When you think about training camp battles, which ones are your favorites?
It's going to be a ton of fun to watch Sean Lee chase down Ezekiel Elliott all over the field in Oxnard next week. Lee's ability to navigate coverage combined with Zeke's innate feel for the play will set up a beautiful chess match between the pro bowl linebacker and rookie prodigy.
The usual offensive and defensive line match-ups will certainly have their share of moments, and may even help people reminisce about Tyron Smith's early days against DeMarcus Ware.
All of these battles are well and good, and will certainly make headlines throughout August, but I had another thought, and perhaps, one a little more fun.
A football team is a brotherhood
Just ask Denzel Washington (Remember The Titans, anyone?). When you walk out onto the field, if you have the same jersey on as another player, you protect each other, and do everything you can to beat the guy wearing a different color. But, in August, during training camp, long before those bonds are created, a few guys aren't quite in that mindset yet.
Just ask Tony Romo, Cole Beasley, Barry Church, Lance Dunbar, or Lucky Whitehead. Among other things, this small fraternity of players have something in common: all of their backs were up against a wall when they first walked out onto the field in California. But they scratched, and clawed, and made the team.
Having said that, them making the squad meant something else: another guy was sent home.
So I thought to myself, who could be those guys this year? More specifically, which battles on this team could result in only one of the two players making the squad? Which gauntlets will be so heated, that one guy can send another packing? Listed below are three match-ups that could end up being for the 53rd spot on the team.
J.J. Wilcox vs Geoff Swaim
It's no secret that several members of Cowboys Nation have been upset by the play of J.J. Wilcox since he was drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He was dethroned from his seat at free safety halfway through last season by a budding star in Byron Jones. Since then, many people feel that his better fit could be more of a box strong safety type player.
Having said that, there are some who feel that his spot on the team isn't so sure heading into camp this year. Because of his delegation to second team, we'll be seeing him have to guard Geoff Swaim, a second/third team tight end, a lot this August.
Swaim, if you'll recall, had an all-but-stellar preseason last year, making a name for himself as Jameill Showers' favorite target. However, this front office used their last pick in this year's draft on a talented project player in Rico Gathers, who will get snaps at tight end.
Swaim was initially brought in as a blocking tight end, but showed the ability to regularly haul in passes last preseason. He's going to need to show the ability to get open against man coverage and continue to be a reliable pass catcher. Wilcox hasn't shown the consistency that you look for out of a third round pick. He's going to need to carry Swaim on several different route combinations and work to make up for the four-inch height gap.
One of Wilcox's best attributes is his physicality and willingness to hit. While this might work against softer tight ends, it may have less impact against Swaim, who showed last season that he's not afraid to catch passes over the middle in the face of danger.
One of #87's better highlights was against San Francisco on a deep 25-yard seam pass. Right as he went for the catch, he got nailed in the back by the lurking safety. Still, the tight end out of Texas caught the ball, and gained the first down.
Swaim won't beat you with his athleticism, but neither will Jason Witten.
I honestly believe that both players will make this team, but I'm starting to think that Swaim may be more valuable, especially if Kavon Frazier, who the Cowboys had a fourth round grade on, can show cover abilities.
This team is one injury away from our 3rd string tight end getting starting time, because of the offensive formations we like to run. Therefore, if I had to choose one, I'm giving Swaim the edge here. It's not often you see a third round pick get cut before his rookie contract expires, but if he gets outplayed, it could happen.
Deji Olatoye vs Lucky Whitehead
Just a friendly reminder that Jeff Heath was the team leader in interceptions last season with a whopping two. He was followed closely by a few guys with one pick, but none of whom were an intended starting cornerback. I phrase it that way on purpose, because we did have one corner in particular to get his mitts on a pass: Deji Olatoye.
Remember Deji? The 25-year-old, 6'1" corner we signed in the middle of last season? Well, he's one of only two cornerbacks last season to tally an interception. The other, Terrance Mitchell, is no longer a Cowboy.
Well, going into his second season with the Cowboys, I wouldn't say Deji necessarily faces an uphill battle, and I'll tell you why. Our top 3 corners are set: Orlando Scandrick, Mo Claiborne, and Brandon Carr. After them, the depth chart is far from set. We generally go into the NFL season with 4-5 corners. That leaves two potential spots for Deji to make his mark.
