How the Cowboys can best maximize Ezekiel Elliott in 2018 – Bob Sturm, The Athletic
The Sturminator delivers another insightful long-form piece, making the case that the best way for the Cowboys to prevent teams from selling out to stop Ezekiel Elliott the rusher is to make him Ezekiel Elliott the receiver.
In the NFL, any defense in the league can stop your run if they really want to. Now, it might cost them some real bad things against the pass. But if they want to stop the run, they can. In other words, the players at this level are too good individually for any group of five offensive linemen and a tight end to stop 11 defenders. Teams can run the ball in the NFL, but those that do accomplish their mission by demonstrating a passing threat and a vertical game that lightens the numbers in the box. In fact, in today’s NFL, most teams become successful in running the ball because their receivers spread out the defense to a point where the box is as thinly populated as it has ever been. 11 personnel or sometimes even 10 personnel yield the most appealing run opportunities. Conversely, 22 personnel can lead to some of the toughest yards in the business.
And that is my concern. If the 2018 Cowboys were to follow the lead of the voices on Twitter, it seems that the Cowboys would declare they are running Zeke 40 times right at you with this great offensive line. Defenses can do whatever you want, but the Hypothetical Cowboys will stand firm. That might work when you play Kansas or Vanderbilt. I don’t see it happening with the big boys in the NFL. Especially in this division - Washington may have the weakest front, and it is still really, really impressive, with the two first-round Alabamans (a fully fit Jonathan Allen and now Da’Ron Payne) they will add to the interior this year.
The Cowboys need to figure out ways to make running the ball easier. They also need to move the ball with some balance and infuse some mystery into the question of what is happening next. In other words, they need to figure out how to mimic what Los Angeles did last year with Sean McVay organizing an offensive attack that was nothing short of brilliant. And, with similar personnel that included A) a franchise running back that is All-Pro caliber, B) a young QB who can make good decisions, and C) a tight end/wide receiver group that features more quantity than quality at the top.
Was this step Ezekiel Elliott took back in 2017 just an oddity, or a sign of the Cowboys' apocalypse? - Tim Cowlishaw, SportsDay
Cowlishaw pulls a pretty significant number out of his stat bag and demonstrates a firm grasp of the obvious, writing Elliott and the Cowboys need to improve his yards per carry in 2018.
The line is also enhanced by the arrival of rookie Connor Williams. There was a time when rookie linemen rarely made an impact, hardly even played. Martin showed that you can be All-Pro as a rookie four years ago and Williams, who delivers a powerful punch in one-on-one drills and is built similarly to Martin (the Texas rookie is 6-foot-5, 310, while Martin is 6-4, 315), just might do the same.
Elliott's certainly excited to see what the second-round pick can do at left guard.
"He's a freak athlete," Elliott said. "Yesterday we were running half-gassers at the end of practice and he was way out ahead of all the O-linemen and D-linemen. Since the first time I saw him in the weight room, I knew that the guy knows how to work.”
Ezekiel Elliott is a changed man and the Cowboys are better for it – Calvin Watkins, The Athletic
From the Best Mental Shape of His Life category we have this update from Watkins on Ezekiel Elliott's state of mind.
Humbled. Changed. A quiet leader. These are the words being used to describe Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
2018 will be a different kind of year for Elliott. It’s supposed to usher in a quieter and more productive era for the gifted running back, now entering his third NFL season.
“I just think he’s a lot more serious-minded,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “I actually think that he’s learned a lot from his experience. I think it was difficult, and I think he went through some really difficult times. I think he stood for what he believed in last year, and certainly, you’re naïve to think there weren’t distractions in his mind from what he was going through, week to week. And he still was productive, predominantly, in all the games that he played in. And then, of course, he missed the six games and came back to work.”
The NFL Training Camp Battles Worth Watching - Danny Kelly, The Ringer
Kelly looks at key positional competitions around the league that could change a team's entire year. One of them is the Cowboys wide receivers group.
Dez Bryant’s release creates a target vacuum in the Cowboys offense, and the Dallas brass assembled a, well, eclectic mix of newcomers to help fill that void. That group is headlined by former Jaguar Allen Hurns, who has struggled with injury and caught just five touchdowns in the past two years after posting 1,031 yards and 10 scores in 2015. He’s buttressed by former Ram Tavon Austin, who the team has said could be in line for two dozen touches a game, both out wide and in the backfield; and Deonte Thompson, a veteran journeyman playing for his fourth team in six years. Add rookie third-rounder Michael Gallup to the picture, and it’s completely unclear who Dak Prescott’s going to be relying on downfield when he’s not targeting incumbent deep threat Terrance Williams or third-down slot receiver Cole Beasley (who is reportedly set to run a more expanded route tree in 2018). As Beasley put it:
"We don't have the typical big, tall receiver who is going to go up and get fade balls all the time. We got guys who can do a lot of other things & guys who can run. It's not going to be any worse or better, it's just going to be different."
Scout’s Notebook: Screen Passes & DB Play - Bryan Broaddus, DallasCowboys.com
The Broad One provides his scout's eye evaluation of Sunday's spirited practice.
Mike White has had his share of struggles with his accuracy in these practices, but he couldn’t have thrown a more beautiful ball to Geoff Swaim with Tyree Robinson in coverage. The window for him to complete the pass had to be no more that maybe a foot. If the ball was a little more inside, Robinson would have been able to knock it away. Swaim did a good job of concentrating on the play as well.
Rough day for Michael Gallup catching the ball. He had a couple of drops where the ball was right on him and he wasn’t able to bring it in. It got to the point that even at the end of practice when the receivers were working against air, he was fighting the ball. To be honest, he looked a little shook. On the positive side, he did have some nice releases off the line to free himself.
