OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys got an earlier look than normal at their young players and new additions before breaking camp Friday afternoon in Oxnard, Calif.
This year, they had a fifth preseason matchup added to the schedule with the Hall of Fame Game, giving everyone more time to analyze the group and think about the 53-man roster. As the Cowboys get set to head to Arizona for their third preseason game before returning to Dallas to continue preseason practices, the DallasCowboys.com staff has put together its highlights from training camp.
Nick – Earlier this week, I put D-Ware as the No. 1 player in camp and I stand by that. But MVP is different than best player. Dez Bryant is the most valuable player out here because of the attitude and energy he brings. He fights and competes every snap and that's extremely infectious to the rest of the team. Oh, and he was pretty dang good too on the field.
Bryan – DeMarcus Ware has been all over the field. He is playing healthy and appears to be ready to become a dominate player in this scheme. There were some outstanding battles in camp with Tyron Smith and he won the majority of them. There were times in this camp where he just could not be blocked.
Rowan – It's got to be DeMarcus Ware. He answered every question about whether or not he could be as effective with his hand on the ground as a defensive end. The switch might make him even more dominant, as long as he stays healthy. He's created tremendous pressure on the quarterback and been a handful for Tyron Smith every day in practice. In addition, he's been able to stop the run on the way to the pass, which is what Rod Marinelli asks for in practice.
David –Sean Lee. I'm going to go with a different line of thinking on this. Lee has not been the most outstanding player in Oxnard – that'd be DeMarcus Ware. But Lee has made several important strides during this camp. He's been easily identifiable as one of the leaders and the pace-setters on this defense. He seems to have a firm grasp on Monte Kiffin's defense, which is important as he'll be the one making the calls. On top of that, he has spent no time whatsoever sidelined, which is crucial.
Best Draft Pick:
Nick – It's hard to argue Frederick, since he's the only starter. Wilcox has been pretty good, too. But I have this feeling when the preseason ends, the Cowboys will be very high on Terrance Williams. He hasn't played a preseason game yet, but there are three still to play. Other than Frederick, I predict Williams to have the most significant role among all of the rookies.
Bryan – Travis Frederick has come in and done everything this staff has asked him to do and a little more. They raved about his smarts and toughness after the draft and you can clearly see that he has all of that. He has worked well with whomever has lined up and guard and he even showed some flexibility to play the position himself. For a rookie, he didn't have many days when you questioned his ability or the selection.
Rowan – Travis Frederick has been everything the Cowboys hoped he would be, and he's the only draft pick consistently playing with the first group, so for that, he's my answer here. Frederick's presence makes the injuries at guard a little easier to deal with because of his flexibility, and he seems to provide the base in the middle the Cowboys needed. In a couple years, though, this answer could be J.J. Wilcox, who just needs more time dealing with the speed of the game.
David – J.J. Wilcox. He's shown enough understanding of the scheme to earn a second-string spot on the defense as a rookie. He's shown enough aggression and physicality to be a constant topic of conversation in Jason Garrett's press conferences. He made 13 total tackles during the two preseason games while the Cowboys were in California. Factor in a red zone interception against Oakland, and it's a pretty solid camp.
Caught My Eye…
Nick – Sticking with the theme of this category, it has to be Alex Tanney. One day at practice, he literally caught our eyes with his arm strength and accuracy. Since then, his star has faded somewhat but he's going to play a lot more in this game. I still think practice squad will be his destination.
Bryan – In my list of top ten players in this camp for DallasCowboys.com, I wrote about what I had seen from Ernie Sims and his play while the squad has been working here in Oxnard. I honestly never expected Sims to be a factor or even be in the mix when this defense was coming together but he now finds himself in a battle for a starting job at Sam linebacker. Sims has been on a mission since the opening of camp and despite missing some practice time with a groin injury, his work has been impressive and relentless.
Rowan – George Selvie's two sacks in the Hall of Fame Game immediately caught my eye, and probably the eyes of everyone watching that matchup. Selvie had just arrived to Cowboys camp and his experience in the league was evident, as he was all over the field. His presence wasn't felt as greatly a week later, but that first game vaulted him into getting starting reps at defensive end and put him on the map in a Cowboys uniform. It's possible he makes this team, and that's rare for a player arriving midway through camp.
David – Sterling Moore. The story on Moore coming into camp was if he was good enough to make the team after a promising stint in Dallas during the tail end of 2012. As the team prepares to head home, he seems like a lock for the final roster as the No. 4 cornerback. He has shown tenacity as well as technique in consistently fending off the team's best receivers. His only hiccup was the long touchdown given up during the Raiders game. But, to be fair, he had pretty good coverage on the play.
