By Zach Walker
Some faces change, some issues linger, and in the middle, there will be something that will whittle itself down into the 2018 Dallas Cowboys team. Last season was a gloomy hells cape of courtrooms, controversy, and another ‘what could have been’ season expertly put to screen by the Amazon series All or Nothing. I watched it post-draft, so it was extremely weird to watch the Jason Witten and Dez Bryant scenes, because they’re pretty tough to watch knowing that they won’t be suiting up again for the franchise. It’s all on the backfield duo drafted in 2016, Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. I’m not interested, nor qualified, to speak on the topic of anthem protest, but all I know is that the way that the Cowboys present the anthem on Sundays for home games is the way I like it. Field sized flag and a single trumpeter belting out the tune.
Going forward into this season, there are a TON of question marks with this team. No group has it fully colored in and there is a level of concern to each position. The Cowboys could have it all behind them and have the sails fully catch the wind and be something good, or they can be ‘Tommy Boy’ on his boat in the middle of a pond. This isn’t a boom-or-bust season for really anybody, but another dodging of the playoffs would be a real ball-deflating.
With those same question marks though, comes that other aspect of spots needed to be filled, and that’s competition. This camp has plenty of it, and I think that that is what the Cowboys need right now. I’m not going to go through every position tree, but I’m not setting a number of how many battles I’m highlighting.
Number 1: Tyron Smith’s battle with his health. One doesn’t simply sign a ten year contract by accident, the brain trust knows that they have the best offensive tackle in the game, and when he’s not him, health-wise, it’s a “Snicker’s” commercial out there at left tackle. Tyron Smith is a foundational piece to this team, and if he’s healthy, it’s gold. But if he’s hampered… it’s that other thing…
Number 2: Dak-Friendly offense. Ever been stuck in the mud, trying to find a place to eat for lunch or dinner, and you check and see that there are options a plenty, so many in fact, that you can’t choose one so you skip eating all together. Welcome to the problem with the Cowboys’ passing offense. Now, based on how football just is, a top option will emerge, and names will start to be pressed on to gear to sell, but starting from the frame is an itchy situation. If the staff tries to keep everything so fresh that Dak can’t groove and rhythm, then he’s stuck in the water, or really up the ol’ creek without that paddle. This isn’t a bad problem, its competition, but the dude’s need to emerge or this offense is going to really ride Zeke into the ground.
Number 3: Dan Bailey. Flatly, the Cowboys cannot have an anything but 100 percent Dan Bailey. With the amount of times the Cowboys have previously foregone touchdowns for glorious field goals, having anything but that money from Dan Bailey is a risk the Cowboys truly can’t afford to mess around with.
Number 1: The defensive line. Right now, the Cowboys have a good problem on their hands, they’ve got the numbers for a really solid rotation, and that number will actually increase into the season when Maliek Collins gets healthy and David Irving gets off his second consecutive four game suspension to start the season. They held on to Randy Gregory while he sorts his life out, and let’s see what he bring to the table. This is a positive camp battle. And I really like Dorance Armstrong, the rookie.
Number 2: The linebackers. My optimism stems from this group. Sean Lee is about as good of a player on defense as there is in this league (the numbers are out there haters, look them up.) Jaylon Smith really turned a corner during those final five games last season and could be his old self. And Thad Castle, I mean Leighton Vander Esch is the size of Randy White playing stand up backer, and if they can be on the field at the same time for each game going forward, that can be something special. The depth is good too. Damien Wilson and Chris Covington highlight a deep group of unproven bodies that will make for really solid depth.
Number 3: The safeties. My pessimism comes from this group. The Cowboys moved Byron Jones to corner, now a strength on our team, but that means our fourth safety, regardless of either free or strong, is Jameill Showers, an NFL-converted quarterback to safety. Now, this group is deep with young guys, I like Kyle Queiro from Northwestern, but the Cowboys are going to head to Carolina, barring some sort of trade, with Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods as the penciled in day one starters. Try to refrain from biting those nails back too far.
The goal throughout every training camp across the land is too evaluate your players, push the best to their ready shape and doing everything while staying injury free. The Cowboys have a solid string of ow-ies and boo-boos but have nothing but good things coming out of Oxnard leading up to their Thursday NIGHT game in San Francisco.