(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – With training camp now right around the corner, it’s not to early to start predicting which players might perform at a high level.
We’ve seen it every year – someone will emerge out in California and string together a few weeks of great practices. That doesn’t always mean it will translate to a great year when the regular season gets here. But it certainly doesn’t hurt.
As we continue our series of pressing questions to answer in camp, a few staff writers gave their early predictions as to which players might be turn some heads once the pads come in in Oxnard.
9 – Who will be the Cowboys’ Training Camp MVP?
Bryan Broaddus: This always fun to try and guess who will practice and play well in the preseason. Usually you go with an offensive guy but in this case, I am going with Chidobe Awuzie. All indications is that Awuzie will be the starter at left cornerback when they open the season in Charlotte. He will get a daily shot in 1-on-1 drills and team periods to not disappoint which I feel will be the case. His hardest matchup in practice will be with Michael Gallup. I promise one of the very first compete periods, Jason Garrett is going to call out Awuzie and Gallup to match up with the entire squad watching and it should be an entertaining battle. Awuzie will not give an inch to the talented Gallup and those will be the images that stick in our heads when we return to Frisco.
Mickey Spagnola: This might be going out on a limb, but opportunity knocks for defensive tackle Jihad Ward. That’s right, the guy the Cowboys traded Ryan Switzer to the Raiders for during the draft. The 6-5, 290-pound defensive lineman will get a huge chance to earn the starting three-technique spot that will be vacated by the suspended David Irving for the first four games of the season. Ward will get first dibs on the spot, as he did during the OTAs and minicamp workouts with Irving absent. Now this was without pads, but he certainly caught everyone’s eye, especially Rod Marinelli with his quick first step. Of course, pads are everything, but watch out for Ward to be a huge mismatch player inside, a much better fit for the former defensive end who was playing in a 3-4 defense for Oakland. Plus, the third-year player is highly motivated to impress his new bosses in the third year of his four-year contract that is now void of any guaranteed money or signing bonus proration. Keep an eye out for No. 51.
Lindsay Draper: Each year at training camp, there are flare-ups and scuffles and hollers heard around camp practices. Usually, all eyes dart to the drills in the trenches. Those linemen. They’re on fire, their voices are heard, and they earn a following amongst their teammates. The competition between offensive and defensive linemen grows stronger during camp than the entire season. I’ve seen Zack Martin step up, Tyrone Crawford step up, and this year I’m going to say… Taco Charlton begins to show flashes of coming into his own. Rod Marinelli once told me how difficult and long it takes to adapt to the league as a defensive lineman. (No brainer) But… there are levels to it. It really takes years – look at Demarcus Lawrence. Charlton shows us improvements, we get super excited, he makes big plays in the preseason, he’s our camp MVP.
David Helman: I’m going to cheat and go with a pair of co-MVPs in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Maybe this is just optimism on my part, but this camp is set up for these two guys to shine. We’ve talked so much about how unproven this wide receiver corps is. Well, if that’s the case, I’d love to see Awuzie and Lewis go out and prove it. They’re both incredibly talented and incredibly confident. They’re not always going to get the best of guys like Cole Beasley – especially in one-on-one situations, but they should win more than their fair share of battles against this group. The Cowboys are counting on their young secondary to make a leap in 2018. It’d be a big boost if their two big draft picks can show that in camp.