Although the Dallas Cowboys may be giving us a slight taste of the 2018 football season with their ongoing OTAs at The Star, the NFL is still very much in offseason mode. The period to acquire talent may be long gone with both free agency and the draft in the rear view mirror, but 90-man rosters continue to churn. As the Cowboys evaluate their strengths and weaknesses as a team that's gone through major changes on offense, it's no surprise to see Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox's to-do list for Dallas feature four talking points on this side of the ball.
Let's take a closer look at what the Cowboys should be working through prior to training camp in Oxnard.
1. "Identify Top Receiving Targets"
Yawn. This topic is not going away anytime soon, and for good reason. The Cowboys performance on offense -- relative to the talent they still fielded -- was undoubtedly poor a season ago. It was the main point of regression for a 9-7 team that fell short of the playoffs.
The Cowboys seemingly bold response to needing a retool on offense entering year three for Quarterback Dak Prescott? Release Dez Bryant while seeing Jason Witten retire, drafting Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz, and Cedrick Wilson to add young talent.
Wide receivers Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson also joined the team through free agency.
To outside followers of America's Team, and fantasy football players everywhere, the Cowboys confidence in these unproven pass catchers is stunning. With their starting quarterback already on record saying he doesn't know "if any team really needs a No. 1 receiver," this approach begins to make more sense.
Coming from a spread offense at Mississippi State, Prescott wants to get the ball out of his hands quickly to whoever the open man is. With Dez Bryant struggling to create separation ever since Prescott's rookie season in Dallas, the connection was never there like it was for Tony Romo and Bryant.
Enter Michael Gallup, who I expect to be the check mark on this to-do list for the Cowboys. With the ability to play as close to a WR1 as Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan is looking for, Gallup has already impressed in OTAs and should quickly become a reliable target for Prescott.
My personal "pet cat" in Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal's room is sixth-round steal Cedrick Wilson, who should also get an opportunity to run out of the slot and create vertical plays.
It's easy to blame the Cowboys failures on offense from 2017 on the absences of Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith. Returning both players but losing starters elsewhere, the Cowboys are still committed to the running game with a new approach through the air that's sure to surprise many.
Being versatile and deep on offense, if an effort to become less predictable, could actually be exactly what the Cowboys need for 2018.
2. "Find Starting Tight End"
The concept of "replacing" players in sports is always a troublesome one. Especially in the NFL, where roster turnover occurs at an alarming rate (go check out the Cowboys roster from 2014), new players are always going to be asked to handle starting roles.
Unfortunately for Dallas, this won't be possible at the tight end position without mention of Jason Witten's Hall of Fame career. Hanging his cleats up after 15 years with the Cowboys, the team scrambled in the fourth round of the draft to land Stanford's Dalton Schultz.
The rookie Schultz joins fourth-year Tight End Geoff Swaim, 2017 UDFA Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers as the group new TE Coach Doug Nussmeier will have to sort out.
Whether or not this will happen before the start of the regular season is already a topic our Staff Writer Jess Haynie covered, with all four tight ends bringing an all-around game to the Cowboys. Swaim being the most proven TE on the roster, it will be up to Schultz and Jarwin to reach the same level of trust as blockers in the running game.
Drafted more for his tenacity as a blocker than prowess as a receiver, things could get interesting for the Cowboys at TE with Schultz earning this role and the likes of Jarwin and Gathers being asked to step up as receivers behind.
Once again, no fantasy footballer will want to hear this, but the term "starting tight end" could be a very relative one for the Cowboys this season. Already dealing with a steady decline from Jason Witten over the final years of his career, the Cowboys should be excited about watching this young group fight for playing time.
3. "Get Dak Prescott Back on Track"
The first two points on this to-do list cover what needs to happen for Dak Prescott to get back on track pretty well. Playing with a healthy Tyron Smith at left tackle and Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield for 16 games can only help Prescott return to the dynamic form he was at in 2016.
Taking the league by storm as a rookie only to see his sophomore campaign derailed by those injuries around him, the pressure has been building around Prescott since the day he earned his star.
Never wavering in their commitment to Prescott as their starting quarterback, the Cowboys feel they are in good position to return to the playoffs with him in 2018. This goes without saying, but they really need to be right.
Another lost season for Prescott, Elliott, and the Cowboys offensive line could also spell the end for the only play caller Dak has known in Scott Linehan. Entering the final year of his rookie contract with one playoff appearance and even more uncertainty on the roster and coaching staff is a worst case scenario for the Dallas Cowboys, and one they must make a collective effort to avoid.
4. "Keep Ezekiel Elliott Healthy"
Could the answer to most of the Cowboys problems really be as easy as Running Back Ezekiel Elliott? Only losing six of the career 25 games that Elliott has been on the field with Prescott for, there is no more dynamic weapon returning to a team than Zeke for the Cowboys.
Keeping Elliott healthy feels like the easiest task that Bleacher Report asks of the Cowboys this offseason. Never missing a game due to injury, Elliott is every-bit the workhorse back the Cowboys needed when drafting him fourth overall in 2016.
That draft, and thankfully the 4-12 season that led into it, feels like forever ago. It's time for the Cowboys to win games with Elliott leading the way. The Cowboys approach of controlling games on offense while deploying their well-rested defense to protect the lead is a proven one, and a healthy Elliott will keep it that way this season.
