the Smith brothers looking?
Some players will not be participating in the normal drill stuff as they are dealing with injuries. Both Maliek Collins and Terrance Williams have foot injures that will keep them sidelined for a while, but there are some other guys coming off of injuries that we are curious about.
Word on the street is that Jaylon Smith is moving quite well. No brace, no problem. If you haven’t seen the video footage yet, make sure to check it out. Smith says he is going to be better than he was at Notre Dame, which is scary to think about.
Fans have gotten accustomed to dialing back expectations when it comes to Smith, but it’s hard not to get excited for what could be.
Smith’s brother, Rod, is on the team, but it’s another non-related Smith that will have our attention in OTA. Last year, injuries to Tyron (back, groin, and hip) really hurt the Cowboys as the learned the hard way that Chaz Green was not good enough to handle the swing tackle job. While the team has taken some precautions by adding free agent Cameron Fleming and new draft pick Connor Williams, we all would just prefer to have the old Tyron back protecting Dak Prescott’s blind side. How well will Tyron and Jaylon be moving around?
2. Who will be taking first-team reps at tight end?
The absence of Jason Witten has left a gaping hole at the tight end position. The Cowboys have four candidates that fans are intrigued with, but nobody really knows how the depth chart is going to play out. Rico Gathers’ athleticism makes him a fan-favorite, especially after giving us all a taste last summer. But it’s these types of activities in camp that will test his mental ability and indicate how well he can handle his responsibilities.
Blake Jarwin is another favorite as he is the Cowboys next best pass-catching tight end. While he doesn’t have Rico’s size and athleticism, he is a much better blocker and that could push him ahead for more reps.
The Cowboys drafted Dalton Schultz with the compensatory pick they got for Ron Leary. Schultz didn’t flash big numbers at Stanford, but that is because of how he was used. He’s a strong blocker and his ability to seal the edge could keep him on the field on Sundays.
While these other three guys all offer different things that make us excited, it’s most likely going to be good old boring Geoff Swaim who starts out with the first team. Swaim leads all active tights ends on the roster with a grand total of nine career catches. That’s only 1,143 behind Witten.
3. How will the Cowboys be using their receivers?
With Dez Bryant no longer on the team and Williams in a walking boot, that leaves two open vacancies at the wide receiver position. The Cowboys have a slew of guys vying for important roles in the receiving game. Free agent Allen Hurns and third-round pick Michael Gallup are interesting names to remember. It appears that they would now be the top choices for the outside receivers while Cole Beasley holds down the slot. One of them is likely to remain a starter (Hurns), but things could get interesting if the rookie is fast out of the gate and gallops his way into a starting gig. (I promise never to do that again)
And don’t sleep on Cedrick Wilson. He, Deonte Thompson, and Noah Brown should get plenty of chances to start making their case for a roster spot.
And if you’re wondering how the team plans on using Tavon Austin, we should now get some type of idea.
4. How’s that defensive line shaping up?
With quality veterans like DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, the edge is set for the Cowboys defensive line. Younger guys like Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong have a lot of work to do in order to land a starting job over those guys. While the outside is known, what’s happening on the inside is a big mystery. David Irving looks like the obvious choice at 3-tech, but I have to keep reminding myself that the team has their own reservations about him. Collins unavailability at the moment should keep him locked into a starting spot for now.
What is more unknown is which player will hold down the 1-tech spot? There should be an open competition with the team trying a variety of different things. I don’t really care who starts out there, but I hope they come away with something reliable by the time they’re finish.
5. Who’s going to be the leader?
With Witten gone, the team not only lost a great player, but they lost their benchmark. For years, Witten has stood as a living example of how a football player should handle his business. Watching a savvy veteran out there busting his butt, working relentless to get better is such an amazing luxury to have for young players. Who’s going to be that guy now? Who’s the player that exhibits top-notch work ethic? Who’s going to be the guy who is the first one on the field and the last one off?
The offense will look no further than their young quarterback, Dak Prescott. It’s Dak’s team now. He’s still a young guy, but many will be looking to him to command the offense and demand excellence from his teammates.
Defensively, Sean Lee is the guy that will take on that role. He’s the de-facto defensive coach as it is. While’s Lee’s influence is crucial for the defense, watch for new defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, Kris Richard, to really draw out strong performances from his squad.
Witten isn’t the only veteran leader whose vocal presence will be missed. Orlando Scandrick is gone as well. Can Byron Jones step in and fill his shoes as a leader?
What things do you think will be revealed during Cowboys OTA’s?