The Dallas Cowboys have wrapped up minicamp in what turned out to be an abbreviated week. Despite the shortened work on the field, in an annual tradition, fans are looking for things to be optimistic about after the last look at the team before training camp starts in July. This is not unique to Dallas, of course. All fans throughout the league focus on the positive and downplay negatives this time of year. But this seems to be a different kind of offseason for Dallas.
Seems like the overall excitement for the #Cowboys in 2022 is pretty low.... pic.twitter.com/jOhpuXWF2n— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) June 14, 2022
While the tweet is more a comment on the demeanor of head coach Mike McCarthy, it is also accurate about many of the fans. There is more of a “wait and see” attitude this year. Still, some things have emerged that are reasons for optimism - if they are true. So here is a look at some of the bigger things we are seeing from the reports the past few days, and how much validity they may have.
Dak’s mobility is going to be used more
This is one thing that looks to be quite real. Dak Prescott sat out the offseason practices last year as he was rehabbing his ankle, and also had to deal with his calf problem suffered in the game against the New England Patriots just before the bye week. As McCarthy stated to the media:
Now Prescott appears to be fully recovered from his issues last season. And when healthy, his mobility and effectiveness on the move have been a part of the game plan.
With Dak Prescott and Mike McCarthy expressing optimism the #Cowboys QB can handle more designed runs and throws on the move, this interesting stat: Prescott had career-low 7 runs for first downs. 33 QBs had more. He had 20+ each of first 3 seasons, including 29 in 2017. pic.twitter.com/ulU642rYEC— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) June 15, 2022
This seems one of the most dependable things to come out from the team so far. While Werder focused on running for first downs, the ability of Prescott to throw on the move may be more important for the offense. In any case we can fully expect to see Prescott using his legs much more than last year.
Tony Pollard will get more touches
This isn’t just a case of how he has been used on offensive plays. He is lining up a lot as a receiver, but that is probably skewed by the absences of Michael Gallup, Jalen Tolbert, and others as they work through problems big and small. According to Pollard, the team has told him specifically he is going to be more involved.
On the first day of OTAs open to the media, the Cowboys began drills with Pollard and Elliott in the backfield together.
It’s been a common theme in practice. Pollard has also lined up as a slot receiver.
And it’s not just a gimmick — Pollard goes through receiver drills as well as running back drills in practice.
This looks great. Many have been clamoring for quite some time for Pollard to get more opportunities. Some want him to take more of the snaps that usually go to Ezekiel Elliott, but the team is more interested in adding him to the formations rather than just swapping the two backs out. That allows them to use the different value Pollard brings to the table.
Here’s the problem. Kellen Moore is still the offensive coordinator. Just like with Prescott, things boil down to how he game plans and calls plays. While he has used his quarterback’s mobility in the past, he has yet to demonstrate a commitment to maximizing Pollard’s contributions. We have had our hopes raised about this before. Until Pollard actually starts to play a bigger part, skepticism is warranted.
Rookies saving the day
According to some, Tyler Smith is going to be a mauling Day 1 starter at left guard, Jalen Tolbert is already the WR2, Sam Williams is the next DeMarcus Ware, and Dalton Schultz better not hold out because Jake Ferguson is ready to start.
We discussed all of these ideas in more detail on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Tap the brakes, people. They are all rookies making the transition to the pros, and with few exceptions, there are growing pains involved. Further, it is rare for rookies to be immediate starters. When they are, that is typically more about the lack of options to fill holes in the roster. Getting one Day 1 starter from your rookie class, or even a key role player, is hard. Two is a real accomplishment. If you are banking on as many as fans seem to be, disappointment is in the future. We are likely to see some of the rookies getting a fair number of reps, especially Smith. But that is more due to necessity than their being NFL caliber talent right off the bat.
The best shape ever
It is one of the more hackneyed descriptions throughout the league. It certainly is in full force for the Cowboys.
Per media reports - Cowboys who are in the best shape of their life:— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) June 14, 2022
And more I'm sure I'm missing
Part of this is recency bias. Players who were hobbled last year should look better after a few months to recover and rehab. What is more accurate is saying that they are closer to full health than they have been for some time. For most players, the best shape of their NFL careers usually comes in their second or third years. At that point, they have reaped the benefits of time in the strength and conditioning regime, which is simply better than most colleges provide. Being in a stable system, as Dallas now has, also means they have likely benefited from their coaching. They also have not yet accumulated the wear and tear that makes pro careers so short. To claim a veteran is in the best shape of his career is, for the most part, unrealistic. This one is pure blarney for most of the names on the list.
Breakout years coming
Let’s forego listing all the names that have had that breakout label attached. Just think back about how many times we have heard the arguments for it, like this one about Dorance Armstrong. There are usually a handful of times those things come true (and my colleague makes a great case above for Armstrong), but more often, they fizzle. It is certainly valid to look at reasons a sudden jump in performance could happen, but that is just potential, not some kind of prophecy. Armstrong is an interesting case, because if he locked down the RDE job, it puts Sam Williams on the back burner. Sometimes our optimism contradicts itself.
Micah for DPOY
Let’s wrap this up with another that has a lot of substance. Micah Parsons came in as a rookie, played the entire season through a hyperextended knee, and became the first unanimous Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was both one of the best pass rushers and best off-ball linebackers in the league. Dan Quinn had a great handle on how to use him last season, and is not likely to forget that anytime soon. Most NFL players get better during the their first contract, especially the best ones coming out of college.
Parsons should indeed be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. The only thing he has to do is be himself. Had he not been a rookie and playing in a rather unique hybrid role last season, he might already have won that award. If he stays healthy, you can write this one down in ink.