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.
Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark
When the Dallas Cowboys took the field last Sunday against the New York Giants, they did so very differently than last week, starting with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to connect with WR Tavon Austin in the third play of the game. Although there are still many things this team must continue to work on, they looked like a very improved unit in week 2.
Here are my main takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys' first win of the year. Let me know what yours are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football!
Cowboys' Secondary Capable of Holding Top WR
If there was one player who could've changed the outcome for the New York Giants, it was WR Odell Beckham Jr. Widely recognized as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Beckham was the biggest challenge the cornerbacks, led by Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, have had in the first two weeks.
None of them followed Beckham all over the field, each stayed on their side of the field and still managed to limit him to four receptions for 51 yards in nine targets. The Giant's offense is not known for being one of the best in the league, but it's the fact that this defense was able to limit exactly the player they needed to. They did their job.
Also, props to the defensive line for keeping the pressure on Eli Manning.
Taco Charlton Was Dominant VS Nate Solder
With Randy Gregory ruled out for the game, Taco Charlton had a golden opportunity to stay on the field for more snaps. He took advantage of this, as he finished the night with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Charlton still has a long way to go in order to prove he was worthy of a first round pick, but we can't deny he hasn't stopped developing. It will be interesting to see how he does now that Gregory is expected to return for week 3.
Dak Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Needed Spark
One of the things I liked the most about the Cowboys' game versus the Giants was how Dak Prescott was utilized. Criticized after a poor performance in Carolina, Prescott came out with a chip on his shoulder.
We've been talking a lot about how Scott Linehan must play Prescott to his strengths and that's precisely what he did by letting Dak run for 45 yards in seven carries. It's completely understandable if the Cowboys don't want to run him as much as the Panthers do with Cam Newton, but the truth is, if #4 hurts defenses with his leg, Ezekiel Elliott won't receiver all of the defense's attention.
Also, shoutout to how they used Tavon Austin. With Elliott, Prescott and Austin being a threat on option plays, this offense could take a step on the right direction.
Rico Gathers Will Be Used
The Cowboys' Rico Gathers project is moving in the right direction. The 2016 sixth-round pick was active for the first time in his career last Sunday. The first question that popped into our heads was whether or not he'd be actually used in the game. He was.
He even managed to get open in the end zone in a play that could've been TD but Prescott didn't throw a good pass. However, the mere fact that he was able to get open and that the coaches actually put him on the field told us a lot about his future. Cowboys Nation should be excited to see him involved.
Dallas Cowboys vs the New York Giants: Stock Up and Stock Down
The Dallas Cowboys bounced back in a big way against the New York Giants in week two. Several players bounced back as well after struggling a bit in week one against the Carolina Panthers. Other players continued to struggle or saw a drop in play from week one to week two.
Here are the Dallas Cowboys who saw their stock rise and some who saw their stock fall this week.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Jaylon Smith has been really good to start the season and had an excellent game against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. Every day Smith is removed from the devastating knee injury he suffered in his final game at Notre Dame is a day closer to realizing the elite play that many expected of him before the injury.
Pro Football Reference credited the starting middle linebacker with seven solo tackles and three assists. Pro Football Focus had Jaylon Smith with 3 stops -- plays that were a "loss" for the offense -- while becoming a stabilizing force for the linebacker position.
Byron Jones, Cornerback
The fourth year player who has made a successful move from safety to cornerback, Byron Jones has been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped he'd be when they made him their first round pick back in 2015.
Shame that it took so long to get him to cornerback.
Against a potent New York Giants receiving corp, Jones only allowed one reception on five targets on Sunday night. He also had six solo tackles and three stops, per Pro Football Focus.
The one reception that Pro Football Focus credited to Byron Jones was by Running Back Saquon Barkley and that catch went for zero yards.
So on the night, Byron Jones allowed zero yards into his coverage areas. He's really good at cornerback and is taking to Kris Richard's coaching quite nicely.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
After much gnashing of teeth after the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers, Dak Prescott rebounded with a strong, confident performance in the Dallas Cowboys week two win over the Giants.
He completed 64% of his passes for 160 yards and ran for 45 yards on seven carries. The passing yardage isn't huge, but on a night in which the defense was absolutely dominant, Dak Prescott made the plays that needed to be made for the Dallas Cowboys to win the game.
He was great in the read-option on Sunday night, perfectly executing it for several really good runs.
The throw to Tavon Austin on the third offensive play from scrimmage was a great throw that set the tone for the Dallas Cowboys the rest of the night. His yards per attempt and passer rating were both improved from week one and he just looked better.
If Dak Prescott can continue to put together performances like this, the Dallas Cowboys will win a lot of games this season.
Connor Williams, Left Guard
After getting pushed around for much of last week's game by Kawann Short, rookie Connor Williams rebounded with a really nice game.
Williams didn't allow a pressure all night and the offensive line was much better as a whole. The unit didn't allow a sack against the New York Giants.
According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott's biggest run of the night came behind Connor Williams at left guard.
Williams is an important piece to the puzzle and if he's playing well, it will provide better pockets for Dak Prescott.
Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver
After seeing only 10 snaps in week one, Tavon Austin was on the field for nearly twice as many and made them count as he ended with two receptions for 79 yards and had one rush for 15 yards.
