FRISCO, Texas - So, have watched two minicamp practices this week and last week's OTA practice since we talked, creating a ton of thoughts on this Cowboys 2023 offseason.
And it's nearly over with too. One more workout on Thursday. The rookies, as usual, will hang for a while longer. Then that's it until the charter takes off for training camp on July 24.
The good thing about these powderpuff OTA and minicamp practices is that the Cowboys didn't suffer many, if any soft-tissue issues usually associated with the "non-contact" offseason practices.
Oh, CeeDee Lamb threw out a scare in the next to last practice period Wednesday when the fourth-year receiver made a twisting, one-handed grab during the 7-on-7 drills but landed awkwardly and favored his left leg as he walked out of the drill and then away from Cowboys trainer Jim Maurer, who eventually tracked him down. Didn't seem too serious and the good thing is July 24 is some six weeks away.
By the way, aside from settling on a kicker, the Cowboys don't appear to have many holes of concern on this team, so let's take a few shotsopening up the notebook.
· Just For Kicks: The lengthy tryout for kicker Tristan Vizcaino continues, and you know he's been pretty consistent over these past couple of days during the kicking sessions. Tuesday Vizcaino went eight for eight on field goal attempts between 33 and 55 yards, with the only near miss bouncing in off the right upright from 43 yards out. He also hit from 47 on a simulated last-second "fire drill," special teams coach John Fassel sprinting out of the huddle to place the ball down at the 39-yard line with the unit rushing to the line. Then Wednesday, Vizcaino went seven for nine, missing from 43 and 52 but knocking in a good one from 52. That means over the last two days making 15 of 17 field goal from the assorted distances and two of three from 50-plus yards. Oh, and just maybe Brett Maher is not a potential answer after all. You remember he had that workout with Denver two weeks ago during a three-man competition, and evidently did not impress nor outkick Elliott Fry, who the Broncos signed instead, knowing the former South Carolina kicker has all of three games and six field goal attempts of NFL experience. And to think, Maher kicked for now Broncos head coach Sean Peyton back in 2021 with the Saints.
· Wide Load: There has been the perception the Cowboys now have two hefty nose tackles after drafting Mazi Smith in the first round to also join the re-signed Johnathan Hankins. Well, during Wednesday's sort of walk-through 11-on-11 session, there were Hankins and Smith in the middle of the defensive front at the same time, with the rookie playing the 3-technique. That's 645 pounds of beef in the middle, with Hankins listed at a very conservative 320. "We've got some big guys," Hankins said with a smile. "When he got drafted, I went back and watched his film. He's strong and fast. If you can play the shade, you can play the three." Maybe that will give those Eagles something to consider trying to run that push-and-shove quarterback sneak on third-and-1 with Jalen Hurts so many times. Oh, and on one nickel down, there was Mazi rushing the QB from defensive tackle.
· Beep Beep: Dang, Brandin Cooks still has that cartoonish Wile E. Coyote roadrunner speed, and not shy about pointing out heading into his 11th NFL season and turning 30 in September, "It's still there." I'll say. Not sure how Dak Prescott managed to overthrow Cooks on what the receiver says was the first "go route" they ran in practice this offseason, but on the second one of the day, Cooks bolt-of-lightning speed tracked it down. And from Dak's perspective, he knows defenses were ganging up on CeeDee last year, though despite that he still caught 107 passes for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns, but now says, "They can't play him that way with a healthy Michael Gallup and the speed of Cooks." Was a thing of beauty to see on one play with CeeDee motioning over to where Cooks was lined up wide to the right, causing the defense to only double one of them.
· Credit Due: Dak sure has a lot of QB coaching and playing experience on this staff once again, with Mike McCarthy now running the offense and calling plays, Brian Schottenheimer the offensive coordinator and Scott Tolzien the new quarterbacks coach. But Prescott had this to say when asked how much it helped him his rookie year to have a former NFL quarterback (Jason Garrett) as his head coach. "Not only him," Dak began before rattling off, "but, what I mean, (Scott) Linehan was in there, Wade Wilson was in there, you know what I mean, as well as having honestly Tony (Romo), Mark (Sanchez) and Kellen (Moore), three guys who had all played. I was blessed to have a room full of guys who had a lot of experience who were able to tell me a lot of things I needed to know … and I know all of those guys served a huge deal in my success."
