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Five things to like about Cowboys training camp so far

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There are reasons for optimism at Cowboys camp, we detail five of them.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an off day at Cowboys training camp, so let’s take a step back and reflect on what we’ve seen on the positive side of the ledger. There is plenty going that should have fans excited about the 2019 team, in this article we’ll concentrate on five things.

Tony Pollard

The Cowboys drafted the running back in the fourth round to be a complement to Ezekiel Elliott. Most of the talk over the offseason was about his receiving ability, his creativity in the open field and how he could fill the third-down role with some other stuff sprinkled in.

But the Cowboys are so impressed with him that they think he could be an every-down back. Stephen Jones discussed this with Mickey Spagnola during the Blue White scrimmage, saying he thought this “nickel back” label for Pollard was wrong. He said Pollard can do a lot more, like take handoffs and hit the hole in the regular role of a running back.

As evidence, Pollard put together a nifty little run through the interior of the Cowboys line for a touchdown on Sunday.

Pollard has also been able to execute in the passing game as expected. We’re a long way from a finished product, and the preseason games will tell us a lot more about his ability to avoid/break tackles at this level of football. Still, his start to camp is promising.

With the unknown of Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout still looming over the Cowboys, Pollard’s development is a very good thing.

Jason Witten

It’s early, and an entire NFL season is a very long, grinding process. It’s not for the faint of heart. So anything said this early always comes with the caveat that things are subject to change at any time. With that disclaimer out of the way, can we talk about the rejuvenated Jason Witten? All offseason we heard his teammates talk about how he looks fresher, a little quicker, after a year off from the grind.

Witten has carried that over to training camp with some big plays, including a day where he caught two touchdowns in the red zone. Here’s another TD for #82 (although it’s tough to see).

No one is expecting vintage Witten, say 2009-2012, but the Cowboys tight end corps was decidedly weak last year. Maybe Blake Jarwin is ready to take the next step, but that’s a gamble. Having an even average, later-model Witten throughout the season upgrades the position.

Defense ballin’

So much talk about the offense for the Cowboys. Can Kellen Moore fix what ails it? Is Dak Prescott improving under Jon Kitna? When will Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout end? Can Dallas sign the Dak-Zeke-Amari Triplets? There is a lot going on for that side of the ball. Maybe it’s time to pay more attention to the Cowboys defense. It has a chance to be really, really good.

With DeMarcus Lawrence under contract, the only thing holding back the defense right now is health (Lawrence, Byron Jones, somewhat Sean Lee). And full contact. There have been 7-on-7 drills in camp, with no pass rush, and the Cowboys QB will have to fake scramble and keep the play alive because the secondary and linebackers have the receivers on lock down. You really don’t see that that often in 7-on-7.

And they have been scooping up turnovers in camp at a rapid pace. Can they continue it when they play other teams? The Cowboys defense has lacked the big element of turnovers. Getting those moves a good defense into elite territory. It’s a stacked roster on defense except at safety, but one player may be about to change that perception.

Xavier Woods

All offseason, it seemed like the one weakness on defense was at safety. Xavier Woods looked like he could become a star, but we hadn’t quite seen it yet. Dallas flirted with Earl Thomas and Eric Berry, and they had safeties high on the list for their second-round pick in the draft. There definitely seemed to be an emphasis. Maybe the reason they didn’t want to give up too much for a safety was that they believed in Woods. So far in camp, Woods has been one of the most impressive players.

Our own RJ Ochoa, who has been out at camp all week, told me this about Woods. “Based on what I saw at camp, Xavier Woods looks like a true center fielder in Kris Richard’s secondary. He’s fast and a hitter, plus he’s getting INTs. It’s a combination that should make him the player Dallas has been looking for at the back end.”

Others have mentioned Woods, too.

This could be the year when he breaks out, and everybody will be saying what a steal he was in the sixth round.

Travis Frederick

This one is huge. Travis Frederick’s return can’t be overstated. When he is at center, the Cowboys line can operate at peak efficiency not only from Frederick’s blocking, but his ability to make line calls. The Cowboys will tell you he is as good as any in recognizing defenses and making adjustments

The Cowboys still need to see him in a full-contact, no-holding-back situation to really get a look at his return. That will happen in a preseason game and that moment is eagerly anticipated, but everything we’ve heard so far is positive. He’s had no setbacks and he’s been back at, or exceeded, some of his max lifts in the weight room over the offseason.

Having Frederick could be the most important difference in the team from last year. Fingers crossed.