Training camp for the Dallas Cowboys is officially over and everyone has left Oxnard, California to return home for the second preseason game tonight against the Miami Dolphins.
Per usual, training camp practices where packed full of positives and negatives, which leaves all of us Cowboys fans a little in the dark as to what the team will look like once the NFL season finally kicks off. Fortunately though, I'm one of those people that looks at the glass half full and tends to focus more on the positives rather than the negatives.
One of the reoccurring storylines that caught my attention coming out of training camp practices was how well Morris Claiborne has been playing. That really got me wondering whether or not he can carry that over into the 2016 season.
I don't know what it is that has seemed to inspire Claiborne, but I absolutely LOVE what I am hearing.
This new attitude or renewed focus seemed to start right before training camp when he took to twitter and asked his fellow teammate, Dez Bryant, to hold him accountable.
Training camp time @DezBryant hold me accountable!! All in
I don't know if it's just me or if I'm trying to read too much into it, but this one single tweet seemed to build a stronger bond between Claiborne and Bryant. That bond really seems to have brought out the competitiveness in both players and it was the battle that ensued between the two that had all eyes on them throughout their time in Oxnard.
Morris Claiborne shared with all of us an example of that mutual respect and bond once again via twitter.
I don't know about you, but I think both Morris Claiborne and Dez Bryant will perform better in 2016 because they mutually decided to hold each other accountable in training camp and challenged one another each and every day throughout these practices.
Claiborne has faced a lot of scrutiny throughout his first four years in the NFL, and rightfully so considering that he was drafted so highly and has struggled to remain healthy. But it looks as if things are finally starting to come full circle and he's ready to live up to his full potential.
Injuries have been a large part of his struggles, but he hasn't suffered any bumps or bruises (knock on wood) so far and that could be a big reason why he's performing so well.
In fact, he's even gotten the better of Dez Bryant several times and that's something that can't be overlooked when you consider the fact that Bryant is one of the more dominant wide receivers in the entire NFL.
If you don't believe me, maybe you'll take Morris Claiborne's word for it.
Last day of camp 3weeks of s**t talking and competing with 88 have definitely made me better
I find these series of tweets from Morris Claiborne encouraging. Again, I may be reading too much into it, but I really think he has a renewed focus and attitude that we will see carry over into the 2016 season.
Of course, I wasn't there personally to witness how he was performing. I have to rely on the people that are actually witnessing these practices firsthand. The Staff Writers for the Dallas Cowboys have been there through it all and put together a list of the top 10 standouts in training camp.
I bet you can't guess where Morris Claiborne landed on that list?
"1. Morris Claiborne -This probably comes down to expectations. But don't forget, not many people even expected Claiborne to be a training camp with the Cowboys after last year. Not only did he sign a new deal for the season, but he showed up every day. Three words to best describe Claiborne for this camp would be consistent, healthy and confident. We knew he had the talent all along but adding those other three factors made him a steady force at the cornerback position during camp. His battles with Dez were some of the most entertaining aspects of camp."
To be identified as a top standout in training camp with a team that is as talented as the Dallas Cowboys should at the very least suggest that we might see a different Morris Claiborne in 2016.
I know that I'm starting to buy in, but I will just let Claiborne speak for himself.
It looks to me that he has Eye Of The (LSU) Tiger. Too corny?
Do you think Morris Claiborne's renewed focus will pay off in 2016?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to provide your thoughts and opinions on this topic.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
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:
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!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
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