It’s hard to believe, but Cowboys training camp is under a month away. Soon, the offseason will come to an end. So while we wait just a little longer, here are some thoughts about training camp and the 2018 season.
When you are really into an NFL team, the start of training camp is really the start of the season. After half-a-year of talent acquisition, analysis, and a lot of pure, unsupported speculation, we finally get to see what this year’s version of the Dallas Cowboys is really made of. And we are one of the most fortunate fanbases in the league, because the camp coverage of the Cowboys is some of the absolute best anywhere.
This year seems exceptionally intriguing. There are so many questions to answer. But there also seems to be a solid core to build on. I can’t remember another year when I anticipated things so much, but part of that is because I am fairly optimistic about the solutions the staff is trying.
In a way, it is reminiscent of 2016 after Tony Romo was injured, but with less apprehension. While things like WR/TE by committee and whether Connor Williams will help restore the Great Wall of Dallas are important considerations, there is nothing even remotely as big a leap as turning the offense over to a rookie quarterback taken with a fourth-round compensatory pick, who would be lined up with another rookie at running back.
Speaking of Dak and Zeke . . . Both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are coming off down years compared to their breakout rookie campaigns. It is certainly arguable that those sophomore slumps, if you want to call them that, were influenced to a great deal by things other than the talent and ability of the players. Now both have something to prove, or perhaps re-prove. That pair set the NFL on fire in a way that no one saw coming their rookie year. I know it is another form of conjecture with little hard data behind it, but I just feel like they are going to roar back.
Who will get the bubble wrap treatment in camp? Starting with Romo, the Cowboys came up with a system of resting some star players to try and protect their health. This year, Tyron Smith and Sean Lee are the obvious candidates, but could the team extend that somewhat to both try and avoid injury and to see what the down-roster players have? Travis Frederick and Zack Martin hardly have anything to prove or really learn in camp. DeMarcus Lawrence seems like another candidate, and given the number of defensive ends vying for roster spots, having him sit out practices could be valuable in evaluations. I also think the staff knows exactly what they have in Tyrone Crawford. The practice restrictions imposed by the CBA require some creativity to overcome, and this looks like a good way.
Will there be a UDFA who breaks through this year? I picked Kyle Quiero as my pet cat, and would love to see him come through. But as a DB switching to LB, he is really a long shot, and his best case outcome may be the practice squad.
The guys that really bear watching are safeties Kameron Kelly and Tyree Robinson. Both fit the Kris Richard mold. They play a position that is rather shallow, and even if the Cowboys work out a deal to get Earl Thomas, there still may be room for one of them.
Speaking of safeties, this is probably the last chance for Jameill Showers. He is a kind of pet cat for the staff, I guess, still hanging around the team this long. But the converted quarterback is going to have to show something this season. I believe his PS eligibility is used up, so he probably has to make the roster. And that just looks very unlikely.
The backup quarterback situation is unusually interesting. Dallas has last year’s QB2 incumbent, Cooper Rush, competing with this year’s fifth-rounder, Mike White. The thinking is that if both do well in camp and preseason, the team will go with three QBs on the 53-man roster.
But what if someone comes calling looking for help? There are several teams that have really shaky quarterback situations, and then there are the dreaded injuries that always seem to crop up before the season even gets started. If Rush has a similar performance this camp to the one that let him beat out Kellen Moore last year, would there be teams who would offer up some compensation to get him? Any willingness to discuss that on Dallas’ part would probably depend on White looking good as well. If that does happen, however, what would make them willing to part with Rush? It would be a good problem to have, and it does depend on how things work out. It’s just one of those thoughts.
Will the free agent group pan out at last? The Cowboys have a pretty dismal track record in free agency, but this year’s signees at least offer some hope. Allen Hurns seems the most likely to be a key addition with the situation in the receiving corps, and Deonte Thompson certainly has a good opportunity with his speed. Cameron Fleming looks like a very solid swing tackle, although we hope all he has to contribute this year is peace of mind. And Kony Ealy is a player they were high on when he was drafted. Joe Thomas and Marcus Martin are less exciting, but still could play roles. After so many misses, random chance alone would make you think some of these should work out this year.
Sanjay Lal watch. Kris Richard was the biggest coach hire, and is thought to have a bright future with Dallas. He may be the new heir apparent for Rod Marinelli, whose age alone keeps the idea of retirement around. But Lal seems to also have a lot of influence, including having had a voice in the release of Dez Bryant. His focus on route running and timing is key to the whole approach the team is taking with the wide receivers. Will his influence show up in Scott Linehan’s offense? And could he be a candidate to step up? If the offense returns to the proficiency of two years ago, Linehan could get a chance to be a head coach again after this season, so it is something that is not out of the realm of possibility.
Will we see a fullback renaissance? The Cowboys traded to get Jamize Olawale from the Oakland Raiders. Since then, he has kind of been overlooked, but he seems a lock to make the roster. And he brings a lot more to the table than just lead blocking. He is a legitimate offensive weapon, with exceptional speed, pass catching, and rushing ability for a fullback. Hopefully Linehan won’t forget him in the quest to make the offense less predictable and more effective this year.
Those are just some of the things I’m looking forward to as camp draws nearer. What about you? Let us know in the comments.