In my opinion, his only real competition are Josh Thomas and 2016 sixth round pick Anthony Brown.
At this time last year, Lucky Whitehead had already started to become a fan favorite, due some in part to his dread-headed resemblance to the then-recently departed Dwayne Harris. Going into camp this year, the wide receiver depth chart, after the top three (arguably four), is far from set.
If the Cowboys opt to keep only five wide outs (and Brice Butler makes it), that only leaves one spot for Whitehead, Devin Street, and all other undrafted guys, including Andy Jones out of Jacksonville, who is making noise of his own.
So here we go.
Undrafted vs undrafted.
Wide receiver vs cornerback.
Good old fashion mano a mano.
Yes, Lucky lines up as a slot weapon, and Deji primarily sees action outside the numbers. But, to make the team, Lucky is going to have to prove himself as a full-time receiver, and not just a gadget player/kick returner. That begins on the practice field in the one-on-one match-ups against the defensive backs, including Olatoye.
Listed on the team's website at 5'9", 180 pounds, Lucky certainly has the disadvantage entering the battle, as Deji walks in at 6'1", 194 pounds. That's a 4 inch, 14 pound difference. The problem is, Deji represents the body type of what many team's currently employ in this league. Ever since Richard Sherman came onto the scene, teams love bigger corners. Because of this, Lucky's going to have to show early and often in camp that he's able to take on bigger defensive backs.
With the crowded queue ahead of Lucky, and his lacking physical stature (even with his added muscle), I'm just not sure he'll be able to consistently beat Olatoye on the field to prove he is a better option than other wide receivers on the team. Thus, I'm taking Deji in this bout.
Ryan Russell vs Charles Brown
When former second round pick Charles Brown was brought in by this front office last season, he was seen as nothing more than a simple plug-and-play offensive tackle in the event of an emergency. Now, heading into his first training camp in Oxnard, due to Chaz Green's stunted growth, Brown is considered to be right in the thick of things to make the squad as our swing tackle.
One has to wonder, though, if Chaz Green does step up his game, and we don't trade Ronald Leary, would this team really consider carrying nine offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Chaz Green, Charles Brown, Joe Looney, Ron Leary)?
Switching things over to the other side of ball, Ryan Russell certainly had a less than fantastic rookie year, as he didn't tally a single tackle or sack. However, if you'll recall, in Demarcus Lawrence's absence, he was receiving first team defensive end snaps in competition with David Irving during mini-camp.
Given the perceived lack of pass rush ability on this team, you have to think this front office would rather go deep at the defensive end position than offensive line. There's a reason why Charles Brown hasn't caught on to a team. His play is inconsistent, and he's never lived up to his second round status.
I've heard rumblings that Russell has made strides and I look for him to handle Charles Brown in their one-on-one match-ups. Thus, if the 53rd spot comes down to these two, I don't think the coaching staff would be too heartbroken to send Brown home.
That would still leave us with three solid backup offensive lineman, as long as we don't get rid of Ron Leary.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on these match-ups and who you think would take the final spot. Or, if you have another battle in mind, it would be great to hear that as well. Either way, I think we're all ready to finally see some hitting! Happy training camp season!
Despite Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott
We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.
From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.
Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.
Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.
Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.
Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.
This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.
We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.
Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.
And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.
But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.
That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.
While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.
In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.
Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.
What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?
Out of every chess piece moved by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, the decision to name 30-year old Kellen Moore might be the most interesting one. Not only that, but it could be the one that makes the biggest impact on the team. After all, the Cowboys are ready to go talent wise.
With Kellen Moore taking up a new role, it's intriguing to imagine what a successful season would mean for his future with the Dallas Cowboys. Truth be told, Moore is in a pretty fortunate position to debut as an offensive coordinator. He'll be driving a unit full of talented players with almost no weak links. Last year, it wasn't the lack of quality players lined up that had the offense struggling throughout the season, but the guy in charge.
At first, the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver clearly blew up on the Cowboys face. The passing game in Dallas needed a spark and they didn't find it until they traded a first rounder for Amari Cooper. Cooper's impact on the team was clear right away as he put on impressive performances on a weekly basis.
