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This change to Cowboys offense could buy time in finding “best five” in pass protection

Monday is the first padded practice of Cowboys training camp, and a chance to start seeing what the offense can do in full team drills.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As winners of twelve games in consecutive seasons, drama over starting spots being up for grabs at Cowboys camp is at an all-time low. This intrigue has been replaced by the team adjusting to having championship expectations right at the start of a season, and to uphold this they’ll have to find depth and play through injuries like all teams do. The offensive line is the focal point of where Dallas has big decisions to make on both starting and backup roles, with the long wait for padded practices and the real start of these linemen’s competition coming Monday.

Having uncertainty on the offensive line can be one of the fastest ways for a team installing a new offense to struggle, the exact type of thing the Cowboys are looking to move on from in replacing Kellen Moore as play-caller this season. With Mike McCarthy now in that role, more West Coast style influence on the offense has been expected, and first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has confirmed this with some of his comments from Oxnard.

Finding ways to get the ball out of Prescott’s hands quickly showed when Moore’s offense was at it’s best, but as defenses adjusted faster then the Cowboys offense could, these checkdowns would be taken away. Schottenheimer and McCarthy are hoping to replace the type of tight window throws that led to Prescott interceptions into reliable safety valve throws to the likes of Tony Pollard, Peyton Hendershot, and Jake Ferguson.

This is something we covered as early as April, before the Cowboys had a chance to make a statement about how they felt about the offensive line in the draft, now putting a vote of confidence in their existing guys by only adding fifth-round pick Asim Richards.

By featuring Tony Pollard in the backfield, and elevating Peyton Hendershot and Jake Ferguson to bigger roles at tight end without Dalton Schultz, the Cowboys are giving Prescott more checkdown options to get the ball out of his hands quickly. This has always been when Prescott is at his best, and would start out as a strength in Moore’s offense early in the year before fading against expecting defenses in the biggest games late. Prescott being able to spread the ball around can’t be the end-all solution to keeping him upright though, and expecting both tackle spots to hold up in single pass protection could be much more common in McCarthy’s scheme.

If these throws and route concepts can actually be a consistent staple of the Cowboys offense, the best benefit may be the time it buys them to work out any kinks in pass protection. In limited time at right tackle last year, Tyron Smith benefited from shorter pass sets against strongside defensive ends that had to play the run. Though he’s expected to get the first shot at reclaiming the left tackle job, a similar style of play with Prescott being decisive in the pocket and getting the ball out could be key to keeping him on the field.

The same can be said about Terence Steele at right tackle, whose looked good in the unpadded portion of practices so far. Pair this potential change in pass protection philosophy at the tackle spots with the way Dallas can move bodies in the run game on the interior with Tyler Smith and Zack Martin, and the hope that this is finally the year the Cowboys complement Dan Quinn’s defense with a consistent offense is there.

This same defense may be one of the best the Cowboys own offense sees this year, especially up front where the offensive line gets work against Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Sam Williams to sharpen their iron before being ready for the season.

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