OXNARD, Calif. – Training camp is officially winding down here in Oxnard as the fourth and final week is nearly completed.
The Dallas Cowboys have just one more full practice remaining today before they break camp tomorrow (Friday), head to Arizona and play their third preseason game Saturday afternoon against the Cardinals.
Obviously, the most important goal of training camp is for the Cowboys to come together and improve as a team – one unit.
But since that won’t be determined until the start of the regular season, the Dallas Cowboys website writers have ranked the Top-10 players from training camp only. This certainly isn’t the list of the 10 best players on the team, but rather the two best handfuls of players who have performed better than anyone else here on the practice fields.
Staff writers Bryan Broaddus, Rowan Kavner, Nick Eatman, and David Helman, along with online radio hosts Ed Cahill and Derek Eagleton all selected their Top 10 players. The list is a combination of performance and expectations heading into camp. Here are the results.
Dan Bailey / Sterling Moore
Dan Bailey nearly cracked the Top 10, but got left off a few lists because his practice regiment isn’t exactly the same as a position player. He’s been pretty steady this time around. Moore has been a nice surprise as a fourth corner with his physical play, especially against a competitor such as Dez Bryant.
10. DeMarco Murray – While it’s never easy to evaluate running backs in practice, Murray has been good with his reps, both as a runner and pass-catcher. Staying healthy in the regular season is his biggest factor for him but he certainly looks determined enough to prove his critics wrong about his durability.
9. Ernie Sims – His latest groin injury is bad timing for this veteran linebacker trying to make the most of his second chance. Sims was a guy the Cowboys weren’t sure would fit in the 4-3 scheme and he’s gone from a roster long shot to a possible starter, competing with Justin Durant. His physical play and ability to mix it up with the offense has been refreshing.
8. Doug Free – This pick has a lot to do with expectations of last year. Doug Free has taken advantage of two injuries. Jermey Parnell was supposed to compete with Free at right tackle but his hamstring injury has limited him all of camp. Free hasn’t had to face Anthony Spencer, who missed all but two days with a knee injury. All Free can control is his own situation and he’s done better than expected so far.
7. Lance Dunbar – He immediately established himself as the No. 2 back as Joseph Randle began to work his way back into camp from an offseason thumb injury. Dunbar’s demonstrated a little of everything he can do this camp, catching passes effortlessly, hitting the hole quickly and bringing a special elusiveness that the other backs don’t possess, while carrying all of his traits to the preseason games. He’s done everything he can to ensure he’ll be involved in the offense in some degree this year.
6. Orlando Scandrick – You can argue that he doesn’t always line up against Dez and Miles, but he gets his fare share of them in the team drills. Scandrick is another one on this list primarily because of expectations. But he’s been a fighter this whole camp. He’s battled in the one-on-one drills, showing he’s got some veteran savvy to his game, especially when facing bigger receivers. He’s made plays on the ball and rarely gets out of position at all. A really strong camp for the Cowboys third corner.
5. Jason Witten – You won’t find many Top 10 lists that exclude Witten, regardless of the category. He’s never flashy, but always good. And that’s been Witten’s training camp from start to finish. In fact, it’s evident the Cowboys are making a point to get Witten more involved in the red zone offense and they’ve done that in the team drills and red-zone situations. If camp is any indication, Witten’s touchdowns should go up this season.
4. Sean Lee – There aren’t many players on this team, maybe even in the league that absolutely love the training camp grind like Lee. The passion he plays with on Sundays in the regular season is matched both in practice and even in the morning walk-through sessions. That intensity is infectious and trickles down to his teammates. But let’s not forget his play either. He looks to be a perfect fit in the middle of this 4-3 scheme with his instincts to get to the ball and his ability to drop into coverage and make plays on the ball. If he stays healthy, Lee will easily compete for a Pro Bowl spot.
3. Jason Hatcher – Here’s a surprise to the list, especially this high up. But Hatcher has been short of dominant here in practice, which can sometimes be tricky to evaluate without pads and teams going all out. Still, Hatcher has been hard to block in both individual and team drills. While some might say the Cowboys are lacking at the guard position, part of it could be the fact they’re going up against Hatcher, whose quickness of the ball has been impressive for the recently-turned 31-year-old.
2. Dez Bryant – It was a close race for first but the wide receiver gets a close second. Still, what Dez brings to the table every day is so important to this team. The intensity for this camp is at an all-time high and Dez is the main reason for it. He competes on every single snap and wants the ball thrown his way every time. If he doesn’t come up with the catch, Bryant will get upset with himself and vows to improve on the next play. That has to make the younger receivers around him better. Bryant has been the best player at camp every year since he got into the league and he hasn’t dropped off any. His expectations coming off of last year probably hurt him slightly.
