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?
Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
Dallas Cowboys: How “Position-Flex” Has Handcuffed The 2015 Draft Class
Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys have placed a high level of importance on "position flex." They've drafted Swiss-Army knife players which could be moved around to different positions on the field.
By drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods last year, as well as Byron Jones in 2015, the Cowboys have tried to find these versatile players who can be used in multiple ways.
While this seems great on paper, this strategy has handcuffed the majority of their 2015 Draft Class, and is a key reason why the Cowboys seem to be in such a tough spot.
The Cowboys' first round pick in 2015, Byron Jones, quickly became a favorite of mine during his rookie season. Incredibly athletic, long, and skilled in coverage, Jones was able to be both a fantastic cover cornerback and a solid middle-of-the-field safety due to his range.
Due to both injuries to his teammates, and Jones' own versatility, the Cowboys coaching staff couldn't keep Jones in just one spot. Once they discovered how great he was in man coverage against tight ends, they became enamored with trying to play him in the box.
Once in the box, Jones' struggles as a run defender were highlighted, and both the organization and the fans soured on him quickly.
Now it is rumored that Byron Jones will be moving back to cornerback full time. And while I do hope this is the case, the fact that he is in year four, and the Cowboys haven't been able to find their first round pick a permanent home is a huge indictment on their ability to evaluate and develop talent.
Okay, hear me out.
The former third round pick of the 2015 Draft was brought in to be the swing tackle for the Cowboys his rookie year. Mainly due to injuries, Green did not see the field for much of his first two seasons. When he did fill in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, however, Green was very effective.
Of course, Chaz Green's last appearance with the Cowboys was ugly, giving up a plethora of sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. But Dallas might've made their own bed with Green during the beginning of the 2017 season, when they attempted to move him to left guard full time.
Instead of getting the increased work at tackle, and continuing to work as the swing tackle for the team in case of injury, Dallas started Green at left guard early on in the year. He struggled trying to move positions, and looked even worse when trying to move back to tackle.
Once again, the position flex bit the Cowboys right in the backside.
It's 2018 and we are still talking about what position to play La'el Collins on the offensive line. And that is solely on the coaching staff and front office, not Collins.
Collins was brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but was widely regarded as a first round pick heading into that draft. Though he started at left tackle at LSU, Dallas shifted Collins inside to left guard in 2015. After taking over for Ronald Leary as the starter, Collins produced highlight blocks week after week.
Injuries shortened his 2016 campaign, but heading into 2017 the Cowboys decided to shift him back out to right tackle. Despite some early struggles, Collins progressed nicely throughout the year and became a solid starting right tackle. Plus, he has the upside to become one of the top right tackles in the league.
Instead, it is now being rumored the Cowboys might move him back to guard for 2018. And with that news, I continue to pull my hair out over the position-flex decisions this coaching staff and front office like to make.
If the Cowboys want to get the most out of each draft class, and effectively develop their talent, they need to let those players actually develop, rather than move them around each season. Hopefully they now understand this, and allow both Byron Jones and La'el Collins to reach their full potential.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
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