The Dallas Cowboys will be leaving for Oxnard on Tuesday. By Thursday, July 30, they will be having their first camp practice. Training Camp is the place where all your hopes and dreams begin to form. The real work begins and you start to build something special for the upcoming season. Excitement builds, for veterans and rookies alike. Everybody is ready for the season to start. There will be some players who will be asked to step up and make an impact on this team. Rather that is in a starter role or not, the role that they take on can prove to pay huge dividends for the team in the 2015-16 season.
Gavin Escobar has been a known commodity for a couple of years, but his production has not matched what we all thought it would be. True, there is only a certain amount of targets a fifth or sixth option can have, but there are things that he can do to improve. The main thing is his run blocking ability. The coaching staff needs to trust that he can handle all assignments given to him, especially when they are in the 12 formation. If he can block and be the receiving target that he is, the offense is at an advantage.
Escobar has only gotten 18 receptions on 28 targets in his first two seasons. All but four of those receptions has resulted in a first down or touchdown. Gavin seems poised to be a player that Romo trusts and is willing to give more opportunities to. Not only that, but Witten is 33 years old and heading into his 13th season at Tight End. At 6’6, 260 pounds, Gavin is a mismatch for most defenders on size alone. Again, he will have to show in camp that he can be counted on in the run blocking game to merit more playing time that.
Sometimes a challenge arises through situations. The situation with players suspensions have created an opportunity for some players. Jasper Brinkley and Damian Wilson are two players that will have to step up for this Defense. Ironically, neither player was with the team last year. Wilson will be in his first season in the NFL. He played for the University of Minnesota last year. Brinkley on the other hand played for the Minnesota Vikings. With Rolando McClain being suspended for four games, the Cowboys will look to them to help with the third linebacker position. The coaches have been preparing Wilson for the possibility of playing early and often since the mini-camps. Remember how he and Hitchens were used at various times during nickel drills? Similar to how they treated Hitchens last year, this staff has thrown a number of different sets and plays at Wilson with success. He has shown promise. Brinkley has been in this league long enough that he and the staff knows what he excels at. His calling card is his ability to stop the run. Last season, Brinkley had a 9.4% run stopping percentage and a 20.7% running game tackling efficiency rating. Though he doesn’t get a ton of snaps, he makes the best of them and can be counted on to make plays.
While four games isn’t that long, the more they adjust and absorb the better they will play. Who knows when the Cowboys might need them. Lee was lost for the season last year and McClain is coming back after he had two concussions and other nagging injuries. Then you look at the “what if” with him. What if McClain fails another drug test? McClain would get a 10 game suspension. The Cowboys need this entire linebackers corps to play solid football and match some of the intensity that Rolando McClain brought last year.
The name Morris Claiborne gives Cowboys fans mixed feelings. Morris Claiborne is in a contract year. Though he has always battled injuries, he has the talent needed to be a shutdown corner. Mo just doesn’t seem to be able to piece it all together. In 3 years Morris Claiborne has missed 19 games. He has not been able to stay healthy and live up to the hype of his draft selection or the expectations coming out of Louisiana State University. The Cowboys want him to make that step and be the player that they scouted. Claiborne wants it also. Claiborne surprised everyone except his self when he was able to participate, a little, in mini-camps. He has done an excellent job of getting back right after the offseason surgeries. Claiborne had to have a surgery to fix the torn patella tendon in the shoulder, and another surgery to his knees. As of now, he’s letting his work do the talking, but he knows this is a big year for him. Just how big does he want it to be?
Much talk has been given to the Cowboys running game. Rightly so. Last season, we had the best running back in the NFL who have to get the second most rushing yards in the League. With the departure of DeMarco Murray all eyes have been placed on Joseph Randle. Honestly we will not get to see fully what Randle can do on the field during training camp. there is only so much a running back and show you and non contact drills and limited contact. Last season, though his carries were miniscule, we saw his vision and expolosion when he rushed for 6.7 yards a carry. Being a good running back requires more than that. What made Murray so good and have the type of season he had in 2014 was his great offseason approach, both mentally and physically. Murray was mentally ready and knew where he needed to be and what assignments his line had. Also, he was physically ready to take on the punishment of being a workhorse running back in this system. The Cowboys will not employ the same strategy with Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar, but Randle needs to prepare his self just like Murray did. He needs to have the mental focus and willpower to make the most of each carry an opportunity. While 29 will not be behind number 9, the impact of a good running game remains. The commitment to run the ball will not change as the Cowboys continue to try to have a balanced attack.
The Dallas Cowboys are also in the need of a return specialist. Many have this opportunity going to whoever wins the fifth receivers position. The two players who have stood out the most are Lucky Whitehead and Antwan Goodley, but what if a player like Deontay Greenberry wins the job. What will happen then? Deontay is not return specialist. Lache Seastrunk was added to the team for training camp and does possess the athleticism to merit consideration. This is highly doubtful since the Cowboys will not carry four or five running backs into the season. Another option is using one of the veteran players like Cole Beasley or Lance Dunbar. It will be interesting who steps up to win the job and take over the production from the departed Dwayne Harris.
The Cowboys pass defense will need to improve as well. they only tallied 28 sacks and gave up 4,031 yards of offense. Players like Anthony Spencer, George Selvie and Henry Melton are gone. New players like Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory will be looked at to lead this new group of rushmen against NFL passers. Being close is not enough, in sacks nor interceptions. It is good to get pressures and pass reflections, Marinelli wants sacks and turnovers. This is the quickest way to turn an average defense into a good one. Cowboys are optimistic that the changes they have made will improve not just there pass rush, but their overall defense.
The Cowboys went 12-4 last season and was a few plays (really one catch)away from being in the NFC Championship game. The only thing that is pertinent this year is that they build off that season and progress. This will take hard work and a strong dedication. While there are some individuals who will be called on to step up, it will take a team effort to have the success that they want. The goal is SUPER bowl. Training Camp is the first step towards that lofty prize of the Lombardi Trophy.