That's 94 total yards on three touches. The "Tavon Effect" was in full force last night as the team used his speed to their advantage. Even when the ball didn't go his direction he had an effect on the game.
Damien Wilson, Linebacker
Seemingly the odd man out after the Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Damien Wilson had an excellent game in his limited playing time.
Wilson played 17 defensive snaps and 22 snaps on special teams and was credited with three solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He's was excellent on Sunday night in the snaps he was given.
It's unlikely that we'll see a big snap increase for him with the talent ahead of him on the depth chart, but he provided very valuable snaps when given the opportunity.
Terrance Williams, Wide Receiver
Terrance Williams who has been a starter for several years now with the Dallas Cowboys, and even started week one, saw his snap count drop from week one to week two. After seeing 19 snaps against the Carolina Panthers, he was onlyon the field for 10 snaps in week two.
There's been speculation as the Dallas Cowboys have resigned former Wide Receiver Brice Butler that Terrance Williams could be the odd man out of the wide receiver room. That snap count is either an indication of his status on the team or the game plan they had against the New York Giants.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Williams moving forward.
La'el Collins, Right Tackle
A week after allowing four pressures, most along the offensive line, La'el Collins allowed three more pressures on Sunday night against the New York Giants. He was the only offensive lineman to allow multiple pressures and appeared to struggle with the Giants blitz and stunt schemes.
The New York Giants had rushers go unblocked at times on Sunday night.
Dak Prescott wasn't sacked against the Giants, but he had to avoid some pressure on that side to throw the ball away.
Collins has to be better against the pass rush going forward to keep Dak Prescott clean and able to play better.
Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends
The Dallas Cowboys' tight end group of Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers did not have a single catch to their name on Sunday night. There were opportunities that were missed, like the Dak Prescott overthrow to Rico Gathers in the end zone. However, not being able to come up with a single catch against the Giants is a bit surprising.
Speaking frankly, their isn't a receiving threat on the TE depth chart. They need to become a factor at some point to help take pressure of Dak Prescott and give him another option in the passing game. The Dallas Cowboys prefer to run most of their formations with a tight end on the field. They need to be a factor
The Cowboys Nation Twitter account asked David Helman from DallasCowboys.com to look up when the last time the Dallas Cowboys tight ends finished a game without a reception.
Mark Lane from WFAA.com and the Texans Wire found the information.
@HelmanDC @CowboysNation @SullyBaldHead @Marcus_Mosher @CHQ_Jordan @FO_ScottKacsmar When you do, Dave, tell them that Mark Lane found it at 1:15 a.m. Central Time. It was Dec. 1, 2016 at the #Vikings. https://t.co/XS3FVrWhT8
It's unbelievable that there was a game played in which Jason Witten was around for that he didn't have a reception, and yet, there it is.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Were there any players that moved the needle in either direction for you?
Let us know in the comment section.
Will Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods Return This Week?
The Dallas Cowboys have been without one of their defensive starters for the first two weeks of 2018; safety Xavier Woods. A preseason hamstring injury has kept him in street clothes so far, but Woods could make his season debut this week against the Seattle Seahawks.
The positive update on Woods' status was provided by Owner Jerry Jones in his regular radio appearance this morning.
Jerry Jones on @1053thefan said it appears Randy Gregory (concussion) will be available to play Sunday at Seattle. Jones also thinks Xavier Woods (hamstring) has a chance to play this week after missing the first two games
Gregory has already played this year, suffering his concussion and leaving the season opener against the Carolina Panthers. Even in his absence last week, the Cowboys got six sacks on Eli Manning in their victory over the Giants.
That's not to say getting Randy back isn't noteworthy, but the real news here is the potential for Xavier Woods to take his place as the team's starting free safety.
While Woods has been out, Jeff Heath has been the free safety while Kavon Frazier has started at strong. The plan going into 2018 was for Heath to play strong safety, putting him closer to the line of scrimmage where his skills are best suited.
Xavier was one of the team's most exciting rookies last year, flashing the potential to be a game-changing presence.
Woods' upside is one of the reasons some fans haven't been as desperate about the Earl Thomas situation. While Thomas would be an upgrade in almost any defense, including the Cowboys, the chance to see what Xavier has mitigated disappointment over not acquiring the All-Pro safety.
If Woods can provide what the team hopes for at free safety, it has a positive ripple effect for the roster. Not only do you upgrade at FS, but Heath moving to his ideal role at SS is another improvement.
It also moves Frazier, who's been solid in his playing time, into a valuable bench role. It gives Dallas depth at safety which, up til now, they've lacked in Xavier's absence.
The loser in this deal would likely be either veteran backup Ibraheim Campbell, who Dallas signed two weeks ago to deal with their depth issues, or undrafted rookie Tyree Robinson. Robinson has been with the team since they signed him immediately after the 2018 NFL Draft.
With talk that the Cowboys are looking to bring back WR Brice Butler, a roster spot will be needed. Xavier Woods' return could allow for that spot to come from safety rather than receiver, where Dallas is hesitant to part with any of its current players.
In the end, all we have right now is a "maybe" about Woods' status. But with Dallas' defense already performing well this year, the thought of getting even better is enticing. With the tough road environment of Seattle and Russell Wilson coming up this Sunday, getting Xavier back could be timely.
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