Things are picking up for the Dallas Cowboys during their Oxnard training camp. While it is still very, very early, there are already some things starting to emerge about this year’s edition of the team. Here are some impressions.
The competition at wide receiver is going to be lit.
When a name you may not even be aware is on the roster shows up, it is a good sign.
Dennis Houston is having a great practice. He’s getting separation in his routes and really pressuring the CBs to stay with him. Great footwork so far. #Cowboys— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) July 28, 2022
There is a wide open competition for the spots behind CeeDee Lamb. It shows. In addition to Houston, T.J. Vasher had a good grab that displayed his length. James Washington was back on the field and had a good day after landing wrong in the first practice. At a time when the staff likes to err on the side of caution, this may indicate he is not about to miss any time if at all possible. The best news may be that Jalen Tolbert is looking very good and is positioned to be in the mix for a starting job. That would be a huge win for the scouting staff.
This will be subject to a lot of ebb and flow as camp and preseason progress. Still, it is never too early to see this kind of competition heat up. And it looks like that invaluable chemistry with Dak Prescott may already be developing for some.
Are we going to have to give Stephen Jones credit for this one?
The Cowboys made a quick free agent signing yesterday, bringing in the USFL’s MVP Kavontae Turpin. It was exactly the kind of move Jones loves, a minimum salary contract that leaves that powder desert dry. The plan for Turpin seems to be trying to make him the primary kick and punt returner. He was very good in the USFL, including in that role. It could have a lot of value for the team if he works out, protecting CeeDee Lamb and the other wide receivers from having to handle return duties.
Turpin is a diminutive player, standing just 5-9 and weighing only 155 lbs or so. That can be a real asset for a returner, however. They can be hard to track among the bigger bodies on the field. Turpin also displayed very good receiving skills and also rushed well. Mike McCarthy stated that his receiving contributions are secondary at this time. But Turpin could possibly develop into a slot threat at a fraction of the cost. If this works out, we will have to admit Jones did a good thing.
For that matter, the plan this year seems to be seeing what they have already in house before they start going outside. Turpin seems to fill a need they felt required another option, but the rest of the receiver group may well work out.
It should be noted that the very good news for Turpin was bad for FB Nick Ralston, who was cut to make room. Maybe this is not the last we see of Ralston, who was a pet cat for some. But in any case, here’s hoping his NFL journey is just paused, not over.
The defense is several steps ahead of the offense.
This is not at all unusual. It just takes longer for the offensive players to get timing and assignments down. For the Cowboys in particular, there is a ton more continuity for the defense. The secondary looks particularly good so far with multiple pass breakups and a pick or two already. They shut out the offense in the two-minute drill portion of practice on Day 2.
There is a danger of regression to the mean for the defense, but for Dallas that is mostly about the league-leading takeaway margin from 2021. If the defense can continue to be strong in pass defense, pass rushing, and stopping the ground game, that can go a long way to make up for the near impossibility of getting so many interceptions again. All those other aspects of the defense had plenty of room for improvement last year. If they can continue the upward trend they started under Dan Quinn, this would be a rather huge development.
So far so good for the first-round pick.
Before the pads come on next week we really don’t have valid data to judge the offensive linemen. But in helmets and shorts, Tyler Smith is looking the part of a left guard. He apparently leaned up without losing mass. Reports are that he is still around 325, just the kind of big body you want up front, especially in run blocking. It will be interesting to see how his 6-6 height plays in, since that makes it harder to get his pad level lower than the defenders. The Cowboys really need this bet to pay off. Let’s find out how it goes when some actual contact starts.
Unicorn, Year 2.
It should surprise absolutely no one that Micah Parsons is already beating offensive linemen into the backfield. Again, it is hard to accurately assess things before they are able to actually try and block him, but all signs are that he is picking up where he left off. But he is one player who deserves consideration for the bubble wrap treatment early and often. We may be awaiting his actual ceiling despite how stellar he was as a rookie. There is nothing really to prove with him, and keeping him as healthy as possible should be a big priority.
Is this a hint?
Dan Quinn working through some pass rush discussions with Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong. pic.twitter.com/Ejnm53oiRA— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) July 28, 2022
It certainly looks like Dan Quinn is thinking this might be his two DE starters and his designated heat seeking missile for the defensive line. Reluctantly, this might be another thing Jones could get credit for pulling off. Also, Dante Fowler showed up in practice.
He’s the official safety blanket.
If it wasn’t already clear, when Prescott gets flushed from the pocket and the team goes into the scramble drill, the quarterback is looking for 86. Dalton Schultz seemed to always be the preferred target in those situations, inheriting the role Jason Witten filled for Prescott and Tony Romo before him. And you can put away your contract questions for a while.
Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz acknowledged frustration about no extension but says he won’t talk about his contract after today. It’s done. Focus on football. “This is where I want to be. I’ve said that from the start, and I’ll keep it saying it. This is where I want to be.”— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) July 28, 2022
First injury scare?
Rookie Matt Waletzko left practice with the trainers. There was no word on the nature of the problem when this was written, but with the open question about who backs up the OT position, this is a possible concern. He is coming off an injury his last season in college. Here’s hoping he does like Washington and returns tomorrow.
It is always regrettable when a training camp injury hinders or even derails a young player’s NFL dream. We can only cross out fingers that we see very little of this going forward.