FRISCO, Texas — Training camp has technically ended. The Cowboys’ 13th camp practice was held inside the Ford Center Monday afternoon. In total, one practice was at AT&T Stadium, three were outside at The Star, eight were inside the Ford Center and one was split between the outdoor and indoor fields at the team’s headquarters. Mike McCarthy’s original plan was to have most of the sessions outside on the grass field; however, the sod was unable to hold up to the wear and tear. The Cowboys have since had the grass replaced in preparation for the regular season, forcing the team inside more often.
To wrap up the final few days of camp practice, here are 10 observations and notes.
1.) Most talented team? The 2016 Cowboys won 13 games. They had seven Pro Bowlers. But Ezekiel Elliott believes the current group might be more talented. Why?
“Just look at the depth chart, look at the roster,” Elliott responded. “Look at how many Pro Bowlers, how many All-Pro guys we have out there. I mean I think it’s unmatched.”
The Cowboys currently have 16 players who have made at least one Pro Bowl on their current roster: Tyron Smith (7), Zack Martin (6), Amari Cooper (4), Everson Griffen (4), Andy Dalton (3), Ezekiel Elliott (3), DeMarcus Lawrence (2), Sean Lee (2), Dontari Poe (2), Dak Prescott (2), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (1), L.P. Ladouceur (1), Aldon Smith (1), Jaylon Smith (1), Leighton Vander Esch (1), Greg Zuerlein (1).
“I think we’re looking great,” Elliott said while assessing the team up to this point. “I think we’re in a good spot. Defensively, we’re so deep on the defensive line, then we have the great linebacker trio and with the good DBs. On offense, we’ve got the veteran O-line. Those guys, they’re good every year, and there’s so many weapons on the outside with Dak leading us. I think we’re at a good point right now. I’m excited and I’m ready to get this thing rolling.”
2.) Biggest offensive change. As soon as the Cowboys drafted CeeDee Lamb in April, it was clear they were going to be in 11 personnel most of the time. Going with three wide receivers (Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Lamb), one tight end (Blake Jarwin) and one running back (Ezekiel Elliott) gets their best personnel on the field at the same time. It also allows the offense to spread out and be less predictable about whether they’re going to run or pass.
In the past, when the Cowboys would bring in an extra tight end or fullback, teams would load the box to stop Elliott. If opponents choose to put eight or nine in the box now, they’ll be at a significant disadvantage defending all of Dallas’ weapons on the perimeter.
“It’s a lot of the same stuff. I would just say we married up our pass looks and our run looks a lot more so (they’re) a little bit less predictable,” Elliott said. “I think that’s probably the most change. More runs out of the gun.”
Adding in more of that look hasn’t been difficult for Prescott and Elliott considering how much they played out of those looks in college.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” Elliott said. “In college, we were nothing but shotgun, so I’m pretty comfortable back there. It won’t be really that much change. I think we’re just going to emphasize a lot more, just not only having looks that are a run look or a pass look, but having looks that we can throw the ball or run out of.”
3.) Most improved player. If evaluating the roster from the first day of camp through the 13th practice, rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs would likely be the most improved player. He didn’t do much to stand out during the first few practices, but that has changed as he’s been routinely getting his hands on passes. Injuries to veteran cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie have opened the door for Diggs to get even more work against the team’s top wide receivers.
“I feel like the first week of camp, just getting things going, learning my teammates … building that team chemistry and the play style,” Diggs said. “The NFL is a lot different than college. I’ve just been trying to get adjusted and staying focused. I feel like by me doing that each day, every week, I’m getting better. I’m just trying to keep my head down, keep working and just stay focused to reach that main goal.”
Diggs, Dallas’ second-round pick, has done enough to make a legitimate argument to be a Week 1 starter.
4.) Safety update. Despite all of the Earl Thomas chatter, the Cowboys continue to say they are content with the safeties on their roster. The team’s top safety, Xavier Woods, suffered a groin injury early in practice on Sunday. He did not practice on Monday. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones sounded optimistic about Woods’ injury during a Monday interview on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. “Never felt a pop, never lost strength in it,” Jones said, “so overall we feel we’ll get a good report.”
Dallas’ safety depth chart has included Woods, Darian Thompson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Donovan Wilson. If they were to be without one of those four, the current plan is to turn to one of their corners to make the move to safety. Some of the possibilities mentioned by Jones: Reggie Robinson, Chidobe Awuzie and Daryl Worley. Robinson has already been getting work at safety. Worley has been getting a lot of work at nickel corner up to this point.
Cowboys defensive backs coach Maurice Linguist recently revealed that he told all of the team’s defensive backs to prepare to play corner and safety.
5.) Latest on Cooper. Amari Cooper hasn’t participated in team drills during the last three practices. After going through individual work on Monday, Cooper exited with an athletic trainer, likely to work on the resistance cords outside.
“There’s all kinds of information that goes into those decisions, and that’s a daily adjustment,” Mike McCarthy said Sunday night when asked about Cooper not participating in team drills. “I wouldn’t read into it. We have the benefit of resources to make calculations and roll guys in and out of there. At the end of the day, you’re obviously trying to get ready schematically, you’re trying to get your fundamentals in order, you’re trying to hit the things from a technical standpoint that you need to get done and let’s not forget we’re still evaluating our football team.”