Most Significant Injury:
Nick – Anthony Spencer. While the injury isn't that severe and probably won't even cost him a game, it's opened some doors for two others. George Selvie has gotten several more snaps now and could work his way onto the team because of his opportunity. And Doug Free has looked very good at right tackle – probably because he hasn't faced Spencer on a daily basis. Free should win the job with ease now.
Bryan – It happened in the first hour of the first practice, when Tyrone Crawford went down with the season ending Achilles injury. When Crawford was carted off the field, with him went a significant piece of this defensive line's rotation. Crawford shined in his rookie season and the hope from the front office and coaches was that he could have carried his play over into this campaign. Crawford physically had himself in outstanding shape and was ready to see plenty of action but that will have to wait another season. This was a huge blow to a player that much was expected from.
Rowan – Anthony Spencer. Clearly, Tyrone Crawford's injury is much worse than Spencer's, but the loss of Crawford wouldn't hurt as bad if the team knew what they had right now in Spencer. The starting defensive end hurt his knee at the very beginning of camp and still hasn't returned to the field. In a switch for the first time to defensive end as a pro, it would be nice to know what Spencer can bring down after down. Without a day of practice and with no set date for a return, the Cowboys have to hope Spencer can come back strong and play the way he did at the end of last season at a different position.
David – Tyrone Crawford. Much is made of the problems on the offensive line, but the Cowboys got absolutely no production from Crawford, who they expected to make significant contributions this year. As a result of Crawford's injury, the Cowboys are juggling between journeymen backups.
Nick – With all of the injuries the Cowboys endured the season before, staying healthy was on everyone's mind. But on the first day of camp, just watching Tyrone Crawford slam his fist on the ground and hold the back of his ankle, we all knew what it was. Crawford had just torn his Achilles without much contact at all. He got carted off the field with his face buried in a towel and it was hard not to have the "here we go again" mentality. Fortunately for the Cowboys, the injury bug hasn't been too devastating after that.
Bryan – Watching my son interview Phillip Tanner while he was here at training camp. Bennett loves football and he loves to be around people but the reception that my Dallas Cowboys family gave him while he was here was special. I can never thank everyone enough. I will always consider that my most memorable moment not just in this camp but my life.
Rowan – Throughout the course of a season, night games on the road usually mean arrivals back home in the wee hours of the morning. We got a taste of that after the Hall of Fame Game, but it also led to one of our best radio shows of camp. The group arrived back in Oxnard around 5 a.m., and rather than wake up and do our site's respective radio shows in the morning, we decided to have a joint show of Talkin' Cowboys and Lunch Break right when we got back. Everyone was groggy, but it turned out to be one of the better shows this year and was surreal to think we'd been at the Hall of Fame earlier that evening.
David – That time I thought Sean Lee was going to kill Terrance Williams. The rookie receiver apparently held Lee, who is one of the most ferocious people I've ever seen practice, during a play, and Lee let him know what he thought about it in no uncertain terms. As if that wasn't memorable enough, DeMarco Murray followed it up by tossing the football playfully at Jason Hatcher, who gave chase. Fun times.
Nick – There are so many ways to go here but I think this team still has to figure out if they're deep enough to win. Sure, they have talented players at several spots but when, not if, but when the team suffers major injury setbacks, can they find a way to rally enough and still compete. This is a dangerous league and injuries happen to every team. We all know that. I just wonder if they're good enough from player 1 to 53 to survive at the end of the season.
Bryan – I am still not sure who is going to start at this Sam linebacker spot and whether its Justin Durant or Ernie Sims. It's not that Durant has played poorly but more so that Sims has been that good. Who comes off the bench as a backup safety is still unsolved. J.J. Wilcox seems to be one of those options but who is the other? To me, that job is open as well. It appears that Ronald Leary will start at one guard and for now Mackenzy Bernadeau will be the other but will that change when this team gets back to Dallas? In my view, that is 50-50 at best. [embedded_ad]
Rowan – It's still tough to gauge how this red zone offense will respond this year. The Cowboys only scored a touchdown half the time they got in the red zone last season, and the numbers weren't much better when they got in goal-to-go situations. The preseason game against the Raiders couldn't make anyone feel much better about the red zone woes for the first-team offense, either. It's an area the team is emphasizing during practice with mixed results, and we've yet to see if they can turn it around in a game. A better rushing attack should help that out.
David – Thanks to this latest news about Ronald Leary, it's hard to feel totally confident in the offensive line. When will Leary be ready to play again? What about Nate Livings, for that matter. And does the team intend to add another blocker, be it Brian Waters or someone else?