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Cowboys Training Camp: Breaking Down First Team Starters from Day One

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Training Camp: Breaking Down First Team Starters from Day One
(Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Cowboys Offense

Jon Machota on Twitter

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.

Schuyler Dixon on Twitter

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.

Cowboys Defense

Jon Machota on Twitter

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.

https://twitter.com/HelmanDC/status/1022590832057044996

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.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

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.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Training Camp: Breaking Down First Team Starters from Day One" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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4 Comments
  • dallas1966

    The Road to Atlanta has just begun

  • Russ_Te

    ? and a ton of upside at starting CB, both sides. If they both play to ability, it will be a major upgrade compared to recent years. It’s many moving parts, but if that were to happen at CB and – also – the 3 headed monster of Lawrence, Irving and Gregory on the DL and – also – Lee, LVE and Smith healthy at LB, it’s plenty enough talent for a dominant defense.

    What a best friend that would be for Dak’s pivotal 2018. Garrett’s quote above on LVE – that’s why he was a good pick in the middle of the 1st round. Talent-laden, proven college player, as close to a can’t miss pick as it’s possible to find.

  • Russ_Te

    When the Cowboys D goes into long downs, it really should be Lee to sit and leave LVE and/or Smith in the game. Only to limit his reps and his injuries.

    Another way to use the collective talent of the 3, is to take a long shot at Smith playing SS. Nobody knows what he’d look like but he has the speed for it, and his size and physicality would terrorize WR’s working the inside routes. It’s worth some camp reps.

  • John Williams

    Thompson is certainly the biggest surprise starter on day one. I don’t expect that to last though. Good player for the team, but there is way too much talent behind him to hold onto that spot.

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.

Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.

Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.

  • A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.

The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.

Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.

If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.

  • Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.

The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.

On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.

Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.

  • Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.

Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.

I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.

  • The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.

Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.

Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.

His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.

Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.

Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.

Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.

  • Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.

Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.

Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.

Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.

It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.

This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose

Mauricio Rodriguez

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3 Reasons Why RB Ezekiel Elliott Will Dominate in 2018

The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.

In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.

This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.

This time though, things should be different.

The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.

Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.

David Helman on Twitter

Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire

However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.

But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.

Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.

Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.

Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.

Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.

Game Notes

  • Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
  • Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
  • Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
  • Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
  • If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.



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