We're exactly one month away from the Dallas Cowboys' first training camp practice that will take place, as always, in Oxnard, California. It's an exciting time all around the league. For fans, hope springs eternal in July. Practices start to get "real" as the preseason gets closer and closer every day.
For a team as intriguing as the 2018 Dallas Cowboys, there's many things that Cowboys Nation should be on the look out for. With many doubts in my mind, I couldn't resist the urge to put together some wishes for this upcoming training camp. Welcome to this special edition of Cowboys Wishlist!
Don't forget to share your personal wishes in the comments section below or tweet them to me @PepoR99!
Wish #1: Some Pass-Catchers Emerge as Clear-Cut Starters
The Cowboys' wide receiver and tight end position will look very different than they did last season. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten will be out of the picture, not to mention Terrance Williams might be fighting for a spot on the roster, even though he's a team veteran.
New faces like Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Tavon Austin, among others will not only be fighting to make the team, but to earn starting roles on the offense. Also on the positional battle will be young, unproven players such as Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir.
It's an interesting situation, since we're not only talking about wide receivers. The tight end position will be intense with Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers and Dalton Schultz in the mix. As Staff Writer Jess Haynie recently pointed out, these players aren't bad, but unproven.
It's nice to have tons of depth at these positions, but what Dak Prescott's offense needs is starters. Hopefully, clear-cut starters emerge during training camp. Once the regular season comes around, the Cowboys would be better off by knowing who their guys are, rather than having open competitions in week 1.
Wish #2: Connor Williams Fits Right In
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Connor Williams could define the 2018 season for Dallas. We're talking about the player who could return the offensive line to its 2016 form, perhaps even better.
Williams will have a lot to learn during training camp, once the pads come on and things get physical in the trenches.
The Dallas Cowboys are hoping to forget what they suffered on the offensive line between Tyron Smith's injury and the left guard position in 2017. If the rookie out of Texas proves to be what we all think he is, Dak Prescott will have more time to throw and Ezekiel Elliott more holes to run through.
Wish #3: Dak Prescott Improves His Game
We all know how important this year is for Dak Prescott. If he puts on a show this year, a juicy extension might be waiting for him at the end of the season. If he struggles and his level of play is questioned, his future becomes very uncertain.
Hidden behind a painful, 9-7 season, Dak showed some improvements as a passer, leader and signal-caller.
Hopefully, 2018 serves as proof that last season was nothing but a learning curve and Prescott turns out to be a franchise quarterback. Training camp will be huge for the young quarterback. Hopefully he's able to prove what he's all about.
Wish #4: Jaylon Smith Hype Proves to be Real
Man, Jaylon Smith's career has had tons of ups and downs. But this time, with his knee brace out of the picture, it really does seem like it will be his breakout year. If the Cowboys' 2016 second-round pick ends up playing like he did in Notre Dame, the wait will definitely be worth it.
Hopefully, the Jaylon Smith we see when the team starts playing in training camp is the Jaylon we've all been waiting for.
He played well in 2017 but never was able to show his full potential. This might be it for one of the hardest-working guys on the team. We are all rooting for you, Jaylon.
Wish #5: No Injuries, Please
In the NFL, injuries are unavoidable. It's a beautiful, yet violent, sport. But few things are worse than watching key players get injured before the season even begins. With the Cowboys trying to get to the Super Bowl in 2018, having guys like Sean Lee or Tyron Smith go down would certainly feel terrible.
Having said that, the Cowboys need to prove they can actually execute the "next man up" philosophy that's preached all around the league.
Is that too much to ask for? The Cowboys really have what it takes to bounce back this season. It's an important year for Dallas, with coaches on the hot seat and tons of players with a lot to prove on the field.
Training camp will go a long way in defining the success of a team that has many question marks heading into the season and hopefully, for the sake of the Dallas Cowboys, these wishes come true.
Dak Prescott Impresses, Draws Compliments All Minicamp Long
Dak Prescott stood before the media Thursday in a Stetson Cowboy hat, answering questions about his upcoming contract extension.
“I’ve got my cowboy hat on, so I’m a Cowboy, we’ll say that.”
Prescott has cemented himself as the franchise quarterback of America's Team, and now it's time for the franchise to pay him like it. Set to earn roughly $34 million per year (according to recent rumors/reports), Prescott is going to be a very rich and comfortable man in the near future.
But, for now, he still plays under his fourth round rookie contract. You wouldn't be able to tell by watching him on the field, however. Though it was just minicamp, Prescott was impressive as ever over the last couple weeks of practice, earning praise from all levels within the organization.
Veteran Jason Witten complimented both Prescott's anticipation and accuracy, saying his throws have been "off the charts" at minicamp. Prescott himself said that this is the best he's felt since he's entered the league, and it certainly makes sense for this to be the case.
