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Summing up the good and the bad from the Cowboys 2021 OTA sessions

A look at the Cowboys now that they’ve gone through OTAs.

Cleveland Browns v Dallas Cowboys
There’s no bigger reason, really.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s OK to be excited about the Dallas Cowboys. Things are going well through OTAs. In many cases, the team and the players can be said to be ahead of schedule. Now that the final look at the team in the carefully controlled and limited practices are wrapped up, and before we get a last look in the minicamp prior to the long dry spell of June and July, here are some observations about why we are feeling good, and why those feelings need to be put in the proper perspective.

Dak is back

All eyes have been on Dak Prescott as he returns from his brutal ankle injury. While he is being held out of 11-on-11 work out of an abundance of caution, he has been doing everything else, including some nifty throws in 7-on-7.

If Prescott is 100% back, then the future is indeed bright. He is finally being recognized as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He is surrounded by some great weapons like CeeDee Lamb, featured above. His leadership and dedication are second to none. His loss last year doomed the season.

The grain of salt here is that he has not taken a hit, and probably will not take one until the Cowboys open the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their impressive defense. We will all hold our breath the first time someone collides with him, and probably will every time after that all season. It does not seem likely that he will become overly cautious of his ankle. However, most of us have no idea what he went through. We think we have prime Dak again. The proof is yet to come.

Don’t forget the contract

Having him inked to his mega-deal is huge, and that, for most, has slipped to the back of the mind. But looking at situations like Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers or DeShaun Watson and the Houston Texans points to what a luxury quarterback contentment is. Add in all the teams that are placing their fortunes in the hands of questionable or unproven QBs, and there are very few teams that feel this confident in things. It is a big advantage for Dallas.

The but here is that situations often resolve themselves, or maybe in the cases of Rodgers and Watson they will land with some other team and immediately elevate them to Super Bowl contenders. After all, it worked with Tom Brady.

The tackles are back, too

Nearly as devastating as Prescott’s loss was having La’el Collins miss the entire season, and Tyron Smith go out just a couple of games in. That was likely a contributing factor to Prescott getting hurt, and it certainly meant that the team had far too high a hill to climb with the assortment of backups behind center. Now, though, it looks like the starting tackles, plus Zack Martin, are on track to be back for the season opener.

Smith in particular is feeling very good.

By now, you know the caveat here. All players are in the best shape of their career, those coming back from injury are 100%, yada, yada. Smith has not played a full season since 2015, and we still do not fully understand what cost Collins the entire year. Until we see them not just start, but finish some games without incident, it will be hard to fully believe in things.

Zeke looks hungry, and very ready

If we also have top level Ezekiel Elliott to complement that passing game, this could truly be an awesome offense. He certainly looks ready to go.

Here’s the thing. Under Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore, we fully expect the offense to be centered around the passing game. While Elliott is still one of the highest paid running backs in the league, the Cowboys are paying Prescott a whole lot more. It is hard to see Elliott being a major factor. As a possession player and short-yardage weapon, he still will contribute, and if Dallas can build the kinds of leads we are hoping for, he could eat very well late in games. It all comes down to whether you believe running backs still matter, and how much.

Defensive rookies look good

A couple of draft picks stood out in Thursday’s session while the media was in attendance.

It’s great to see the young’uns trying to make the transition to the pros shine. Given how badly the defense needs to be better, this is all good. And Nahshon Wright may wind up proving a lot of us overreacted to his surprising selection in the draft.

You can fix me a plate as well if it works out.

But picks against Ben DiNucci and the other backup QBs are not really that impressive. Oh, sure, they still made the plays, but let’s see how they fare against legitimate NFL starters. They will be tested right off the bat against Brady, and then we will find out the truth.

Maybe Dan Quinn was a good hire

The vibe from the defenders has been all good. Having a full offseason, even with the restrictions and precautions still in place due to the pandemic, should make things much better for the defense than the debacle of 2020, as Mike McCarthy pointed out in his press conference before practice.

Teaching opportunities are seemingly more available this offseason with things closer to normal than they were in 2020. McCarthy said that having the ability to communicate and teach this early in the process is something that was missed last year. He said that he thought near the end of the year that the team’s process was where he needed to be. He noted that he doesn’t even like to talk about last year because he feels like it is a “terrible comparable” and said that he has been comparing things to his past experiences that are more normal than usual.

One player who needs to bounce back a lot, Leighton Vander Esch, also pointed to the changes Quinn is bringing to the defense as a reason for positivity.

Wait a minute, though. Didn’t we hear something very similar about how LVE would be used under Mike Nolan? There is often a positive result from any change in an organization, but it is always wise to make sure your exhaust isn’t being blocked by yellow tropical fruit. Optimism should not be discarded for the defense. They were so bad last season that the only way would appear to be up. But once again, let’s see what happens when the games count in the standings before we accept all this.

There are some things that jumped out from the final open session of OTAs. With freak injuries avoided so far (and someone really needs to tell Vander Esch not to dive for interceptions and scare us all) this has been very encouraging.

We discussed all of the action from Thursday’s OTAs action on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss anything that we are doing over there.