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Cowboys position groups that have improved before camp practices begin

Dallas is out to prove they haven’t regressed, so which position groups have a positive outlook for the start of camp?

Dallas Cowboys v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys heads of state in Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Mike McCarthy were adamant at the team’s opening press conference that they haven’t regressed this offseason. It’s been a long wait for these words to be proven true or not, but the time is now for the Cowboys to find what they have in so many young players at training camp.

The Cowboys do have the cap space to make another mid-camp move like last year’s signing of Malik Hooker, which helped Dan Quinn deploy Jayron Kearse as the nickel defender. How they look to improve this roster from now until the season opener will be very telling of how free agency and the draft actually prepared them to repeat as division winners.

On this week’s episode of Hidden Yardage, Mark Lane and I named our position groups that we feel better about with the team in Oxnard compared to the start of the offseason. Though the first few Cowboys practices may resemble the lighter work seen in OTAs and minicamp, it’s never too early to look at where there strengths and weaknesses are.

Interior Offensive Line

Also of note from the Cowboys opening press conference was the Jones’ continuing to show their confidence in Mike McCarthy. With McCarthy feeling like he has time to rebuild this roster from the changes this offseason, there was one obvious need from last season that needed to be addressed in a big way.

“They made it obvious they were going to try and move on (from Connor Williams), but in season those interior pressures were so detrimental” - Sean Martin, Hidden Yardage

Washington Football Team v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Cowboys put themselves in the market for a new starting left guard before the 2021 season even ended, with Connor McGovern given the opportunity to beat out Connor Williams. By the end of the season in the Wild Card game, when the line got beat routinely, it was obvious change was needed. As far as cap space pie goes, Dallas also has a commitment to Ezekiel Elliott at running back, but have let the line in front of him slip in star power and consistent play.

By addressing this need in the first round, the interioroffensive line became an easy choice to give the Cowboys credit for looking to improve. Smith will have a lot of attention on him once the pads come on, but he’s done everything right so far in the offseason. The Tulsa prospect has the frame and raw ability to step in as a run blocker on day one and help the Cowboys get back to their identity on offense.

The Cowboys plan at guard and center also highlights the type of best case scenario they’re hoping for throughout the depth chart. If Tyler Biadasz has yet to reach his ceiling at center, it will be up to Joe Philbin to help him take another step in 2022. The team also has Matt Farniok, Alec Lindstrom, Connor McGovern, and Isaac Alarcon as depth options on the interior. Aside from Lindstrom, a promising UDFA out of Boston College, all of these players have valuable experience with the Cowboys already.

If this season is about proving that McCarthy has a system in place to develop a championship roster, the Cowboys should look no further than how the front of the pocket holds up for their franchise quarterback. A projected starting three of Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, and Zack Martin is a strong outlook for a group that struggled last season and lost a starter almost immediately in free agency.

Safety

Even if the Cowboys were going to be big spenders in free agency, it’s doubtful they would make a move for a safety as they like what they have in Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Donovan Wilson.

With Kearse being such an key part of Dan Quinn’s defense, it felt like he’d be a priority to re-sign. Instead, the Cowboys used free agency as a way to get Kearse at their price point when other offers didn’t materialize. With Kearse officially back on a two-year deal, the Cowboys can at least say they’ve stayed the course at safety.

If the Cowboys are going to stay competitive this season, they’ll need to at least come close to matching their league-high number of takeaways. Their starters at safety give them a chance here, with Kearse, Hooker, and Wilson all having a knack for being around the ball. Kearse and Wilson are also strong run defenders, an area Dallas struggled in without many changes at defensive tackle or linebacker this offseason.

The Cowboys are asking a lot from this safety group, but Kearse brought the type of stability and leadership in year one for this entire secondary to be an overall team strength.

Although Cowboys fans will always jump at a chance to say they can do the job better than the team’s current brain-trust, there’s a right time and place to evaluate any roster. That time is officially here with the Cowboys at training camp, getting through an offseason with little off-field noise but seismic waves on the depth charts. For a team that’s fallen short of expectations too many times to completely buy in yet, having these two position groups as signs of progress is a good starting point.

Fielding a strong offensive line and taking the ball away in the secondary are still priorities for the Cowboys, and to their credit they’ve made the moves to keep it that way this season.