OXNARD, Calif. – While four weeks of training camp here in California seems to be plenty of time to get things accomplished, the Cowboys will be returning to Dallas this week with questions still to answer.
The writers at DallasCowboys.com have each come up with a different aspect of this team that concerns them the most with three preseason games still to play before the Sept. 10 opener with the Giants.
Nick Eatman – It's completely understandable the Cowboys don't have a solid plan in place at defensive end – but it's still a problem. Yes, the suspensions to David Irving (four games) and Damontre' Moore (two games) have made it tricky in handling practice snaps and getting players ready who actually will play against the Giants. Then the Tyrone Crawford injury made it worse, throwing his availability for Week 1 in the air as well. So while Irving and Moore are practicing but won't play in the first two and four games, you've got Crawford not practicing now but they're hoping he will get back in time. Then there's Taco Charlton and his development and the constant up-and-down status of Charles Tapper, who has yet to put it all together as well. I know they'll have four pass-rushers suiting up against the Giants, but it still seems a little premature to figure out whom they might be.
Bryan Broaddus: After a month of practices here in California, my gut feeling is that Jonathan Cooper will be the starter at left guard. My initial thought that it would have been Chaz Green but it appears that they're working him at left tackle only a few snaps at guard. To be honest, I can see why they're doing this. He looks much more comfortable playing tackle than he does guard. Green hasn't been terrible but losing that practice time didn't help him. If Green just focuses on tackle that leaves Joe Looney as the primary backup at the spot. If there is a plan behind that, it will come from Byron Bell or Emmett Cleary have lined up in both tackle and guard. I could also see them looking at that spot for a player off another roster but that's for another day.
Rob Phillips: This is a tough one, because injuries happen, and each of these guys is working diligently with the athletic training staff to get back on the field. But it's unfortunate that so many of the Cowboys' young cornerbacks and safeties have missed practice time. Third-round pick Jourdan Lewis has dealt with a pulled hamstring for most of camp. Second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie has dealt with ankle and hamstring injuries. Sixth-round pick Xavier Woods was outstanding against the Rams but has been limited by a tight hamstring this week. Some good news: fellow sixth-round pick Marquez White (hamstring) got back into practice Thursday. Now, I'm sure there's a certain level of precaution here on the Cowboys' part because you don't want to aggravate a soft-tissue injury and cost yourself several extra weeks of recovery time. But the question is fair: How will the time off affect their development as part of a retooled secondary, and in the short term, how ready will they be to contribute Sept. 10 against the Giants' vaunted passing game?
David Helman:I have no idea how Ezekiel Elliott's appeal is going to play out, but it's probably time the Cowboys start sorting out how they handle the workload without him. Scott Linehan said after the Rams game that he expected to lean on multiple people to help fill the void – but what is that going to look like? I'm not sure I love the idea of Darren McFadden taking 15-20 carries per game, and I also feel like the coaches don't trust Alfred Morris in pass protection or special teams. Rod Smith has looked great during training camp, but how large of a role does this coaching staff trust him with? And are we underselling Ronnie Hillman? Do his abilities as a third-down back give him a better chance at making the 53-man roster than we're giving him credit for? If it was up to me, I'd like to see Morris as the "starter" while Elliott is out, receiving the bulk of the carries. But I'm also more than happy to see what Smith can do behind the first-team offensive line. I'd use McFadden in the same role he had last year, taking 5-10 carries per game and being available as a receiver. Of course, none of these decisions are up to me. But I do think the Cowboys need to use these remaining preseason games to sort out the depth chart for when this suspension begins.