Day 4 Camp Report: The nuts, bolts of rebuilding Cowboys’ WR group - Shawn Kairschner, CowboysWire
Rabblerousr takes a detailed look at the techniques the wide receivers are being taught to create separation, and offers this take on the new-look Cowboys receiving group.
My twofold takeaway from watching the receivers work today:
First, the most surprising receiver thus far is Lance Lenoir. The work he put in throughout the offseason is bearing fruit early in camp; he looks quick, and his body control allows him to be subtle and precise in his routes.
Second, the unit is not as good on the top end as either last year’s WR unit or the defensive backs against whom they are battling in 2018. But the talent distribution is fairly tight, and the drop-off fairly flat, such that the final WR to make the team might well be better than the last CB. In short, the strength of the unit at present is its depth—and that’s with both Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson sidelined.
Mailbag: Red Zone Options? - Bryan Broaddus & David Helman, DallasCowboys.com
Q: Do you currently see any WRs/TEs as being reliable red zone targets to efficiently scale yards/drive to actual touchdowns?
Bryan: You’re right, we haven’t seen many red zone series during practice. I do like what I have seen from Blake Jarwin and his ability to get open. A tight end that can do that is a weapon.
David: I’m intrigued by what Allen Hurns might be able to do in that regard. Physically, he’s not quite as imposing as Dez Bryant, but he’s got good size and elusiveness. He’s also shown how good his hands are out here. I have a feeling the Cowboys might be able to use him down in that part of the field.
Travis Frederick on how Cowboys ‘lost our way a little bit’ in 2017 - Staff, SportsDay
Frederick joined KTCK-AM (1310) and gave his perspective on the 2017 season.
Q: From offensive line injuries to Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension to not making the playoffs, how bizarre was last season?
Travis Frederick: “Bizarre is a good way to put that. When you look back at it, there were so many things going on... so many distractions. Things that weren’t us. And when you go back and look at some of the games, it really just didn’t look like us when you watch the film. Coach always talks about putting ourselves out on film -- that’s our resume. When you watch those games, it’s like who is this team that’s playing there? So, we lost our way a little bit. We came back towards the end but definitely not where we needed to be. And I think it was a learning experience for us, to be able to think about that and the things that did go wrong. And make sure that stuff doesn’t happen this year.”
Recent deals show Cowboys got a bargain when they signed Tyron Smith – Michael Smith, ProFootballTalk
PFT marvels at the great deal the Cowboys got when they signed Tyron Smith.
Smith’s contract, incredibly, still has six years left on it, at an average salary of $12.2 million a year. Given that Smith is 27 years old and offensive tackles often play well into their 30s, he could play out the entire length of that contract.
So the Cowboys have Smith locked up at an affordable salary for a whopping six more seasons, at a time when lesser tackles are making more money than him, and a whole slew of good tackles are likely to make even more money with new contracts in the next few years.
The only down side of this for the Cowboys is that they’re running the risk of Smith becoming so underpaid, relative to the other top tackles in the league, that he might hold out for more money. Dallas got Smith to sign such a good deal that Smith may soon demand a redo.
Coach Kris Richard guides Byron Jones’ switch - Stefan Stevenson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Stevenson talks to both Jones and Richard who both seem enthusiastic about Jones’ move to the cornerback position.
Byron Jones’ move to cornerback after two seasons playing safety has the fourth-year player feeling energized.
And if the position switch doesn’t do it, his new secondary coach Kris Richard will.
The first-year Cowboys’ coach who had been with the Seahawks the past eight seasons, including the last three as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, has brought a burst of energy and enthusiasm that his players taking notice.
“He brings the juice every single day. There’s not a day he’s relaxed. I love it,” said Jones, who intercepted a pass in the first padded practice of training camp. “He puts the cleats on just like us and he’s out there running around, doing the drills with us so that’s the beautiful part about him.”
MMQB’s “Tweet of the Week” - Albert Breer SI.com
Dez Bryant’s Twitter meltdown on Friday caught the attention of the MMQB team, naming it their “Tweet of the Week”:
The really crazy thing about the Dez vs. Cowboys fight? It was all sparked by that Sirius account cherry-picking something Dallas COO Stephen Jones said on the air without proper context (to their credit, the folks there did take it down). And this, on the day that a column by ex-Cowboys TE Jason Witten on the dangers on Twitter went up on ESPN.com. A column, by the way, that I’m told one assistant coach printed out copies of, with plans to pass it out to his players, only to have the head coach beat him to it by doing a presentation on Witten’s piece to the entire team.
5 Open Practices Set For August At The Star - Rob Phillips, DallasCowboys.com
Those stuck in the MetroPlex during training camp but aching to catch some Cowboys’ pre-season practices, you’re in luck. Phillips has the details.
Below is the schedule for the five open practices at Ford Center:
Monday, Aug. 20: 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 21: 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 23: 11 a.m.
Friday, Aug. 24: 11 a.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 28: 11 a.m.
A conditional third for Earl Thomas? – Peter King, ProFootballTalk
Just when you thought you wouldn’t have any Earl Thomas talk today, along comes Peter King, now writing for ProFootballTalk/NBCSports, who proposes the following in his latest Football Morning in America column:
I think this is the best trade Seahawks GM John Schneider could make for Thomas: acquiring a conditional third-round pick in 2020 from Dallas or Oakland for him. If Thomas makes 10 starts in 2018, Seattle gets the third. If he makes any less, Seattle gets a fourth. Just do it. It’ll make both sides look smart by November.