It’s just two weeks until the Dallas Cowboys start the 2020 NFL season at the Los Angeles Rams. Every year, we arrive at this point thinking we know some things about the team, but also having a lot of questions that we want answered. It is a more acute situation this year, as the lack of offseason practices, no preseason games, and remarkably stringent rules on how training camp is covered leave us even more in the dark that usual.
Tonight, however, we finally get at least a glimpse of what this year’s edition of America’s Team will look like. The annual Blue & White scrimmage is going to be broadcast on local Dallas television, covered on radio, and streamed on DallasCowboys.com.
While we wait for that, here are some things to ponder.
Just how badly did Jason Garrett lose the locker room?
This is an interesting statement, and it’s not the first time something like it has popped up.
Cowboys CB Anthony Brown on difference between Mike McCarthy and his staff and Garrett's: "It's a totally different environment...It's kind of like a breath of fresh air ... The players have a lot more leeway to say what we want to do. He gives us more opp. to express ourselves."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 28, 2020
Our R.J. Ochoa was also struck by Brown’s comments. For years, many (including me) thought that Garrett was a real player’s coach, with a very strong relationship between him and his roster. But that perception has been badly damaged by remarks like this. Over and over we have been told that the players were frustrated by many things, particularly the often-cited predictability of both the offense and defense. It is also worth noting that players often keep these kinds of things to themselves, avoiding even such indirect criticism. They never know when they may encounter the coach they are complaining about if he should, say, become a coordinator for a division rival. However, this may have been something that extended beyond just Garrett. It was reported that the defensive backs were not only coached to keep their eyes on the receivers rather than turn and try to track the ball, they were expressly forbidden from deviating from the coaches’ preferred technique.
R.J. talked in his article about how McCarthy’s communication skills, praised by Jerry Jones, may be a big factor. This also is something that indicates that the new head coach is very serious about the concept of putting his players in the best position to succeed. Listening to their input on what they believe they can do best certainly is a big step in that direction.
Is Dak taking another step up?
Dak Prescott has a history of not being the best practice player, saving his best for actual games. But last season, he seemed to make some progress in improving how he did in practice, while still having a statistically impressive year, with the second most yards passing in the league. This camp, he has received praise for how he has performed, and been improving as the practices progress. He had a bad session on Thursday as the defense capitalized on the travails at offensive tackle, but when Tyron Smith and La’el Collins got on the field for some reps on Friday, in itself a very encouraging development, Prescott again looked very sharp. If he still turns it up a notch or two on game day, he could really cash in on playing this year on the franchise tag.
And those weapons
We know that he already has one of the best one-two punches at wide receiver in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, who both exceeded 1,100 yards receiving. Ezekiel Elliott is back and seems to be taking a bit of umbrage at not being seen by some as at the top of his position in the league. Blake Jarwin is showing every sign he is about to be unleashed without a certain future Hall of Famer eating up snaps.
And that rookie wideout is not only living up to the very high expectations that came with his being drafted at 17 overall, he is exceeding them all. CeeDee Lamb simply looks like an experienced, elite receiver. The chemistry with Prescott is already evident, and really exists between him and the entire QB group. This is absolutely looking like a “pick your poison” offense, because it may be nearly impossible to stop all of the arrows Kellen Moore now has in his quiver.
Coaching is a part of what is brewing
The draconian rules on what can be reported from camp have left the reporters resorting to veiled and not-so-veiled hints, but those and what can be reported are painting a beautiful picture. All the starters are making head-turning plays on offense, and depth pieces like Tony Pollard, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Blake Bell, and Dalton Schultz also have flashed - or just been consistently good.
One of those things that can only be indirectly reported is the use of both Elliott and Pollard at the same time, but a couple of the reporters have made it very clear that it is happening, at least in practice. The staff may keep things very vanilla in the scrimmage, but hopefully they will at least give us a taste of what is in store when real games start happening.
The defense has upgraded
It was saddening to see Gerald McCoy released after his injury, but the other new players on defense have been giving us plenty of hope that the woes of last year will not reoccur. Everson Griffen has been very active and effective. Dontari Poe and Neville Gallimore have shored up the interior of the defensive line and, with a surging Trysten Hill, are being reported as two-gapping, an effective approach for running downs. Bradlee Anae would be the most exciting rookie in some years, but Lamb is not the only reason he is a bit overshadowed. Trevon Diggs has gotten a lot of extra work with Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie fighting their own injury issues, and he has risen to the task. With the abbreviated camp and no offseason, it should have been very difficult for him to get into the conversation for starting corners, but he has forced his way in with tight coverage and some welcome interceptions. Don’t overlook Daryl Worley, either. He is likely to make this roster and contribute as well.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has not had as outstanding a camp. Donovan Wilson is looking good, however, and there are reports that another rookie cornerback, Reggie Robinson II, is going to get a long look at safety to help there.
But the big surprise has been Aldon Smith. After years away from the game, he has come in and looks to be playing near his peak. With DeMarcus Lawrence as the cornerstone, the pass rush is going to be formidable, if not outright terrifying.
The talent is in place, and like with the offense, the coaching seems to be pushing all the right buttons. Jim Tomsula is showing why McCarthy hired him to get the line whipped into shape. Mike Nolan was probably the driving factor behind switching Leighton Vander Esch to the MIKE and putting Jaylon Smith at the WILL, and both are thriving so far, including with some sack opportunities of their own. And we’ve already seen how different the secondary plays when they try to find the ball in the air.
Teams may be special again
Lamb is working as a punt returner, which is a place the team needs a big boost, and others are getting work to make sure there are options. John Fassel got a likely ST ace in UDFA Francis Bernard, who is also turning out to be a good depth piece at linebacker. Meanwhile, kicker Greg Zeurlein has only been perfect on his attempts in camp.
As mentioned, we don’t know how much of the new stuff we will see in the scrimmage, but just seeing the players go at something like full speed should be exciting and informative. It is the only real chance we have to get a real hint what this edition of the Cowboys will be like. It also may be crucial to the staff to figure out who they will keep on the roster and who is going to be targeted for the practice squad, so this may be a spirited affair.
And we can hardly wait.