We made it. The Dallas Cowboys 2018 training camp is here, with the team arriving in Oxnard, California yesterday. The Cowboys arrival is just part of a crescendo that culminates with a season set on redemption for Dallas. First, there will be a high-pressure roster cut from 90 hopeful members of America's Team to the 53 vying for wins come week one.
Such competition throughout training camp has become commonplace for the Cowboys under Jason Garrett, although his squad looks drastically different both on the field and on his sideline. The coaching changes the Cowboys have made this offseason will surely play into their roster decisions, making every opportunity to practice together over these next weeks all the more important.
Let's kick things off by taking a look at the players with the most to gain in this year's camp.
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup
Patience is going to be key in evaluating these unproven Cowboys receivers under first year WR Coach Sanjay Lal. It will take consistent flashes from these young players to move them up a crowded depth chart, giving the likes of Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley a slight advantage.
Production from these three veterans is expected however, with Hurns being the Cowboys "big" free agent acquisition. Likewise, Michael Gallup was just one of their home run picks in this year's draft.
Waiting until the third round to find a starting-caliber receiver out of Colorado State, the Cowboys will be asking a lot of Gallup right away. The rookie has much to gain in coming to work with Dak Prescott. Any football team is instantly better when a younger player can outperform a veteran, which feels achievable for Gallup.
Assuming the Cowboys see things this way for their new "Dak-friendly" target, Gallup's stock should only rise with each practice under the California sun. Without any other conclusiveness at WR, the Cowboys almost have no choice but to throw Gallup into the fire -- where the intense competitor that never backed down from anyone in college can thrive.
Tight End Blake Jarwin
I believe this is Geoff Swaim's job to lose as the Cowboys are in Oxnard without Jason Witten for the first time since 2003. Swaim is currently the Cowboys longest tenured tight end, struggling to come into his own behind Witten as so many TEs have.
Now in year four, Swaim will face competition from second-year Tight End Blake Jarwin, as well as Rico Gathers and rookie Dalton Schultz.
While I do see Schultz contributing as a blocker to ease into his Cowboys career, someone at this position is going to need to catch passes for Dallas. This may be the one area where Jarwin can beat out the well-balanced Swaim, a crafty route runner with the physical tools to compete for a starting job.
Perhaps Swaim and Jarwin can coexist better than any tight end pairing ever fared with Witten and his backup, but for now it's up to Jarwin to shake this backup status and prove he was worth the Cowboys protecting him on their active roster.
The UDFA out of Oklahoma State is a player to keep a very close eye on in upcoming practices.
Defensive Tackle Jihad Ward
Reality check: the Dallas Cowboys defensive line is going to look a bit lackluster at times in this training camp. Depleted at defensive tackle with Maliek Collins on the PUP list and David Irving MIA (as well as suspended for the team's first four games again), some players with no business running as starters may very well get the opportunity.
From opportunity comes growth as a defensive lineman being coached by Rod Marinelli, putting Jihad Ward firmly on this list. A draft weekend trade piece the Cowboys pried from the Raiders, Ward is still looking to capitalize on the talent that made him the 44th overall pick in 2016.
Misused as a defensive end with the Raiders, Ward is going to have to be a pretty solid option for the Cowboys at defensive tackle. Whether or not this means playing the 1T or 3T position, Ward is a player the Cowboys are high on and it's quickly time for him to prove why.
The snaps will be there for Ward, who should shine over the likes of Richard Ash, Lewis Neal, and Daniel Ross. Should this continue once the Cowboys welcome back Collins and Irving, their DT depth will go from questionable to an overall strength of this entire defense.
Defensive Tackle Brian Price
Keeping the focus on the Cowboys defensive interior, Brian Price is often forgotten about as an option at 1T. Playing this spot admirably well in eight games for the Cowboys prior to season ending injury last year, Price is back on a two-year deal that could prove essential to the makeup of this DL.
Maliek Collins was forced to play the 1T position for much of last year. While he held his own as a space-eater on the inside, Collins' battle back from a second broken foot in three years should end with him returning to his natural position at 3T.
