5 Biggest Takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys OTAs
The Cowboys are in the midst of their Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and there’s plenty of buzz coming out of Dallas. From linebacker Sean Lee’s injury to the progress of the team’s rookies, there are a lot of question marks for the ‘Boys this season.
Let’s take a look at some early takeaways from the Cowboys OTAs.
1. Tyrone Crawford Should Be Starting
Since he’s come to Dallas, defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford has earned nothing but positive reviews. Recently, head coach Jason Garrett had this to say about Crawford during a press conference:
We liked him a lot out of school and he made a good first impression his first year. We had high hopes for him last year. He has position flex, can play inside or outside on both sides of the line. We want to give him a chance to use his versatility.
He's had a good start to OTAs. Ever since he got here he's taken advantage of his opportunities in any role. He over-produces.
Crawford has yet to produce much at the NFL level, mostly because of his health. There’s not a good reason to think he’s injury-prone right now, though, and the signs of future success are there if he can stay on the field.
I think Crawford should start alongside Henry Melton as a second 3-technique player, but no matter where it is, the Cowboys have to find a way to give Crawford chances to make plays.
2. Justin Durant Is Going to Make the Team
Before OTAs, linebacker Justin Durant’s chances of making the team were probably pretty low. Now, he’s basically assured a roster spot because the Cowboys are so thin at linebacker following Lee’s injury.
According to Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com, Durant was starting at middle linebacker on Monday:
Durant was the Cowboys’ starting middle linebacker during Monday’s OTA practice with Sean Lee now out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. Durant was the primary backup for Lee last year but also sustained some injuries as well. He missed four of the last six games with hamstring injuries last season and only finished with 30 tackles in 11 games.
But this is another opportunity for the veteran linebacker, who has played seemingly every linebacker position during his seven-year career.
'I’m comfortable. We all basically cross-train in all the meetings to be able to step in just in case something like this happens,' said Durant, who said he played two years of middle linebacker in Jacksonville. 'I’ve been studying. I was ready to go. Whatever they tell me to do, I do it.'
Last season, Durant made a tackle on 8.4 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). In comparison, Lee checked in at 12.0 percent and Bruce Carter at 8.2 percent.
3. Ronald Leary Might Not Start.
Rookie Zack Martin has started at right guard since day one, meaning veteran Mackenzy Bernadeau was left on the bench. After a week of OTAs, though, Bernadeau worked in with Ronald Leary on the left side, according to Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com:
"Bernadeau worked between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick with some nice success. Bernadeau had been working some at center as well as splitting time with Tyronne Green, but it was Green that took all those reps while Bernadeau focused at guard."
It makes sense for Dallas to give Leary competition with Martin basically guaranteed a starting gig. Still, I’d expect Leary to win the job.
4. The Cowboys Probably Won’t Sign a Veteran Linebacker.
Whether it’s Brian Urlacher or Jonathan Vilma, the Cowboys have been linked to multiple veteran linebackers, per Will Brinson of CBS Sports, since Lee went down. It doesn’t make much sense for the team to bring in an aging player, however, and Mike Fisher of FOX Sports Southwest said he “can’t find anybody at Valley Ranch entertaining the Urlacher idea. One Cowboys exec politely said ‘Not at this time.’ Another chuckled.'”
The Cowboys are going to let Durant fight it out with DeVonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens to start inside. Hitchens and Kyle Wilber are two important players to watch. It could be the case that Holloman will start in place of whichever one plays the worst in the preseason.
5. Matt Johnson Is Injury Prone.
Guess who was absent from practice again on Monday. Safety Matt Johnson, who Bryan Broaddus saw working with the trainers. Apparently, he has a sore hamstring, which certainly doesn’t bode well for his prospects this year.
The problem with labeling someone as "injury prone" is that injuries are random and infrequent enough that we can’t know if a player who has gotten injured once or even a handful of times is really injury prone or just unlucky.
Johnson has been injured enough that the probability of all of his ailments occurring from chance alone is getting minute. As much upside as he might have, you almost have to consider him an underdog to even make it through camp healthy.
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