The Dallas Cowboys have completed their first practice of 2018’s training camp. While the full pads have yet to come on in Oxnard, it’s still great to have real football activities to discuss.
Padded practices will determine several starting positions for the Cowboys in the coming weeks, but for now we can take a look at the starters that ran on the field Thursday.
First-team offense: Dak, Zeke, Tyron, Connor, Frederick, Martin, La’el, Deonte, Hurns, Swaim, Jarwin
There’s really only two things of note here. The Cowboys wide receivers will take a while to sort out still, but the (very) early advantage goes to Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns. Thompson’s opportunity is potentially a product of Terrance Williams’ absence from practice, as he was only present for the team’s initial walk through.
Cowboys chose not to start WR Terrance Williams on PUP after broken foot in offseason also notable for arrest in public intoxication case. He’s out there, although Jason Garrett says he’ll be limited in first full practice of camp this afternoon.
The Cowboys also ran two tight ends onto the field with their first team, which removes projected starter Cole Beasley. Geoff Swaim was expected to get the first crack at this starting job, and Blake Jarwin sits right behind him.
This gives the Cowboys two versatile TEs that are both developing in the passing game while also being willing blockers. This is the difference in Swaim and Jarwin’s game that could see them hold off Rico Gathers and rookie Dalton Schultz.
Wide Receiver Allen Hurns was signed to give the Cowboys some stability at WR prior to the NFL Draft — where Dallas came away with Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson — and so it’s no surprise to see him running with the starters early.
It’s also noteworthy that Connor Williams is comfortably between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick as the Cowboys starting left guard already. In the past, the Cowboys have put veteran placeholders in these spots to raise the competition level for rookies.
Joe Looney, Kadeem Edwards, Marcus Martin, and Chaz Green would be the Cowboys only candidates for this role, and all four are comfortable as backups. Green left the Cowboys first practice with the training staff due to dehydration, but was working as a second team left tackle prior to this.
Connor Williams was a first round talent back at the draft, and a prospect the Cowboys felt good enough about to pass on a trade with Seattle for Earl Thomas at 50th overall. He deserves every rep he can get with the Cowboys cohesive offensive line.
First-team defense: Chidobe, Byron, Xavier, Heath, Lee, Jaylon, Damien, Lawrence, Datone, Jihad, Crawford
Count me in as part of the growing contingency that’s more excited to watch the Cowboys defense grow in training camp compared to the offense.
Already, there is a lot to like from the group listed above. The days are limited for the Cowboys offense to walk all over this defense without pads on, and Rod Marinelli’s group is only going to improve as they install more complex packages.
New Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard is expected to have a significant influence on the Cowboys defense, but for now it seems like a more traditional base defense was used to open camp.
The best indicator of this is the fact the Cowboys lined up with three linebackers. Should they rely just as heavily on their Nickel defense in 2018 compared to year’s past, expect to see only two linebackers on the field.
Damien Wilson would become the odd man out here by my evaluation, a player I already listed as one of four with the most to lose in this training camp. Pairing Sean Lee and an ever-improving Jaylon Smith together is a brilliant sight for the Cowboys, who are also understandably excited about first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch.
Given Vander Esch’s overall athleticism, this is a LB capable of replacing Wilson at SAM should it come to this for the rookie to see the field, or begin progressing towards the starting MIKE job in his first season.
DeMarcus Lawrence leads a defensive line that will take some sorting out by the end of camp, particularly at defensive end. The Cowboys have strength in numbers here, and the exact opposite is the case at defensive tackle.
The Cowboys may not see David Irving in Oxnard at all, leaving a void at the 3T-DT position. A spot that needs to be filled for the first quarter of the season at least, with Irving suspended for four games, Datone Jones has a great opportunity here.
Picking up right where he left off from a strong ending to his 2017 season, Jones fits the Cowboys mold as a DT with both range and power to get into the backfield. Paired with first-year Cowboy Jihad Ward, the team should be cautiously optimistic that these two can grow into something formidable alongside Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford on the outside.
In the secondary, Byron Jones’ move to CB gives him a firm spot in the starting lineup, teaming up with Chidobe Awuzie on the boundary. This sky is truly the limit for these two lengthy defenders as starters in Richard’s scheme.
Aided by Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods at safety, the Cowboys are a bit forced here without Kavon Frazier at the moment. Their hope should be that Woods performs at a high enough level to keep Frazier in a rotational role once he’s ready to see the field again.
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The annual theme from Cowboys camp is that competition brings out the best in both players and coaches. With so many new coaches, it may take longer than usual for sweeping changes to hit the Cowboys starting lineup, but by the end of camp there will be jobs earned and lost with America’s Team.
Yesterday’s first team lineups offer a great point of reference for the rest of camp, to see just how far certain players come to challenge for these spots.
Here’s to tomorrow’s padded practice in Oxnard.