Training camp is here! I’m excited. Are you excited? Of course you are. I can’t remember a year when we’ve entered camp with so many questions. Between position battles and all the new faces we are waiting to see in action, it’s going to make for an exciting next several weeks.
Over at our sister site Windy City Gridiron, Robert Zeglinski put together a nice alphabet guide for their readers in helping understanding training camp for the Chicago Bears. It was a clever way to stack things up so we thought we’d have a go at it to describe some of the things we are interested in keeping an eye out for when camp begins for the Dallas Cowboys. Let’s do this...
A - Allen Hurns acquistion: It’s hard to know what the front office’s plans were in the beginning of the offseason as it pertained to the wide receiver position, but the end result was Dez Bryant bounced and Hurns comes in as the team’s top receiver. A healthy demonstration of pass catching ability from Hurns will certainly be pleasing to the eye for fans.
B - Byron Jones at cornerback: The former first-round pick is entering his fourth year in the league, but this year he will move back to corner. How well he performs at his new position will have a big impact on the defense as a whole. Will he flourish in his new defensive position or will he struggle staying with his man? It’s a big deal and hopefully Jones is up for the challenge.
C - Chidobe Awuzie’s breakout: The Cowboys young corner dealt with some setbacks his rookie season as he missed several games with a nagging hamstring injury. He’s healthy now and will be looking to take on the lead corner role for this defense. Awuzie checks off all the boxes when it comes to quickness, smarts, and physical play, and could be the Cowboys’ next breakout star.
D - Dakuracy: There is not a single more influential element to the Cowboys success than that of their young quarterback, Dak Prescott. The team has done a number of things trying to custom fit this offense so he can help lead the team to victory. Now, it’s on him to make the throws. The more we hear about how well he’s doing in camp, the better we’ll feel about the upcoming season.
E - Earl Thomas trade talk to subside: I love Earl Thomas. Earl Thomas would be a great player to have on this team. His talent could certainly be put to use in Dallas, but unfortunately, he’s not on this football team. It’s time to redirect our attention on the guys who are actually playing on the Cowboys, until it’s time not to.
F - Fringe receivers showcasing skills: Everyone has their own favorite receivers rounding out the bottom of the depth chart. Maybe you like the new guys Deonte Thompson or Cedrick Wilson. Or maybe you like last year’s new guys Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir (practice squad in 2017). With limited space, it should be interesting to see which receiver makes enough plays to earn a spot on the Cowboys 53-man roster.
G - Gregory’s return: He’s back just in time for some football action. After essentially a two-year hiatus, the team finally gets one of their top young pass rushing prospects back. Is he going to be in shape? How good is he going to be? What type of role will he have within the defensive line rotation. Man, we can’t wait to get those answers.
H - Havoc-wreaking edge rushers: For the first time in long time, there are reasons to be excited about the Cowboys pass rush. Starting with DeMarcus Lawrence, fans will watch closely to see if he can have a repeat season and earn himself a big paycheck in 2018. Then, there’s the unproven guys like Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Randy Gregory (welcome back!) whose potential has yet to be unleashed. Combine that with veterans Tyrone Crawford and Kony Ealy and you’ve got one fierce defensive end position group.
I - Interior defensive line group: The Cowboys will start the season without David Irving and they’ll start training camp without Maliek Collins. That opens the door for several young defensive tackles to step up and earn playing time. Someone is going to be taking first-team reps for Collins while he recovers from his foot injury and that very same someone could end up starting for Irving once the season begins. Datone Jones and Jihad Ward are a couple of key reserves to pay close attention to as camp progresses.
J - Jihad Ward’s contribution: The Cowboys traded away Ryan Switzer in order to acquire Ward from the Oakland Raiders. The team needs help along the interior defensive line and he has the talent to make plays. After an impressive minicamp, Ward is off to a good start and fans are hoping he can keep it going.
K - Kris Richard Effect: It’s exciting to get a fresh new coach on this team, especially a guy like Richard, whose had success shaping the Legion of Boom in Seattle. With a handful of talented young players at his disposal, the secondary is ready to take the next step and help fend off opposing offenses. Hopefully, this change of the guard in the secondary will be just what this team needs to make the Cowboys one of the better defenses in the league.
L - Lateral agility of Jaylon Smith: The time is approaching when we will get a glimpse of what a full-throttle Jaylon Smith will look like. That infamous knee continues to improve and with it - so does his lateral movement. Smith was clearly hindered by how well he could change direction last season, but if he gets that shiftiness back - look out!