But even when Cooper was at his best, the offense still presented relevant struggles. Despite getting more first downs, the Cowboys still had trouble scoring touchdowns when in the red zone and kept leaving points on the field.
Although he's been a controversial conversation among members of Cowboys Nation, there are a few reasons to be excited about what Kellen Moore can bring to the table as a young offensive coordinator. Ever since he declared for the NFL Draft out of Boise State, where he ran a very complex offense on his way to become the QB with most wins in NCAA history, he was seen by many as an extremely smart prospect. Many expected him to have a mediocre career as a player, but saw him as a potential coach down the line.
Now it's his chance to prove the world just how smart he is and his potential as a coach. He will not only be proving it to the Cowboys organization, but all of the NFL and college football teams. Don't forget what NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mentioned a few months ago.
I've mentioned this before- Kellen Moore is a rising star and he'll be in the mix for HC gigs (CFB or NFL) in the near future. https://t.co/hLjOb4HAUc
With a great group of talent at his disposal, it's fair to imagine Moore having a pretty successful "rookie" season at a major coaching position. If he indeed manages to turn heads with the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2019, what does that mean for his future?
In a league that's turning to the young offensive-minded coaches thanks to guys like Sean McVay, is it possible one team decides to pull the trigger and make him an offer for a head coaching gig? It certainly would seem premature, but it's still a possibility in the NFL, where teams have become increasingly impatient with their coaches.
I definitely wouldn't be surprised if next offseason, we're concerned about another team (college or NFL) trying to snatch Moore off the Cowboys. I insist in pointing out this would be a premature decision if it does happen, since Moore has very little experience, but looking at the trend in the NFL it certainly could happen.
This might be the most important year in Kellen Moore's young career. For now, let's hope he does a good job leading Dak Prescott in his fourth year as a professional player and an offense that has a solid OL and a pretty good set of skill players.
Connor Williams Working as Left Tackle in Cowboys Practice
Second-year guard Connor Williams has been working as the Cowboys' left tackle during practice this week. While this isn't the plan for him in 2019, it does provide a glimpse into potential uses for Williams down the road and how Dallas might handle future offensive line moves.
Using Connor at LT this week has been a matter of necessity. The top players on that depth chart, Tyron Smith and Cameron Fleming, were not participating for other reasons.
With Tyron Smith getting a vet day and Cam Fleming not practicing because of a bruised shin, Connor Williams worked at left tackle Wednesday. He said it was his first left tackle snaps since he was at Texas. He said it felt like riding a bike after a little bit.
Indeed, Williams spent three years at left tackle in college. It was the last position he'd played before being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by Dallas, who immediately moved him to guard.
Connor started 10 of 13 games at guard last season. He played mostly on the left side, starting Weeks 1-9, before getting injured. Xavier Su'a-Filo played well enough in his absence that Williams didn't get the starting job back when he was healthy. However, when Zack Martin had to miss a few games at the end of the year, Connor started a right guard for those two weeks.
When Martin returned for the playoffs, Williams was back as the starting left guard in both postseason games.
Tyron Smith and Cam Fleming will be your starter and backup at left tackle next year. But for 2020 and beyond, Connor Williams' ability to play tackle creates some interesting possibilities.
La'el Collins will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Fleming will still have one year left on his deal and Dallas just spent a third-round pick on the versatile Connor McGovern. Throw in that Williams can play some tackle, and it seems as if they're covering bases for Collins eventual departure.
We could very well see a starting lineup in 2020 with McGovern at LG and Williams at RT. Another possibility is that Fleming starts at RT and Williams stays at guard, but can be moved to tackle if needed.
If nothing else, it's nice to know that Dallas has options. We may never see Connor Williams play a regular season snap at left tackle, but versatility is a great asset. It can greatly increase a player's value, and give his team some leverage and flexibility in roster management.
For the Cowboys, it does make you wonder what the future holds for the offensive line.
Player News1 week ago
Leighton Vander Esch Graded Best Rookie Linebacker Since 2014
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Way-too-early 2019 Dallas Cowboys 53-man Roster Projection
Star Blog2 weeks ago
QB Dak Prescott Already Impressing New Offensive Coaches
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Despite Perception, Dallas Cowboys had an Excellent Offseason
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Why Cowboys Should Make Signing RB Jay Ajayi a Top Priority
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp