OXNARD, Calif. – Training camp is coming to a close, as the Cowboys get ready to leave the West Coast and head back home.
The amount of time spent in California was a little less than last season, when the Cowboys played in the Hall of Fame game, and coaches only got one preseason game to see their players in action. But they also got to see their team face the Raiders in two practice, and along with every camp comes surprises and disappointments.
As the Cowboys get set to leave Oxnard this year and head home for their second preseason game Saturday against the Raiders, the DallasCowboys.com staff has put together its highlights from training camp.
Bryan: Dez Bryant – There is a reason why he is the best player on this squad. He brings it practice after practice, down after down. Becoming a more complete player in all areas.
Rowan: Dez Bryant – There's not a player who makes more mesmerizing plays than Bryant, and as long as he's a Cowboy, he'll probably always be a camp MVP. The only other contender for this list is Tyron Smith, and no one in a Cowboys uniform has gotten past him, but Bryant's been the best player.
David: Orlando Scandrick – I'm not saying Scandrick was the best player at this camp, but he might be the most valuable. He was outstanding for a defense that is sorely lacking in outstanding players, and there's little doubt his loss for the first month of the season is going to be a huge detriment to this secondary. I think Scandrick is good enough to start on most of the defenses in this league, which is more than you can say about most of the guys on this defense.
Nick: Dez Bryant – No reason to really waste more words on this. He's not only the most talented player but he's also the guy who makes practice so competitive. It all starts with Dez's passion and trickles down from there. Dez has probably won this distinction every year he's been here.
Bryan: Anthony Hitchens – He's shown up at camp and fit right in there scheme wise. There were some question where he was going to line up and play but no matter where they have played him, he has been productive. Believe he will help this team more than just lining up on special teams each week.
Rowan: Terrance Mitchell – Mitchell didn't look like a seventh-round pick. One could make the argument he looked like the best draft pick other than Zack Martin. He's extremely physical – sometimes too much – but he appears to possess the traits to develop into a valuable piece in the secondary.
David: Terrance Mitchell – I guess this is unoriginal, since Mitchell has been the talk of training camp, but he deserves it. He was the last of five seventh-round draft picks, and he was unavailable to practice during the spring. When you keep all that in mind, it's impressive to see what he's been able to do – going toe-to-toe with Dez Bryant, recovering a fumble in a preseason game, etc. I expected Zack Martin to play well, so I have to go with Mitchell.
Nick: Davon Coleman - There are some good choices here but draft picks having success doesn't surprise me. The fact that an undrafted rookie like Coleman was starting the preseason opener in the middle is reason enough to think he'll probably make this team.
Caught My Eye…
Photos from the Cowboys last final practice in Oxnard.
Bryan: Ronald Patrick – There are times where you bring in rookie offensive linemen and they appear to be so out of place because there is a physical trait that is holding them back, but not in this case with Patrick. He has been stable and continues to play on a level where if you had that last spot on the offensive line I would consider him for the future.
Rowan: Davon Coleman – The defensive tackle made some noise, and they could really use a difference maker on the interior of the line. The undrafted tackle from Arizona State did enough to start in the preseason opener, although that may have exposed some weaknesses. He just needs to turn flash into consistency, because he's got some explosion off the snap.
David: Dustin Vaughan – I had the lowest of low expectations for Vaughan after a forgettable stint in the spring. In all honesty, his work in training camp practices hasn't been anything amazing, either. That said, the 13-play, 58-yard drive Vaughan led the third-stringers on in San Diego was impressive – even if it didn't end with points.
Nick: Chris Boyd – It's hard for a 6-4, 210-pound receiver not to catch your eye. He hasn't been the most consistent player and he could've helped himself in the Chargers game a little more. But he's made a few plays, coupled with his size that might make him tough to part ways with.
Most Significant Injury:
Bryan: DeMarcus Lawrence:This squad is struggling to find a player that can provide a pass rush from the right side. Lawrence was going to be that guy.
Rowan: It's hard to conjure up an answer other than Lawrence, but considering it might have taken a year before he reached his potential, I think the nagging injuries to Morris Claiborne are the most significant. He's being counted on to make the leap in year three, and after a physical start to camp, the 24-year-old is already dealing with nagging knee tendinitis and another shoulder issue.
David: DeMarcus Lawrence: I would put Sean Lee here, because that still remains the most significant thing that has happened to this team since OTAs began. But since that didn't happen in Oxnard, it's got to be Lawrence. It looks like the rookie will be unavailable for a good chunk of the early season, and that's undoubtedly going to hamper his productivity when he does get back. On a line with this few playmakers, they need everyone they can get.
Nick: Right now, the most significant injury for the defense comes from Anthony Spencer, who might not be ready for the opener. His availability is even more of an issue now with Lawrence out the first two months. If Spencer somehow can return to his old self, that might be the jolt this defense needs with the pass rush.
Bryan: The catch by Dez Bryant over the top of Morris Claiborne on a vertical "9" route up the left sideline in practice. There were questions about Romo and his ability to throw the deep ball and he just cut this one loose. Claiborne was in outstanding position underneath him but Bryant just elevated for the ball and snatched it at its highest point. His extension was just incredible on that play.
Rowan: There were a few scuffles to pick from, but the fight that ensued after J.J. Wilcox put a hit on Dez Bryant will be something I remember vividly from this camp. The defense had been heavily criticized, and Wilcox demonstrated he wasn't going to back down – even against the most talented player on the team.
David: I'm guessing several of my coworkers are going to mention the brawl between the Cowboys and Raiders, and that definitely deserves recognition. But how about the very first day of padded practice, when Morris Claiborne and Terrance Williams got after each other and nearly came to blows on the very first day. That stands out to me as Claiborne signaling to his teammates that he plans to be aggressive this season. When he's managed to stay on the field, that has been the case throughout training camp.
Nick: Fine, I'll take it if no one else will. The fight with the Raiders on the sideline when a fan swung his helmet at B.W. Webb's head, causing him to jab into the stands. That doesn't happen every day. We were wondering how the Raiders and Cowboys fans would act at practice, and then they became involved in the action right off the bat. It was certainly memorable.
Bryan: How this front seven on defense is going to line up and play? We have yet to see the projected starters for this group line up and take any snaps together because of health issues. On the positive side, there have been several young players that have been getting an opportunity to take snaps but those players at this point in their careers are here to provide depth and be part of the rotation, not start games. [embedded_ad]
Rowan: Where the pass rush is going to come from. It's disconcerting that's still as unsolved as it is, considering how big a concern it was coming into camp. Injuries during camp didn't help. If the Cowboys don't have a couple players step up in a big way on the defensive line and in the pass rushing department, it could be a repeat of last year's struggles defensively.
David: I still have a lot of questions about the pass rush, but I think that rotation is relatively settled with the players that are available. I get the impression there's still a good bit to be decided among the linebackers. Is Rolando McClain good enough to start? If he does, where does that move Justin Durant? Has Bruce Carter proven enough to remain a starter? It feels like a lot is still up in the air in the middle of the defense.
Nick – Nothing at all. This team is ready for the 49ers. Bring them on! Ok scratch that, they've got a few things to solve and mostly on defense. We don't know who's going to scare opposing quarterbacks on third-and-11 off the edge. I'm not saying DeMarcus Lawrence would've solved all pass-rushing issues, but his injury only makes it worse.