M - More cowbell: I’m not sure what that entails exactly, but I think we all can agree - we need more of it.
N - No major injuries: Nothing sideswipes the hopes of a great season like a costly injury to a star player. The Cowboys saw this happen in 2014 with Sean Lee and again in 2016 with Tony Romo. Fortunately, the Cowboys had talented reserves and still made the playoffs both years. Regardless, staying healthy is imperative and every day the team comes away unscathed is a good day.
O - Offensive line unison: It doesn’t matter how many All-Pros the team has if they have one guy on the line who looks like he’s stuck in concrete. The Cowboys offensive line fell apart last season and we’re not going to mention Chaz Green’s name as there’s no point in assigning blame, but take comfort in knowing that said player will not be starting at left guard or be the team’s swing tackle this year...both of which he did last season. Miserably. Instead, the rookie Conner Williams should slide in to play left guard and free agent Cam Fleming will see a lot of reps at left tackle as Smith is given extra rest to preserve his health. The performance of these two new faces and how well they sync up with the regulars will be huge in returning the offensive line back to their dominating ways.
P - Physical shape David Irving: If the Cowboys are going to play on the game’s biggest stage in February, they are going to need their big-time players to be on the field making plays. Irving is one of those players. He’s had a tumultuous offseason and will start the season serving a four-game suspension, but when he returns - he needs to hit that ground running. That means he not only has to get his mind right, but get that body into shape as well. Irving was held out of action during minicamp for reasons described as conditioning issues, but hopefully he’s ready this time around.
Q - Quarterback battle for the number two spot: It was a real treat when Cooper Rush emerged out of nowhere to make the Cowboys preseason exciting. We hadn’t seen a third-string quarterback have a showing like that since Prescott did it the previous year. With Mike White joining the team, this could be the third year in a row that a third-string quarterback catches our attention.
R - Receivers chemistry with Dak Prescott: The Cowboys reshaped their receiver group by adding more disciplined route-runners. The goal is to increase the ability to separate and establish better targets for their young quarterback. With a bunch of new weapons at his disposal, it’s unclear what the chemistry will be like between them and Prescott. Any news of a good rapport forming with anyone will be great to hear.
S - Sanjay Lal’s fundamental workshop: Not only has there been a lot of changes with the receivers, but they have a new coach as well. With more attention to detail, it should be interesting to see the changes within the receiving group. Just a slight adjustment here or a quick modification there could make all the difference in a players ability to create separation.
T - Tight End battle: The absence of Cowboys legend Jason Witten puts a damper on the team’s tight end position. There are a lot of different names, but no standouts. Whether a player is first-team, second-team, or straight-up left off the team are all things still to be decided as the coaching staff sorts out this mess. The stock report on this position group could change daily.
U - Undrafted free agent defensive backs: Don’t be surprised if an UDFA DB earns his way onto this team. Whether it’s Kam Kelly, Tyree Robinson, or Charvarius Ward, one of these under-the-radar guys could stand out in camp so keep remember those names. It’s not too late to adopt a pet cat.
V - Vander Esch’s progress: The team made the Boise State linebacker their first-round selection so all eyes will be on this athletic defender once the pads come on. How will he look in his first go-round of action? A recent ankle injury and being a rookie with a lot to learn could slow him down in the beginning, but it should be interesting to see if he eventually starts to make push for a starting LB spot.
W - Web back extraordinaire: The Cowboys made a trade to get former first-round pick Tavon Austin in order to spice up their offense. How will he be used in this offense? How much will we see in training camp? Can he correct his fumbling woes? These are questions fans want answers to when it comes to the team’s new gadget back.
X - Xavier Woods holding up at free safety: I’m sure the Cowboys have their reasons for not pulling the trigger on the Earl Thomas trade, but one driving force could be the confidence this team has in second-year safety Xavier Woods. He’s looking to take on an important spot on the team, sliding into the starting fee safety role. Will he be up for the task?
Y - Yards after catch: The Cowboys have added a slew of players that are very good once they get the ball in their hands in space. Allens Hurns has made a living turning small plays into big plays. Rookie Michael Gallup is also very good at extending plays. And Tavon Austin usually runs for a long time if he’s given room to operate. Can these new additions spark this Cowboys offense?
Z - Zeke’s explosiveness: There are no distractions this season. The Cowboys star running back has a clean slate and with it comes an opportunity for a big season. Will this lead to a more clear-headed and energized Ezekiel Elliott? This team will lean heavily on the young running back and hopes he can deliver that same explosiveness he’s provided since he stepped foot in the league.