IRVING, Texas – The pads won’t come on until training camp in a little over two months, but the Dallas Cowboys veterans and rookies inched closer with voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) getting underway today (Tuesday).
The OTAs will take place three days a week for the next three weeks, followed by the mandatory June 16-18 minicamp. Live action isn’t permitted under the NFL collective bargaining agreement, as the players are only in helmets and shorts, but the offense and defense can work together for the first time.
It’s a bit of a balancing act for head coach Jason Garrett. The sessions are an early opportunity to evaluate players and get in solid work (without contact) as a precursor to training camp.
“Everyone’s excited to get started and do football, but you have to practice smart,” Garrett said. “One of the things we talk to our players about is, given the new collective bargaining agreement, you don’t have that many full-padded practices. So, the teams that learn how to practice in helmets and jerseys really are the teams that are the best teams in this league. Because this is how we practice many more times than not.
“So, we have to do a great job teaching tempo and convincing our players about the type of tempo we want to practice with. There’s a sense of urgency. There’s a pace for these types of events.”
Among veteran players to watch this offseason is defensive end Greg Hardy, who is a natural right end who can play multiple spots along the defensive line.
The Cowboys will welcome back starting linebacker and team leader Sean Lee, who tore his ACL the first week of OTAs last year and missed the entire 2014 season. Lee is moving to weak side linebacker with Rolando McClain, acquired by trade last July, remaining at middle linebacker where we was highly productive in Lee’s place.
The OTAs also mark the first glimpse of newly-signed Darren McFadden and the Dallas Cowboys early running back rotation featuring Ryan Williams, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar.
And for the rookies, OTAs are their next acclimation to the NFL against the veterans. So far they’ve been limited to the teaching sessions of the offseason program.
“For all rookies, I think going into OTA’s Coach Garrett does a great job of telling them, ‘Create competition,’” tight end Jason Witten said. “A lot of them we’re counting on to play and play significant roles, and others are going to be contributors.
“This is the start of it. We’ve had good offseason workouts so far, but nothing like going to the field and taking those practice reps and getting better.”
2015 OTA PREVIEW: Breaking down the Dallas Cowboys offense
IRVING, Texas – Today marks the beginning of 12 days of voluntary spring practices – nine total days of OTAs, followed by the mandatory three-day minicamp.
Here’s a preview of things to watch for from the 2015 Dallas Cowboys offense:
QB: What do they have in Dustin Vaughan? The expectation is that this front office and coaching staff are going to work to find out. The only other quarterback that was added to the roster was undrafted free agent Jameill Showers – so it will be up to Vaughan to see if he is once again backing up Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden, or if he can find a role behind just Romo. Look for Vaughan to get plenty of opportunities not only in these OTA practices but in training camp. The goal is to work on cleaning up his mechanics and becoming more confident as a leader.
WR: Devin Street is going into his second season and the coaching staff hopes that there will be a significant jump that would allow him to compete for more of a role in the offense. He could push Terrance Williams to the point where Williams is no longer the guy looked as the opposite of Dez Bryant. Hopefully for Street, he can use these practices to set himself up in Oxnard to really give Williams a battle. Depending on whom you talk to in the organization, there is a thought that Street is talented enough to take that job.
RB: When practices are open to the media tomorrow (on Wednesday), you will see Joseph Randle running with the first offense while Darren McFadden, Ryan Williams and Lance Dunbar will serve as the main backups. Randle will likely get the nod over McFadden for the simple reason that he was the backup to DeMarco Murray last season. McFadden appears to be motivated to take this job, and with the target on Randle’s back, can he hold off McFadden for the job? The most complete back for the job is veteran McFadden. Randle is talented for the scheme but the question will always be is if he mature enough to not let the pressure of trying to win the job affect how he performs.
TE: Will be interested to see, when it comes to Geoff Swaim and Ray Hamilton, who is the better player. Swaim appears to be the better up-the-field player that flashes the hands. Hamilton can get up the field as well, but he is not as athletic as Swaim. Hamilton has the advantage as a better point of attack blocker.
OT: With Doug Free still rehabbing his injured foot, look for Darrion Weems to get those snaps with the first unit. Weems has been with the Dallas Cowboys since 2012, and there was a point early in his career where he had a real shot to be a nice piece along this offensive line — but he really hasn’t lived up to those expectations. There always seems to be something that holds him back and that is disappointing. He has the size and athletic ability, but he has average strength in his overall game. He hasn’t shown the nastiness for the position that you see in guys like Tyron Smith and Doug Free. How he starts out in these OTA practices will tell what the future could hold.
