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Cowboys 2018 training camp: New coach, new players, and new approach could help ignite receiving group

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Things aren’t like they used to be...

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys offense fell apart in the second half of last year. It did, let’s just admit it. Sure, there were a lot of things that didn’t go right during those eight games. Their star running back got suspended for six of them, their star left tackle missed time with an injury, and their young, soon-to-be star quarterback threw three more interceptions than he did touchdowns. The Cowboys offense only scored six points against San Diego, seven points against Atlanta, 12 points against Seattle, and a combined 15 points against Philadelphia across two different games. I don’t have to tell you had bad it was. You were there watching it unfold yourself, throwing a fit perhaps if your experience was anything like mine. It was excruciating.

But that’s old news.

The 2018 season is going to be much different. The team has pushed the reset button on the wide receiver position. After eight seasons with the Cowboys, Dez Bryant’s time in Dallas came to an end as the team released him this offseason. It was a shock to some of us, not-so-much to others, but ultimately it sent a big message that changes were needed. The front office turned around and reloaded their squad with free agents Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, draft picks Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson, and traded for “whatever back” Tavon Austin.

Not only are the players different, but the team replaced wide receivers coach Derek Dooley with new coach Sanjay Lal. Dooley had been the team’s WR coach for the past five years. Lal most recently had been the receivers coach for the Indianapolis Colts.

But it’s not just new players and a new coach that the team is relying on to shake things up. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is going a different route with his players this year and relying the versatility of the new group. Before, the team depended too much on what each player did best and wasn’t utilizing the entire skill set of their players. Linehan explained this change in approach when discussing Cole Beasley’s limited role last season.

It’s both disappointing and refreshing to hear those type of comments. This could be why it was so frustrating when the offense looked bland and receivers struggled getting separation. But at the same time, its music to our ears to see a commitment to increasing the complexity of each’s players assignments. The Cowboys intend to move players around and give their opponents many different looks as they try to challenge the defense.

This new approach also explains why the team went after the receivers they did. The versatility of this new receiving group is going to offer the Cowboys the flexibility to do all sorts of things with all sorts of players.

This is going to do wonders to curb predictability. Defenses can’t just get comfortable with a certain “style” of receiver and will have to be ready for anything. Having a bunch of fast-footed, shifty receivers coming at you can look something like this:

Being able to get open is just one strength of this new group, but there is another common trait that many of them have as well - the ability to turn a small gain into a big gain. Hurns has made a living doing that, rookie Micheal Gallup was very effective after the catch in college, and let’s not forget the team’s new little space demon, Tavon Austin.

End-arounds or jet sweeps are not anything we haven’t seen before, but Austin isn’t Lucky Whitehead or Ryan Switzer. Austin is dangerous in space. His career 6.7 yards per carry isn’t by accident. Defenses will have to be mindful of Austin which could really open things up for Ezekiel Elliott. Lots of misdirection and bootleg screens could keep defenses on their heels.

The Cowboys have a lot of new weapons at their disposal, but they’re only powerful if they are used appropriately. Based on early signs at camp, they got a lot of different things going on with this group and you have to be excited about their potential. There is still a lot to sort out as players fight for their reps with the first team group, but with everything they have to choose from - there’s a good chance they find some combinations that work.

Not many people are giving this new group much of a chance, but that could be a mistake.