Unless you've been living under a rock, don't have social media, or don't follow professional sports, you should probably know that football is back. That is so refreshing to say.
From a soul crushing loss to Green Bay in the playoffs to hitting a home run in the NFL Draft, and all the drama that has surrounded the team in the past few months, we have finally arrived at Oxnard, California for your 2017 Dallas Cowboys training camp.
Here are my first 10 thoughts after the first padded practice of training camp.
- Initially, I thought that Jaylon Smith wasn't going to do much of anything to start camp, but boy was I wrong. Jaylon Smith looked very fluid and explosive doing drills in his first real practice with the Cowboys. In his first time playing real football in 572 days, Smith blew me away on the field. With no real limitations that I could see, the arrow is only pointing up for Jaylon.
- The Cowboys have had bad luck in the past with injuries happening early in camp. That wasn't the case yesterday. Charles Tapper and Maliek Collins gave us all quite the scare when both ended up in the trainer's tent before the end of practice. It was later noted that Collins was dealing with a hip flexor and Tapper was just dealing with cramps. So far so good, from an injury standpoint.
- Brice Butler is not going to give his job away to anyone from what I've seen so far. Butler looks like a different player from what we saw last season. You can tell he is focused more on route running and snatching the ball with his hands. A lot of people had Butler not making the final roster, but I assure you he'll be on it come September 10th.
- Chidobe Awuzie made a great play against Brice Butler in one-on-ones. Awuzie was right on Butler's hip on a quick slant route across the middle and broke up the pass, tipped it up in the air and intercepted it for what would have been a touchdown. The rookie corner is already making plays and we're only a day into camp.
- Just two days after getting a two-year contract extension, La'el Collins looked very solid at right tackle. Collins had little to no trouble blocking first round pick Taco Charlton in one-on-ones and in team work. Collins plays so violently, almost to a fault, but man does he look good doing it.
- I really hope Mark Nzeocha can find a way to stay healthy. Nzeocha has the ideal size, speed, and length to be able to cover the ground game, shed blockers, and even does a decent job in coverage for his size. His ability to play all three linebacker spots makes him extra intriguing going into game days.
- It's unfortunate that Damien Wilson got himself into the situation he found himself in on July 4th weekend. Wilson looked explosive in practice yesterday when shooting gaps and doing all the drills. Wilson would be a starting linebacker for the team this year and an important part of the Cowboys defense. Let's hope some new information comes out involving his July 4th incident.
- It looked like Chaz Green struggled a bit at left guard early on in practice. Maliek Collins was giving him fits with his first step and power off the ball. Green's last resort was to give Collins the desperation one arm choke hold on multiple occasions to keep Maliek Collins from getting to the quarterback.
- The old theory is rookie defensive ends struggle early on, that rings true for Taco Charlton. Charlton didn't have his best day yesterday against either La'el Collins and Tyron Smith. Charlton's frustration came out when he ended his last rep of practice in a scuffle with UDFA Dan Skipper. Charlton has to learn to use his long arms to keep the tackle's hands off of him, because right now he isn't strong enough or quick enough to shake them once they do.
- Last but not least we have Dak Prescott. Prescott looked very good in his first practice of his sophomore campaign. We heard a lot last year how Prescott wasn't a very strong practice player. A lot of people called him a gamer, but that wasn't the case for Dak yesterday. Prescott made multiple tight window throws across the middle to his left and his right. Prescott even showed off his legs running the read-option a few times really fooling the defense. A great start to the season for a guy many are hoping will fail.
These are just my thoughts on a few players after the first padded practice and I'm sure I'll have a lot more for you the deeper we get into camp. For now the young players in the secondary are really looking good, and they could make or break this defense while trying to repeat as NFC East Champions and make a run at the Super Bowl.
What players are you most excited to see blossom in training camp?
Could a Former Division Rival be Cowboys’ LG Solution?
