The Dallas Cowboys are now just a few days away from starting training camp and every time these practices kickoff I start to get the feeling that the season is almost here.
The practice is finally fully padded, the tempers are flaring, and the trash talk is running rampant. Football season is Finally Here!
I don't know about you but I just love the excitement and energy that the football season brings. There is not another sport that provides so much enjoyment and entertainment to my life. Fortunately, for all of us it is just around the corner and for me training camp is the first indicator that the football season is fastly approaching.
One of the things I like to do once training camp is finally underway is identify some of the battles that will take place throughout these practices and really pay close attention to how things play out.
Below are six of the training camp battles that I will particularly be paying close attention to leading up to the 2016 season.
Dez Bryant vs. Orlando Scandrick
Over the years one of my favorite things to watch during training camp is Dez Bryant and Orlando Scandrick go at one another during practice. This year is no different, but with both players coming back from injuries it will be interesting to see how this battle shakes out.
Both players are arguably the most passionate and feisty players on the entire Dallas Cowboys roster. They enjoy using trash talk as a means of trying to get in the head of the players they are going up against and it usually reaches a different level when they are lining up across from one another.
#32 and #88 will both have to be monitored closely throughout training camp to make sure that there are no lingering effects from their 2015 injuries, but I still expect both players to battle it out when they are facing each other in practice.
Zack Martin vs. Tyrone Crawford
Zack Martin and Tyrone Crawford will be battling it out in the trenches in training camp and I for one am really interested in seeing who comes out on top the majority of the time.
Martin is arguably one of the best offensive guards in the entire NFL, but don't count out Crawford when lining up across from #70 in training camp practices.
Crawford was really limited in 2015 because he was battling through an injury the majority of the year. It really had an impact on his effectiveness, but now that he's 100% healthy he should be able to improve upon his career-high five quarterback sacks that he was able to accumulate last season.
Martin and Crawford will probably get tired of looking at one another, but they are both likely to benefit from squaring off against one another throughout training camp.
Terrance Williams vs. Brice Butler
Terrance Williams versus Brice Butler has been an interesting topic for discussion throughout the off-season and there are many people that believe that Butler might just have a chance to beat out Williams for that #2 wide receiver spot.
There will be many eyes following this training camp battle, but I for one don't know if Butler can do enough to unseat Williams at this point.
I don't know if Williams gets enough credit for what he has been able to accomplish since entering the NFL. Yes, there are times where he seems to disappear, but he already has the trust of his quarterback and an upper hand over Butler when it comes to the knowing the offensive scheme.
Both players are entering their last year under contract and you can bet that they will be doing everything in their power to earn a second contract in the NFL.
Cedric Thornton vs. Travis Frederick
Cedric Thornton was the Dallas Cowboys prized free-agent in the off-season and I for one am really excited about seeing him go up against Travis Frederick in training camp.
Of course, this isn't the first time the two have squared off against one another, but it will be the first time they will do so as teammates. Thornton has faced off against Frederick before as a member of the division rival Philadelphia Eagles and should know all too well how to battle it out with the Cowboys offensive line.
Thornton is expected to be an upgrade over Nick Hayden at the 1-tech and should help provide a little bit more spark to the middle of the Dallas Cowboys front seven. Frederick on the other hand will be asked to keep him at bay and keep the pocket clean for Tony Romo.
It is really going to be interesting to see if either player can gain the upper hand in training camp.
Morris Claiborne vs. Brandon Carr
Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are arguably two of the most hated Dallas Cowboys players on the roster by many fans. Claiborne because he has failed to live up to his draft status and has struggle to stay healthy. Carr because he has failed to live up to the big money contract he received from the Cowboys as a free agent.
As things stand right now, it looks as if both players will be competing to see who starts at the right cornerback position opposite Orlando Scandrick.
I'm under the belief that Scandrick will play left cornerback and then possibly slide down into the slot when the Cowboys are in their nickel package. That leaves Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr battling it out to see who wins the other starting CB spot.
The Cowboys are in their nickel package quite often so both players will get plenty of playing time, but who earns the right to be called a starter will be determined in training camp.
Anthony Hitchens vs. Mark Nzeocha
The 10 game suspension to Rolando McClain really hurt the Dallas Cowboys defense, but I believe that the organization will see what they have in some of their younger linebackers in training camp and then possibly make another move to solidify the position.
Even though the Cowboys brought back Justin Durant, I see him as a backup player for the 2016 season. That leaves me to believe that Anthony Hitchens and Mark Nzeocha will get the first shot at locking down the middle linebacker position.
