A new question has arisen about the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp (at least in my mind): Are things really going as well as they seem, or are we becoming too optimistic?
We won’t really know until we at least see the preseason games, and the real test is of course that regular season opener against the Carolina Panthers. But after several years of following camp closely, and winnowing down the list of which writers to really pay attention to, there is a definite trend going on this summer. The coverage is mostly positive, and it isn’t even close. At times, very objective people like Bryan Broaddus and Jon Machota seem to be unable to find much of anything negative to say.
Maybe it’s partly due to the almost daily hand-wringing last year about Taco Charlton. We also had the deep uncertainty after Tony Romo was injured in 2016 to affect us. But whatever the reason, there are just do not seem to be as many worries about the roster at this stage of camp as normal.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few questions out there. One that is shaping up rather unexpectedly is a possible real fight between Cameron Fleming and Chaz Green for the swing tackle job. They may be much closer than we imagined before camp.
That’s a great question because Fleming hasn’t been as consistent as he needs to be but I can say the same with Green. https://t.co/5OQeMr0vEg— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) August 2, 2018
There is also the somewhat precarious situation at tight end, where Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin look like locks. Dalton Schultz missed time due to the birth of his son (congratulations to his wife and him), and Rico Gathers continues to make some big catches while trying to prove he can be an asset as a blocker. That might be one place the team will look to add someone from outside.
But most of the rest of the questions revolve around down-roster spots. There is a pretty good battle shaping up between Duke Thomas, Marquez White, and the somewhat surprising Donovan Olumba, whom Broaddus has named as the most impressive of the unheralded names on the roster. Likewise, Kadeem Edwards, Joe Looney, and Marcus Martin seemed to be in a three way battle for the two inside backup spots on the offensive line (assuming the team only goes with eight overall).
Meanwhile, the top four draft picks are doing quite well. Leighton Vander Esch is the only one who has a fair share of bad reps, but he also does some good things. It seems a much more positive start to his career than Charlton had a year ago. Connor Williams simply looks like he belongs on a line that is trying to reclaim the title of best in the league. Michael Gallup has people talking about when he becomes the WR1, not if. And Dorrance Armstrong is also having a much better start to things at DE than Charlton.
Speaking of which, Charlton looks to have made significant strides, putting him firmly on the list of returning players who we hoped to see taking a step or two in the right direction. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley, Jaylon Smith, Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones - all have given us reason for hope through the practices. And after a slow start, even Anthony Brown seems to be finding a bit of a groove lately.
What is most striking is that the practices seem to show good play by one player rather than real mistakes by another, at least for the most part. And that is not by a small margin, either.
No position group has been more of a pleasant surprise than the wide receivers. After the considerable angst about possibly being the worst group in the league, they have been nothing short of impressive. Beasley and Gallup have already been mentioned, but Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Lance Lenoir, and Terrance Williams have been making play after play. Williams is especially good to see coming back from injury, and after his off field issues recently. It looks like coach Sanjay Lal is having a real, very positive impact. Noah Brown has been fighting a hamstring issue, and that may be crucial to his chances with the strength of his competition.
And special mention must be made of Tavon Austin. As our own One Cool Customer has noted in his analysis of offensive personnel so far in camp, Austin has seen the most snaps of any wide receiver - and none as a running back. The plan to get Austin heavily involved in the offense is in full effect, and his speed and ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands show up every day.
It is enough to make you worry. So much good news, against a relatively small list of bad things. It just seems unnatural for the Cowboys.
Of course, the biggest worry of any camp still is lurking out there. The injuries are piling up around the league, the preseason games get into full swing next week, and Dallas has not been completely immune with Cedrick Wilson going on IR to start his career. But so much of that is random, and we can only hope they do not happen to the Cowboys, at least to key players or in significant numbers.
Outside that, things just look too good right now. That may be the paranoia speaking. And preseason games are always much more indicative of the real strength of the roster. We will start seeing how this year’s bunch stacks up against other NFL squads. That is when we are likely find out if the good feelings are justified or just us believing in a mirage.
Until then, we just have to watch the practices to see what we can glean. So far, it has mostly been a lot of good news. Now we hope it continues.
Knock on wood.