OXNARD, Calif. – Training camp officially ended for the Cowboys Friday afternoon in Oxnard as the team departed sunny California to head back to Dallas.
But before the team kicks off for the second preseason game against the Ravens Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, let’s take a moment to honor some of the top standouts of training camp this year.
This isn’t a rundown of the team’s top players or MVP candidates, but rather a list of the best performers during this nearly month-long stay in California.
Staff writers Bryan Broaddus, Rowan Kavner, Nick Eatman and David Helman, along with online radio host Ed Cahill, all selected their Top-10 players. The list is a combination of performance and expectations heading into camp:
(HM) Davon Coleman – While he just missed the list, the rookie free agent from Arizona State found himself starting in the preseason opener against the Chargers. At practice, Coleman more than held his own in pass-rushing drills. He has taken advantage of injuries at the DT position and is making a strong push to claim a spot on the 53-man roster.
10. Terrance Mitchell – If “swag” was enough to get a player on the roster, Mitchell would never have to worry. In fact, he might have already played his way onto the team with his ability to cover and compete. But the seventh-round pick from Oregon doesn’t lack confidence and because of a variety of reasons, Mitchell has made the most of the reps he’s received.
9. Cole Beasley – The matchups in the slot with Scandrick have not been equal this year, but Beasley might have even had the upper hand during this camp. There seems to be a defined role for him in his third season, which usually begins in the slot, although his ability to get open and catch the ball is valuable enough that the Cowboys don’t have to line him up inside on every play.
8. Zack Martin – The Cowboys drafted him with the 16th pick thinking he’d be ready to step in and start. While it’s still early, it seems as if the club is getting a better player than they even anticipated. Martin at times has been the line’s most consistent player. He did give up a sack to Henry Melton in his first 1-on-1 drill, but since then, he’s barely gotten beat by anyone, including in the preseason game with the Chargers.
7. Travis Frederick – Just a steady force in the middle that rarely gets beat in any individual or team drill. Frederick’s smarts and awareness has already taken him far in this league and he’ll only get better over time. Now having another cornerstone player next to him in Martin, Frederick should be able to take his game to another level here in Year 2 of his career. What he’s shown in camp certainly wouldn’t dispute that notion.
6. Justin Durant – When free agency began in March, it wasn’t clear that Durant would be on this team. When Sean Lee went down with an ACL injury, there was talk that Durant would simply hold down the fort until either DeVonte Holloman or Anthony Hitchens would supplant him. And Rolando McClain’s signing was another hint that Durant might not be in a stable spot. But in these three weeks, Durant has been one of the team’s best overall players and has gotten more and more comfortable by the day. His two-day performance against the Raiders this week is further proof that he has a great understanding of this defense. Even if he eventually is replaced by McClain, Durant will easily slide to one of the outside spots.
5. Jason Witten – All he did was the same stuff he’s done since 2003. Witten wasn’t flashy, but never has been. He got open as much as ever and had strong battles with safety J.J. Wilcox, although Witten won just about all of them. And he made sure that Wilcox knew it as well. From his route-running to his hands to his energy level, Witten certainly doesn’t look like a player in his 12th season.
4. Terrance Williams – You won’t find many No. 2 receivers still ranking among the top four in training camp performances. But some around Cowboys camp might argue that Williams has out-performed Bryant on a daily basis. Williams will never compete with Bryant in terms of flash or highlight plays, but the second-year receiver has made a consistent amount of possession catches. He’ll spread teams deep with his ability to run by defenders. He might have to get used to being overshadowed by Dez, but then again, that might just be a blessing in disguise.
3. Orlando Scandrick – Again, this is a list of the top performers in camp and Scandrick was the best player on defense. His four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy was a big surprise. Still, Scandrick is one of the few players we’ve seen on this team, or any team, who won regular battles against Bryant. While Bryant won his share, Scandrick did more than compete. The Cowboys will miss him the first four games of the year and Scandrick’s consistent performances in camp this year is more than enough proof.
2. Tyron Smith – He’ll probably remember this training camp for more than his practices on the field. Smith’s whopping contract extension was a big moment in camp, but it came on the heels of a play in which his dominance actually hurt the Cowboys. Smith threw rookie DeMarcus Lawrence to the ground, the rookie breaking his foot, which will keep him out for probably the first half of the season. But Smith has just been a beast to get around. Oakland rookie Khalil Mack was the only player to have any kind of success against Smith during this camp and even he had some trouble getting around him.
1. Dez Bryant – What else is new? Since he got here in 2010, Bryant has arguably been the best player in training camp and that includes his rookie year when he suffered a high-ankle sprain halfway through. This year, Bryant has consistently brought his A-game to practice, which seems to spark his teammates – on both sides of the ball – along with his coaches, the fans and any other bystanders. Bryant not only makes more plays than anyone else, but has the most fun in the process. It might have been a close race this year with Smith in terms of best overall camp, but Bryant is still the team’s top performer and don’t look for that to change anytime soon.