Not much useful emerges from the first few practices of Dallas Cowboys training camp. They literally ease into things. That trend is actually more pronounced this summer as the team is foregoing the conditioning test it used to administer after Chauncey Golston lost time last year due to a freak injury while taking it. Instead the team had an agility workout. So even though we are eager for meaningful news and information about the team, it is going to be a bit before it develops.
But it is going to come, and none too soon. Usually we think we have a pretty good handle on the team going into the camp, although we often find out we were far from the truth. This year most acknowledge there is a murkiness about the Cowboys. That means there are a ton of things we hope to learn in the coming weeks. Here are some that are particularly interesting.
Will Stephen Jones have to dip into the dry powder?
Multiple positions on the team may not have all the answers already on the roster. Those include wide receiver, linebacker, and offensive tackle. Wide receiver is the most uncertain position beyond CeeDee Lamb (Dallas did just add KaVontae Turpin), and linebacker depth is based more on assumptions about Jabril Cox than anything. But the most important thing to figure out may be who backs up Tyron Smith and Terence Steele at OT. It seems inevitable that Smith will miss at least a few games. Keeping Dak Prescott healthy is by far the most important thing for success in Dallas. Having to depend on a really bad backup on his blind side sends shivers down the spine.
We discussed this idea in greater 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.
Right now, the depth players at the position are all a bunch of unknowns qualities. Josh Ball, Matt Waletzko, Isaac Alarcon, and Amon Simon make up most of that group, and they all have one thing in common: Zero NFL playing experience. The only non-starter with any actual playing time is Aviante Collins, who has a grand total of five games with one start in his career. During the opening press conference, Jones once again explained to us how he had to look to future years and upcoming contracts by salting away so much salary cap space. It may lead to disappointment, but Jones has insisted that the team is still looking at free agent options. Swing tackle is one problem they definitely need to solve, although they might elect to have separate backups for each side. The pickings are pretty slim, but they could wait until other teams make cuts to finally address this.
With all three of the positions mentioned, it appears the team still hopes to find its solutions from within, but as we saw with Malik Hooker last year, the right player can motivate them to act. At the very least, expect to see some players coming in for workouts to at least try to narrow the options.
Where’s Tyler Smith?
One other solution for tackle depth would be to include this year’s first-round pick as an option to kick out. Some believe this is how the staff wants to approach it, but I demur. Not only does that mean he would have to work at two different positions while trying to adjust to the NFL, it would probably bring Connor McGovern into the mix as the left guard when Smith kicks out. Relying on McGovern while making a double move just seems a bad idea.
It is not out of the question, however. The team will probably tip their hand on this. If Smith lines up exclusively at guard during practices, he should not be expected to be in the tackle mix. But if he is getting reps at the latter position, it will show the team is keeping that option open. Timing matters, too. They might give it a whirl early in camp, but back off as the regular season approaches. In any case, this is something to watch closely.
Which receivers get the chemistry going?
With Michael Gallup starting camp on PUP as expected, there will be more opportunities for the myriad of hopefuls that want to make the team as a receiver, and that includes tight end as well. A big factor is becoming a target that Prescott trusts. It can be a bit hard to tell, but this is true of a lot of things during camp. It seems simple to count how many balls go to each receiver, but the down and distance situations and coverage also play a part. Still, it is telling when a wide receiver has a streak of catches in practice. If they can stack days like that, good things can ensue.
It is a bit early for roster projections, but they will likely carry six on the roster. We know they are going to lean on Jalen Tolbert to step up. Noah Brown will get a lot of opportunities and has a certain measure of trust from his years with the team. So will James Washington, but that will be more because Stephen Jones will want to be proven right in signing him. Semi Fehoko is in a more perilous situation despite his draft status. It also seems like a good year for a UDFA to break through. They certainly have plenty to evaluate. This is cast in ice cream on a hot Texas day, but expect Lamb, Tolbert, and Brown to be the top three, with Washington at WR4. Fehoko hangs onto a spot and one of those many UDFAs rounds out the group until Gallup is ready to return. That could change though if KaVontae Turpin shows he’s too valuable as a KR/WR combo to pass on. He could slide in as the sixth.
Over at tight end, it is going to be a battle between Jake Ferguson, Jeremy Sprinkle and Sean McKeon for the TE2/TE3 job behind Dalton Schultz. Ferguson is not a lock for anything yet. They likely won’t carry four, so this is going to a fight to not be the odd man out.
Who are we saddling with too much expectation?
It happens every year. Players get overhyped without justification. There are several, but here are some already getting this treatment.
A lot of people assume Jabril Cox is going to not only help solve the LB depth problem, but will be challenging Leighton Vander Esch on the depth chart. He did not give us much reason to think so last year as he fought injury and only appeared in seven games, almost exclusively on special teams. There is a lot of projection here based on his college career. He is due for a harder path, and will likely be mostly a ST contributor again this year.
Kelvin Joseph showed a bit more, starting two games out of the ten he played. Still, it was limited exposure, although that was probably more because the staff had so much faith in Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis. The starting corners tend to stay on the field a lot for the Cowboys. Like with Cox, Joseph is going to be on the roster if healthy due to the investment of draft capital, but he is another who is going to have to work ST a lot.
One thing Dallas fans do every year is convince themselves that later-round draft picks are going to shine. I’ve already mentioned Ferguson as a candidate for this, and Waletzko is another. Both are going to be fighting to stick on the 53-man roster rather than start out the year on the practice squad. A look back shows us that the Cowboys miss on some of these kinds of rookies every year. Numbers alone argue that this pair are both vulnerable for that, yet they have a lot of people who seem to expect they will make the team with no problems. Choose caution.