When it comes to prioritizing the Dallas Cowboys offseason needs, offensive guard is definitely near the top of the list. Opinions will certainly vary, but for me, solidifying the offensive line with a new starting left guard is the top priority for the Cowboys.
I know many of you will disagree and believe the Dallas Cowboys need to continue to upgrade their defense. But, this teams success or failure will be determined by how their offensive line performs. That's just the way the Cowboys are built, which is why they have invested so heavily putting this unit together.
Four out of five of the Dallas Cowboys starting offensive line is set in stone, but there is currently no one on the roster to step into the vacant left guard position unless you want to see the coaching staff give Chaz Green another try.
No, I didn't think so.
With the start of the 2018 free agency just a few weeks away, the Dallas Cowboys have certainly narrowed down some of the potential free agents they would be interested in bringing aboard if the price is right. Remember, they have turned into "bargain shoppers".
There are a few intriguing free agent options who I believe could step in to upgrade the LG position for the Cowboys next season, and not break the bank. One such option is a former division rival of the New York Giants, Justin Pugh.
The former 19th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has spent five years in New York while playing out his rookie contract, but that time has come to an end. The Giants aren't likely to re-sign him, which means he will get his first taste of free agency.
Justin Pugh could step in and be an immediate upgrade over what the Dallas Cowboys employed at the left guard position in 2017. He has exceptional mobility. He reaches the second level with ease and plays with good body control and footwork. He is a perfect fit in a zone blocking scheme like the Cowboys employ.
Pugh is also versatile. He has played both right tackle and offensive guard for the Giants. He of course would be asked to play between Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith at LG with the Cowboys, but versatility to play another position is never a bad thing.
Unfortunately, Pugh doesn't come without baggage. He has missed a total of 13 games over the last two seasons with the Giants, including eight last season due to a back injury. This is definitely a huge red flag, especially for the Cowboys after dealing with the same issue with Tyron Smith.
But, this is why Justin Pugh will likely be in the Cowboys price range. Sportrac currently estimates his contract at 4 years at $23,983,847, which equates to $5,995,968 annually. I personally think that's a little low for someone of Pugh's caliber and versatility, but it certainly understandable when you take into account his recent injury history.
I personally think this is a longshot to happen because the Cowboys would prefer to go younger and cheaper, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Do you think Justin Pugh makes sense for the Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition
Sadly, we can't wake up on Sundays to NFL football. The Dallas Cowboys are not on TV every week for us to watch them play. To make matters worse, we'll have to wait until September to get real football from our favorite team.
But that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about until then! For the die-hard Cowboys fan, the offseason should be quite entertaining. Free agency will begin in March, and it should be an intense one for Dallas.
They need to handle a tight salary cap while trying to add a bit of help for this football team. Recently, Inside The Star Contributor John Williams wrote an in-depth piece about the Cowboys' cap situation and how they can manage to get things done, despite having little cap space right now.
Last season, I wrote a weekly Cowboys Wishlist about things I wanted to see for each game. Now there are no games, but I decided to write a special edition for this upcoming free agency.
Wish #1: Keep The Rushmen
The front office will have one hell of a challenge trying to retain all of its free agents. The two most important ones may be their two defensive linemen. If they can keep them, DL won't be a top need heading to the Draft.
Lawrence is one of the biggest names in free agency this 2018, but the Cowboys should find a way to keep him from ever being available.
If they're able to franchise tag him, that'd be the way to go since he's only had one elite season in his four-year career and they may not want to sign him to a huge long-term deal and risk not seeing the same guy next season.
David Irving is a more polarizing player, with off-the-field issues. However, he's been a very disruptive guy and he has the chance to be a unique player. His talent is really out of this world. Keeping him and Irving would give this franchise a top defensive line for the first time in many years.
Wish #2: Pay Anthony Hitchens
When healthy, Sean Lee is one of the NFL's top linebackers. He is simply an outstanding player who's always around the ball and seems to know where the ball is going before the opposing coach even calls the play.
