Dallas Cowboys training camp is now in full swing, and we are beginning to get a sense of what the 2023 edition of the team will be like. Every season, we come in with some expectations that are met, exceeded, or that fail. There are also some things that just don’t go as we figured. With a couple of padded practices in the books, Roy White and I took a look at how that is going.
Coming into camp, this was a place where there was some confidence in the top of the depth chart, but also concern about the depth. In camp so far, this may be the place this roster looks to exceed even our most optimistic expectations.
We knew what we had in CeeDee Lamb, and the connection with Dak Prescott has been alive and well so far. He has the résumé to instill confidence. What the team needed badly last season was other reliable, productive targets. Michael Gallup never was fully effective, and a lot was riding on him doing better after a full offseason to complete his recovery from the injury he suffered in 2021. So far, he looks much better.
But he’s going to be WR3, because Brandin Cooks, acquired by trade, has been everything we hoped for. He is showing what a dangerous deep threat he is, as well as being deadly underneath. We sometimes talk about a 1a and 1b, but this looks to be just that with him and Lamb as the top two receivers.
We discussed this 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.
While there was justification for hoping this would turn out, it still left us wondering about the rest of the WR room. There was no real experience or production outside the top three.
Color me stunned at what has developed. Jalen Tolbert has been very impressive, exhibiting what can happen with focus and hard work in the offseason. You have to have at least four quality receivers to have any real chance of getting through the long, risky NFL season without your WR corps being degraded significantly. It is still just practices, but we are starting to see why the Cowboys invested a third-round pick in him.
It is also surprising to see how Simi Fehoko has kept himself firmly in the conversation with a very good camp. A ball he let rebound off his hands for a pick in the very first practice has been all but forgotten after a string of very solid performances. Fehoko, like Tolbert, did almost nothing last season. But he is showing significant development and could also be a crucial depth piece.
However, nothing gets the attention more than how KaVontae Turpin has been fully integrated as a receiver, and he has looked extremely good. This has a special significance because he is the designated return man, and will be active each game. Now he is also demonstrating that he can be a true offensive weapon. And that comes after he missed the first couple of practices for the birth of his daughter. Like Cooks, he is a speed merchant, adding another dimension to the offense.
That is great, but if you are talking about the unexpected, how about the great camp seventh-round pick Jalen Brooks is having? He is turning heads with his routes and catches. While he is mostly playing with the second and third string, he is poised to become more important if something happens to others above him. At worst, he could be a player the team wants to stash on the practice squad to be able to call up if needed.
Seven possibly effective NFL level receivers is something all teams would love to have. So far, that may be exactly what the Cowboys have.
We knew how good he was. We thought. But he has been nearly unstoppable so far. With limited contact, it is hard to say how many sacks he would have totaled, but it is a bunch. And after an inadvertent collision with Prescott, he really needs to only go against Cooper Rush and Will Grier. Let’s be smart here
DeMarcus Lawrence has also been impressive. This pass rushing duo could be the stuff of nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. But as Roy points out, this is all in the absence of Zack Martin, so we may not be getting a fully accurate view of things.
The backup QBs
Rush has been his reliable self, but Grier is looking more and more like he is not just the emergency QB under the new rules. A real battle for QB2 may break out. The preseason games may be much more entertaining than usual with them duking it out.
The first-round pick
We always have really high expectations of any first-round selection, but most of us know there is an acclimation period moving from college to the pros. Mazi Smith is certainly learning things, such as trying to improve his reaction time to the snap, but there is no real sign of discomfort for him out there. With him shoring up the middle of the line, those defensive ends are going to have more opportunities. Consider this idea with Johnathan Hankins:
Also ... Hankins and NT and Mazi at 3 Tech ... Im calling it the Kim K package its so damn sexy pic.twitter.com/5lHZTfODBa— J Tuck (@jtuck151) August 1, 2023
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
This year’s mystery injury
It’s not all tales of the unexpected. Second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker has yet to see the field as he comes back from what Michael Gilkhen reports as a partial plantar fascia tear. That is late reporting, with no information on the issue until camp had already started. There is always one of these for the Cowboys to start things off, it seems.
On a possibly related note, there have not been a lot of passes going to tight ends, with at least one observer noting that they have been lined up mostly as inline blockers. It’s hard to know exactly how everything meshes together, but the way the WRs are showing out, the TEs may not be needed much in the passing game.
Neither Tristan Vizcaino nor Brandon Aubrey has been perfect, but this is looking a lot better than it did a year ago, when the Cowboys did not find their regular season kicker until they signed Brett Maher just before the start of the season.
Yes, he’s thrown some picks, although not all are his fault. The Fehoko goof is clear to see, and the one picked off by Malik Hooker later in camp was really an outstanding bit of coverage by Nahshon Wright to prevent Cooks from getting to the ball. Otherwise, Prescott has been fire. He is accurate and spreading the ball around. The only thing that seems to be stopping him is that fierce pass rush, and that is not exactly bad news in the big picture. Prescott has the luxury of knowing he is not often going to be facing that level of capability from opposing teams.
The Mike McCarthy offense
Growing pains? Transition issues? Sorry, they just aren’t there. According to Lamb, Prescott is now in charge of deciding how to best attack the defense, and it certainly looks like that is working very well.
The increased use of Turpin seems to be a result of McCarthy’s influence. Last year, the short wide receiver frankly seemed like an afterthought for Kellen Moore. Now Turpin is fully involved, and looks very good. It also bodes well for Deuce Vaughn, who is similarly seeing a lot of action with the RB group. McCarthy appears less wedded to certain physical parameters and more interested in how he can utilize the talents he does have.
We are limited by what we are actually shown in practice. There are wrinkles that will not be rolled out until the closed practices after the team returns to Dallas from Oxnard. But the outline we are seeing of this offense looks downright dangerous. This is likely a make or break year for McCarthy. Whether it is that or just him being back where he wants to be running things, his prospects for the future look much more favorable right now. And nothing will improve them more than success when the real games start. Here’s hoping he has a very good year.