The Cowboys will be holding a short mini-camp in the upcoming week, then it will be a long break until training camp arrives. Unless the Cowboys make a dramatic trade or sign a free agent, or something disastrous happens like an injury or suspension, the team we see now will be the team that enters training camp. When they start training camp, they still have some issues to settle. These aren’t things like Player X needs to pick up their game, these are more about positions on the field that are currently unsettled or in flux.
With all due respect to Bleacher Reports recent list on a similar subject, getting Dak Prescott back on track and keep Ezekiel Elliott healthy aren’t on this list. Of course the Cowboys need to keep Elliott healthy, and keep DeMarcus Lawrence healthy, and keep Sean Lee healthy, and on and on. Also, Prescott’s slide at the end of last year is unlikely to be repeated given the circumstances that accompanied it. Prescott’s play is hardly the biggest concern for the Cowboys if you believe in the totality of his first two years. As OCC showed us previously, Prescott is performing extremely well for a young quarterback.
Here are the Cowboys top four issues:
4. Defensive tackle rotation
The Cowboys have a glut of 3-tech defensive tackles, and some questions at 1-tech. Maybe they consider Maliek Collins their starting 1-tech, although it seems obvious he’s a better player at the 3-tech. Even if they do, Collins is injured and that could affect his ability to start the season. David Irving is another 3-tech who is facing his own issues. Jihad Ward may be a candidate for the rotation, but we’ll still have to see. Datone Jones might be an option. Brian Price showed some promise in his shortened 2017 season.
With Collins injury and Irving’s status in question, the middle of the Cowboys line still has some questions. The Cowboys were soft in the middle at times last year, for the defense to take a step forward having a solid middle is a necessity.
3. Safety rotation
It doesn’t look like Earl Thomas is coming for 2018. Byron Jones has moved to corner. That leaves a trio of players who are likely to be the lead guys at safety, and each one has question marks. Jeff Heath is a guy who occasionally makes spectacular plays in the clutch, but overall consistency is a problem. Xavier Woods looks like he has potential, but is he the centerfielder the Cowboys need, especially with his shorter stature (5’ 11”). Kavon Frazier is a big hitter, but can he master the other parts of the game.
The position is thin and a little inexperienced behind Jeff Heath. The Cowboys have emergency options like the aforementioned Jones or Chidobe Awuzie, but they’d like for Heath, Woods and Frazier to hold it down, and to find a nice starting duo among the three.
2. Wide receiver rotation
This one has been talked about ever since the release of Dez Bryant. Terrance WIlliams’ recent issues with the law has caused further confusion. It’s been argued the Cowboys don’t need a traditional #1 WR, and I tend to agree. But they do need to find a few solid producers from among the group of Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Williams, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson, among others.
Forget about finding a “Dez replacement” or a “#1 WR”, what the Cowboys need to do is find a few guys who work well with Dak Prescott and can be depended on week to week.
1. Tight end starter
Replacing Jason Witten is never going to happen. Finding a quality starter is something that needs to happen. Sure, they can use somewhat of a rotation given the skill-set between blocking tight ends and receiving tight ends, but they really would like to see one guy grab the position by the throat and not let go. Geoff Swaim is the incumbent just by virtue of having the experience, but can he prove to be a receiving threat? Rico Gather is athletic and can catch, but can he block and can he grasp the game? Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz might develop into “complete packages” but will it happen this year?
Tight end is a key position in the Cowboys offense and having one to help Prescott as a safety valve would be invaluable. But is anybody on the roster ready to become that guy?