FRISCO, Texas - The offseason program is now in full swing for the Dallas Cowboys, this week marking the beginning of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) at The Star in Frisco, with mandatory minicamp set to launch in less than two weeks.
We'll get a great first look at rookies like Deuce Vaughn and Mazi Smith along with headline veteran signings like Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks, and begin to put lots of speculation to bed as it pertains to the team's offensive line rotation and more.
There was plenty to take away from practice on Thursday, the first one open to the media, but there were 10 notes in particular that were very intriguing, and that you should keep an eye out for going forward.
- Keep an eye on Deuce Vaughn as more than just a gadgetback, especially if the first round of OTAs are any indication. On one play in particular, Vaughn was sent on a go route with Will Grier heaving a 45-yard toss to him in single coverage, and the rookie sixth-round pick made a terrific sliding catch despite the defensive back being draped over him like a tablecloth.
- Tony Pollard is tracking well in his recovery from a broken leg suffered in the NFC Divisional Round, to the point where though he still has work to do to be cleared medically, the Pro Bowl running back did indeed take reps with the first team on Thursday, and that's a sign he'll be a full go sooner than later (barring any setbacks).
- Not to be left out of the offensive mix was KaVontae Turpin, who was seen numerous times lining up for reps that were not exclusive to return duties. I expect we'll see more of this as the Cowboys work to try and get Turpin more involved on offense, when it makes sense to pull that trigger.
- Speaking of Turpin, there are questions from those outside of the building regarding a possible battle in the return game between the Pro Bowler and incoming sixth-round pick Deuce Vaughn; but that's not the plan inside of the building, which is likely why Turpin was the returner on 100% of those reps on Thursday while Vaughn did work as a personal protector.
- It's early, but Michael Gallup looks eerily back to form to begin OTAs. There's a noticeable spring in his step that was absent in 2022, as he returned from a torn ACL, but Thursday's practice saw him targeted heavily by Dak Prescott and Gallup's routes were crisp, and his ability to high point the ball was effortless. He's apparently thinking less and trusting his body again, and it shows.
- Stephon Gilmore wasted no time getting his hands dirty in practice, routinely being moved around to defend different receivers — obviously beginning with CeeDee Lamb and on more than one occasion against Michael Gallup, but also against fellow newcomer Brandin Cooks. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year looked sharp against the 1,000-yard receivers, delivering a couple of PBUs in the process.
- The word is clearly out on Mazi Smith who, on more than one occasion, drew double teams in Thursday's practice. The rookie first-round pick held his own and then some, and I suspect it won't be long before he's being asked to do it more often against the first team offense; and that includes reps as a pass rusher and not simply the definitive nose tackle in combination with Johnathan Hankins.
- Tyron Smith saw some work at right tackle on Thursday, but it was minimal and largely due to Terence Steele not participating quite yet as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL. With Steele out, count on the Cowboys to deploy a myriad of OL combinations to see who can fit where, particularly as the battle at left guard shakes out (that will impact Tyler Smith which then impacts Tyron Smith, so forth and so on) but the jury isn't out on Steele being RT1 come September.
- The war for WR4 is already in full swing and it includes a list of names, e.g., Jalen Tolbert, but it was Simi Fehoko who got out to the fastest start on Thursday. Fehoko took reps with both the first and second team and was targeted often, delivering a 100% catch rate (no drops) and even being tasked with lining up opposite Gilmore, where he garnered one of his completions on a quick shimmy slant that turned into a YAC play.
- DaRon Bland is entering Year 2 as one of the best defensive backs on the Cowboys roster after his breakout rookie season that saw him lead the club in interceptions. He was able to achieve that accomplishment playing as the nickel corner, but the looming return of Jourdan Lewis means there's a chance Bland gets work on the outside as well when the season arrives; and the fact he took a rep or two outside of the hashes on Thursday hints at that eventually being the case as the Cowboys enjoy a four-headed monster atop their CB depth chart.