With the pads finally on in training camp, the Dallas Cowboys have taken the first major step towards football, soon to be followed by preseason games and then the real deal. And finally we have something concrete to start basing our opinions of the team on.
Maybe too much. With twitter feeds, podcasts, and seemingly thousands of practice recaps coming at us, it is hard to keep up with everything that is going on. This seems somewhat exacerbated this year, given all the questions the Cowboys have to answer. And the data is a mix of raw (the video posts and pictures), very quick takes (especially on Twitter), and a bunch of bullet-point summaries of specific plays or matchups from practice. From that, we have to try and discern trends and build a composite view of things.
If you haven’t guessed, that’s what this is about. This is not meant to be a comprehensive view of how the Cowboys look, but some things that seem to be emerging. One note, this was written before the yesterday’s second padded practice, so it doesn’t include any significant developments there.
Yeah, Dallas crushed it on day 2 of the draft
First-round pick Leighton Vander Esch has not been at all disappointing, but as the team works him into the rotation with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, he hasn’t become a real standout yet. And exactly how he will be used, given the preponderance of two-linebacker packages, is still to be worked out.
But those next two picks are looking as outstanding as many of us thought they were on the second day of the draft.
Second-round pick Connor Williams has come in and taken over the starting left guard job, and looked right at home. Being an offensive lineman, he is not going to make many highlight videos, at least until he gets more rotations in the one-on-one faceoffs with defensive linemen. But he has gotten favorable comments on his ability to get out to lead the run, and he seems to be handling his duties in the passing game as well. He has gotten beaten a time or two, but practices are, after all, a zero-sum game, where a good play on one side of the ball means a less than satisfactory one on the other. Most importantly, he does not look at all out of place flanked by two All Pros. And with that kind of talent around him, it wold be a tall order to expect him to be at their level right out of the gate. Mickey Spagnola had this to say about him in the mothership’s look at rookies who were having a good start to things.
First day of pads. Rookie with the first-team offensive line. Connor Williams fit right in. Stoned guys in team pass drills. Stoned guys in the one-on-one pass-rush drills. Relentless run blocking. Actually, an impressive first day for the second-round draft choice. Quick feet his best asset.
While Williams doesn’t have many highlight opportunities, wide receiver Michael Gallup has. And he has already started to accumulate a nice little reel of them, along with some really nice compliments. In the same article linked above, Nick Eatman singled him out.
A lot of good choices here on this first day but I really liked what I saw from Michael Gallup. He made some better headlines on the first day of practice than last year’s No. 13, who wasn’t as “lucky.” Gallup was so smooth with his routes and literally plucks the ball out of the air.
There is already discussion out there in the interwebs about Gallup taking over the WR1 spot sometime this season. And while Allen Hurns will still have a lot to say about that, the main thing is that it really doesn’t seem too far-fetched at this early stage.
Maybe this committee approach to receiving has a shot
We’ve mentioned Gallup and Hurns, both off to good starts, but the real standout among the receiving corps so far has been Dak Prescott’s old favorite, Cole Beasley. He is once again getting open all over the field and catching everything that comes his way.
The key phrase there is “all over the field”. The promised changes to the offensive strategy continue to evidence themselves, and Beasley is the prime exhibit:
We cannot emphasize how important this quote by Cole Beasley is. The 2018 passing game concept in a nutshell. pic.twitter.com/7VTlt6wA3X— rabblerousr (@rabblerousr) July 29, 2018
Things are also looking like they might work out with the tight ends, as Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin are having a competitive camp, while rookie Dalton Schultz has been getting some nice reviews.
Been impressed with how easy he runs. Natural hands as well. https://t.co/oxjNWOWdmb— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) July 29, 2018
Even down roster receivers have been showing up, with unheralded (really, unknown to most of us) receiver Mekale McKay having the most spectacular catch of the first day of padded practice. So far, the plan seems to be coming together, with better route running, spreading the ball around, and putting some unexpected formations and packages on the field. The only glitch has been the absences, which seem to be affecting the receivers a lot early on. Terrance Williams is still working his way back from his foot injury, rookie Cedrick Wilson will miss time with a shoulder injury, and Noah Brown has been troubled by the dreaded hamstring strain. Suddenly, that crowded wide receiver room is making a whole lot of sense. Schultz also missed practice on Sunday, but it was to be there for the birth of his first child, so he should be back soon.
Kris Richard continues to look like the most important acquisition of the year
I will admit I was a bit giddy when the hiring of Kris Richard was announced by Dallas. How has that gone? Well, one of the first things he did was move Byron Jones back to cornerback on a full-time basis. And in training camp, the first interception was by Byron Jones. Coincidence? I think not.
On the subject of coincidences, Richard took a bunch of young, talented defensive backs and molded a now-legendary secondary. He has another bunch of young, talented defensive backs to work with. While it would be foolhardy to predict that this is going to be another version of the Legion of Boom, it is not hard to envision a real step up in their performance.
And while we are on the subject of defense
Just going to put this out here and let it speak for itself.
Its possible the Cowboys have the best defensive line rotation its had in years— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) July 28, 2018
Its possible the Cowboys have the best linebacker combination its had in years
Its possible the Cowboys have the best secondary group its had in years
It's possible this defense is pretty damn good pic.twitter.com/UYLSyXABzL
Finally, the negatives are all outside of camp
Last year, there was the long, arduous saga of Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, plus that Lucky Whitehead situation alluded to by Nick Eatman. This year, with the continuing anthem protest controversy and the recent Dez Bryant kerfuffle, the seemingly obligatory Cowboys drama continues.
The one difference is that none of this year’s junk seems to have much if any potential of affecting the team on the field. Bryant is gone, so what he says really doesn’t matter. And based on comments from team members, the anthem stance (to stand) was reached and agreed upon by the entire team. Jerry and Stephen Jones may be more posturing than anything with their seemingly hard-line remarks, but at least for the moment, that does not seem to be having any effect on the players here. Others outside the organization may take umbrage, but again, that doesn’t affect the Cowboys.
If you have to have something stirring up the media and fans, it is far better for it to be of negligent impact on the play of the team. So there’s that, at least.
Those are my takeaways at this early date. Add your own in the comments.