· Look At Me Now: Boy, former Cowboys left guard Connor Williams has come a long way from those early days when he was being accused of not being strong enough. Well, after a fine 2021 season with the Cowboys at left guard, the former 2018 second-round draft choice turned that into an unrestricted free agent two-year, $14 million contract with Miami that the Cowboys couldn't match, the Dolphins converting him into their starting center last year. Why, Williams actually played 100 percent of the offensive snaps at center, and here he is, with only $2 million of his 2023 $6.5 million base salary guaranteed, actually holding out from the offseason workouts, angling for a new deal.
· Line Moves: Much is being made of Tyron Smith working at right tackle in the absence of the rehabbing Terence Steele, then moving to left tackle during the first minicamp practice Tuesday, thus pushing last year's first-round pick Tyler Smith back to left guard where he started training camp last year. But there is much more movement going on out there, some caused by Zack Martin being held out of these practices with what he called "a soft tissue issue." With Tyron being held out of Wednesday's minicamp practice, veteran free-agent signee Chuma Edoga lined up at left tackle instead of previously guard, with Tyler Smith moving over to left guard with the first team offense. And that followed an assortment of other first team combinations, including last year's fifth-round pick Matt Waletzko lining up at right and left tackle, 2021 fourth-round pick Josh Ball at right guard and tackle, and then recent undrafted free agent this year T.J. Bass getting snaps at both guard positions.
· Mini-Shots: The Cowboys had seven players in for workouts on Monday, one of those veteran wide receiver N'Keal Harry, a 2019 first-round pick of the Patriots, reminding me he was the guy who caught Tom Brady's touchdown pass in that driving rainstorm of a game in 2019 at Gillette Stadium to beat the Cowboys, 13-9, the rookie's first NFL touchdown after spending the first nine weeks on IR and inactive … The Cowboys continue to work former second-round draft choice Kelvin Joseph in the slot on the second-team nickel defense after struggling to earn snaps as an outside cornerback, causing head coach Mike McCarthy to remark, "I think this is the best stretch for Kelvin since he's been here. It's the opportunity he's had at nickel. You can see his heightened awareness. There's nothing he can't do physically, but I think the understanding of going in and playing nickel, and what I like is I think it has made him better outside." … And keep an eye on linebacker Jabril Cox once we get to training camp, the 2021 fourth-round draft choice, off to a slow start following torn ACL surgery his rookie year, looks like he's finally getting his legs underneath him. During Tuesday's 7-on-7 drill, Cox broke up passes down the field on consecutive plays.
This week's last word is born out of an unlikely close encounter to the mutual surprise of both of us, bumping into Ezekiel Elliott coming into The Star on Friday as I was leaving on the day his $10.9 million 2023 base salary returned to the Cowboys' salary cap after they had made their seven-year running back a June 1 release for cap reasons back in March. Thus, obviously raising my reporter antennae and causing Zeke to laugh after telling him we had just talked on our Mick Shots podcast about the Cowboys re-signing signing him if he wasn't getting any better offers.
He said he really had nothing going on and that, "We'll see." At least didn't say no to the proposition of returning. Was told later he wasn't heading to the front office, probably the Cowboys Club.
But what made this encounter even more interesting was on Monday when owner Jerry Jones was being interviewed, he unsolicited broached Zeke's name when talking about any continued free agent interest. Take it away, Jerry.
"This is an active free agent market out there I want to keep a close eye on," Jerry began. "I never shut the door, never relatively to the potential to smartly add to our team for this year – I emphasize, that for this year. Mainly 99 percent of my thinking is this year. You've got to think about the impact on other years when you make these decisions.
"You name it, whether it be Zeke, whether it be with the guys we worked out today, we're always looking to add depth, not just for training camp but to the 53."
Whoa there, Jerry. Zeke? Zeke still on your mind?
"It's no secret Zeke is evaluating what his opportunities are, and we're evaluating what we're doing as well," Jerry said.
Hmmm, maybe not so much. I mean, Zeke hasn't forgotten where The Star is. And Jerry hasn't forgotten Zeke's name.