The only way this happens is if the Cowboys find their rotation of 1T defensive tackles, in which Price can be just as effective as Collins if not better suited to hold up at this tough spot. Just like Ward, it won't be hard for Price to see the field and perform, although doing so noticeably is much harder from Price's position until the preseason begins.
Defensive End Randy Gregory
While uncertainty over a thin depth chart is the Cowboys story at defensive tackle right now, the opposite is true outside at defensive end. The team's final depth chart here will be decided by a heated competition featuring -- for the first time in a long while -- waves of capable pass rushers for Marinelli to deploy.
Rejoining the ranks as a full go in time for training camp is Randy Gregory, perhaps the most naturally gifted defender on the entire team. When Gregory's been on the field, his impact has been felt as a pass rusher that makes even the best left tackles look silly.
These players are so incredibly valuable, given Gregory's rare speed and dip off the edge. The Cowboys can't necessarily find these traits elsewhere, but they do feel there's capable right defensive ends in Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, and rookie Dorance Armstrong on the roster.
All three will be just as important to watch develop further in Oxnard, but its Gregory with the most to gain as he goes from career obscurity to league-wide feel good story on a team that is rarely in position to produce many of those.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith
Say what you want about the additions the Cowboys have made at linebacker, but this is still a unit depending heavily on Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. There's never any doubt that Lee is up to the challenge as a Cowboys captain, but Smith has not been far behind in his preparation for another year of growth in 2018.
Practicing without a brace after coming on incredibly strong at the end of his 16 game season a year ago, Smith is in perfect position to have a season that would be hard to believe for anyone outside of Dallas.
Already feeling rewarded for the risk they took on Smith, the Cowboys will run the Notre Dame product on the field as much as they possibly can starting with this week's practices. Smith's goal should be to grab hold of a starting spot alongside Lee, of which there may only be one with Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard's tendency to play just two linebackers together.
Safety Xavier Woods
Earl Thomas who? This is the question that Cowboys safeties Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and Xavier Woods can only hope to have Cowboys Nation asking in due time working with Richard.
Of all of the talented defensive backs that should benefit from working with him, a versatile safety like Woods could see the most exponential results. For starters, this is a player forced to line up out of position for much of his first year.
Focusing now on being the athletic, match up safety the Cowboys can play anywhere, Woods' role for this defense will fit with both Heath and Frazier. With Heath's starting spot not truly in jeopardy, and Frazier projecting best as a rotational player, its Woods that should be ready to take advantage of extended work all through the season.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The best part about the Cowboys finally returning to daily activity is that more than seven players will put themselves on the team's radar as those deserving of consideration for starting jobs/final roster spots/practice squad positions.
For a team looking to overcome so much turnover as quickly as the Cowboys are though, it's imperative to have an idea for where players can develop best through training camp and the preseason. That is what the above list of seven achieves as we get back underway with the Cowboys construction of their 2018 team.
Cowboys NFC East Title Put on Hold with Redskins Win, Shutout Loss at Colts
For the first time since 2003, the Dallas Cowboys were shutout on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Their five game winning streak snapped, the Cowboys also saw their chances at clinching the NFC East dashed before the late kickoffs. Needing both a Redskins and Eagles loss to win the division without the benefit of a win themselves, the Redskins kept their playoff hopes alive with a walk off field goal at the Jaguars.
Washington Quarterback Josh Johnson won his second start since 2013 with 151 yards and one touchdown. The Redskins aren't the only NFC East team playing with a backup QB, as the Eagles must once again rally around Nick Foles against the Rams to extend their shot at the playoffs on Sunday Night Football.
The Cowboys certainly didn't deserve a celebration of any kind after their performance at the Colts. An emotional letdown after a win streak that featured triumphs over the Eagles twice, Redskins, and Saints, the Cowboys were slowed to a complete stop on offense while struggling fundamentally on defense.
Uncharacteristic missed tackles and lack of pressure on Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck allowed Indianapolis to turn a 10-0 halftime lead into an easy 23-0 win. Defending their home field, the Colts came out like a team still fighting for their playoff lives, while Dallas played like a team knowing two more chances at winning the division are still to come.
