The first day of practice is in the books for the Dallas Cowboys as training camp is officially underway. The team will slowly ease into things as the intensity will start to pick up over the next couple days. As a result, players won’t be giving us a whole lot to see during these first moments of camp. However, one thing we can see is who is lining up where, and that could be a clue as to how the coaching staff views the hierarchy of these players within the depth chart. It can also tell us just how physically ready some players are and who’s ailing a bit.
Here’s what we gathered from Day 1 of training camp:
It’s so great to see him back on the field where he belongs. When Frederick, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins walked back onto the practice field, it was like the opening sequence of Reservoir Dogs. I got goosebumps.
Having Frederick back feels good on so many levels. For starters, it’s just nice that he’s able to overcome a bad hand that was dealt to him when he was first diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome. Joe Looney was very serviceable at center last season, but with Frederick you get more push in the middle. Teamed up with the guy to his right, Zack Martin, those two locked down the interior offensive line. Defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods weren’t able to gain any traction against their All-Pro counterparts.
Not only does Frederick add more talent to the line, it’s easy to forget just how instrumental he was pointing out what the defense is doing. Literally, he’s one of the centerpieces to this offense, and his presence is huge for this football team.
With Ezekiel Elliott absent from camp, this opened the door for more reps from the other guys. Many figured that would push rookie Tony Pollard to the top of the depth chart, and set him up to run with the first-team. Instead, the Cowboys went with veteran back Darius Jackson. And he’s pretty excited about his new role.
“I had no idea, you could never guess something like that,” Jackson said. “Coming into this camp, no matter what, I was ready to continue to prove myself as you got to do in this league day in and day out. And I’m ready for anything.”
Jackson is part of that epic 2016 draft that has added key players like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, and Anthony Brown. In fact, eight of the nine players selected that year are still on the team with Charles Tapper being the only exception.
The Cowboys have always tried to keep Jackson around, although roster space has resulted in him being released a couple times. They’ve tried to keep in on the practice squad, but teams like Cleveland and Green Bay have signed him at different times.
He’s back with the Cowboys for now, and at the moment - he’s the team’s no. 1 running back. That could just be a veteran thing as Jackson is the only running back they have out there that has actually played in the NFL, albeit - really briefly. Jackson saw his first and only NFL action last season in the finale against the New York Giants where he rushed six times for 16 yards.
While he’s running with the first-team now, it’s nothing to read too much into. The Cowboys may have a plan for their rookies and they aren’t going to let Zeke’s absence alter that plan. It’s also possible they have a specific type of role for Pollard that is as an accessory to Elliott versus a backup. Who’s to say rookie Mike Weber wouldn’t be the two-down back should Zeke miss any real time.
Basically, it’s still real early. Things could change rather quickly and I wouldn’t interpret this as Jackson having a better shot at making the roster than he did a couple days ago. He’s still got an uphill battle ahead of him.
Probably the biggest surprise was seeing Darian Thompson filling in for Xavier Woods who was on leave after the birth of his child. Does that mean Thompson is no. 3 on the depth chart? Again, it’s too early to rush to judgment, but that could be a slight tell as how the coaching staff feels about him.
The competition at safety isn’t that strong. They brought in free agent George Iloka and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth round. They also have veteran Kavon Frazier. When you add in Thompson, all these guys will be fighting for limited spots.
The Cowboys signed Thompson last year and he appeared in 10 games. Now, with a full offseason with the team, he might end up seeing an increased role. He’s a former third-round pick of the New York Giant in 2016, and he has some upside. We have already identified him as one of our bold predictions to jump ahead of Iloka and even be a player that could come out of nowhere and earn playing time. This could be a step in the right direction for him.
With DeMarcus Lawrence out, the Cowboys 2017 first-round draft pick gets the nod at starting left defensive end. He’ll be splitting time with Dorance Armstrong, but this could be the opportunity Taco needs to help get his career back on track.
After struggling his first two years in the league, the time is now for him to take the next step. Everyone is hoping to see a different Charlton this season. On Saturday, he did a nice job against La’el Collins. He had a great initial burst to get to Collins before he had a chance to get his hands on him. Collins still was effective during moments when he was able to get his mitts on him, but give Charlton credit for some quick get-off.
This will be a battle to keep an eye on. Armstrong should get plenty of reps as well so which of these two emerge as the better pass rusher could result in an increase in playing time once the season begins.
All-Pro corner Byron Jones is out so someone has to take over the other outside CB spot opposite Chidobe Awuzie. And that someone was Anthony Brown. And taking Brown’s spot in the slot was Jourdan Lewis.
This is nothing out of the ordinary as the cornerback depth just moved up a spot. It should be interesting to see if this holds up though. Brown struggled playing on the outside in 2017 before being moved to the slot last season. He was much more comfortable and had a great season last year. It’s really a mystery as to how he can handle the outside job right now. Time will tell, but the Cowboys have several options, including rookie Mike Jackson, who would like to be more than just stashed away deep on the depth chart.