It was mostly just a bunch of drills and reps wearing no football equipment except helmets, but the OTAs and minicamp for the Dallas Cowboys still gave us some hints at where things are going. The team has made the first tentative steps in shaping the 53-man roster. The real work starts next month when training camp convenes in Oxnard, but here are a few random observations about who gained some ground and who slipped.
Blake Jarwin was the tight end getting the most positive press. With Jason Witten out of the picture, the starting job is now wide open, and there seemed to be a lot of plays where Jarwin was helping his cause. He is probably in a close fight with Geoff Swaim, but so far, he has shown why the team called him up last season to keep him from getting poached off the practice squad (the hated Philadelphia Eagles reportedly had interest in him).
While Jarwin shined, Rico Gathers did not stand out particularly. In a sense, that should be expected given his lack of experience and even practice time so far, but there were many who thought he was the heir apparent when Witten retired. He isn’t. In fact, he is going to have a real struggle to make the 53.
Kadeem Edwards was a name that few of us were familiar with, but with Zack Martin sitting out OTAs and then being held out of most activities in the minicamp while the final details were hammered out on his big contract, Edwards wound up running with the ones to close things out. He suddenly looks to be right in the mix for a backup job. Marcus Martin looks to be the probable backup at center (with the ability to play some guard as well), and that means the loser in the O-line shuffle looks like Chaz Green. His fight to redeem himself and remain on the team just got a lot harder.
Ezekiel Elliott is a big winner. He is out from under the investigation/suspension that eventually kept him off the field for six games last year. And his attitude and approach are getting some great reviews, like this from Albert Breer of SI.
This week, Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott talked to the Dallas media about assuming a leadership role and carrying a heavy load (he’ll need to) in the offense, and he’s doing more than just talking—he came to minicamp with a good attitude and in better shape than he has in the past. Remember, Elliott showed up to camp heavy in 2016, and admitted that his looming suspension affected him last year. And he’s still rushed for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns in 25 career games. So as long as the Cowboys’ line is its dominant self, it’s fair to believe that Dak Prescott and a reworked passing game will have some help, and that Elliott and company could buy them some time to get right.
Obviously, David Irving is the biggest loser with his four-game suspension, coming on top of the off-field issues that plagued him. And his losses are likely to continue, as that suspension will almost certainly have a negative impact on the market for him next offseason. The second-round tender the Cowboys signed him to is looking more and more like a one-year rental. It was supposed to be a prove-it year for him, and that just got a lot harder.
Among the rookies, Michael Gallup seems to have shown the most the past four weeks. He was seen to be a favorite target of Dak Prescott, which bodes well for the regular season. Likewise, Lance Lenoir also seemed to have some chemistry working with his quarterback. With a very crowded wide receiver room, it is never too early to start making a move.
Justin March-Lilliard took full advantage of the reportedly minor injury that kept first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch off the field during minicamp. Combined with the rest days given to Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, that left a lot of snaps for March-Lilliard to show the coaches what he could do, and he did not disappoint. He is now clearly in the mix for one of the depth LB spots. Vander Esch is to a small degree a loser in this, as he lost some valuable reps to learn the NFL game.
Among the coaching staff, you have to look at Kris Richard as a big winner, as his defensive backs generally were coming out on top of the receivers. Some of that is attributable to the new philosophy in the passing game as well as the tendency for defenses to be ahead of offenses at this stage of things, but it still has to be a confidence builder for the young secondary. While dreams of a Dallas version of the Legion of Boom are still very premature, everything seems to be panning out as well as can be so far.
Although not much was written or reported about him, Connor Williams is also a winner. He was the starting left guard from day one, just like the team expected him to be, and in his case, no news is good news. Had he been struggling in the slightest, you can be sure it would have been reported. Now with Zack signed, the offensive line looks primed for a return to prominence.
Finally, there is an unknown winner to be determined later. Someone will fill that roster spot vacated by Irving for the first four games. It is generally expected to be another defensive lineman, but the team might also use it to go deep somewhere else. One player is going to get four weeks to show his worth to the team that he would not have had otherwise. Irving’s suspension may be terrible for him, but it opens a new opportunity for someone else.
Based on the reports from OTAs and minicamp, those are my winners and losers, and it may be a good thing that the former outnumber the latter. Camp is likely to change things a lot, but for now, this is one guy’s opinion. Let us know what you think in the comments.