The Dallas Cowboys have gotten to the first off day of 2019 training camp and it seems like most things are going well. Yes, there is that one player hanging out in Cabo, but otherwise there has not been much to inspire worry.
This is the dawning age of football analytics, like it or tell it to get off your lawn, but it is rather hard to come up with hard data and numbers from practices. Preseason games will not help much, since they will be more about sorting out the depth of the team while the starters and some key rotational players are mostly kept behind force shields on the sidelines for those affairs. This article is going to go for the subjective. There are things you begin to get an unscientific feel for, and here are the things that I think we can see.
The multiple contract situations do not have the staff worried at all
Ezekiel Elliott may be holding out, but he has very little leverage beyond August 6th, when he stands to lose a year credited towards free agency. Of course, he could just go all in and stay in Mexico until the team finally caves - but that seems a bit of a risky proposition. However, this is the kind of report that keeps showing up.
Just received another positive update on Zeke extension status. Still needs time, but IF things continue on same track, I expect Elliott to be t/ highest paid RB in the NFL across certain metrics. Jives w/ same tone I heard last Fri. Obviously though nothing is done until signed.— ig: josinaanderson (@JosinaAnderson) July 30, 2019
Meanwhile, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are just leaving it all to their respective agents. Some in the media keep trying to turn this into drama, but that just hasn’t gained traction. That could change on the 6th. We will find out if, as some wealthy old guy once said, deadlines do make deals.
The Kellen Moore thing is really happening
There is no need to go into depth on this, because it seems every other article out there does that. But pre-snap motion, some creative personnel packages and usage, and continued good performance from Dak Prescott all contribute to the hope that Moore can fix things.
This wide receiver group may be a lot better than people realize
So far, when Amari Cooper wants to be open, he is. Michael Gallup is showing every sign of taking a big step forward in his second season. Randall Cobb still has a way to go in getting the chemistry down with his quarterback, but there is plenty of time for that. Tavon Austin probably just has to stay healthy (obviously not a given) to make the team. And the competition for however many other WR spots are carried into the regular season is shaping up to be fierce, with Cedrick Wilson, Jon’Vea Johnson, Jalen Guyton, and Reggie Davis all making plays, some on a regular basis.
Offense and defense split the first two padded practices, and that’s a good sign
Most years it seems as if one unit comes into camp with a stronger performance than the other, but that has not shown up at this early stage. The offense took the first padded practice, and the defense came back with some takeaways to “win” the second. It extended to the one-on-one portion of the proceedings, where the lines also traded out winding up on top.
This is most meaningful if both sides are good, and with the talent this team has, that looks like a good bet. Iron sharpens iron, according to the old saying, and the best honing happens when things are fairly even. For the starters, this is the real work of camp.
Health is holding up so far - knock vigorously on wood
Across the NFL, there have been serious and sometimes season-ending injuries happen already. So far, the only injuries noted in Oxnard have been what is considered to be a minor tweak to one of Sean Lee’s knees (we fervently hope), and a problem with Rico Gathers’
hands ankle. Taco Charlton was seen holding his back after the padded practice on Tuesday, but was seen in the walkthrough session later that day. It remains to be seen if there is something there.
But even those problems certainly are not cause for panic. Lee would be the most concerning, but he is a true warrior, and the staff will protect him the rest of the way as needed.
The players who started on PUP, like DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones, seem to be right on schedule to be ready for the regular season, if not before.
The return of Travis Frederick is a huge lift
He saw action in his first padded practice, and while he is being held out of the compete periods, his effective presence in the middle of the offensive line is more than just an inspiring story of coming back from a very serious illness. It is an emotional boost for the entire team. The Cowboys are built from the inside out, and the prospect of the offensive line returning to dominance is of inestimable value.
We can pencil in the tight ends already
Jason Witten will be the official starter. Blake Jarwin looks to have made some impressive strides, and should get more usage this year. Dalton Schultz will fill the depth/backup role. And those three will be the tight ends on the 53. Gathers could not afford mistakes, and he had a big one in letting a well-thrown pass clunk off his hands into Jeff Heath’s always opportunistic arms.
Even the Alfred Morris signing has a very positive side
Some tried to paint it as a move to put pressure on Elliott, but both the remarks of the staff and an objective view of the situation at running back tell a different story. Before Morris returned to the team, the rest of the running backs in camp had a sum total of six carries in NFL games that counted, all belonging to Darius Jackson. The team needed a veteran presence in that room, and Morris has a perfect attitude for that role.
What is really good is that it was the only place the team had any real need to add a body. In past years, there have been one or more positions where questions had the team looking hard to shore things up. So far, that has not been the case. This roster continues to look as deep and talented as any this century for Dallas. If they do have to go looking for someone to bring in, it will either be due to injury, or because some group starts to falter a bit. So far, so good.
It is still early, but all these things should make fans feel good about the Cowboys. There is still a long way to go. But based on the little we have seen so far, it is at least as likely that things get better rather than going downhill.
Practices start up again on Thursday. Here’s hoping things stay headed in the same direction they are now.