Training camp preview: What to watch for as Dallas Cowboys kick off in Oxnard - Calvin Watkins, Dallas Morning News
The Cowboys roster may be top-heavy, but they have plenty of stars ready to line up across from each other at training camp.
Five matchups to watch
If you visit training camp, pay attention to the individual battles during practices. When there are one-on-one battles between receivers and cornerbacks, linebackers and running backs, guards and defensive tackles, and tackles and ends, we’ve got you covered. Here are five to watch:
WR CeeDee Lamb vs. CB Trevon Diggs
The Cowboys’ best corner (11 picks in 2021) against Lamb, the best receiver. How Lamb gets off the jam in this battle will tell a lot about his development.
T Tyron Smith vs. DE DeMarcus Lawrence
A pair of vets doing battle from time to time is always a fun watch. Lawrence can get you with a power or spin move. Smith uses that long reach to hold you off. Here. We. Go.
T Terence Steele vs. DE Sam Williams
Steele is the starting right tackle still proving himself. How he handles a young talented rush end such as Williams will be worth watching.
RB Ezekiel Elliott vs. LB Micah Parsons
Can Dak Prescott get a quick pass to Elliott against the feisty Parsons? How physical can Parsons get with Elliott, another tough runner, in close quarters?
The Cowboys are counting on Jabril Cox to be a real contributor off his ACL injury.
LB Jabril Cox
The Cowboys lost two talents to ACL tears last year, WR Michael Gallup and the rookie from LSU. Cox suffered his the first week of November, and combined with his youth and lack of professional wear and tear, this writer has much more confidence in him being ready to contribute to start the year than he does in Gallup.
If Cox is as he claims, close to his normal self, that will go a long way towards the continued ascension of Dallas’ defense. Leighton Vander Esch had a resurgent 2021, finally able to stay healthy. However Keanu Neal’s signing was a failure and having a player of Cox’s athleticism and coverage ability on the field for most downs could lead to a huge season.
2022 Prediction: 105 combined tackles, 2 interceptions, 6 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles
Hardy’s lone career rushing touchdown came against the Eagles, but the Cowboys have their backfield set with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard leading the way.
Hardy was released about two weeks ago to make room for Dallas’ signing of LB Malik Jefferson. An undrafted free agent last year, JaQuan became a cult favorite as one of the featured players in the Cowboys’ run on the last season of HBO’s Hard Knocks series.
Though he spent most of 2021 on Dallas’ practice squad, Hardy did get called up for the regular-season finale against the Eagles. He had three carries for 26 yards in the game, one of which was a 22-yard touchdown.
Even if he’d made it to camp, Hardy didn’t have much hope of making the Cowboys’ roster in 2022. Dallas is likely to use their third RB spot on either special team stud Rico Dowdle or fullback Ryan Nall.
4 things Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy needs to do to keep his job this year - Terence Watson, The Landry Hat
If Mike McCarthy is truly on a short leash, he needs to take more control over personnel decisions this season.
2. Use the Hot Hand
Last season, fans saw just how often this Cowboys coaching staff tended to use their starters over their backup players, and never was that more apparent than in the usage of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Both had strong stats, but when you look back at the games, the more productive of the two was almost always Pollard. Yet despite that, as well as the knee injury sustained by Elliott, McCarthy and staff still elected to go with Elliott over the more productive Pollard near-constantly, which was mind boggling to the outside world.
This season, that needs to change, and McCarthy needs to get his staff to realize that just because the player is a bigger name doesn’t mean they will always be the more productive player for the ‘Boys at any given time. Taking a more hot hand approach to snaps on the field will help this team in the long run, developing depth at all positions and stirring competition among the players. Often, that leads to more effort on the field and wins. These are all things that will help a younger Cowboys team for years to come. Staying the course and relying on your big names isn’t always the best course of action.
Last season, the team seemed to be trying to move in that direction with the insertion of Pollard into more of the offensive game-plan, but it will be on McCarthy to make sure they don’t fall back into their old habits. It was clearly not enough of a shift.
It’s been months since the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper, and yet all eyes are still on the wide receivers at training camp.
Now that training camp is finally here, what’s the biggest position battle that fans should be looking out for? — MIKE S. / DALLAS, TX
Rob: Not sure if it’s the biggest battle, but I’m looking forward to seeing which wide receivers separate themselves in practice and the preseason games. Michael Gallup will still be rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee during camp, and a lot of guys had minor injuries at various points during OTAs, so it’ll be interesting to see who emerges when the pads come on. You could see a rapport start to build between Jalen Tolbert and Dak Prescott by the end of minicamp. This is James Washington’s best chance yet in five years to earn serious NFL playing time. This is a big camp for second-year wideout Simi Fehoko. And of course, all eyes will be on CeeDee Lamb as the new No. 1 guy.
Kyle: While the receivers will get most of the attention (and rightfully so), I’ll have my eyes squarely on the offensive line. There are so many questions still to be answered up front. Such as, how does first-rounder Tyler Smith work into the equation? Can Connor McGovern earn the trust of the coaching staff enough to keep the starting left guard job? Is the swing tackle on the roster, or with the front office have to make a move for a veteran? Because outside of Zack Martin, there are no guarantees on the offensive line. With so much riding on the firepower of that side of the ball, there has to be some tough decisions made in Oxnard.
The new XFL relaunch has three teams in Texas, with a familiar face to Cowboys fans coaching in Houston.
Wade Phillips will once again assume the primary headset for a Texas-based professional football team.
Phillips, the former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, will serve as the boss of the Houston team in the upcoming third edition of the XFL. The rebooted league, whose ownership is now headlined by entertainer Dwayne Johnson and his business partner Dany Garcia, placed Phillips in Houston as part of a series of announcements concerning its February 2023 kickoff.
Nicknames for the eight teams will be unveiled at a later date.
The 75-year-old Phillips spent parts of four seasons (2007-10) at the Cowboys’ helm, amassing a 35-24 record. Though his tenure ended in disappointment (becoming the first Cowboys coach fired in the middle of the season after starting 1-7 in 2010), Phillips guided the team to a pair of NFC East titles. His 11-win effort in 2009 yielded the Cowboys’ first playoff win (a Wild Card triumph over Philadelphia) since 1996. It was also his first personal playoff win as a head coach, having previously earned full-time duties in Denver (1993-94) and Buffalo (1998-2000).
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