The wait is over. The Dallas Cowboys have officially started their 2023 training camp in Oxnard, and by the time you read this, there should already be a couple of practices completed. It is still the ramping up stage, so there is lots more to come in the next few weeks. There have already been a couple of big stories break, with the Zack Martin holdout and Donovan Wilson injury on the negative side, and Trevon Diggs’ shiny new extension a positive development.
But, as they say, things are just getting started. The team has a lot to accomplish. Some are more important than others. My podcast producer Roy White and I put our heads together, and came up with our own list of things we really want to see work out.
Keep the injuries to a minimum
This is always the most important thing in any training camp. Getting your starters and key backups to the regular season in good health is beyond crucial. We had a harsh reminder of how things can go off the tracks last year when Tyron Smith went down in practice and would miss much of the season. Injuries are unfortunately random and sometimes can only be described as freakish. Already we have the Donovan Wilson injury which will sideline him for much of camp and right up to the start of the season.
In a sense, this particular area of concern was already in play before the first player ran onto the practice field. Terence Steele started camp ready to participate, but Jourdan Lewis (PUP) and rookie Luke Schoonmaker (NFI) were not. This is just the beginning of the injury list watch, and unfortunately there will likely be other names who show up on the daily reports. All we can do is hope they remain at a minimum.
We discussed this overall idea 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.
Clarity on the offensive line
The Steele news was good. The Martin holdout is not. However, if there is a player in the league who can come in at the last minute and pick up like he was never gone, it is probably Martin, who is arguably the best guard in the league and has a legitimate Hall of Fame résumé already. A placeholder there will be probably not be a big issue, especially if they just keep Dak Prescott off the field in preseason games. But at some point, management has to get this worked out.
They still have to figure out how to use Tyron Smith and Tyler Smith, which includes figuring out the starting left guard for the real games. And they really need some dependable depth to develop. The best five are very good on the offensive line, but things get very uncertain after that.
Gallup and Tolbert
It looks like CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks are going to be a dangerous one-two punch at wide receiver, but the team needs at least two more to allow them to use three WR packages as well as have crucial depth to get through the season. The staff is banking on Michael Gallup finally being back to what he was before his 2021 injury. And according to roster projections from some pretty smart writers, it is widely expected that Jalen Tolbert is going to bounce back from a pretty unimpressive rookie year. We need both of those to come true, and the team also needs to find a fifth and possibly a sixth WR to round out the group and possibly provide a return man. Kavontae Turpin made the squad last year in the latter role, but sticking around this year may hinge on how well he can perform as a WR as well.
The Mike McCarthy offense
It has been mentioned often, but while Brian Schottenheimer holds the title of offensive coordinator, this is now the head coach’s show. He took the play calling reins because of dissatisfaction with what Kellen Moore did late in the season. That is a bit of a personal risk, since any stumbles now will be clearly on McCarthy.
What we will be looking for are perceivable differences, more pizzazz if you will. Another thing is better success on early downs. One thing that was a great source of discontent last season was the large number of failed first down plays, or plays that got less than four yards. A subset of this is how Tony Pollard handles the mantle of lead back with Ezekiel Elliott’s departure. Elliott just was not getting the job done much of the time in 2022. Now Pollard has to make first down runs successful, and overall McCarthy has to call the right plays for him and mix up the run/pass mix to keep defenses guessing.
A meaningful plan for Deuce
Deuce Vaughn was the feel-good story of the entire NFL Draft, but now he needs to become a true NFL asset. He is a kind of player that teams rarely see. The question is, will his clear college talents translate to the bigger, faster NFL? This is something else that is clearly on McCarthy, assuming the scouting department did not make a mistake on the smol back. With Pollard now the lead horse, the change of pace role needs to be filled, and it certainly appears Vaughn is the expected solution. But you probably know what the poet said about plans. There is certainly a bit of a gamble here, and the team needs it to pay off.
The tight ends come through
While Dalton Schultz had some issues with drops last season, he was still the security blanket for Prescott. Now he’s gone, and Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot are very inexperienced. Both showed some real flashes, but now they have to carry the load. Schoonmaker being on the NFI list doesn’t help. This was another significant calculated risk. Add it to the list of things that McCarthy is going to have to be mindful of as well with his game plans and play calls. As Roy put it for his wish, “That the tight end group doesn’t look like a pair of second year players and a rookie.”
Find at least one more dependable cornerback, or even two
Roy came up with this one, and it is a great point. With Lewis on PUP, there is not only a bit of concern about him coming off, but the other likely candidates are Nahshon Wright, Kelvin Joseph, and rookie Eric Scott. There is little consensus on who will emerge from that group. And Roy may have been a bit prescient, as his wish was made before this:
Cowboys signed former USFL CB Josh Butler today, a person familiar with move said. For first time this year, the roster is full at 90 players — just in time for Wednesday’s first practice of training camp.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) July 25, 2023
Mazi Smith will be everything we thought he would be, and maybe more
This is a bit of an obvious one. First-round picks are expected to come in and start immediately, or almost so. The hopes are high Smith will stop the bleeding against the run, and there is a tantalizing possibility that he can become a source of pressure up the middle on passing plays.
The offense is simply more dangerous when Prescott’s running ability is used effectively. He can’t run it a lot because of the obvious risks, but a couple of designed running plays per game for him will really complicate things for the defenses. Add one more thing to McCarthy’s plate.
Tom’s personal wish
Let’s add one from each of us that is more lighthearted. For me, it’s FB Hunter Luepke. I think he is a lot more than a big lead blocker, and I really want to see him emerge as a well-rounded runner and break onto the roster.
Roy’s personal wish
FIGHT! Roy just feels like it isn’t a fully realized camp until a fight breaks out, preferably in a joint practice. There is just something about seeing the emotions flare that lets you know stuff is getting real.
Those are our wishes. Let us know yours in the comments.