We have a lot to look forward to now that the Dallas Cowboys are assembling in Oxnard for their 2022 training camp. Position battles will be dissected endlessly. Rookies will be much discussed. Practice performances will get overanalyzed and overhyped. But in the long run, the most important thing for the team may not be who is out there working during camp and the preseason games. It is who the staff protects by keeping on the sidelines.
It’s another form of addition by subtraction. There are clearly players that really don’t need a lot of contact to prepare. Dallas has long given rest days to certain veterans and basically hidden their pads during preseason games. Allow me to put in a vote for expanding that.
Teams have always tried to protect their most valuable asset, the quarterback. For a long time the Cowboys had a strange tradition of not having the QB wear a different colored jersey to let defenders know that he should never be touched in practice. One good thing that Mike McCarthy has done is bring out red jerseys for the position. It would be wise to take things a step further by never letting Dak Prescott on the field for padded reps when the defense is working on the pass rush. Let Will Grier and Ben DiNucci handle those. Prescott can work on his timing with the receivers in unpadded sessions and 7-on-7 drills. He does not need to have to trust players coming at him to pull up at the last second. Adrenaline and the pressure of making the team can lead to miscalculations. To a lesser extent, Cooper Rush should also be given some added protection. While he will have to work during the preseason games, risks should be avoided in practice for the primary backup. It was after all a completely unexpected injury to Kellen Moore that helped open the door for Prescott’s stellar rookie season.
Ezekiel Elliott is another player who has seldom seen even a snap in preseason. Like Prescott, he should also stand on the sidelines during those exhibitions. It will displease many fans, but they would be far more disappointed if he suffered a pointless injury to degrade being in the best shape of his life. (Snark provided at no extra charge.)
Tyron Smith is another obvious candidate given his recent injury history. With his résumé, he needs to just focus on some conditioning and noncontact walk throughs. Zack Martin is the same. Let the depth players take any reps with even minimal collisions involved. Swing tackle remains a huge question. Take as many snaps away from Smith as they can. Likewise, let’s see them work Connor McGovern and Matt Farniok hard to solidify their IOL depth. Obviously Tyler Smith needs as much work as possible, and it seems hard to protect Terence Steele much - although preseason games are not a good time to overwork the latter.
CeeDee Lamb seems too junior in terms of seasons played to rest a lot, but he is clearly the WR1 and should be able to get all he needs in those non-contact drills. Again, there are a bevy of questions to be answered at the position. Let the practices and preseason games sort that out. The same logic applies to Dalton Schultz and the tight end room.
On defense, DeMarcus Lawrence is an obvious player to swath in bubble wrap. There are fewer obvious candidates on defense, but a few do seem appropriate. Micah Parsons is one. He showed us last season that he is superb. It seems wise to add him to the protected list. Jayron Kearse is an experienced veteran who also merits limited contact. All the starting corners also seem good candidates.
Get ready for preseason games to be very boring as the team runs out a bunch of backups and camp bodies. With one less preseason game now as a result of going to the 17 game schedule, the entire idea of the “dress rehearsal” game needs to be seriously curtailed. In addition to the players that need to sit out the entire preseason, most of the starters need to see at most a couple of series. The value of getting hit to prepare for the games that count is overrated, at least in my opinion. It may lead to a bit of ragged play in the first regular season game, but now more than ever it is a marathon, not a sprint. Health is the most valuable thing for any NFL team. With year-round conditioning now the norm for almost all players, camp is no longer a time to get in shape. It needs to focus on honing the play installments and working on timing and assignments. Those do not require a lot of high collision work. There are a lot of other players who need the work as they vie for a roster spot. Here’s hoping the staff sees it this way and acts accordingly. It may be a bit boring or even frustrating for us. That is a small price to pay to have the most starters you can fully healthy when things start to count in the standings.