OG/C: Ronald Leary is not going to give up his job to La’el Collins without a fight — if that is the case. We may see coaches try Collins out at right tackle to start, until Free comes back from injury. Look for Collins to battle Weems early and then when Free returns, he could move back inside. When the rookies have worked with the veterans in these teaching sessions, Collins has been taking snaps at both spots. This time last season, Mackenzy Bernadeau was working extensively at guard, but he will see all of his snaps this summer at center.
2015 OTA PREVIEW: Breaking down the Dallas Cowboys defense
Here’s a preview of things to watch for from the 2015 Dallas Cowboys defense:
DE: Newcomer Kenneth Boatright might fit into the mix at defensive end, but watch Ben Gardner as well. Gardner was never able to get his rookie season started due to a number of injuries, but there might not be a player that has physically changed his body more in offseason weight room. He has added weight and strength to his frame, which should translate into his ability to help as a left defensive end, but also line up and take some snaps inside as a tackle as well.
DT: The plan in the offseason was to find a more athletic player to pair inside with Tyrone Crawford — not only in those base situations, but the nickel as well. A player that could fit that role is Terrell McClain. There were games last season where McClain flashed the ability to be that up-the-field player from both the under and nose tackle. The coaches have no problem with what Nick Hayden can provide on first and second down, but there were too many snaps where he was part of the package on third down as well. Early in these practices keep a close eye on what the rotation is at that nose, where Jack Crawford and Jeremy Mincey could also see some action as well.
OLB: No matter who you talk to in the front office and coaching staff about Anthony Hitchens, it’s all the same – he needs to be on the field. As much nickel as this defense plays, making that happen might be easier said than done. There is a good chance you will see Sean Lee and Rolando McClain handling those responsibilities, which means Hitchens is on the sidelines. Hitchens may initially be worked as a Sam linebacker, but in these practices he could be used as a Will while the coaches and trainers slowly work Sean Lee back into the mix. It’ll be interesting to see where Damien Wilson fits in these plans as well. While at Minnesota he played more as a Mike, but he could be better suited in the pros to play as a Will, where he can run and hit from the position. During the rookie mini-camp he lined up at Sam.
ILB: Jasper Brinkley is a veteran linebacker that has made plenty of starts as a Mike in this league. Hitchens might be better suited to play the position, but with him working as the Sam, that puts Brinkley in position to help out. It appears that the coaches are set to play Sean Lee at the Will, so the depth behind Rolando McClain will be important. With the Vikings, Brinkley was a two-down player, coming off the field in the nickel situations. In the rookie minicamp Mark Nzeocha took the majority of his snaps as the Mike, as well. Brinkley gives the team protection at the spot while rookie draft pick Nzeocha learns on the job. It’s another smart move from the front office by helping the defense when it comes time to playing these preseason games.
CB: The forgotten man in all this cornerback talk has been Tyler Patmon. With the addition of Byron Jones and Corey White, it appears that Patmon’s role might be much less on the defense. Morris Claiborne has made incredible progress, but the need for extra cornerbacks is still there. Patmon can line up outside, but we have also seen him play in the slot. This is an advantage that he has over White, who is much better in the slot than outside. Another challenge could come from rookies Jason Wilson and Joel Ross – both of whom were solid players in college. It was Wilson that took the majority of his reps inside during the rookie minicamp and did a nice job of handling that role. We could also see that Patmon, Wilson and Ross all play better than White and he is off this roster at the end of the day.
S: We may not see Byron Jones taking snaps at safety in these OTA practices initially, but we could see that in training camp. They want him to compete at corner, get comfortable and work from there. There is no question that Jones could play the position if needed, but it’s important that they see him work and compete with Brandon Carr in case they have to make a salary cap move there. A player that looked good from the rookie minicamp was Tim Scott from North Carolina. On his college tape you can see him playing both as a corner and safety in ACC games and doing a nice job. The advantage to Scott’s game is that he could line up as a true free safety, but also in the slot as well. His movement is good as is his intelligence, which makes him a nice fit for the position. Scott might be a bit of a long shot to make the roster but he has the traits to do so.
Did you know? You can keep up with the ever-changing Dallas Cowboys Roster over the spring and summer right here, on The Boys Are Back website! Players are organized by position, and updated regularly as players are cut or added throughout the offseason.