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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

4 Comments

  1. dallas1966

    July 27, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    The Road to Atlanta has just begun

  2. Russ_Te

    July 27, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    ? 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.

  3. Russ_Te

    July 27, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    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.

  4. John Williams

    John Williams

    July 29, 2018 at 7:43 am

    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.

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Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo Won’t Be the Next Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator

John Williams

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It Is Time for the Dallas Cowboys to Move on From Tony Romo

The pipe dream has been going on since former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback-turned CBS Analyst Tony Romo hung up his cleats for the black blazer. Fans from all corners of Cowboys Nation have clamored for a return to the field or at worst the sideline as the Cowboys offensive coordinator.

Let me stop you right there. It's not happening.

First of all. He's never been a coach at any level of football, so to assume that he could leave the broadcast booth and step into coaching an NFL offense and doing so at a high level is a huge leap of faith in number 9. Sure, Jon Gruden left the Monday Night Football booth for his lucrative deal with the Oakland Raiders, but he had won a Super Bowl and had been an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL for years before joining the broadcasting ranks.

Tony Romo has an excellent understanding of football. He displays it on a regular basis during the CBS broadcasts. But doing from the broadcast view, seeing what the defense is trying to do, and calling the plays to counter what the defense is trying to do are very different things.

Secondly, the coaching job would be a major time commitment that at the moment he doesn't have. Even if he's working a 40 hour work week in preparation for his three-hour time slot, the demands on NFL coaches are easily twice that with many coaches putting in 100 hour work weeks in preparation for Sundays. Tony Romo has a family that even he's talked about as part of the reason that he went into broadcasting instead of looking to hop on with another NFL team.

Finally, the job would mean a significant pay cut from what Romo is already making. It's estimated that the former Cowboys quarterback is making anywhere from $5-10 million dollars a year with CBS. Jason Garrett is making $6 million per year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, so even if the Jones family was willing to pay first-time NFL coach Tony Romo a ton of money to come out of the broadcast booth, there's zero chance they pay him what he's making as a broadcaster. To do so, would be to undercut the head coach. Jason Garrett is Jerry Jones' guy. The owner and general manager wants Garrett to be the guy that leads the Cowboys to Super Bowl success, so there's zero chance he'd pay a coordinator close to Garrett's money, which would lead to constant speculation about the head coach and his future with the organization.

I love Tony Romo. His jersey is one of only two Cowboys jerseys that I own -- along with Darren Woodson -- and I think he could make a good coach one day, but I'd be hard pressed to see him come out of the coaching booth to take a coordinator job and have immediate success. The guys that are offensive coordinators in the NFL have been grinding for years to earn their jobs. Most started as position coaches -- see Sean McVay as Redskins TE coach. The Dallas Cowboys will spend the next few days, and perhaps weeks, identifying their replacement for Scott Linehan, but let's put to bed the dream of Romo as offensive coordinator.

It's just not going to happen.



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Player News

Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick

Jess Haynie

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Devin Smith

The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.

Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:

Jason Bernstein on Twitter

Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh

Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.

Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.

The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.

For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!



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Dallas Cowboys

Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways

John Williams

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Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.

Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.

The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.

Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.

Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.

In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.

This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.

Mike Garafolo on Twitter

Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan

Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.

The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.

Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.



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