The Dallas Cowboys have been at training camp for longer than a week, but their first Monday through Friday is officially in the books.
I spent the week out in Oxnard with ESPN San Antonio and had the obviously great time. It was my third year watching the Cowboys train in California and I can honestly say that I’m coming away thinking their focused in a way that I haven’t in years past.
Here are 10 thoughts that I had from the week as a whole. Vamonos.
Dak Prescott definitely looks improved mechanically
He didn’t have the best days of practice near the end of the week, but Dak Prescott certainly looks better from a fundamental standpoint in year four. You can tell that this has been an emphasis of both Jon Kitna and Kellen Moore.
The naysayers will note that this was all merely practice and nothing concrete can be derived from it. To be clear, no one is saying that Dak is suddenly an MVP candidate, but he moves better. He doesn’t look as hesitant at times and that’s a clear improvement.
Amari Cooper is technically sound like no other
Sanjay Lal and Amari Cooper working together is like two mad scientists deciding to live in a lab. They’re both insanely detail-oriented and it’s a marriage that certainly has benefits on the football field.
There is little doubt in my mind that Amari Cooper is one of the best pure route runners in the NFL. He understands so much about the small things that make a receiver great and that’s obvious even in light practices early on in camp.
Michael Gallup will definitely be more of a factor in 2019
I’ve talked about this already this week, but I just came away so impressed with Michael Gallup. You’ve heard about how he’s a great player and that’s great, but he’s also a leader which is great to see in just year two.
Gallup lead every receiver drill while I was out there. What’s more is he was often an example that Lal used for other receivers when it came to things like how far to lower their shoulder when breaking and what not. Expect big things.
The player I was most impressed with... Xavier Woods
While we’re celebrating guys the one that performed the best through a week in my mind was Xavier Woods. The Cowboys have bet a lot on his growth as a safety and while no one is saying he will be All-Pro, he definitely shows signs of a really good player.
Take this as lip service if you want, but Woods was adamant that he’s in the best physical and mental states of his life. He seems to be the most “driven” person on the team right now.
Randall Cobb’s usage is interesting, but we need to see more
It’s certainly fun to see how the Cowboys are using Randall Cobb both inside and outside, plus motioning him around a lot before the snap; however, he wasn’t the most impressive person that I saw.
There were a few drops (as there are in training camp) and it doesn’t quite seem like he’s on the same page as Dak to the degree that Cooper and Gallup are, but again, that’s understandable. It will take time.
Robert Quinn is as advertised
He’s a really quiet guy, but man Robert Quinn looked good. He’s the fastest defensive lineman on the field with no DeMarcus Lawrence out there, by far.
It still feels like the Cowboys aren’t getting enough credit for this move. They landed a legitimate pass rusher at the cost of nothing. And they paired him with one of the game’s best.
Maliek Collins looks like a man on a mission
A few years ago I thought that the hardest-working player at camp was Brice Butler. To be clear I meant hardest-working, not the best. This was in 2017 and I stand by the fact that Butler gave it his absolute all.
This year Maliek Collins wins that award for me. He is constantly on fire and running with his absolute all. The contract year factor must in fact be a real thing.
Jason Witten is definitely not around just for fun
While there are a lot of reasons to want to see more of Blake Jarwin, Jason Witten is still a very good tight end and undoubtedly benefited from a year off.
Witten looks - I’m choosing my words carefully here - faster. This isn’t to say he’s fast, he was just insanely slow last time we saw him. He’s definitely in better shape and has found at the very least a cup from the fountain of youth in this regard. I think he’ll be a contributor in the way that he’s always been, but I’m more confident than ever that he’s going to play his usual amount of snaps.
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch stand out
Considering that Travis Frederick is coming back from injury and that Zack Martin had a back scare, plus with DeMarcus Lawrence on the PUP list, the wow factor really surrounds this team at the linebacker spot with Smith and Vander Esch.
These are two bonafide superstars and you can see it in every drill they run. They’re seemingly faster than they were a year ago and gave the offense fits when things were serious.
It was nice to not have any real drama
The Ezekiel Elliott holdout stuff is out there, but in spite of that there really wasn’t any sense of dread hovering over camp like there has been in years past as far as the way I saw it.
Two years ago we were talking about a team with insanely high expectations that had just said goodbye to Tony Romo. A season ago Dez Bryant was gone and the receiver group was being questioned at every turn. Even with all the contract talk, things were relatively chill for the Cowboys out in Oxnard. To some degree they were even boring.
This is definitely Jason Garrett’s team. You can hear and sense it in all of their answers and the way they interact with each other on the field. Whether or not it yields success this season remains to be seen, but there’s no question that there’s a strong culture within the Cowboys.