Football is a game of intense competition. With every snap, eleven players are engaged in battle with the other eleven men lined up across from them. That doesn't change when the opponents across from you are your own teammates. Even in Oxnard, during the fourth practice of training camp, competition arises.
Saturday was no different. The pads were absent but the battles raged on. From the secondary to the kickers, there was no shortage of competitiveness. Here are a few of the most prevalent battles from the final practice of week one.
The Cowboys' secondary vs natural regression
This entire offseason, Cowboys fans have been hypothesizing about what the defense might look like without the turnovers. After all, with a league-leading 34 takeaways in 2021, that number has to fall, right?
Well, it almost certainly will, but no one has told the Dallas secondary yet. Because in Saturday’s practice, the ball-hawking cornerbacks and safeties showed up once again.
Dallas secondary continuing a strong start to camp. Trevon Diggs got his first pick during move the ball period. AB got his hands on another couple of passes. Jayron Kearse picked a deep pass on a Hail Mary attempt.— David Helman (@davidhelman_) July 29, 2022
Near pick by Nahshon Wright but still a great PBU to end a short team period. #CowboysCamp pic.twitter.com/M9ogQzvzMi— Kyle Youmans (@Kyle_Youmans) July 30, 2022
Trevon Diggs seems to be picking up right where he left off. With an early interception in practice, he set the tone for the rest of the secondary to get their hands on passes throughout the remainder of the day. Even Nashon Wright got into the action.
The turnovers will assuredly be more difficult to come by next season, but the Cowboys' secondary seems ready for the challenge.
CeeDee Lamb vs a true disaster
During training camp, the words “non-participant” are as scary as they come. Speculation quickly swirls about the severity of the injury and it becomes a storyline out of nowhere. Well, the latest victim of the injury bug was the Cowboys’ WR1, CeeDee Lamb.
After an impressive outing on Friday, Dallas announced on Saturday that the third-year receiver would not be participating in full team drills. Any injury to Lamb this early on would be about as bad of news as you could get.
But there is no reason for concern. Stephen Jones told the media that he was held out from team drills for a “veterans day.” While a little tightness kept him out briefly, he still participated in the walkthrough. Lamb even made a twisting catch in the end zone during the early portion of the day.
CeeDee Lamb with the twisting grab in the corner of the endzone pic.twitter.com/ym9S6aHFBC— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) July 30, 2022
His absence allowed receivers like James Washington to get more reps and compete for that WR2 spot while Gallup rehabs. Lamb is fine and this is a non-story, but it was concerning for a brief period.
Cowboys fans vs apathy
After 26 seasons of disappointment, the 2022 offseason was one of the more pessimistic in recent history. Most expect the team will regress from their 12-5 finish last season. But you wouldn't know it based on the fan turnout.
Because not only was Saturday’s practice filled to capacity, it was a struggle to even get into camp today.
Practice doesn’t start until 11:15 a.m. PT but Cowboys fans are lining up a good four hours earlier to get into the River Ridge complex. And there was probably a quarter-mile more before I shut the camera off. pic.twitter.com/tMcYq0PWCu— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) July 30, 2022
Anyone coming to today’s Cowboys training camp practice is too late. Oxnard city officials and team closed gates with venue having reached capacity. More than 4,000 fans here. The earliest was Patrick Milan, who arrived around 3:30 a.m. pic.twitter.com/pNowTL8nv3— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) July 30, 2022
Fans arrived at 3:30 in the morning just to see their team practice. Maybe this is a symptom of football returning for the first time in nearly six months. But whatever the reason, Cowboys nation showed up big today to watch their team grind it out for the final time this week.
Camp battle of the day: Lirim Hajrullahu vs Jonathan Garibay
Greg Zuerlein left a lot to be desired in 2021. His missed kicks early in games put the Cowboys in a hole far too often, and his 88% PAT percentage was near the bottom of the league. He now gets the opportunity for a resurgence with the New York Jets.
But Zuerlein’s departure opened the door for a new face at kicker. The Cowboys have opted for the camp-battle approach to decide who will be Greg the Leg’s successor in 2022. And on Saturday’s practice, the kicking competition commenced.
The first candidate is Jonathan Garibay, an undrafted free agent kicker from Texas Tech who knocked through every kick within 50 yards during his senior season. The second is a familiar face: Lirim Hajrullahu, who appeared in the Atlanta Falcons game in 2021 after Zuerlein was placed on the COVID-19 list. Hajrullahu is an experienced kicker, just not in the NFL, as he earned two All-Star appearances and won the Grey Cup while kicking in the CFL.
Two drastically different paths now combine into one fierce competition for the starting kicker job. And in their first battle, the advantage rests with Hajrullahu.
So the FG battle started today at Cowboys camp. Lirim Hajrullahu went 7-8, going wide left on a 47 yarder. Texas Tech product Jonathan Garibay went 4-8, missing from 44, 47, 45 and 50.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) July 30, 2022
Hajrullahu finished at 87.5% on the day, with his sole miss coming from 47 yards out. Garibay was not as successful, missing 50% of his kicks and hitting the NFL Network set lights on his final rep.
There is still a month and a half left until the regular season starts, so this camp battle is nowhere near finished. In fact, one would expect the less experienced kicker to struggle under the pressure of his first kicking competition. But that anxiety has to fade if he wants to capture the starting gig because Hajrullahu is off to a hot start. Today's battle might be over, but the war rages on.
And with that, the first week of the 2022 training camp is officially in the books. Football is back, fans are showing out, the secondary is getting their hands on passes, and there is a huge question mark at the kicking position. Has anything changed?