Happy Fourth of July to everyone! It is a day that means many things to us here in the USA. One minor thing in the big scheme of things that should resonate with many here: We are getting so close to the start of training camp in Oxnard for the Dallas Cowboys. It is now less than three weeks away. Here are some random thoughts about camp. Just another reminder, I’ll be in Oxnard from July 31st through August 3rd, so if you happen to be there, look for the old guy with a goatee wearing a Blogging The Boys shirt!
- The first practice of camp is the real beginning of football season. Not the arrival, on the 20th this year, or the press conference the next day. The Cowboys take to the field for the first time on the 22nd, and that is when it really starts. The early practices won’t have as much going on, with the pads not coming on until the 28th. That’s why I am arriving after that date, because we will see a lot more from then on. But those first days on the practice field are important for foundational work.
- The staff here at BTB have been trying to dig up every possible angle and storyline about camp, but let’s be real. The biggest one of all is Dak Prescott, just as he will be the most important factor for the team going forward. Not only is he the engine that drives the offense, which will in turn be the best part of this team, he is the undisputed leader of the entire roster. OTAs showed that his ankle is ready for football. While protecting him will be job one during practices, we will get to see so much more of what he can do. And he can do it all.
- There has been some discontent about HBO’s Hard Knocks being in Oxnard. One thing that has been misunderstood by some is that the Cowboys had no choice in the matter. The rules about who is selected are specific, and few teams are actually available. Dallas was one of that small group and simply did not have an out. HBO understands how America’s Team still draws the most eyeballs of any franchise, and they made the decision to go for ratings. It shouldn’t be a major issue, especially because of Prescott. If the cameras do seem a distraction, it is still more about the team still working through their multiple problems from 2020 than the extra attention.
- One question is how cautious the staff and team is about trying to avoid injuries. Last year was a brutal illustration of how those can derail things. Prescott is hardly the only one they need to protect. Most of the starting offensive line and several other players are coming back from injury. They have to find the right balance between going hard enough to prepare for the real games and not taking undue risks. Training camp injuries are the worst. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best while bracing ourselves for possible bad news.
- Preseason games will also reflect the need to get the starters to the regular season in good health. Expect almost all of them to see little to no action in those.
- Almost every year there is an unexpected player that looks very good in camp. That doesn’t mean they will make the roster, but it may be a springboard to a chance elsewhere or a spot on the practice squad, which is a nice consolation. A possible name to watch is UDFA LB Anthony Hines III. We are pretty certain about the top five at the position, but there is a good chance the staff doesn’t want to only carry that many for the season. It is also a prime resource for special teams. Hines was reportedly looking pretty good in OTAs, so it will be interesting to see if he carries that forward. (Disclaimer: He is an Aggie. I’m an Aggie. So I’m pulling a little bit harder for him.)
- Culture on the team is important. Prescott is doing a lot to establish that, but ultimate responsibility is on the head coach. Mike McCarthy is not seen very well by the outside world after the flop last season. He needs to be very confident and in control during camp. Hard Knocks will provide a better view of those things, although caution must be taken in how you evaluate what you see. The program loves some drama, and things may well be edited to emphasize that or even create the impression that it exists when it doesn’t. Still, it is going to be must-see stuff.
- There is a lot of anticipation to see how Dan Quinn’s defense will line up. But don’t be surprised if things look very vanilla in Oxnard. He may well try to keep things under wraps until the team returns to Dallas and the practices are closed. The same should apply to the preseason games, which should be mostly about seeing how the down-roster players perform in live action. This will also apply to the offense, of course. The work at that stage is mostly about getting the fundamentals right and working on timing and chemistry.
- This camp should offer some great battles. Without going into too much detail on what might show up in a post later this week, one that I am very interested in is the QB2 situation. All signs point to the plan being for Garrett Gilbert to get that job, but he is hardly secure. Watching how things go when Prescott is not taking the snaps will be fascinating.