"Is it three years under my belt or just seeing defenses a whole lot more clear, being quicker and faster in everything I want to do, having great teammates around me? Who really knows the answer, but I feel great. I feel confident, and my teammates do, as well.” - Prescott to DallasCowboys.com
If Prescott was ever going to be comfortable, hungry, and ready to go, this is likely the time that it would happen. He has three relatively successful seasons under his belt, and ended 2018 on the best stretch of his career. He is the unquestioned starting quarterback for this team, and has the backing of every key decision maker in the building.
Prescott now has an offensive coordinator who he has not only worked closely with (in some capacity) since he entered the league in 2016, but is also being lauded for his creativity as an offensive mastermind. His quarterbacks coach, Jon Kitna, has been receiving similar praise for how he can coach up Prescott and get his footwork consistent, to help him "throw it through a Fruit Loop."
The time is now for Dak Prescott, and it's encouraging to see how he is responding to this increased pressure and responsibility. Then again we should have no doubt that he will respond positively, as he as throughout his entire young career.
Whenever faced with adversity, Prescott has answered the bell. Now he has all the supporters he needs, and just needs to prove them right.
Does RB Ezekiel Elliott Have A Chance At NFL MVP?
Who is the Cowboys best player?
As a running back, it's quite possible that Elliott is both the best of that bunch and the least important to the team's overall success. NFL.com's Adam Schein disagrees with the latter statement, however, placing Ezekiel Elliott among his top ten contenders for 2019 NFL MVP.
"I think the Cowboys are going to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2019 -- and I think Zeke fuels this team. When Elliott runs for 95-plus yards, the Cowboys are 19-4; when he falls below that benchmark, they're 9-8." - Adam Schein
Schein's prediction will no doubt make Cowboys Nation swoon, but does Elliott really have the opportunity to compete for an MVP award?
For one, this would require the Cowboys be among the best teams in the league this season. It's quite possible, as they did win 10 regular season and 1 playoff game a year ago, but it will have to happen once again for Elliott to be considered.
Next, Ezekiel Elliott would have to put up incredible numbers. Well, it's safe to assume this will likely be the case if condition one is met. Elliott is going to get a lot of opportunities to touch the ball each game, and finding himself among the league's rushing leaders has never been an issue for the young running back. Especially if the team has a lead and is running the ball to kill clock.
Even if both these conditions prove true, though, Elliott will still have trouble getting himself in the real MVP discussion. These awards tend to go to certain positions, and running back is not among that list. If Dallas has such a successful 2019, and their offense is clicking, it's more likely Dak Prescott will be the one contending for that MVP honor.
I know to some it sounds crazy, but Prescott will likely need to be closer to MVP level than Elliott if the Cowboys are to contend in the way Adam Schein suggests in his article.
So, likely, Schein should have named Prescott among his top ten MVP contenders, not Elliott.
Amari Cooper Says He’s Focused On Football, Not His Next Contract
It seems like all anyone has talked about this offseason is who the Cowboys should re-sign, and how they can go about doing so.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper, of course, is heavily involved in those conversations. The Cowboys used their 2019 first round pick to trade for the Pro Bowl wide out last season, and Cooper's emergence helped to turn their struggling offense around immediately.
In just 9 games with the Cowboys last season, he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. He quickly gained the trust of quarterback Dak Prescott, and exhibited a chemistry with the young passer that no one else really has to this point. Outside of maybe Cole Beasley in 2016, perhaps.
While the football world seems to be focusing on what Amari Cooper's contract will look like after 2019, the receiver himself claims to be solely focused on the upcoming season. Cooper spoke with ESPN's Todd Archer about this very subject, emphasizing where his mind lies at this time.
"I just handle my business...I'm more anxious about camp and actually playing football." - Amari Cooper.
Amari Cooper has just one year left on his contract as he plays under the fifth year option from his rookie deal. Cooper will make $13.9 million this season, putting him behind some of the league's other WR1s like Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and DeAndre Hopkins.
There had been speculation around whether any of the Cowboys left with just one year on their contract would hold-out through parts of offseason activity, but Cooper alluded that it never seemed to cross his mind.
"I just want to get better and I love football. That's why I'm here" - Cooper.
Of course, Amari Cooper will play a huge role in the Cowboys offense in 2019. Combining him with a second year version of Michael Gallup, and new versatile threats like Tony Pollard and Randall Cobb, will help make the Dallas passing game as multiple as it's been in years.
The Cowboys will eventually need to get Amari Cooper locked up long term, but for the time being it seems like both he and the franchise are more focused on what will happen on the field in 2019 than in the negotiating room next Spring.
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