Do you know the significance of July 28?
If not, that's the date that the Dallas Cowboys officially start training camp and what I believe to be the start of the 2016 NFL season.
We will finally get to see the new additions to the Dallas Cowboys roster in the full padded practices, thus giving us a better idea of exactly what type of players they are and how they can contribute to the team.
Unfortunately, a reoccurring theme in Oxnard, California, where the Cowboys hold training camp, is players suffering serious injuries that cause them to miss significant time, if not the entire season.
That is why I believe the coaching staff need to monitor some of their players specifically and make sure that they are not receiving too heavy of a workload.
Below are five players that need to be closely monitored in training camp and you might just notice a reoccurring theme with all of these players mentioned.
Tony Romo has been placed on a pitch count in practices before and I don't see any reason why that shouldn't continue in training camp and even into the regular season.
The Dallas Cowboys 2016 season will heavily depend on how Romo performs and how well he will be able to remain healthy. We all witnessed firsthand last season in 2015 just how much the entire team is Romo dependent and they simply can't risk losing him for any length of time if they want to be successful.
Romo knows the offense so the only real reason he needs practice repetitions is to build a chemistry once again with his offensive weapons.
Romo being placed on a pitch count does two things. It allows the coaching staff to get a better idea of the backup quarterback situation and it allows Romo to receive extra time for his body to recuperate.
Much like his quarterback, Dez Bryant had a rather disappointing 2015 season because of an early season foot injury that never quite received the adequate time to heal properly.
To his credit, Bryant played the 2015 season despite the amount of pain he must've played through in order to give his team the best chance to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
We all know that Bryant is a competitor and he gives 100% whether it's on the practice field or in a game. That is a reason why the Cowboys need to closely monitor him in training camp and probably the preseason as well.
Bryant will do everything in his power to receive as much practice reps as possible. That's just the type of person he is. He needs his repetitions in order to prepare for the season, but the Cowboys also need him to be 100% for the offense to be at its best.
Orlando Scandrick missed the entire 2015 season because of a devastating knee injury. He has yet to practice in any of the OTA's or mini-camp practices.
His return should greatly improve the secondary for the Cowboys defense with both his on the field play and the attitude that he plays with.
The coaching staff will need to closely monitor him and how his surgically repaired knee responds to practice in training camp. He might just need to be placed on a pitch count as well.
The Cowboys secondary is thin heading into the 2016 season and Scandrick's return not only helps depth wise, but allows defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to be a little more creative in how he chooses to disguise coverages with his cornerbacks.
Linebacker Sean Lee missed all of OTA's and mini-camp practices after having minor knee surgery to clear up discomfort he was having in his left knee. The same knee that caused him to miss the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL.
In all honesty, I would rather him miss time now than in the season when it really counts.
Lee seems to be an injury waiting to happen and you can bet with the current situation at the linebacker position the coaching staff will closely be monitoring his workload in training camp and in the preseason.
Lee had a fantastic 2015 season which resulted in him making his first Pro Bowl. He still managed to miss two games because of a concussion and a hamstring injury.
He knows Rod Marinelli's defense inside and out and him missing practice repetitions in training camp shouldn't be a big concern. It allows some of the younger LBs to gain a little more experience and prove to the coaching staff that they can be relied upon if needed.
Tyrone Crawford plays the all-important 3-technique in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's 4-3 defensive scheme. He is asked to make plays in the backfield in both the running and passing game, making him one of the most important pieces on the entire defense.
You may be asking yourself why Crawford is on this list, but he struggled playing through an injury in 2015 that really limited how effective he could be.
The coaching staff really needs to monitor his workload in training camp because there is a huge drop-off between Crawford and anybody that is playing behind him.
The Dallas Cowboys defense is already in a tough situation due to the suspensions to Rolando McClain, Demarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory. They simply can't afford to have one of the players they are relying on to provide a pass rush to miss any time due to injury.
Are there any other player's the coaching staff should be closely monitoring in training camp?
Please use the comment section below to provide your thoughts and opinions on this topic. I look forward to hearing from you so that we can discuss this further.
Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?
The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?
Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.
A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?
Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.
What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?
Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.
But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.
This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.
Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.
What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?
Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.
What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.
Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.
The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.
One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.
Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.
You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.
And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.
Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.
However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.
Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs
When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.
The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.
With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”
As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.
Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.
Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.
On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.
The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.
And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.
The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.
Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
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