FRISCO, Texas – Football's almost here.
Football for real, guys.
With Week 1 of the NFL season finally upon us, it's time for three quick topics about the Dallas Cowboys ahead of Sunday night's season opener against the Rams in Los Angeles.
- 3 To Watch
I'm looking forward to seeing how three young players carry strong, shortened training camp performances to the regular season.
Here's my three to watch (besides CeeDee Lamb, of course):
- CB Trevon Diggs. I would argue that no player on defense was as competitive, or looked as confident, as Diggs the last week or so in practice. He says the speed of the NFL game was probably his biggest adjustment, so it makes perfect sense that he needed the first few days to settle in after zero offseason program work. Not sure how much he'll play Sunday -- head coach Mike McCarthy hasn't publicly named starters, and it's a deep group at full strength -- but the Rams would be a great first test. LA has efficient veteran receivers and a quarterback, Jared Goff, who's extremely accurate when he can set his feet.
- DT Trysten Hill. Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones had major praise for last year's second-round pick, saying Monday on 105.3 The Fan, "He's just come in and never missed a beat when (Gerald) McCoy went down. He's been 110% and really playing at a high level right now and deserves to be the starter." Indeed, Hill had a strong camp. His motor might have been his best asset coming out of UCF a year ago, and in practice there were several reps where he showed a combination of quickness and power. It's well documented the Cowboys have added talent on the edges, but they also need that pocket push and run-stopping on the interior defensive line. Sounds like Hill will get plenty of chances.
- TE Blake Jarwin. We've seen glimpses of what Jarwin can do in the passing game, including a three-touchdown game against the Giants for the history books in 2018. He had a really, really good camp -- not only getting separation downfield, but also making tough contested catches, showing body balance and sideline awareness to finish plays. With so much attention on Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys' top trio of wide receivers, there should be favorable one-on-one opportunities for Jarwin at times this season. With Jason Witten now in Las Vegas, more of the blocking responsibilities will shift to Jarwin, too. That's a critical part of becoming a complete tight end.
the best defenses are strong tackling defenses, and it might be a slight adjustment early on … for everyone.
Without preseason games, no team has really gotten a true sample of live action. It's just the reality of the pandemic. The Cowboys and other teams have essentially eliminated tackling in practices over the years to avoid injury risk, so the first full-speed hit a player makes (and takes) Sunday will quite possibly be their first of 2020.
The Cowboys did work extensively on tackling technique in training camp, including a "staged" tackling drill where a defender brings down a ball carrier on a padded mat.
Will this be an early-season issue for teams on defense and special teams? Possibly. But everybody's in the same situation. And as defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said Tuesday, players are professionals.
"They've tackled and blocked and did the different things throughout their entire career when they got here," he said. "It might be a little bit not as precise and neat as you'd like at times, but I don't know that the fan would ever notice."
I Have No Idea…
if fans have a strong feeling about team captains year to year, but I like the change Mike McCarthy is making this season.
No longer will the Cowboys have one set of season-long captains for offense, defense and special teams. The team will rotate captains week to week, game to game.
McCarthy did this as the Packers' head coach in the past, so it's not an idea specific to his first season in Dallas. But I think it's a great idea. It gives different players in a position of leadership throughout the year.
McCarthy said it took 77 Packers players to win the Super Bowl in 2010, citing a rash of injuries in Green Bay that season. This year, as the league faces challenges from the nation's COVID-19 crisis, rotating captains are quite symbolic to me. A successful season requires such a commitment from the entire team and organization -- on the field, sure, but also off the field to keep each other safe.
It'll take all 69 players, counting the practice squad, to get the job done.
With that, let's play football.