The Dallas Cowboys training camp is officially underway, which means the start of the 2017 season is just around the corner. There are definitely no shortage of storylines or specific players to keep a watchful eye on. Everyone has their own opinions about who they want to follow throughout the Cowboys training camp, but I wanted to share with all of you the top five I will be paying close attention to and why I chose these specific players.
I personally didn't have a hard time narrowing it down to just five, but there are numerous other players I could have listed instead. I decided to specifically target the ones who could play a large/important role for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017. All five of these players listed below could end up being key to success this season or one of the reasons why the team doesn't meet expectations.
Jaylon Smith, LB
How could you create a list of players to watch throughout the Dallas Cowboys training camp and not list second-your linebacker Jaylon Smith? It doesn't really matter if you're a Dallas Cowboys fan or not, you're rooting for this guy to return from a serious knee injury and compete at a high level.
I fully expect the Dallas Cowboys coaching/training staff to take things slowly with Smith throughout the Cowboys training camp, which will make every single rep he takes in practice even more important. Everybody certainly has high hopes Smith can return to his pre-injury form, but he still has some obstacles to overcome in order to reach that point and training camp is just the next steppingstone.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB
The Dallas Cowboys pretty much completely overhauled the secondary during the off-season and nearly everyone will be watching to see how the new look defensive backs perform. The Cowboys training camp will be the first chance a lot of us will get to see some of these players in person and I personally can't wait to see how Chidobe Awuzie looks when the pads come on.
Awuzie's versatility to play different positions in the secondary is another reason I'll be watching him closely. It could help determine what kind of role he plays on defense in 2017. If he can hold his own against the Cowboys talented WRs, he should be just fine against anybody else he might have to cover when the season gets underway.
Taco Charlton, DE
The Dallas Cowboys were in desperate need of upgrading their pass rush after the completion of the 2016 season. They tried to address one of their biggest weaknesses in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft with the selection of Taco Charlton.
Charlton certainly looks the part of an NFL defensive end and played at a powerhouse collegiate program at Michigan. He will be given every opportunity to earn a large role in 2017 and hopefully help give opposing QBs nightmares. That is why everyone will watch him closely throughout training camp.
La'el Collins, RT
I don't know about you, but I will personally be paying extra close attention to La'el Collins and how he performs now that he switched from left guard to right tackle. I'm really not a big fan of the move because I believe he has All-Pro potential as a left guard, but the coaching staff obviously knows a lot more than I do.
What I will be watching most about Collins and his position change is how he moves out in space. This is one of the reasons I believe he is better on the inside as an OG. I think his skill set is best utilized when he's playing in a phone booth. He can use his strength, speed, and agility to get the better of defensive tackles, much like Zack Martin is able to do. I just don't know how well that will transition out in space.
Joe Looney & Jonathan Cooper, LG
Okay, this is more about the left guard position than the players, but I have a huge concern about the Cowboys current options. I think both Joe Looney and Jonathan Cooper are probably the favorites to win the LG position, but both are probably a downgrade from Ronald Leary.
Cooper hasn't been able to remain healthy or live up to his first-round pedigree since entering the NFL. Looney on the other hand is probably best suited as a backup instead of a starter. I will be paying particularly close attention to how these players perform in training camp and preseason. I honestly believe the Cowboys should look for outside help, which is why I think signing Orlando Franklin should be a priority.
Who will you be watching throughout the Cowboys training camp?
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
Cowboys WR Tavon Austin Skipping Surgery, May Return in 2018
A groin injury sustained last week against Jacksonville won't send Tavon Austin to injured reserve, at least for now. The Dallas Cowboys receiver has elected to forego surgery at this time, giving him a chance to return to action in 2018.
There was concern that Austin could land on IR initially following the Jaguars game, but he sought a second opinion this week. It appears that this new information was enough for Tavon and the Cowboys to decide that surgery can wait.
Sounds like WR Tavon Austin will not have surgery at this time after getting a second opinion on his groin injury. He could miss a few weeks, however. #cowboyswire
Austin should miss this Sunday's game with the Washington Redskins. He has been the team's punt returner this season and a useful tool on offense, playing mostly receiver but also lining up the backfield at times.
Despite his limited opportunities, Tavon is tied with Cole Beasley for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns in 2018.
How long Austin will remain out is unknown at this time. After the Washington game, Dallas will have their bye week and then host the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.
Both of these are games that the Cowboys, feeling good after a blowout victory over Jacksonville, should be able to win without Austin. But they would certainly like him back for the Week 10 road game with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Tavon's absence, Cole Beasley will likely field punts. We may see more of Deonte Thompson in the speed routes that Austin ran on offense, though Dallas could also finally see what recently returned Brice Butler has to offer.
With an expiring contract this year, Tavon will likely want to get back soon and trying to improve his stock for the 2019 offseason. Hopefully, he can still have a positive impact on his value and the Cowboys season in the weeks ahead.
Terrance Williams: Details, Impact of 3-Game Suspension
Terrance Williams was already missing games on injured reserve, but now the Dallas Cowboys receivers is going to lose some money as well. Williams was finally hit with a three-game suspension by the NFL, starting immediately, for his public intoxication arrest last May.
Dallas placed Terrance on IR in Week 5 just a day before their game against the Houston Texans. Williams had been struggling with a foot issue since the offseason, which included a surgery that he hadn't fully recovered from.
Many were surprised that Williams wasn't suspended to start the season, given that his arrest occurred several months prior. But when charges were eventually dropped after Terrance took part in some required alcohol education courses, it appeared the league might be letting the issue go.
However, as Cowboys fans know all too well, Roger Goodell's NFL operates its own judicial system.
In Williams' case, the suspension will only result in lost game checks. Players still get paid when on IR, but Terrance will lose that amount of his $3.5 million base salary.
Because he can serve the suspension while injured, Terrance will still be eligible to be recalled from injured reserve in December after sitting the mandatory weeks.
The real issue for Williams now is how this event, and his general fall from grace in the Cowboys offense, will affect him in the next offseason.
Terrance is in just the second season of a four-year, $17 million contract he signed in 2017. If he's released after this year, Dallas would save $2.25 million of his scheduled $4.75 million cap hit in 2019.
Williams' cap hit isn't the issue by itself. That would be a bargain for a significant contributor in your offense, even if he was just the third receiver.
But Terrance appears to have fallen well below that spot on the depth chart. Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup are the top three receivers these days, and veteran Deonte Thompson has also been getting looks. Dallas also brought back Brice Butler a few weeks ago, though he hasn't really been worked in yet.
Not only that, but the Cowboys will have the option to recall Noah Brown from IR in just a few more weeks. He was one of their more intriguing young prospects prior to getting hurt.
Dallas could let Terrance come back next year to compete, hopefully with full health and less personal baggage. But after six seasons, they may be ready to move on to players with more room to grow.
For now, though, Terrance Williams is out of action and out some money. We'll see what the future holds.
Star Blog1 week ago
If Jason Garrett’s Out, Who’s In? Potential HC Candidates
Star Blog6 days ago
Should the Dallas Cowboys Trade for These 2 Oakland Raiders?
Player News1 week ago
Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL’s Top 10 Rookies
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Did Garrett’s OT Decision Cost Him More Than Just the Game?
Star Blog1 week ago
Is Jason Garrett Losing the Cowboys Locker Room?
Player News5 days ago
Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver Amari Cooper On the Trade Block
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Report: Jason Garrett “Not Going Anywhere” with Possible Extension Coming Soon
Game Notes1 week ago
Jaylon Smith Looks Healthy, And The NFL Should Be Terrified