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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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Dallas Cowboys

Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?

Jess Haynie

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Darius Jackson

The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?

Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.

Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.

A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?

Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.

What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?

Dallas Cowboys Need More From RB Rod Smith

Dallas Cowboys RB Rod Smith

Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.

But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.

This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.

Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.

What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?

Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.

What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.

Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.

Justice Hill

Oklhoma St. RB Justice Hill

The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.

One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.

Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.

You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.

And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.

Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.

However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.



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Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten Retiring, Joining MNF Broadcast Booth

When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.

The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.

With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”

As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.

Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.

Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.

On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.

The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.

And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.

The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.

Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones

Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.

They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.

George Iloka

The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.

Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.

So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR.  What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.

Cowboys en Español: La Afortunada Llegada de Randall Cobb

Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.

Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.

Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).

For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.

Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.

In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency" 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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