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Five thoughts about the Cowboys as we sit on the edge of the 2020 season

It’s time to get back into a regular-season groove for the Cowboys.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers Scrimmage
This is where it will begin.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s really here. That’s a sentiment you are going to encounter repeatedly, but it is not hard to understand. The Dallas Cowboys are now officially in the first week of the regular season, preparing for the SNF opener at the Los Angeles Rams. We can still expect a move or two, but the roster is largely set. Now, it is all about the games. It’s a lot to think about, and of course, I’ve been thinking hard.

This is not Chaz Green redux

Starting right tackle La’el Collins is beginning the season on IR, which is not a good thing. At all. For those with any memory at all, it brings back echoes of the Burning in Atlanta, when Tyron Smith was out at LT in 2017 and the Falcons abused Dak Prescott to the tune of about 132 sacks, roughly. They chased Green right off the field - not that Byron Bell was noticeably better. Prescott, who was just in his second year, was visibly rattled the rest of the season, and didn’t really shake his case of nerves until midway through the next.

We were told repeatedly through training camp that the team expected Collins to be ready for the season, but apparently someone’s lips were moving. His injury leaves Cameron Erving, Brandon Knight, and UDFA rookie Terence Steele to fill in. We don’t really have any significant data to believe they are upgrades over Green and Bell, partly because we saw almost nothing of them due to the McCarthy Curtain that descended across training camp, and because what little we heard tended to be them getting abused by DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, Aldon Smith, and surprising rookie Bradlee Anae.

Still, I just don’t think things will go as badly as they did back then. That’s because, despite Adrian Clayborn literally setting up his biggest contract the next year because of the six sacks he pummeled Prescott with, the Cowboys never gave any help to their desperate left tackles that day. It was a bizarre approach, and one of the key bits of evidence that the old regime in Dallas was inflexible and very poor at adaptation and adjustment. That no longer appears to be the case. With Kellen Moore working under Mike McCarthy, expect whoever winds up starting the game at RT to get some help from TEs and RBs, as well as the play calls and designs. Something that was noted at one point in camp suddenly seems much more pertinent.

It’s almost like that guy in front of the ambulance at the start of the clip knew there might be an issue with Collins.

The Brandon Carr signing was genius

Many seem to have a problem with a bargain-price acquisition of a long-term veteran who has never missed a game in his career and also had a good bit of work at safety last season with the Baltimore Ravens in a way that did not even tie up a roster spot, but I’m not one of them. Maybe it’s a burn-out effect by the long-term Earl Thomas discussions, maybe the circumstances of Thomas becoming a free agent create concern. Being mad at the team over getting such a reliable veteran who still was playing at a high level last season when he is very likely able to help the team out in their weakest part of the defense makes little sense.

In this case, it was how they used the special rules for the pandemic that was most impressive. It lets them take however much time they need to get Carr through the protocol and up to speed in the defense, then they can hopefully just execute a swap between him and a player on the roster. We took a look at how the team was being creative a few days back, but this is next level. It’s really a bit surprising that most of the league is not exploring this kind of stashing more. Only the Philadelphia Eagles with their PS-from-home deal with Josh McCown seem to be working hard to exploit the new avenues opened up by the pandemic rule changes. Carr promises to be on the roster long before McCown would ever be, given that Jalen Hurts is healthy. Of course, backup Carson Wentz is always an injury risk, so the McCown deal is still pretty prudent.

The rest of the practice squad ain’t too shabby, either

Not having preseason games plus the constant use of a Romulan cloaking device during training camp means that we really know very little about most of the players the Cowboys signed, but on paper they really look good. The standout outside of Carr is undoubtedly Francis Bernard, who almost everyone had on their pre-cutdown roster prediction. There are several players on it that could easily be called up in case of injury, including Deante Burton, Chris Westry, Ron’Dell Carter, and Jon’Vea Johnson.

One player, though, must have been very disappointed. Darius Anderson was thought by some to have been in the running for the RB3 spot that was filled by Rico Dowdle, but instead the Cowboys are planning on signing Elijah McGuire once he clears the COVID protocol. It would have been nice to have a new Radius.

Sorry Ha Ha Clinton-Dix didn’t work out, but glad the team was willing to move on

He had the connection to McCarthy plus he is a very experienced and accomplished veteran. But he was among the first cuts announced. Not too long ago - like last year - there was too much emphasis put on that veteran experience in making roster decisions, which led to some very questionable decisions about promising young players. One of the most notable was Charvarius Ward, traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018 for OG Parker Ehringer. Ward earned a starting job in 2019 and had a couple of interceptions, a forced fumble, and 74 tackles on the way to getting a Super Bowl ring. Ehringer didn’t last long in Dallas.

That does not seem to be the way things are going to go under McCarthy. While we have a long way to go until we know just how well the staff has managed all their personnel decisions, this is a promising sign. No disrespect to Clinton-Dix, but the beat reporters said that he was outplayed by both Donovan Wilson and Darian Thompson. Choosing the most capable player is always a good thing.

The wait to see just what this team has is almost over

This can’t be emphasized enough. The influx of talent to this roster has been massive. It is hard to put the usual caveats out, because so many of the additions are either so very accomplished or just flat out balled in camp - as far as we can tell.

Now, having missed all the preseason games and so much of what we are used to seeing from camp, the debut on Sunday night leads most of us to giddy anticipation. It may not work out as we hope, especially early. The new staff and very limited preparation for the season could well lead to hiccups and outright stumbles.

It is just hard to imagine some of these new players having much problem, though. And McCarthy has assembled an impressive group of coordinators and assistants. We hope it really pays off.

The wait is almost over. Let football begin.