The Dallas Cowboys have begun the first part of their 2013 season that involves the playing field versus the war room. Playing in shells, without pads and having minimal contact isn't quite the perfect training ground for the battles that lie ahead, but they are imperative for the growth of this team.
It's hard to get a full grasp of the progress of certain players, but things to look for in the evaluation process are the conditions of the players, any injury situations or rehabilitation's and the installation of schemes on both sides of the ball.
Some players will flourish in this type of setting, some are looking to simply make an NFL roster and impress the coaches, and in the case of most veterans, they are simply looking to get back in the flow of the NFL season.
The Dallas Cowboys should be on a mission this season. A mission that is based on the need to take a leap forward in the competitive NFC, the need to prove that they are better than 8-8 and the need to prove to the fans that there is reason for optimism.
So what have we learned about this team after the OTA sessions? Is there anybody that we should be keeping our eyes on or is it simply premature at this point? Whatever the case may be, there are certain players who have raised their stock.
Let's find out who they are.
The fans have virtually zero access to these OTAs, and the media has a minimal amount of exposure. That's why everything you read is important in following what is happening with the Cowboys. One of my preferable sources is ex-Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus.
In reviewing some of his work about the OTAs, I came across an interesting analysis of Orlando Scandrick that makes sense on many levels. For a player who has been plagued by inconsistency and injury, Scandrick now has to look over his shoulder with the drafting of B.W. Webb.
Webb is a slot corner with speed who would be a nice replacement and cheaper alternative in 2014. So in Scandrick you now have a player who is motivated and is playing for his job. He also happened to have a nice OTA session and that's only going to be a benefit for the Cowboys.
Competition breeds success and this is the classic case.
Claiborne had an up-and-down rookie campaign in 2012 for being the sixth overall pick in the draft. He still possesses a huge amount of upside to his game, and I think he is finding out just how tough the pro game really is.
But Claiborne already has shown some forward thinking by packing on some extra muscle in anticipation of this season and he hasn't appeared to lose any speed. This is not only important for Claiborne, but for the Cowboys as well.
They are not only getting a smarter player, but they are getting a stronger player that will be ready for the switch to Monte Kiffin's scheme. Expect big things in 2013 for Mr. Claiborne.
With all the hype and talk of the Cowboys drafting Gavin Escobar as a big red-zone threat, let's not forget about James Hanna. Hanna was very active in making plays during OTAs and he continued that trend throughout.
It's very easy to anoint a second-round rookie with great measurables and outstanding hands, but don't minimize the way Hanna performed at the end of last season. The Cowboys might want to go with more big packages, two tight end sets and 12-personnel, and Hanna will play a vital role.
Again, I see how the competition at certain positions will be prevalent this offseason, and tight end is one of those.
The Cowboys needed to address the safety position in this year's draft and they did that by selecting J.J. Wilcox in the third round. But they also, in essence, addressed the position by getting back a healthy Barry Church.
The fear of a player coming back from any injury is whether he can perform at his expected level. And so far, in the case of Church, he seems to be well on his way to recovery and primed to regain his starting position in the defensive backfield.
This is a great sign for the Cowboys as they will need their safeties to be active in this new scheme and focused on creating turnovers. Church's progression will be vital especially in covering tight ends, supporting the run and even being used in blitzes.
In other words, the Cowboys are counting on his contributions.
The Cowboys may have a nice battle at the third running back position on their depth chart. Joseph Randle, barring unforeseen circumstances, seems to be locked in behind DeMarco Murray, but it appears the third spot is up for grabs.
However, it appears that Phillip Tanner may have finally arrived at the dance, and that started by his commitment to remaking his body. This is a major statement by Tanner and it's shown in his performances in the OTA sessions.
Things didn't look so well for Tanner at last season's end as he was inactive for several games, and that may have been the catalyst for his motivation. He will have fierce competition from Lance Dunbar and Kendial Lawrence, but this is a positive sign for him.