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.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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