The Dallas Cowboys will be in Oxnard on Saturday, signaling the start of a training camp that could not get here soon enough. These practices and upcoming August 3rd Hall of Fame game will signal a full return to football for the defending NFC East Champions, yet this young team still has plenty of big questions on both sides of the ball.
Putting the offensive issues - both on and off the field - aside for a moment, Rod Marinelli's front seven on the Cowboys' defense still lacks juice at defensive end despite addressing the position with their 28th overall pick Taco Charlton.
The larger concern may be at linebacker though, where the Jaylon Smith saga took another recent turn with the positive news that he won't practice further with the AFO brace being followed by a still-lengthy six to nine month prognosis for full nerve regeneration in his knee.
More news on Jaylon Smith per source. Recent tests show increased nerve regeneration. If continues, could see full return in the 6-9 months.
It is still very possible that Jaylon Smith makes an impact for the Cowboys in 2017, something to being excited about following through this camp, but being prepared for essentially another season without him is likely the best way to avoid disappointment for Cowboys Nation.
Even more disappointing was the recent offseason development for promising LB Damien Wilson, who looked in line to earn a larger role at SAM and potentially MIKE. Instead, Wilson is awaiting league discipline following his arrest for aggravated assault.
The Cowboys have plenty of bodies at defensive end, and some rushers with real promise heading into 2017. Neither of these things can be said now at linebacker, with Anthony Hitchens slotted to remain the starter at MIKE, Sean Lee written in stone at WILL, and any combination of Mark Nzeocha (who is working back from injury once again), Kyle Wilber, recently re-signed Justin Durant, or UDFA Kennan Gilchrist filling in at the base SAM position.
Optimism does not have to be incredibly high for the Cowboys' group of defensive ends to think they'll outperform the linebackers behind them.
There should be realistic expectations for Benson Mayowa to improve at RDE, Taco Charlton to progress as the season goes on, Charles Tapper to throw his name into the rotation, and David Irving to return in week 5 and make flash plays. All of this comes on top of having DeMarcus Lawrence back in a contract season and Damontre Moore signed from the Seahawks as a pass rusher with real potential to put pressure on the quarterback off the right edge with some consistent disruption.
Who can we expect improvement from at LB in 2017?
While the Cowboys' young group of DEs will warrant some promise leading up to the regular season, the linebacker corps will unfortunately feature more of the same. There isn't a "bad" starter by any means at LB for the Cowboys currently, but can Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens hold up once again as the team's primary middle-of-the-field defenders?
Sure, some UDFA LBs like Lucas Wacha or journeyman John Lotulelei can warrant some training camp buzz, but the Cowboys feel that they've completely retooled and not rebuilt their defense in order to contend in 2017 with young starters galore.
A position that will appear untouched - probably for the worse - is linebacker.
Is this a good time to remind you that 2017 was the first year since 2004 the Cowboys did not draft a LB, entering the draft on the perceived same page as Cowboys Nation that DE was a more pressing need.
When one problem has emerged for the Cowboys this summer, a second has never been far behind. Finally fortifying the edge depth on this team will be looked at as an overwhelming positive, but is it going to come at the cost of diminished linebacker play?
Cowboys Trade for FB Jamize Olawale from Raiders
Less than a week after the Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith to the Raiders in free agency, the two teams have worked out a trade to send FB Jamize Olawale from Oakland to Dallas.
Fullback trade! The #Raiders are sending FB Jamize Olawale to the #Cowboys, sources say. Dallas has its fullback, one who was with Oakland since 2012.
To facilitate the trade, the Cowboys will send their fifth-round pick (173rd overall) to the Raiders for their sixth-round pick (192nd), moving back just 19 spots.
In return, Dallas not only brings in a veteran replacement at FB but a player they already know.
Jamize Olawale was an undrafted rookie free agent of the Cowboys in 2012. Despite a strong showing in that preseason, Dallas did not have room for him on the roster. He was on the team's practice squad until December, when Oakland poached him.
Since then, Olawale has been a regular roleplayer in the Raiders' offense. He's missed just six games since 2013.
Jamize brings more offensive firepower to the FB position than Keith Smith had. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the last three seasons. He can be effective both running and receiving.
Through the trade, Dallas picks up the final year of Olawale's current contract. It calls for a $1.5 million base salary in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys to Re-Sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for 2018
Continuity is the key to good special teams play in the NFL. Already losing long-time Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia to the Raiders - who promptly snatched ST aces Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber in free agency - the Dallas Cowboys have announced their intentions to re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for the 2018 season.
Returning on a one-year deal, the fan favorite Ladouceur will be back to do what he does best in cleanly executing almost every special teams snap for Chris Jones or Dan Bailey to handle.
Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will re-sign with the Cowboys on Monday, according to sources, on a one-year deal. He will be in his 14th season with the franchise. Only Jason Witten, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei will have more years of... https://t.co/yTQbMYyrIv
While Jones has improved as the Cowboys' punter with each passing season, Kicker Dan Bailey actually enters 2018 as another question mark on this unit. With the general belief around the team being that Bailey will be just fine moving forward, the Cowboys will no longer have to worry about who handles long snaps next year either.
L.P. Ladouceur is back in the silver and blue, and in this moment, everything can be alright with the world.
Report: Raiders Sign Former Cowboys LB Kyle Wilber
A Free Agency period filled with departures continued for the Dallas Cowboys today, as the Oakland Raiders have reportedly signed the now-former Cowboys LB Kyle Wilber.
The Raiders have signed LB Kyle Wilber: https://t.co/TaC6cqjval
Wilber has been with the Cowboys since 2012, and has played in all 16 games four of the past five seasons. Most of his time has come on special teams, but he did provide solid linebacker depth for the Cowboys since joining the team.
Dallas has now lost both Wilber and Anthony Hitchens, depleting their linebacker depth even further over the last couple weeks.
The Raiders have now signed two key special teams contributors for the Cowboys in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber this offseason. Hopefully Dallas can replace these types of "replacement level" players throughout the rest of the offseason, especially during the NFL Draft.
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