The problem is, he has a lot of trouble remaining available. Anthony Hitchens is a guy who's found the way to step up every time the General is out, and he's shown a great progression as a player year after year.
Lee will be 32 by the time the season starts, giving Dallas something to think about. Hitchens is a guy capable of starting and competing in the NFL. If the front office finds a way to keep him, they'll be getting closer to being less "Sean Lee-dependent."
Wish #3: Get Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas
When we talk about a potential big name addition to the Dallas Cowboys, we're usually a bit pessimistic. This team isn't one that makes splashes like this, but Earl Thomas to Dallas makes a ton of sense. Former Seahawks' defensive coordinator is now the Cowboys' defensive backs' coach.
With Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis (and maybe Byron Jones moving to CB), this team will have a promising secondary. Add Earl Thomas, and it will go from "promising" to "great" in a heartbeat.
The Cowboys could not only have a top DL, but a top secondary if they're able to get this veteran.
Let's hope the Cowboys listen to Thomas and they go get him.
Wish #4: Get Dez Bryant to Take a Pay Cut
When I started writing this, I wanted to add a "get this wide receiver in FA"... but I won't. A few weeks ago, I wrote a case in favor and one against Dez Bryant remaining a Cowboy in 2018. Personally, I would be fine with him parting ways with the team.
However, I'm aware of how hard it can be finding a replacement for a guy like #88. The biggest issue with Dez is definitely his cap hit. He hasn't justified the money he's being paid on the field as he should be.
If they can get him to take a pay cut, it may end up being the ideal scenario for the Dallas Cowboys.
It'll be a very interesting offseason, and here at Inside The Star we'll continue to provide you with content about it all.
Switzer and Beasley: A Dilemma for Cowboys’ 2018 Offseason
When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Cowboys Nation rejoiced. By some, including myself, the product out of North Carolina was considered a steal by America's Team. Taking a guy who could contribute from day one for special teams and for the offense was something to be happy about.
At the time, WR didn't look like much of a need. Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley were staying in Dallas and Terrance Williams had just been re-signed (little did we know he'd fail to score a single touchdown in 2017) pushing the receiver position down the team needs list.
But the front office had landed a very productive slot receiver from North Carolina. On top of that, they found a guy to replace Lucky Whitehead as a return specialist. However, offseason hype took over a large amount of Cowboys' fans, writers and analysts and the expectations for Switzer were very big.
Naturally, he was compared to Cole Beasley since people started talking about him as an NFL prospect. His height, skills and playing style were similar and with the Cowboy veteran coming off from a big year in 2016, people were excited for what Switzer could do as a professional football player.
But it wasn't just about the rookie returning punts and kickoffs, it was about him contributing to an offense that already had a great slot receiver. Cowboys Nation was excited to see Switzer and Beasley on the field at the same time.
That never happened.
Switzer barely saw playing time in 2017 and when he was on the field as a WR, he was limited to running or faking jet sweeps. The coaching staff misused him and we didn't get to see him get a lot of snaps until the final week of the season, when #11 was injured.
And it was that same week when we saw what he was capable of. Switz showed how talented he is and how he can beat NFL defensive backs when he was asked to do so.
With a busy offseason and a tight salary cap, the Dallas Cowboys' front office will be considering a lot of possibilities. One of them will be the future of Cole Beasley. Releasing him would free up more than $3M in cap space.
I know a large amount of Cowboys' fans prefer to see Dez Bryant gone over him, but we can't deny that there's already a clear replacement for Beasley in Switzer.
The Cowboys wanted Switzer to be a returner and a receiver for them, but if they're going to use him just as a gadget player on offense... was the fourth-round pick worth it? If you're not going to use one of them, why have two players who are very similar on your roster?
Cowboys Nation loves Cole Beasley, as they should. I for one wouldn't want to see #11 on another team. Even still, it's only fair to admit that it would make sense for Dallas if they were to say goodbye to one of their most beloved players.
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