Instead of being able to watch and root against the Eagles tonight, the Cowboys can focus on not letting an embarrassing loss define a season that'll still end on a high note should they defeat the Buccaneers or Giants. A week 16 or 17 win automatically seals the division for the Cowboys, even with the Redskins improving to 7-7 moments before the Colts secured their shutout.
It was a masterful performance from Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus, preparing his team against Scott Linehan's offense to disrupt the momentum of one of the league's hottest teams.
Praising the Redskins for defeating a Jaguars team the Cowboys handled 40-7 much earlier in the season is hardly the situation Cowboys Nation wants to be in right now, but the team still has everything in front of them once Sunday's sixth loss is put behind them.
IND 23, DAL 0: Cowboys Get Shut Out, Embarrassed by Colts
The Dallas Cowboys must think they've already won the NFC East, because they looked like a team with nothing to play for today. The result was an embarrassing 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Cowboys were shut out for the first time since the 2003 season, which was Jason Witten's rookie year.
Dallas squandered a major time-of-possession advantage in the first half, finishing three drives with a blocked field goal, punt, and a failed 4th-and-1 play near the Colts' goal line. Indianapolis capitalized on their own drives and took a 10-0 lead into halftime.
The Colts got the ball back to start the third quarter and drove down for another touchdown. Down 17-0, Dallas responded with a weak drive and a punt. The game felt out of reach even then, with the Cowboys just looking flat from that point forward.
Ezekiel Elliott had 87 rushing yards 41 receiving for some empty production. Amari Cooper won't be winning any awards this week, held to just four catches for 32 yards.
Dak Prescott completed 62% of his passes for 206 yards. He was sacked three times and threw a late interception; an overthrown ball got tipped by the receiver and picked off on the team's final offensive series.
While the offense was especially bad today, the defense wasn't much better. Dallas surrendered 139 yards rushing yards and two touchdown to Colts RB Marlon Mack, who hadn't had a 100-yard game since October. Andrew Luck wasn't sacked and went virtually untouched the entire day.
The Cowboys could have taken the NFC East with a win, but they didn't come close. Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call with the postseason only a few weeks away.
- With the Redskins defeating the Jaguars today, Dallas will have to wait until next week to try to clinch the NFC East. The Cowboys needed losses by both Washington and Philadelphia if they didn't win themselves. The Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
- The Cowboys will get some softer competition to finish the year, hosting the Buccaneers next week and then going to play the Giants in Week 17.
- With the Bears defeating the Packers today and moving to 10-4, they will likely stay the #3 seed in the playoffs. That means Dallas, assuming they do win the NFC East, will almost certainly be hosting the 5th-seeded Seahawks in the first round.
- Jaylon Smith led the Cowboys with 11 tackles, but neither he or Leighton Vander Esch were making the big plays that we've grown accustomed to.
- Xavier Woods had the highlight play on defense, delivering a perfect hit to dislodge the ball from Colts TE Eric Ebron and stop a potential big gain.
- Blake Jarin and Dalton Schultz combined for seven catches for 68 yards; another week of increased TE production from what we've seen must of the year.
- Fullback Jamize Olawale doesn't get many opportunities on offense, and he may not get more after dropping an open touchdown on the team's second drive of the day.
Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Trailing Colts 10-0 at Halftime
The Cowboys have had no trouble moving the ball today, but they've failed to finish drives with points. Dallas is thus trailing the Indianapolis Colts 10-0 at halftime.
Dallas has had possession for over 19 minutes compared to just 10 for the Colts. But their three drives have ended with a blocked field goal, a failed 4th-and-1 play near the endzone, and a punt.
The offensive line continues to suffer from health issues. With Zack Martin already out and Connor Williams starting at right guard, Xavier Su'a-Filo left the game with an eye injury during the second quarter and will not return. Backup Adam Redmond is now playing.
The Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win in any of their final three games. They could also clinch today if the Redskins and Eagles lose. Washington is trailing 10-3 in Jacksonville at halftime, and the Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
Hopefully, Dallas will start showing up on the scoreboard in the second half.
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