1. DeMarcus Ware – The reason Ware gets the nod of Bryant is simple – he’s been dominant on just about every play of camp. When it comes to one-on-one battles, Ware hasn’t really lost one. It’s gotten to the point where Tyron Smith’s ability has been questioned some, just because Ware has beaten him regularly. Two things appear evident about Ware: He looks completely healthy this year after a handful of injuries in 2012, and this 4-3 scheme will be a great fit for him. Ware looks as good in this camp as he has in any other camp of his career. For a future Hall of Famer, that’s good enough to land the top spot on this list.
RELATED: Analyst/Scout Bryan Broaddus Training Camp 2013 Top-10
With no practice tape to break down from Wednesday, lets take this opportunity to go through the list of players voted for in the writers poll of top ten players of training camp 2013.
- DeMarcus Ware – This was a no brainer for several reasons. He has been the most dominate player in the camp. He works daily against the best offensive linemen on the squad and is rarely defeated or put in a bad situation. His health and fitness level are at an all time high and the scheme really plays to his strengths.
- Dez Bryant – Bryant has once again showed up to camp with a purpose in mind and that was to improve to become a more complete receiver. We all understand his skill level, but where he really has improved his overall game is on the mental side and as a blocker. What Bryant has shown is when he understands what his responsibilities are, he can be an even more dominate player. He is also understanding of how to use his big body to cause problems for defensive backs off the edge. For him, it’s all about being that complete player.
- Sean Lee – If there was a player on this squad that was built for this Monte Kiffin 4-3 scheme, it is Sean Lee. His ability to read and react to what he sees is rare. To play Mike linebacker in this scheme, you have to be able to tackle in space and on the move. Lee is also outstanding when it comes to understanding pass coverage. He is rarely out of position and he has been physical enough to handle a guy like Jason Witten down after down. He really has shown to be a complete player.
- Jason Witten – I really like what I have seen from Witten in this zone scheme as a blocker. He has the understand of how to position himself to secure the block but he is also crafty enough to know how to put his hands inside to also control his man. His route running has been on point and his hands in the red zone have been clutch. Father Time might be knocking on some players doors around the league but not this guy.
- Jason Hatcher – This has been a real surprise for me in camp because I really wasn’t sure how well he would consistently hold up inside. He has been playing the under tackle but will shift to nose when Jay Ratliff returns to the lineup. Hatcher has been consistent in his approach and he has developed some extra pass rush moves. He has played with power which is something that I questioned coming into camp. I will be interested if he can continue this positive trend but in this camp, he is starting to erase my doubts.
- DeMarco Murray – The most complete back on this squad is DeMarco Murray. We have not had a chance to see it in these preseason games but in observing these practices day-after-day, you can see him playing at a high level. He has shown a physical toughness and desire to prove those wrong that believed he couldn’t stay healthy. He has run the ball with a nasty streak, been consistent catching the ball and been solid on his blitz pickups. His preparation for this season has clearly shown.
- Orlando Scandrick – There are those of you reading this I am sure are saying that we have seen this before from Orlando Scandrick only to be disappointed in the end. Scandrick has a different look about him this season and its just not the mental side of the game which he has always excelled. Where Scandrick has been different in my view is in the physical side of the game. He is finishing more plays, he is making it tough for receivers to catch the ball on him. He is fighting down the field better. There were times where you would see him clutch and grab which would result in fouls but we are seeing a lot less of that. His game overall, just has a different feel.
- Lance Dunbar – For Lance Dunbar, his rise up to this level started all the way back in OTA’s and minicamps. Dunbar has always been quick but he appears to have taken that to a whole new level. He has been explosive and with the ball in his hands, has been a nightmare for tacklers to deal with in the open field. He has an outstanding feel for how to get the ball to the edge or make the cut inside. He is catching the ball well and with soft hands but where he has improved is as a pass blocker. His height limits what he can accomplish but the heart and desire make up for that. He is not afraid to step up and his technique is clearly better. Coaches are gaining more confidence in him each practice.
- Ernie Sims – If there are players that are playing with chips on their shoulders, Sims is the leader of that group. I honestly gave him little shot at this 53 man roster with some of the young players that were added to this group, but he once again proved me wrong. Sims has a real shot to not only make this roster but to start. You can just see in his body language that he is clearly on a mission. Between plays, you don’t see him standing around the other linebackers, he is off on his own. He has no friends on this team, at this point. Matter of fact the only time I have seen him smile was when he young son was running around on the field after practice. Sims has been everywhere on the field. When watching tape, you don’t have to ask what number he is wearing. It has been a shame that he is missing practice time with this groin injury but until then, he has been outstanding.
- Sterling Moore – When I observe Sterling Moore down-after-down, I am not surprised that he is playing the way he is. He has been physical both run and pass but he has also shown the ability to both play on the outside and in the slot. I really have been impressed with him in coverage. He doesn’t give receivers much room in route and when the ball is in the air, he really does a nice job of finishing the play. The way he is playing, it is going to allow this staff to be patient with B.W. Webb and his development as a corner. Moore gives this squad a great deal of flexibility and if they have to match team’s this season with multiple wide receivers, they should be a good shape.