Hitchens has the experience and probably the trust of the coaching staff, but Nzeocha has all the physical tools to challenge him for the starting position.
This could be one of the more important training camp battles to keep track of because it could ultimately decide the fate of the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2016.
Are there any training camp battles you are particularly interested in keeping track of?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share your thoughts and opinions on this topic so that we can discuss it further.
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator
The big word around the Dallas Cowboys lately is about Jason Garrett and the future of the head coaching job. Some have speculated that either Quarterback Dak Prescott or Jason Garrett will get axed, and the other will stay.
Owner Jerry Jones was quoted on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas about his young quarterback, putting to bed at least half of the conflict.
"Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s young and he’s going to get extended."
This shut the door on the idea of Prescott being replaced.
As far as Jason Garrett? Jerry Jones has been less than committed.
"I’m not in the business of backing anybody; the head coach, or offensive coordinator, I just don’t back them publicly." Jerry Jones said.
So it seems that Jason Garrett’s future is up in the air.
But what about offensive coordinator Scott Linehan? What’s held the Cowboys back this year has been the offense, and a lot of it can be contributed to their predictable play calling and inability to adapt to today’s game and its current players.
Whether or not Jason Garrett retains his job, Scott Linehan’s job doesn’t seem near as secure. His scheme doesn’t really mesh with Dak Prescott and how the offense could look. There’s only so many times you can run a three tight end set and not get furious.
Cowboys fans may want Garrett gone but they might have to settle for a new offensive coordinator instead.
The good news is that there are many options out there. Options that not only could work well with Dak Prescott, but could bring the Cowboys offense into the 2010s.
Jerry Jones once said how the Cowboys offense was like the LA Rams. If they are able to sign their Co-Offensive Coordinator, then they could be.
When Matt LaFleur left to become the Tennessee Titans OC, the job became a shared job between Waldron and Aaron Kromer. I wonder if Waldron would rather have the job all to himself?
What makes Waldron so appealing is he is also the Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Those are two areas where the Rams excel and where the Cowboys need help.
Teams are going to start copying the offensive juggernauts of the NFL and the Rams are definitely one of them. The Cowboys should do themselves a favor and get out in front before other teams beat them to it.
Cam Newton is having one of his best seasons. Not only is he an MVP candidate but he’s set to have career highs in completion percentage and QBR, as well as a career low in interceptions. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback but some of this has to be attributed to his new Quarterback Coach, Scott Turner.
The son of Norv Turner, Scott has seemingly helped mold Cam into a more accurate passer without compromising who Cam Newton is as an athletic quarterback. That has Dak Prescott written all over it.
He's got NFL lineage and a new, scary Cam Newton to add to his resume. He may not have as impressive a track record as others on here but he looks like he could be a chip off the old block and get the Cowboys where they need to be going.
A popular head coach candidate, Lincoln Riley has shown his creativity and offensive innovation during his short time as Oklahoma’s head coach. It’s uncertain if he’ll get any real offers to be a head coach, but as an OC, he would be a serious grab.
Everyone has seen the work he’s done with Baker Mayfield and now Kyler Murray. How he’s able to incorporate different formations to open up the pass game and have the run game seem unstoppable. Just imagine what he could do with the weapons he would have at his disposal in Dallas.
It's likely that Lincoln Riley is a hot commodity for a head coach position, especially in Cleveland where he could reunite with Baker Mayfield. That shouldn’t stop the Cowboys from trying to lure him to Dallas, though. Lincoln Riley could be the real missing piece that Dallas has been looking for.
Another product of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy is the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. The former running backs coach has the experience under Andy Reid on not only how to run an offense but to use your weapons at your disposal to the fullest.
Maybe I’m over-hyping this man but when you see the work he helped put in with Pat Mahomes and how he uses those weapons around him, it makes me imagine what he can do for the Cowboy offense.
The team has no shortage of weapons and could benefit greatly from a guy like this.
If the Chiefs make it past their first playoff game, Bieniemy could become a more attractive name when it comes time for new head coaches. However, if Jerry Jones comes calling and the right offer is met, who’s to say?
If Kris Richard can be lured from Seattle to fix the Cowboys defense, Eric Bieniemy can be lured from Kansas City to fix the Cowboys offense.
Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta
The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.
As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.
The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.
It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.
Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.
Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.
If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.
The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.
In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.
Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.
It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.
The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.
Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.
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