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5 fun things to watch for in Cowboys’ training camp and preseason

Looking ahead to the Cowboys training camp in Oxnard where the team will get to test out various packages on the field.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Speed is good.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It’s less than a month until the annual Dallas Cowboys pilgrimage to Oxnard, California signals the start of another NFL season. Yes, that is the real beginning. Do not argue with me. I am old and wise. Well, old, anyway.

Part of my stance on the matter has to do with the return of real football news. Even though the first regular season game will still be weeks away, the camp battles will truly begin. Every open practice rep will be scrutinized and analyzed far beyond what is really logical. This year is a bit different, because there is a lot of depth on this team, especially on defense. We are seeing players like Dante Fowler and Neviille Gallimore in situations that are usually filled by much less accomplished talents. Both could well wind up not making the 53-man roster, in their case because the entire defensive line is flat out loaded. There will still be the usual stir over unexpected names, with unwarranted excitement over some UDFA wide receivers an unwritten rule for each year. That may be a bit justified as Jalen Tolbert and Simi Fehoko may well be fighting for their spots as well.

We discussed these things on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

On a personal level, the best part about camp and, to a lesser extent, preseason games is what the coaches are up to. There are a lot of things they might try to see if they want to carry them into the fall. Some attention will also have to be paid to any and all hints about how Mike McCarthy’s offense is going to evolve from last year’s.

With all that in mind, here are some things we should at least see getting the tires kicked.

The smol package

A bit of digression. This is the era of social media influencers. Previously unknown people use various platforms to put out ideas that become popular or at least well known, the memes. There is one who has done exactly that for the Cowboys. @CowboysStats on Twitter used the term “smol” to refer to Deuce Vaughn, who he championed as a selection for Dallas. Many of us shared his affection for the diminutive running back, and were far too excited when he was indeed selected with a sixth-round compensatory pick.

Now he is on the 90-man roster for camp and we await what the staff will do with him. His college tape hints strongly that he can be a weapon with his elusiveness and apparent ability to get lost by the defense. For some of us more creative thinkers, he also brings an opportunity to pair up with another player on the small side, wide receiver/return specialist KaVontae Turpin. Many have been wanting to see Turpin more involved in the offense in addition to his proven return skills.

Imagine a formation that deploys Vaughn and Turpin in a bunch or stacked alignment out wide or in the slot. Both have an opportunity to evade defenders and either cut across the middle or streak deep. Even the threat of that is valuable as it could draw attention from CeeDee Lamb or Brandin Cooks. If both of the smol players show up on the field at any point in camp, I may get giddy.

Tight end heavy passing

The Cowboys added second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker to Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. Schoonmaker is seen as the replacement for Dalton Schultz, at least in the long term, but all can be very useful as receivers. Two and three tight end sets are normally seen as running packages, but McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer have a chance to really cross defenses up by sending these tall guys into the pattern and attacking the seams and middle of the field. That is one way Schoonmaker’s impressive ball skills in college could be very useful, and Hendershot has shown he in particular can be a deep threat. This could be very interesting. (For those of a certain age, you know I was thinking that in a fake German accent.)

UDFA pet cat

Hunter Luepke was signed as a fullback, his college position, but he could turn out to be much more than that. In college, he was also used as a ball carrier and a receiver as well as a blocking back. The Cowboys lost their main short-yardage option when they released Ezekiel Elliott, and Luepke could well fill that role in addition to being used as a lead back. It even opens up the chance of using some option plays with him as a lead back, where Dak Prescott could give the ball to him for a quick hitter up the gut, toss it to Tony Pollard, or keep the ball himself to utilize his own running skills. We know the stated intention of the staff is to use the running game effectively. It would be a great story if Luepke became an integral part of that.

The NASCAR package

Of all the possibilities listed here, this is the one that we are all but guaranteed to see. For those that may be unfamiliar with the term, it refers to using four defensive ends up front on passing downs and going fast and hard at the quarterback. With Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, Fowler, and rookie Viliami Fehoko all on the current roster, Dan Quinn has a lot of options to deploy. Further, both Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston can be used. With so many possible combinations, clear passing situations are something opposing passers may come to fear. And just to loop in more, the presence of Mazi Smith and Johnathan Hankins on the roster should make those long second and third downs more prevalent.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Let’s get hybrid

One of the key elements of Quinn’s defense has been safety Jayron Kearse. He is more often used in a hybrid role where he is more linebacker than safety. He has been very effective, accounting for the third most tackles last season while also being very solid in pass coverage. But they did not have any real depth for the job. Kearse missed three games in 2022, and his absence was felt.

Well, hello, DeMarvion Overshown. OK, this one is a bit of a projection, but the third-round draftee looks like he could well be the plan to back up Kearse and eventually take the role for himself. This is something that could be revealed early from where he lines up and who is on the field at the time. His main contributions may wind up being in a more traditional linebacker role, but this is just one more thing to watch.

All of these, except for the NASCAR one, are very much to be determined. But this is the time for speculation, and camp is where the experimentation can happen. It is why we look forward to practices with such anticipation.

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