With only two actual hours on the field in Oxnard, it is hard to really name winners and losers for the Dallas Cowboys in their 2021 training camp. This is literally the first few steps of the marathon of camp and preseason. But there were still some who made a very good first impression, and others who may already be losing ground as the team looks to set the 53-man roster and depth chart. Here are some that stood out.
Not going so well
Let’s get these up front so you have the positives to end with.
He was placed on PUP along with several other players, but his seems a more serious concern. Notably, two of the others who were also listed in this category, DeMarcus Lawrence and Amari Cooper, were already seen working on cords with the training staff. That is a sure sign they are expected to be full participants before long. Hill does not look as close to getting out there. He also is not a guarantee to make the roster the way Lawrence and Cooper are. Already seen as on the bubble, Hill is now a real question to be with the team at all for the start of the regular season. He could be a real candidate to stash on IR.
Training camp injuries are the worst. It was just minutes into things when Bernard left the field with what was later reported to be a hamstring injury. Those are often lingering problems. Bernard faced an even bigger challenge in making the 53 than Hill, and this just puts him further behind. The team might not be as willing to IR him given that he came in as a UDFA last year. We can only hope he recovers quickly - and that there are very few other such issues for the rest of the players.
Reflecting the huge air of positivity that normally comes on the first day of camp, there was little negative said about players for the most part. But at least one cropped up.
I only saw him for a couple reps today and they weren’t his best unfortunately.— Kyle Youmans (@Kyle_Youmans) July 22, 2021
After the season-long struggles at OT, signing Nsekhe was seen as one of the wisest free agent moves. But he is 35, and Father Time remains the one undefeated participant in the NFL, Tom Brady notwithstanding. There seems to be a real focus on speed this year by the Cowboys, and unfortunately Nsekhe does not seem to be showing much of that. Perhaps he will recover and still make the squad. It also might be a case that he did not work as hard as some of the others in the offseason and just needs to get more in shape. That is another possible problem, however. The door may be open for players like Terrence Steele and Josh Ball to claim a swing tackle role. Brandon Knight could also be in the mix, although the intent seems to be for him to work at tackle.
That is about all the negative that came up on day 1.
Off and running
OK, now for the good stuff.
The mighty Quinn
It may seem odd to include defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in this list, but he is one of the real keys to improving on the dismal 2020 record. Repeated defensive failures were a big part of that. Reports from OTAs were that his players absolutely love him and his hands on approach, which was clearly in evidence as he was personally conducting the defensive line drills and also was seen working one on one with Micah Parsons and Randy Gregory.
Randy Gregory getting some extra 1-on-1 work with Dan Quinn. A good rep to Quinn’s standards #CowboysCamp pic.twitter.com/IIea060D7l— Kyle Youmans (@Kyle_Youmans) July 22, 2021
This could be just what the doctor ordered for the defense.
He is clearly a “walk-around” head coach, leaving the direct coaching up to his assistants. But there was still a bit of evidence as to how he is influencing things.
Today felt like the most work Cowboys have gotten in Day 1 that I can remember. But @BryanBroaddus would know better.— Shan Shariff (@1053SS) July 22, 2021
After the missed offseason of 2020, this is a very good way to start. There is already talk of McCarthy being on the hot seat this year, which is wildly premature. This is a step toward not getting that temp turned up.
Look, it was just non-contact stuff. But after how badly his ankle was mangled and two surgeries, just being a full participant in practice was not just an early win for the quarterback. It was one for the team and all its fans.
The offensive line
The same applies here, although not to the extent of Prescott. Having none of the injured offensive line show up on the PUP is already a victory for the team. Don’t be alarmed when the players get some extra days off. Caution is very wise at this point. The main thing is to have them all ready to go for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and right now, that is on schedule.
He did get outrun to the corner by Ezekiel Elliott on one play, but even then he showed impressive closing speed. The staff continues to throw a lot at him, including having his hand on the ground as a pass rusher, and he is not looking in the least overwhelmed or intimidated.
There was no draft pick that was more questioned when it happened. Then Wright was something of a star of the OTAs. Would he continue to look good in camp?
The answer after one practice is a resounding yes.
.@JonahTulsNFL pic.twitter.com/ze3RldRVGM— jesus flores (@tvjflo) July 22, 2021
This was just one of his highlight plays, as he had multiple PBUs and showed his length and ability to react and respond. Sometimes Twitter scouts miss what the professionals see, and this looks like a great example.
The drafting of Parsons and Jabril Cox plus the heated discussions over what will happen with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have led to Neal being somewhat overlooked. There is also the factor of him converting from safety to linebacker. But right away he flashed something that the Cowboys need a lot more of than they had last season.
LB Keanu Neal forcing the fumble after pass completed to Gallup. pic.twitter.com/aznFoydH1n— Derek Eagleton (@derekeagleton) July 22, 2021
Remember, this is noncontact work. Reaching in and knocking that pigskin loose is not only a strong skill to have, it may be something Neal can help teach the younger players. He may turn out to be a bigger acquisition than we realize.
Less fat, more muscle
Ezekiel Elliott weighs less than he has since his first year in college. Quinton Bohanna does not look at all like a typical nose tackle. La’el Collins is visibly slimmer. And Tyron Smith is just ludicrous when compared to other offensive tackles.
Tyron Smith looking like he was made in Wakanda, rehabbed on uranium. Show me an offensive tackle chiseled like this pic.twitter.com/rrG0UZyRcU— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) July 22, 2021
This ties in nicely with the focus on speed as well as strength this year. And Smith perfectly illustrated how the two can go nicely together.
Future Ring of Honor member Tyron Smith #77 coming right at you during first practice of @dallascowboys 2021 Training Camp in Oxnard. View from the sideline at camp. #CowboysNation pic.twitter.com/bqgT25EmUv— KristiCowboySideline (@KristiCowboy) July 22, 2021
This could be a real sign of good things coming.
CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin, Tony Pollard, Trevon Diggs, Jabril Cox, Donovan Wilson, and Randy Gregory all could have been singled out from the reports out of Oxnard. But that is just an illustration of how positively the first day went.
It is still just one day in. Lots more can happen, and there will likely be down days, because that is how camp goes. But it is hard to envision a much better start to things overall, especially for the individuals highlighted here.
We discussed all of this in great detail in the latest video on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. We’ll be recapping each practice and including highlights so make sure you subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of them.