IRVING, Texas – As my computer will be the last item of my office to pack before heading to Oxnard, Calif., this afternoon, I thought I'd provide five quick thoughts for the road.
- There are a lot of moving parts with this offensive line and who will shake out as the final five. There will be days that you will hear us report on DallasCowboys.com that this player had a great day and that player not so much. What this will come down to is who is the most consistent practice after practice and game after game. I fully expect after the Arizona game that they will have this line set, barring any injuries. Guys like Ronald Leary, Phil Costa and Jermey Parnell are battling for starting spots. Kevin Kowalski is trying to fight his way into this group and will most likely have to beat out David Arkin for that final spot. Not much has been said about Darrion Weems, who was added late last season at the tackle spot as a backup. His preseason work with the Patriots in 2012 is what got him a job, so keep an eye on him. Also be alert to how early Travis Frederick gets work at guard. This could tell you what the coaches are thinking about the offensive line going forward.
- Going into this camp, the coaches and front office don't seem overly concerned about the depth at defensive tackle like I do. I'm really interested to check the rotation that they use on Sunday and throughout camp. I can understand why they like Jason Hatcher because of his ability to get up the field, but behind him with Sean Lissemore and Nick Hayden, I am wondering if they are playing with some fire here. There is a possibility of Jay Ratliff playing some there at the one or the nose tackle, like they call it. You could also see Ben Bass slide over to get some work as well. There might be some practices where you see Tyrone Crawford even take a rep or two there, because it is something that he had done last season in the nickel. This was an area that the front office and the coaches passed on when working on this previous draft, so let's see how it actually plays out.
- I am looking forward to seeing rookie running back Joseph Randle get his first work as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. His college work showed promise and the front office, from early thoughts, feel like they might have gotten a steal from where they took him. What is going to be key for Randle is how quickly can he pick up the mental side of the game. Coaches are scared to death to play players that don't understand what they are doing, no matter how talented they are. Blitz protection in the NFL is totally different from what he experienced at Oklahoma State. The physical side of the game will be different for him as well, but all indications are that the thumb is fine and he should not be handicapped. I wrote earlier in the spring in my "Bold Predictions" that I felt like Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar would be the featured backs behind DeMarco Murray, and I still believe that. Where Randle has an advantage is that he does have some nice ability as a one-cut runner to and through the hole, and his hands as a receiver are outstanding. These traits are going to have to carry him until he can learn his responsibilities and techniques from Gary Brown. No question that talent level is there.
- From my point of view, one of the strengths of this team is at linebacker with Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Justin Durant, but who plays behind these guys is really what has my attention. Alex Albright is coming off a season where he was productive on special teams, but also when put in the mix on defense did a nice job as well. The excitement level for me will come from these rookies that I all feel like have a great shot to contribute. DeVonte Holloman, Brandon Magee and Taylor Reed showed some nice things during the OTAs and minicamps. When studying these kids pre-draft, I couldn't get over how much they were all around the ball. Magee and Reed might not have great height, but they were more than physical when it came to taking on blocks and finishing tackles. They played with explosiveness and power. Holloman, who was a former strong safety, actually played better in coverage during the camps which surprised me because at South Carolina, the coaches took him off the field when they went to their nickel packages. Holloman actually looked comfortable when the Cowboys coaches put him in the role of the Mike linebacker in the nickel. The awareness and movement showed well. These linebackers will get plenty of opportunities to shine in practice and during the games. Like Albright, they will also be called on to play on all special teams. Keep a real close eye on Brandon Magee, whom the scouts had a third-round grade on this past draft. I have a strong feeling that he will get your attention.
- We all understand the importance of the quarterback position and how it can make or break the success of a franchise. Where quarterback play is also important is during the preseason and how you evaluate your roster. With the way the roster currently sits at quarterback, Nick Stephens is the third guy, but that will change during camp. Alex Tanney and Kyle Padron worked out this week and would be the odds-on favorite to take that fourth spot for camp. My gut feeling is that Tanney will be the guy, but we will soon see if that is the case. Again, I can't stress the importance of these quarterbacks in camp and how they have an effect on the evaluation of the other players. Camp is all about executing plays correctly, but it is also about building your 53-man roster. Stephens and Tanney or Padron aren't going to get a great deal of work in the team periods, but they have to be mentally sharp and ready to go once these games start. It's not the most ideal situation for them but much like Tony Romo did several years ago, it was those games that gave the front office and coaches the confidence that he was worth hanging on to.