The Dallas Cowboys are about to hold their 2022 minicamp. With the long quiet spell coming before training camp it is safe to say that we will be grabbing any tidbit to try to project how this team will perform. But there is only so much to be learned from very limited practices. There are going to be some questions that will still have us worrying.
Is the offensive line rebuild going to work?
Terence Steele is now the starter at right tackle and Tyler Smith is the hope at left guard. Steele saw a lot of work last season as La’el Collins missed games, but it is still a change from where the team was to start last year. Smith is a rookie, which means he remains an unknown. Of the remaining three positions, only Zack Martin is seen as a given. Tyler Biadasz appears to have the starting job unless he loses it in camp, which appears unlikely. But Tyron Smith is a very different concern. He has not started an entire season since 2016. Further, swing tackle is an open question.
We probably won’t have a good answer until the games count. Preseason games will tell us a little, but don’t expect to see much more than token appearances from the starters. Frankly, Tyron should not play a snap in those meaningless games. Nor should Martin, because he doesn’t need the reps. The others should get work, but the team has to reach a balance between honing their abilities and protecting them for the real games.
As a believer that teams should be built from the trenches out, how the line goes will determine how successful the entire offense is. The uncertainty level is far too great.
Will the receiving corps be good enough?
We know that Michael Gallup is expected to miss multiple games as he continues to rehab. That leaves CeeDee Lamb as the one proven receiver. The likely WR2 and WR3 are rookie Jalen Tolbert and free agent James Washington, and that is another level of uncertainty.
Meanwhile tight end now has the shadow of the Dalton Schultz contract negotiations hanging over it. He held out of the latter part of the OTAs. Given the history of such negotiations under Stephen Jones, this may drag out into training camp. With questionable depth behind Schultz, that is not good.
That still leaves the team needing to fill out the receiving corps for the regular season. During the OTAs buzz started to build about second-year player T.J. Vasher, who missed last season on the NFI list. That is all well and good, and fits the normal script of an unheralded WR looking good - in practices. Outside of him, there was not much about the rest of the receivers. Admittedly, the OTAs are limited in how much information they provide. Minicamp may give us a little clarity. It will still be of that limited variety. Dak Prescott is a good quarterback. He remains reliant on competent targets. With the questions about his line, he also needs ones that can get open quickly so he can get the ball out. We won’t know if they are good enough for a while.
Is the Tony Pollard talk real or just another mirage?
David Helman of the mothership may have summed it up best.
It’s just that I’ve been hurt before. pic.twitter.com/XP8XHxovQM— David Helman (@HelmanDC) June 13, 2022
Pollard is unquestionably talented. He was very productive when called upon in previous seasons. The arguments that he needs to be more involved in the offense are plentiful.
How this turns out falls mainly on one set of shoulders, those of Kellen Moore. And that is worrisome. For the past three years, we have been waiting for him to unleash the offense with creativity and aggression. Tantalizing glimpses of that have been seen early in the past couple of years, but as things progressed he seemed to fall back on a more staid approach, featuring Ezekiel Elliott and early down runs while the passing game also seemed to become more vanilla.
Now we have to hope Moore can be more who we want him to be. Helman’s take above is valid for the offense and really the team as a whole. My mantra this year is to take a wait and see attitude for everything about the Cowboys.
Was last year’s defense a fluke or a sign that Dan Quinn knows the answers?
The defense was not the liability we have seen in recent years last fall. But there are a couple of big questions about that. First, as detailed, they largely lived and died off of turnovers. Those are almost impossible to sustain year to year. Just a normal regression to the mean could spell trouble for a unit that was much more pedestrian in all other aspects. Further, they had not one but three unexpected stars emerge in super rookie Micah Parsons, league-leading ballhawk Trevon Diggs, and free agent Jayron Kearse, who was rather brilliant in his hybrid safety/linebacker role. We hope Parsons has no form of sophomore slump. That is not unrealistic given how absolutely dominant he was. Kearse is one player who seemed to thrive under Quinn, so he should still be good. But Diggs is very much subject to that regression problem. The team also has to hope rookie Sam Williams will keep them from missing Randy Gregory. The interior of the defensive line was not great last season, and much of the hope there relies on Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa continuing the improvement they demonstrated last season. That pair did look good once Gallimore returned from injury.
The biggest concern here is that, outside of turnovers, the defense was pedestrian last season and occasionally was exploited. They have to get better at the fundamentals of run and pass defense so they don’t have to have an outstanding takeaway margin to survive. Quinn seemed to breathe new life into the defense, as much for his leadership and energy as anything else. Now he has to get them more consistent and effective.
These are four of the most obvious questions that will still be with us after the minicamp. There are others, but the answers to these could absolutely determine the fate of this team.