Dallas Cowboys: What to Watch for at OTAs
They're not quite the same as training camp, but organized team activities are another crucial offseason step forward. The Dallas Cowboys are making some considerable changes heading into the 2013 season, and OTAs will be the players' first taste of them.
Rookies and new free agents will be trying to build team chemistry. There's a new defensive scheme to put in place, and as always expectations are high in Dallas.
While OTAs may not be as exciting as a regular-season game or even a preseason game, there's still plenty to watch for.
Joseph Randle's Injury Recovery
Rookie running back Joseph Randle might have officially signed with the Cowboys, but he still has another four to six weeks of wearing a cast ahead.
Randle had surgery on his thumb and was limited due to the injury during rookie minicamp earlier in May. The Oklahoma State product has a fairly important role to play in the offense this season so it's worth monitoring his recovery.
With Felix Jones now a Philadelphia Eagle, the Cowboys look to Randle to backup rusher DeMarco Murray. The Dallas starter has been injured each of his first two seasons in the NFL, so having a reliable backup is important for this team.
Randle not only has to learn the Cowboys' system, he needs to do so for the time being with just one available arm. It's not like much will be asked of him during OTAs. That being said, there's always the possibility of re-injury.
The newest Dallas running back is worth keeping an eye on as the regular season creeps closer.
Tony Romo's Leadership
If there's one thing that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has made clear this offseason, it's that he expects big things from Tony Romo.
Jones recently told Gil Brandt of NFL.com that he wants Romo to even be involved in play ideas, saying: "You've got to get in, study, spend time, look at 100 plays. To really have that input, but we think he can bring that to the table, and that will be a big change."
Romo won't be delving into play designs during OTAs, but Jones is also expecting Peyton Manning-like hours from his quarterback this offseason. All this is Jones' way of telling Romo he wants him to be a big part of every aspect of this team.
It's not like Romo isn't known for leading OTAs during his career. Heck, he organized workouts for the team during the 2011 lockout. Jones has shined the spotlight even brighter on the Dallas quarterback with these recent comments, though. Romo can't afford to no-show or not make his voice heard.
Doug Free's Attitude Post-Paycut
Now that Doug Free has accepted a pay cut to stay with the Cowboys, it'll be interesting to see how he responds.
No player ever wants to have to take a pay cut due to poor play and that's essentially what Free had to do. He's failed to live up to expectations set when he signed his four-year, $32 million contract back in 2011.
Tony Romo has been sacked 36 times each of the last two seasons. While not all of that is Free's fault, he shares a equal or greater part of the blame with the rest of the offensive line. Romo has been sacked 72 times since Free's big contract, so it's hard not to give him more of the blame than others.
Free should put his head down and just focus on proving the last two years are not reflective of his talent. That doesn't mean that's what he will do, though. After all, he was hesitant to take the cut in the first place.
Dez Bryant's Attendance
Dez Bryant's back might keep him from some OTAs, but any unexpected no-shows will sure bring controversy.
To be fair to Bryant, he doesn't have a long history of ditching OTAs or anything, but he's still shaking off that knucklehead persona.
He made strides in the maturity department last season after letting his 1,382-yard, 12-touchdown season do the talking. Bryant isn't completely past his old ways, however, as evidence by a recent response to a rude tweet sent his way May 17.
History leads one to believe Bryant will show up to OTAs when he's healthy to do so and his attendance won't be an issue. Because he's a high-profile player for America's Team, however, any missteps will be well noted by local and national media.
Overall Team Mentality
Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson made waves in November 2012 when he went on "The Dan Patrick Show" and commented on the current mentality in Dallas. Johnson told Patrick:
The number one motivator is fear, maybe fear of letting down your teammates or being embarrassed or fear of losing the job. So where's the fear in Dallas? There's no fear in Dallas. It's a country club where everybody is buddies.
The "country club" mentality comment made some wonder just how practices and training camps are like in Dallas these days. While the news came out some time ago, people still wonder about how this team operates itself.
The Cowboys need to use OTAs as the first step of a disciplined, nose-to-the-grindstone-style drive to making the postseason and getting Dallas back on the NFL map.
That spotlight is never going to shine any dimmer in Dallas. This isn't always helpful, but it can work in the Cowboys' favor if they show how bad they want a playoff berth.