We’ve just now gotten around to the first padded practice for the Dallas Cowboys. The first two days of camp were just helmets and shorts, with no offense versus defense work. That limits just what can be discerned about the 2019 version of the team. One thing that can be determined is the emergence of some new roles for some familiar faces. Here are some that bear watching.
Dak the long thrower
Earlier, the fact the team is trusting Dak Prescott to do more with play-action was cited here at BTB as a reason for hope. But there is another new task for the quarterback that could have a big impact: Kellen Moore is having him work a lot on deep throws. And so far, Prescott is delivering.
The deep strike was one of the many tools that were neglected under the previous offensive regime. With the talent the team has at wide receiver, it is an obvious way to add more punch to the passing game. And as it turns out, it also is something that new quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna has a hand in.
One suspected reason that the long ball was not attempted more last year was the concern over something bad happening (interceptions) or just turning it over on downs. But Kitna clearly thinks that the rewards are worth the risk. And just connecting on one or two deep bombs a game will loosen the coverage, with all the attendant benefits. His entire (brief) career, Prescott has been knocked for being a check-down passer. Due to a combination of a new OC/QC coach combo and his own development, he may be poised to shatter that.
Jason Garrett is more of an offensive coaches’ coach
There was a lot of speculation about just how hands on Garrett was going to be with a new OC, a new QB coach, and an OL coach in his first full year on the job. The old “puppet” meme underwent something of a resurrection, with Garrett now seen as the one controlling the strings.
But based on the observations of our own RJ Ochoa, who is in attendance in Oxnard, that is not at all how it is playing out. Instead, Garrett is focused on coaching up his subordinates. He spoke about teaching them how to speak in front of the team, using his own lessons from the beginning of his coaching career. Meanwhile, Moore is the one that is directly involved with the players, getting the new wrinkles and tweaks incorporated.
And in one thing, Garrett has apparently taken a step back.
Kitna’s experience level as a player and high school coach doubtless play a part in this. It also speaks to the trust and comfort level Garrett has in his assistants.
Sean Lee will do anything to help his team
You don’t normally see one of the longest-tenured veterans on a team jumping into a job on special teams. But Sean Lee is not a typical player. After all, he flew from his home, less than an hour’s drive from Oxnard, just to experience the trip out to California with his teammates. Now, as Bryan Broaddus noted, he is lining up as the personal protector on punts.
Leadership by example is perhaps the most effective way, and Lee is living it. He already has made the shift to SAM to allow Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to start at the MIKE and WILL positions, as well as give the team the best linebacker trio in the NFL. Combined with the work on STs, he is showing the younger players the right way to go about their business. He is simply, to coin a phrase, the right kind of guy.
Jourdan Lewis also working with teams
Lewis has always been something of the odd man out in Kris Richard’s secondary. He is just not the size and length that Richard prefers. But he also is a solid performer when he gets a chance - and maybe much better than just solid. There has been a lot of discussion about whether he can hold off challengers like draftee Michael Jackson and UDFA Chris Westry. Now he is reportedly in the mix as a return man again, which may be a strategy to keep him on the roster. It is not exactly a new role for him, as he was a kick returner at times last season, but it could be more of an emphasis this year.
Using the speed and skills of the wide receivers
This also comes from Broaddus’ day 2 notes:
I like the wrinkle from Kellen Moore of using receivers on waggles and boots instead of the tight ends. Guys like Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin have a better feel for how to get quickly across the formation and get into space. When guys like Cobb have a chance to catch the ball on the move and turn up field, the potential for a big play is generally the result because the defender is out of position.
This is pretty much exactly what we are hoping for from Moore. He is not bringing in radically different things, but refining and adjusting what is already in the play book. Different personnel in old roles can make the familiar much more difficult for the defense to handle.
Tyrone Crawford paying it forward
In another of RJ’s observations, he noted how Crawford was spending noticeable time working with rookie Trysten Hill to help improve the latter’s game. Crawford is much less visible than Lee, and certainly not as loved by the fan base, but this is evidence that the RKG label fits him as well. He is, after all, giving aid to a player that is competing for snaps with him. Give him the respect he has earned.
Those are some changes that may have slipped by you, or just did not seem all that major yet. But big things grow out of the small details, and these are some that could lead to success this fall.