On Wednesday, July 27, the Dallas Cowboys players will be buckling up their chinstraps and lacing the cleats again. It is the closest to Cowboys football that fans will get since the playoff loss to the 49ers. As a result, headlines run rampant about players taking the next step, a generally healthy roster, and new faces taking their first snaps.
There will be no shortage of news while the players are in Oxnard. However, with the constant supply of updates, it becomes difficult to digest it all. All it takes is one CeeDee Lamb circus catch and all of the other players on the roster will essentially be forgotten for a day. And that is why it is important to know what fans should be, and should not be, focusing on during these summer weeks.
Negative headlines during training camp reveal more information than positive ones
The Dallas Cowboys are still America’s team. Even if the on-field production falls short of expectations, the spotlight will always be pointed towards Arlington. In a study conducted by TicketSource in 2021, the Cowboys were not surprisingly the most influential team in the league by media attention.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Instagram followers - 3.6 million
Twitter followers - 3.9 million
Facebook followers - 7.9 million
Annual Wikipedia page views - 1.1 million
Annual Google searches - 51.4 million
And this was abundantly apparent in 2021. With a recovering Dak Prescott, Hard Knocks following the Dallas offseason, and CeeDee Lamb making acrobatic catches daily, all eyes were on the Cowboys. But how should fans be parsing through this seemingly endless stream of information?
As a general rule of thumb, every player playing every position is going to look their best at training camp. Lamb is going to be catching every ball thrown his way, Ezekiel Elliott will be back to 2016 form, and Dak Prescott will not throw a single incompletion. At least, that is the way fans will see it.
We discussed this idea in greater detail on the latest episode of 1st and 10 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.
But in reality, Dallas fans can largely ignore these headlines. Not that this is the fault of the Cowboys media in Oxnard. The issue is that the most quotable headlines, the most republished social media videos, and the notable talking points tend to skew positive. For the most part, fans want players to succeed and do well. Thus, when Cowboys players are excelling against no defense or against an offense working at 75%, it will be treated like a Super Bowl-winning play. Fans have been deprived of football for five and a half months, headlines of hope and optimism are easier to circulate.
The perfect example of this wasn't Dallas-related. In 2021, Brandon Aiyuk was supposedly looking like a star in training camp. Everyone was buying into the second-year breakout for the wide receiver. But when the season rolled around, it took him until week seven to break six targets in a game and he didn’t hit 100 yards in a week until his final regular-season game. This is an extreme example, but just remember that the positive headlines are always going to be there.
Instead of paying attention to the positives, the negative headlines are more telling.
Injuries are the most significant negative headline. Because when a player is injured and has to miss camp, even if it is for a small amount of time, there are large ramifications. The most notable of which is the injury itself. Even if the player is able to return to the field and practice, injuries have a way of reappearing or causing other injuries.
Think back to 2021, when all headlines were focused on Dak and the fact that he was not 100% during training camp. Now, most people assumed he would return to form by the regular season, and for the most part, he did. But Prescott was still dealing with injuries all year, and even if it wasn't a direct result of his issues in camp, they didn’t help.
Take injuries seriously. Even what can seem like a minor inconvenience could turn into a larger problem later in the season or cause other injuries down the road. And injuries imply that another player is stepping up in their place. It is important to know how the replacement is doing because they could become a player the team has to rely on. So, paying attention to injuries and the backups who fill in for them is pivotal, even if it only seems minor for now.
Another example of negatives being more telling in camp than positive headlines has to do with player development. While fans can largely ignore the positive news, the negative news becomes that much more impactful. It is difficult to circulate a story about a player struggling, so when they are, it is likely true.
For example, in 2021, NFL.com posted their takeaways from the first two weeks of training camp across all teams. Here are the negative headlines and what ended up happening:
“Something strange is up with C.J. Henderson”
Henderson ended up being the 122nd ranked CB out of 134.
The core muscle injury to Saints kicker Wil Lutz reported by Rapoport sounds like it will knock Lutz out of the start of the season
Lutz didn’t play in 2021.
The Patriots may have to give more than assurances to Stephon Gilmore to get him back on the field
Gilmore didn’t play a snap for the Patriots and was traded in October.
Patriots 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry will probably always be known around Foxborough as the guy Bill Belichick drafted over A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel
Hit the nail on the head with this one.
Will Fuller has been out of Dolphins practice with a foot injury.
Fuller played in two total games last season, accumulating 65 snaps.
Joe Burrow’s daily struggles against a remade Bengals defense in camp are noteworthy
Okay, you’re not going to be right 100% of the time. But for the most part, every negative headline the NFL posted last training camp ended up having material effects in the regular season. When a player is reportedly not doing well or is injured, their odds of struggling in the early weeks or over the entire season skyrockets.
We could have done the inverse test with the NFL article. Here are some positive examples:
There is a non-zero chance that Corey Clement leads all Giants running backs in Week 1 touches.
There is nothing to worry about when it comes to Odell Beckham Jr.’s cautious return to training camp
The steady drumbeat of Jeff Okudah love in Lions camp is worth keeping an eye on.
If you were not paying attention to the rest of the NFL last year, none of those positive headlines came to fruition.
And that is what Dallas fans have to keep in mind. When you are dealing with the most publicized team in the NFL, there will not be a shortage of news stories. The headlines worth paying attention to are the negative stories about camp struggles or injuries. Those tend to be most symptomatic of regular-season performance.
But then again, it is the offseason. It is fun to believe in players reaching their full potential and delivering on the expectations that fans have for them. It is okay to read the positive headlines and believe a little. However, if you are looking to get an actual sense of what 2022 might hold, the answers more commonly lie in the downside. It is a sad reality, but with hundreds of reports about the Cowboys arising on a daily basis, it is worth knowing where your attention should rest.