When asked if he has any concerns about Cooper’s health, McCarthy responded: “No, I don’t. No. Not at all.”
6.) CeeDee jersey number story. After being drafted by the Cowboys, CeeDee Lamb said he planned on wearing jersey No. 10 in Dallas. Jerry Jones wanted Lamb to wear the Cowboys’ famous No. 88. The Cowboys owner and general manager explained Sunday night during the team’s televised practice at AT&T Stadium how he got his way on that final decision.
In his response, Jones also touched on how much the Cowboys liked LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and how he most likely would have been the pick at 17 had Lamb not been available.
“We were sitting there in that draft and, boy, our defensive end fell to us from LSU (Chaisson),” Jones said. “And we were so giddy, but there sat CeeDee Lamb. And I’ll never forget my grandson, Shy, reached over and punched me, I was sitting on the couch, and he said, ‘Production, Papa. Production. Look at his production. Look at his production.’ Now, my other grandson (John Stephen) had told me when they played LSU at Arkansas, everything they did they had to gameplan around that pass rusher (Chaisson). So you say, ‘What is this? Listening to grandsons?’ Well, I looked up there, and it reminded me that that last name Lamb, we had had it all for the right reasons.
“He’s just a unique, unique football player and a unique talent. Boy, it all fell together. It just really was almost like an omen. (Jerry Lamb, who wore No. 88 at Arkansas in the early 1960s) was certainly one of the best friends I’ve ever had. He lived vicariously, every breath, that I’ve got to be involved as a Cowboy. Jerry Lamb was an outstanding great player and great leader. So when we started talking about (Lamb) having No. 88, you know there was a little push back early. Just a little bit of push back on that deal. Well, I was reminded there doesn’t need to be any push back, just say that’s what’s going to happen. He’s going to wear 88.
“He’s coming in with an edge with that 88 on. If he gets close (to Michael Irvin), if he comes even within any distance of (Irvin), then he’s going to have himself a Hall of Fame career.”
7.) Wide receivers on the 53. NFL teams have until Saturday at 3 p.m. (CT) to trim their rosters from 80 to 53. Judging by Stephen Jones’ recent comments, it sounds like the Cowboys will go with six wide receivers. The top five have become pretty clear: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown.
Cooper, Gallup and Lamb have been locked in the whole time. Wilson has separated himself as the No. 4 throughout camp. Brown has come on strong lately to secure the fifth spot. No. 6 probably belonged to Ventell Bryant before he injured his knee in Sunday night’s practice. Next up would be Jon’Vea Johnson, Devin Smith, Aaron Parker and Tevin Jones.
(Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)
“We’ve got a lot of young guys out there that are going to push to get in for that sixth spot,” Jones said Monday on The Fan. “So we’ll see how that works itself out. Still got another big week of practice coming up, and we’ll see if somebody really steps up and deserves that sixth spot.”
8.) Differences between Mike McCarthy and Jason Garrett. Veteran cornerback Anthony Brown provided an interesting response when asked about the difference between the two coaches and their staffs.
“So far, it’s a totally different environment walking in the building now,” Brown said. “It’s kind of like a breath of fresh air when you walk in right now with coach McCarthy coming in. The players have a lot more leeway to say what we want to do. He gives us more opportunities to express ourselves, I would say.
9.) Big things ahead for La’el Collins. The Cowboys right tackle is coming off his best pro season in Year 5. He arguably should have made his first Pro Bowl last season. He began this year’s training camp working off to the side on the resistance cords but has since worked back into being a full participant in all of the last three practices. The expectation is that Collins should be one of the game’s best right tackles in 2020.
“I feel like my most successful years are just ahead of me, to be honest,” Collins said. “I feel like last year was just a scratch of it, just the beginning to be honest. This is my third year ever playing right tackle. For me, I’ve been playing football my whole life, but my third year playing right tackle. I’m left-handed, everything on the left came natural. Switching over I really had to get in tune with technique and really understand footwork and just where my body needs to be and stuff like that. I think as I continue to get more and more reps over the years, I feel like that’s what kind popped out last year and I’m just going to build off that.”
10.) Punt returner. CeeDee Lamb and Cedrick Wilson will likely get the majority of work at punt returner this season. Some have concerns about putting the team’s No. 1 pick at punt returner, possibly increasing the chances of an injury. The Cowboys don’t see it that way. They want Lamb getting the ball in as many ways as possible.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for him to touch the ball,” Stephen Jones said Monday on The Fan. “You know, we’ve had some great players return punts for the Cowboys, starting with Deion Sanders. Those guys are really good at their trade. I don’t think it’s as dangerous of a play as the kickoff in terms of the returner. I think those guys see, especially the great ones like Deion and certainly CeeDee can be, they see all the traffic coming at them. They know when to fair catch it and when to get out of bounds and when to go for it.
“There’s been a lot of great receivers in this league get back there and field punts and do a great job doing it. So I don’t have a huge issue with it. There may be times where it’s a punt safe and we put Ced Wilson back there or something like that, but I think you’ve got to, in this day and time in this league, if you got dynamic players, you got to give them opportunities to make plays in the open field.”