OXNARD, Calif. – Training camp is officially winding down here in Oxnard as the fourth and final week is nearly completed.
The Cowboys have just one more full practice remaining on Thursday before they break camp 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 staff at DallasCowboys.com has ranked the Top 10 players from training camp only. This certainly isn’t their 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.
Photos of the top 10 players of camp >>
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. Photos of the top 10 players of camp >>