The Cowboys have been creative in adding depth behind Elliott this offseason, trading for Tavon Austin and recently re-signing Darius Jackson. Rod Smith remains the favorite to be Elliott's primary backup, as the Cowboys also drafted Bo Scarbrough with their last pick in the seventh round.
Committing fully to their ground game is nothing new for Dallas, and this versatility is part of what their more 'open' offense will look like in support of Ezekiel Elliott for the upcoming season.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The degree of difficulty for this to-do list is a subjective thing, as Cowboys Nation appears to still be split on not only Prescott's growth as a quarterback but the help he'll have around him. With fans' only current task being waiting impatiently for more meaningful football, the Cowboys offense is going to be built through training camp this summer.
With a strong balance of starting positions already filled with blue chip players and others up for grabs (on both sides of the ball), the Cowboys are well equipped to put 2017 behind them and turn heads around the league starting very soon.
CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss
The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.
Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.
Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.
The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.
- There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
- Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
- Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
- Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
- Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
- We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
- Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
- Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?
Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.
But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.
After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.
Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.
Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.
During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.
This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.
Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.
Cowboys en Español: ¿Es Tavon Austin Más Importante de lo que Creemos?
Cada vez más cerca de la verdadera acción en la NFL, tuvimos una oportunidad de ver a los Dallas Cowboys en el campo contra los San Francisco 49ers hace una semana. Francamente, a pesar de perder la ventaja en los últimos segundos del partido, la actuación del equipo dio una muy buena señal a los aficionados de la Estrella Solitaria.
Todavía quedan tres partidos por jugar, empezando por el enfrentamiento contra los Cincinnati Bengals este sábado. Hay muchas cosas que ver de parte de los Dallas Cowboys y quizá algunas de ellas las veamos este mismo fin de semana.
Una de las cosas más interesantes esta semana fue la conversación de los wide receivers (receptores abiertos). Lance Lenoir se ha mostrado como un candidato real al roster de 53 jugadores, pero esa es sólo una pequeña fracción de la conversación de receptores.
Hay muchos receptores de que hablar, y el día de hoy, eso haremos en Cowboys en Español.
¿Cole Beasley es realmente el receptor #1?
A lo largo de todo el offseason, se ha manejado la narrativa de que "los Cowboys no tienen un buen WR." A pesar de que Dez Bryant es un nombre difícil de olvidar, esta aseveración sobre los receptores en Dallas me parece errónea.
Si bien es cierto que Bryant es uno de los mejores WRs en la historia de los Cowboys, también es cierto que Jason Garrett y compañía tienen un mejor grupo de lo que la afición considera. Si somos sinceros, un trío titular de Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley y Michael Gallup no suena mal.
La pregunta será: ¿quién es el #1? Comentarios de Dak Prescott han hecho referencia a Cole Beasley como el dueño de dicho rol. ¿Realmente puede fungir como el receptor líder del equipo siendo un jugador de 1.73 metros?
Se ha hablado mucho de Beasley jugando fuera de los números e intentando vencer a los defensivos por fuera. Es intrigante, pero sin duda un poco difícil de creer.
Tavon Austin: ¿Es un arma más importante de lo que creemos?
Los Cowboys dejaron ir a Ryan Switzer y obtuvieron a su aparente remplazo con el ex-WR de los Rams por una selección de sexta ronda. Tavon Austin ha tenido un viaje extraño con el equipo. Fue listado en el roster como un corredor pero utilizado como un receptor.
Lleva poco tiempo en Dallas pero ha sorprendido en training camp y ha sido utilizado como más de lo que esperábamos. Desde que llegó al equipo, empezamos a compararlo con Lucky Whitehead y Ryan Switzer. Ambos talentosos, pero destinados a ser un jugador "gadget" que fueron utilizados casi exclusivamente en jugadas "en movimiento" o los famosos "jet sweeps."
Pero Austin puede ser más que eso y lo ha demostrado en training camp. No parece que Tavon vaya a tener el mismo destino que Switzer, sino que tendrá un rol mucho más involucrado en la ofensiva constantemente. Bien puede ser un factor sorpresa para la ofensiva en Dallas.
¿Puede Terrance Williams perder su trabajo?
A pesar de que el coraje puede llevar a los aficionados a criticar a Terrance Williams un poco más de lo que merece, la verdad es que Williams está en riesgo de ser cortado por los Cowboys antes de que inicie la temporada en septiembre.
Es uno de los WRs con más experiencia, sí. Pero durante su estadía en Dallas, cada vez que Dez Bryant ha caído lesionado, Williams ha tenido la oportunidad de surgir como un receptor #1 capaz y preparado. Y nunca lo ha logrado.
Con un roster lleno de talentos jóvenes como el de Lance Lenoir y Noah Brown, es probable que la administración y los coaches opten por el potencial joven en vez de Williams, quien ha tenido problemas para demostrar que puede ser un jugador constante.
Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que conseguir que su ofensiva sobreviva las pérdidas de Jason Witten y Dez Bryant y tendrán que comenzar en la posición de WR. A pesar de que Williams esté en el equipo, Cole Beasley será el único en repetir titularidad del año pasado en Dallas esta temporada.
Dak Prescott tendrá un rol enorme cuando la ofensiva trate de emprender su marcha y definitivamente será responsable del éxito de esta. Es ahora o nunca para Dak.
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