Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Checklist
Training camp is right around the corner for the Dallas Cowboys. There’s always a lot of excitement surrounding every team this time of year—everyone is a contender at this point—but there’s also a lot of uncertainty in Big D.
The Cowboys will have a lot of new faces in 2014 at both starting and backup positions. Their biggest task heading into camp is simply to figure out the roles for the players they intend to keep around. Who is going to start, and how will they be utilized?
Here’s a look at the six most important tasks on the Cowboys’ training camp to-do list.
6. Figure out Where DE/DT Tyrone Crawford Will Play
Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford has the potential to be a big contributor this season. He has the size and length to really excel anywhere along the defensive line.
While it makes sense to use Crawford in a variety of positions, he’s likely going to get the majority of his snaps from just one. The Cowboys need to decide which position best suits Crawford (and/or the team) and how they’ll use him.
It isn’t just a defensive end/defensive tackle debate, either, because Crawford could either work next to Henry Melton as a second 3-technique rusher, or he could be Melton’s primary backup. I like the idea of using Crawford next to Melton on second and third downs (whether we think of him as a 3-technique or an undersized 1-technique is irrelevant—just get to the quarterback).
5. Find a Free Safety
In all likelihood, second-year man J.J. Wilcox will start alongside Barry Church at safety. Wilcox has good measurables, but we should have known he might struggle in his rookie year coming from Georgia Southern with just one year of safety play under his belt. I expect a big leap from Wilcox this season.
However, this is a wait-and-see sort of thing because the oft-injured Matt Johnson is lurking. The Cowboys love Johnson’s ability when he’s healthy. My hunch is that if Johnson can make it through camp, he’s going to become the starter. Thus, this is an item on the to-do list that probably won’t be completed until just before the season.
4. Evaluate the Rookie Wide Receivers
In Devin Street, L’Damian Washington and Chris Boyd, the Cowboys have three tall rookie wide receivers who could potentially make the roster. I had Washington as the odd man out in my latest 53-man projection, but there’s a chance that the Cowboys cut two of them or, perhaps, even retain all three.
All of the rookies have their advantages. Street was the only one who was drafted, so he’s unlikely to get cut due to the Cowboys not realizing the pick is now a sunk cost. Washington seems like he has a frame that can add muscle, and he’s also the fastest of the bunch. Boyd has size and was the best scorer in college.
My hope is that one of these players establishes himself enough during camp to take over the No. 3 receiver duties, playing outside with Terrance Williams in the slot.
3. Get Comfortable with Scott Linehan’s Play-Calling
Although much of the Cowboys’ offense will remain intact, there will inevitably be some changes under new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. There will likely be a lot more deep passes this season, for example, which is a great thing.
In the meantime, the offense obviously needs to gain familiarity with Linehan. Perhaps even more important, Linehan needs to get a sense of who can do what on offense and how to best deploy all of the weapons. Hopefully that means we see more Dez Bryant and Gavin Escobar usage.
2. Determine DE Demarcus Lawrence’s Potential Contributions
The Cowboys need to figure out where they’re going to generate a pass rush.
I like George Selvie to turn in a year similar to what we saw in 2013 because I think he’s a talented player, but we probably won’t see true No. 1-defensive-end numbers from him. Henry Melton should be a big factor on the inside, but he’s not an edge-rusher who has 15-sack potential. Tyrone Crawford has shown promise, but he’s an unknown. And of course Anthony Spencer’s health is up in the air.
Thus, Demarcus Lawrence is a really important player this year for Dallas—the difference between a formidable pass rush and one that will hold back the defense. If he can’t be counted on for consistent production, which could very well be the case from a second-round rookie, the ‘Boys are probably going to need to blitz more than they’d like.
1. Keep Important Players Healthy
Training camp is a really important time for players to get comfortable in a system, establish a rhythm with one another and get in top-tier shape. That doesn’t mean that preseason games are overly important, though.
Every year, we see the same basic process when it comes to preseason playing time for the majority of starters—a drive in the first game, a quarter in the second game, three quarters in the third game and then off in the fourth game.
I think even that is too much for established players. We know what Tony Romo can do. We know what Jason Witten can do. We know what Tyron Smith can do. It’s not like they’re unfamiliar with game speed or can’t get into shape without playing a few quarters in the preseason. That stuff can be simulated in practice.
If there is a small benefit provided by participating in preseason games, it’s wiped away by the injury risks. The Cowboys aren’t in a position to have anyone get hurt before the season begins, so they need to be extremely cautious with how they distribute playing time. They obviously can’t prevent all injuries, but they can minimize the exposure to them for their top players.