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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

Cowboys, Seahawks Week 3 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Offense: More Hot Sauce Needed From Cole Beasley 3
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas isn't the only guy whose playing status is in question for today's game. Other key players for Seattle and the Dallas Cowboys appear on the teams' Week 3 injury reports.

The Cowboys are looking to move to 2-1 and maintain a slim lead in the NFC East. The Seahawks are still looking for their first win of 2018, and the drama around Thomas isn't helping the fear of a locker room implosion.

What players may not be out there to help their teams to victory?

Dallas Cowboys

  • C Travis Frederick (illness) - OUT
  • DT Maliek Collins (knee) - OUT
  • WR Cole Beasley (ankle) - Questionable
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
  • S Xavier Woods (hamstring) - Questionable

Frederick remains out as he deals with his neurological disease. Dallas decided to keep him on the 53-man roster, rather than place him on injured reserve, with the hope that he could return before Week 9. There are still several weeks before we'll know if that was a good move.

Maliek Collins will be out today after a minor knee injury suffered last week against the Giants. Taking his spot will be Datone Jones, who returns from his own knee issue after missing the first two games.

You don't like seeing your quarterback's favorite receiver and your defensive leader on the same injury report. Thankfully, though, it appears both Cole Beasley and Sean Lee will be available today.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

For the #Cowboys, WR Cole Beasley (ankle) is expected to play, and LB Sean Lee (hamstring) should be good to go, as well, based on how he moved around in practice on Friday, sources say.

Finally, we come to the ever-intriguing Xavier Woods. While limited in practice all week, Woods is expected to make his season debut in Seattle. We will see if Xavier gets the start at free safety, or if Dallas will ease him back in and keep Kavon Frazier starting for now.

With all of the hype around Dallas' possible acquisition of Earl Thomas, one has to hope that Xavier won't overdo it and make matters worse with his hamstring. Between the enthusiasm just to play and the threat to his starting job, the second-year stud should be pretty amped up.

Seattle Seahawks

  • WR Doug Baldwin (knee) - OUT
  • C/G Ethan Pocic (ankle) - OUT
  • LB K.J. Wright (knee) - OUT
  • C Justin Britt (shoulder) - Questionable
  • LB Mychal Kendricks (ankle) - Questionable
  • S Earl Thomas (???) - ???

Seattle remains without Baldwin, their leading receiver from 2014-2017, and it shows in their offensive play. QB Russell Wilson is currently at career lows in completion percentage and passer rating, plus has already thrown three interceptions in just two games.

The Seahawks have issues up front as well. Starting left guard Ethan Pocic will also miss today's game. With right guard D.J. Fluker returning this week after missing the first two, that will allow backup J.R. Sweezy to flip over to the other side.

If that wasn't enough, starting center Justin Britt missed the entire week of practice with a shoulder issue. He has not been ruled out, though. Regardless, those are a lot of red flags on your offensive line with the Cowboys' emerging defense coming to town.

Also out today will be Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright. That means we could see Mychal Kendricks, who was just recently booted from Cleveland after being charged with insider trading, playing a major role today. Kendricks knows the Cowboys well, having played with the Eagles from 2012-2017.

And lastly, Earl Thomas.

No health or injury-related reason has been given for why Thomas missed practices on Wednesday and Friday. "Personal reasons" is all you're getting from Seattle, fueling rampant speculation that a trade is in the works. Whether or not that trade is with the Dallas Cowboys is pure conjecture at this point.

What we do know is that Seattle is 0-2 and trending down this year. Holding onto Thomas and his expiring contract, only to lose him for nothing next year in free agency, would be foolish.

We'll see if Earl plays at all today. If he doesn't, the trade talk is going to explode.



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Game Notes

Cowboys Wishlist: Dallas Cowboys VS. Seattle Seahawks

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys Center Travis Frederick Still Hoping to "Be a Rock" for Teammates Despite GBS Syndrome

It's week 3 of the 2018 NFL season and this match-up already feels like one of the most important ones the Dallas Cowboys will play in the season. The reason why is they need to prove they're good enough to win consistently and that they won't have another year that feels like a roller coaster of wins and losses like 2017 did. As they travel to Seattle to face the 0-2 Seahawks, the 1-1 Cowboys can't miss a perfect opportunity versus one of the weakest units in football: the Seahawks' offensive line.

As every gameday, here is my Cowboys Wishlist for this week's action. As always, I encourage you to share your wishes with me in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!

Meet Brett Maher, the Cowboys Kicker Replacing Dan Bailey for 2018

Dallas Cowboys K Brett Maher (Shanna Lockwood / USA TODAY Sports)

Wish #1: Brett Maher Kicks a 50+ yard FG.

Dan Bailey recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Cowboys Nation will experience a very odd feeling when they see their former kicker wear purple. If there's something that can make fans feel better is watching the guy who replaced Bailey nail a long field goal in Seattle.

Brett Maher showed he could kick a 47-yard FG in preseason, but we want to see him pull it off in a kick that will actually go down in the books. The decision to release Dan Bailey won't leave our minds until we see Maher do his job.

Wish #2: Rico Gathers Scores His First Career TD.

It felt like forever, but tight end Rico Gathers was activated for the first time in his career last Sunday. Rico didn't get his first catch even though he was targeted twice by Dak Prescott. The most notable moment was when Gathers seemed to be open in the endzone but Dak missed him.

Although Prescott's pass could've been better, Gathers did stumble a little bit and wasn't where he should've been to catch that touchdown. No worries, Rico's career is only beginning. I wish his first touchdown ever finally comes this week.

Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie (AP Photo / Michael Ainsworth)

Wish #3: Defense Gets Its First Interception of the Year.

Through two weeks of NFL action, the Dallas Cowboys defense has been one of the most impressive units. Ranking as the third best in total points in the league, the Cowboys' defense might begin being the team's best side of the ball. At least, it has been for the first two weeks.

Last week, they limited Odell Beckham Jr. to only 51 yards. Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie have played pretty well so far, but I wish they're able to get their first interception of the year. Dallas has one takeaway from week 1 versus the Panthers, but it came in form of a fumble.

Let's get that interception from Russell Wilson, who will be pressured most of the day by a very productive Cowboys' front seven.

Wish #4: 20+ Point Performance

Despite a very exciting first drive versus the Giants last week, the Cowboys' offense still needs to prove it can be successful enough to win games. Scott Linehan's unit had some good drives but it also failed to maintain a consistent attack all game. That may seem okay, but the Cowboys will have to win against some pretty tough defenses.

Seahawks will present the team with a very interesting challenge and one that I wish they pass. As good as the defense is playing, the offense needs to show up in order to win later games.

Wish #5: Contain Russell Wilson

Wilson is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. His agility might be the best among every other signal caller in the game, becoming a very tough guy to defend. He can hurt you with his arms and legs and can throw on the run pretty well. All week we've been talking about how sacking the Seahawks' QB is a key to the victory, but it's more than that.

Wilson is good in the pocket, but when he starts scrambling or running out of the pocket only to throw the ball once the defense is out of position, he becomes a pretty painful headache. The Cowboys need to put him on the ground, but they also need to contain him all day long. He's basically his team's entire offense.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Wishlist: Dallas Cowboys VS. Seattle Seahawks" 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

Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle

Sean Martin

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Kris Richard's Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond Defense in Meeting at Seattle 1

Through just two games, the Dallas Cowboys addition of Kris Richard to their revamped coaching staff appears to be the team's best move of the offseason. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli revealed that Richard is calling the team's plays on defense, which explains their attacking style of play so far.

It was the Cowboys blitzes that disrupted the Giants offense enough for Dallas to earn their first win a week ago. With the schedule set up favorably for the Cowboys to build off this win, Richard must lead his defense past his old team in Seattle for Sunday's week three match up.

On paper, the Cowboys defense should be able to limit the Seahawks thanks to their strong pass rush and lengthy secondary. Welcoming back Xavier Woods at safety, the Cowboys are getting even better in the back end against the Seahawks, allowing Richard to throw even more looks at Seattle with his front seven.

Starting wide receiver Doug Baldwin and guard Ethan Pocic will both miss this game for the Seahawks.

With an offense still trying to find its footing though, Richard' profound impact on the Cowboys staff has extended past the defensive side of the ball this week. Perhaps the most criticized Cowboys coach this season, Offensive Coordiator Scott Linehan has sat down with Richard to study the Seahawks defense - coordinated by Richard against the Cowboys specifically.

Kate Hairopoulos on Twitter

Scott Linehan and Kris Richard have been spending a good chunk of time together this week dissecting Seattle's approach. Richard obviously knows Seahawks well. Linehan said Richard has great recall, taking him through each play of teams' previous games.

At 1-1, the Cowboys are still looking to put a complete game on the field and prove they deserve to sit atop the NFC East. The defense being their strongest unit through an ugly loss in Carolina and grind-it-out win against the Giants, Linehan's offense creating some explosive plays against the Seahawks could be all the Cowboys need to exit CenturyLink field as winners on Sunday.

Since Linehan officially took over as the Cowboys OC, he is 0-2 against Seahawks defenses coordinated by Richard. When Kris left Seattle, it was believed that he got out at the right time, with the Seahawks defense declining in talent ever since 2015 (his first year as DC).

The NFL's top scoring defense in 2015, the Seahawks were a full point per game worse in 2016, and nearly 2.5 points worse than that in 2017. So far this season, the Seahawks have allowed 27 points to Case Keenum's Broncos and 24 to the Mitch Trubisky lead Chicago Bears.

Kris Richard's Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond Defense in Meeting at Seattle

The Cowboys biggest problem against Richard's defenses had been finishing drives, something they improved on against the Giants last week. Both Cowboys losses coming at home, the Seahawks kept Dallas out of the end zone in both week eight of 2015 and week 17 a year ago.

Last year's loss to the Seahawks should still sting those at The Star who saw a desperate push for the playoffs hit a wall against Seattle's defense - holding the Cowboys to 282 yards in Ezekiel Elliott's return from suspension.

Not having to rely solely on motivation for revenge while sitting back and trusting Elliott to carry them, Richard could be the key to the Cowboys passing game finding some rhythm. After all, his official title beyond "offseason steal" is Passing Game Coordinator - a position occupied previously by Linehan himself back in 2014.

With a win, similarly to 2014 when the Cowboys came out of Seattle victorious, Dallas would go a long way in earning respect around the league.

This goes for both the offense, where the Cowboys will remain a work in progress regardless of result, and on defense where Dallas can expect Maliek Collins (knee) and David Irving (suspension) to return in the coming weeks.

Kris Richard's focus has been on bettering the Cowboys since they added him to the organization with a clear path up the ranks. Just how far Richard ascends, and how quickly, will depend on the Cowboys performance - expecting to be more than ready for the challenge ahead this week thanks to the coach responsible for building the "Legion of Boom".

The Cowboys kickoff in Seattle being FOX's game of the week, this team has never been one to back away from the spotlight, and winning under it with Richard on the sideline would give the Cowboys all the momentum they need returning home for week four.

Tell us what you think about "Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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