FRISCO, Texas – We knew when we headed to training camp back on July 25 that this was going to be a young Dallas Cowboys team.
But this young?
Now look, there still are some moves to be made. There still is room for two more guys on the practice squad. There still is some wiggle room on the 53-man roster. And find it hard to believe the Cowboys will head toward the Sept. 11 season opener with just eight offensive linemen on the 53, especially when six of those guys have played no more than two years in the NFL, and of those six, three of those youngin's are considered starters.
But having said all that, check out just how young this Cowboys teams really is:
Of the 53 guys on the roster – along with their one guy (Damone Clark) on NFI, so that's 54 – 30 of these players are entering no more than their third season in the league. Now 13 of those are raw rookies, maybe a Baker's Dozen. And get this: Of those 30 players, 20 of them represent all 20 players drafted over the past two years.
Talk about head coach Mike McCarthy's mantra of "draft and develop." Why, the Cowboys are taking that to a whole new level since they likely come that Sunday night opener with 10 of those 30 starting against Tampa Bay.
"What I like about it is the potential growth that is in front of us," McCarthy says.
Might need a double shot of root starter out there.
- Line Moves: McCarthy didn't want to divulge his opening night starting lineup, but sure looks and sounds and smells as if first-round draft choice Tyler Smith will replace Tyron Smith at left tackle. If healthy, and the rookie was out at practice on Wednesday, that's what the Cowboys should do. That's their best, most suitable and prepared choice. And owner Jerry Jones agrees with this assessment, for when asked if Tyler will be the starting left tackle against the Buccaneers, he said on his 105.3 The Fan radio segment, "I think that's safe to say."
- Short Line: No way the Cowboys will start this season with only eight offensive linemen on the 53. And no way, assuming Tyler Smith is the starting left tackle, that they will go into the Tampa Bay game without adding an experienced offensive tackle, if for nothing else than the swing tackle who also could serve as an extra big blocking tight end in a heavy formation. And when challenged with that notion of needing an experienced tackle, McCarthy quipped, "Stay tuned." So, you too, stay tuned. And maybe not for long since the Cowboys have a planned visit coming up with 40-year-old Jason Peters, a 17-year veteran who last season started 15 games for the Bears after playing the previous 11 seasons with the Eagles. Need to see what sort of shape he'd be in and how badly he'd like to play, and if signing, probably be to the practice squad to start. After that, the list of available but experienced tackles is mighty short: 34-year-old Nate Solder, 31-year-old Eric Fisher and 27-year-old Julie'n Davenport, along with Peters.
- Sweet 14: The Cowboys still have two open spots on the 16-man practice squad, but no matter how much they were sweating these cuts, not wanting to lose several of the players they waived to reach 53, they did not lose one of them. All the players the Cowboys waived cleared waivers, and the 14 players they did sign to the practice squad were all their own. "We loved our players," McCarthy said. You don't say. This means if the Cowboys decided to add any players to the 53 in the coming days then they would have two available practice squad spots for the players they would have to release.
- For The Record: Just so we understand the machinations of the practice squad, teams can have as many as six vested veterans on the 16-man squad. The Cowboys currently have five. Teams can elevate two per week, providing they have eight offensive linemen as part of the original 46, and those two players each can be elevated three times. So, for now, count on backup quarterback Cooper Rush being elevated off the practice squad three times until there is room for him on the 53-man roster, along with kicker Brett Maher. The Cowboys are just trying to buy time for either a roster spot opening, possibly because of injury, or possibly trading a position player to open that necessary spot. They do have 11 defensive linemen on the roster and seven wide receivers, which includes Michael Gallup, unlikely to be ready to play in at least the first two to three games of the season. But, as I've been pointing out, there is no restriction on when he can begin practicing.
- Dak's Team: If you didn't realize this, or needed reassurance that Dak Prescott is the absolute leader of this team, take note of what took place here Thursday night at the Cowboys' 2022 Season Kickoff shindig during the Tom Landy Legends Award presentation. Out comes Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach to present the award to Everson Walls, and who knows how many of the guys still on this 80-man roster were aware of what Roger did for the Cowboys franchise. After all, Roger last played in the 1979 season. Some of these guys' parents might not have been even born yet. But as those in the audience began applauding Dak rose to applaud. And slowly but surely, the rest of the Cowboys rose, too, to the occasion, following QB1's lead.
- Remembering Ernie: Here we go again, yet another member of this expansive Cowboys family has passed away over the calendar year, this time former offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese (1994-97) at age 86, one of those one-of-a-kinds. Ernie was always a straight shooter, brutally honest, and a helluva offensive mind. Remember one day asking him about becoming a head coach. After all, he had been an NFL assistant for 18 years before coming to the Cowboys. He had calls. Could have had interviews. But Ernie told me he just wanted to coach ball. Didn't want to deal with all that other stuff that goes with being a head coach. Like press conferences. Also remember this forever, that day after the Cowboys lost the fifth of the final five straight to conclude the 1997 season, telling me unprovoked, "We're all out of here." He was right. Head coach Barry Switzer and the majority of his staff were gone, Jerry bringing in Chan Gailey as the next head coach.
- No Taco Tuesday: For the fourth time in a four-year period, former Cowboys first-round pick Taco Charlton has been released. The cuts started in 2019 when the Cowboys gave up on their 2017 first rounder, releasing him two games into the season. On to Miami. Then on to Kansas City, Pittsburgh and most recently the Saints, having signed him in April of this year and cutting him on Tuesday. In his five NFL seasons, Charlton, thought to be a pass-rushing defensive end, has recorded 11.5 sacks, five of those in the 10 games with Miami in 2019.
- Shorties: That the Cowboys placed fifth-round draft choice Damone Clark on NFI following offseason vertebrae-fusion neck surgery and knowing he at least must miss the first four games of the season, they are hoping he'll at least be able to practice with the team once designated for return, a period that can be stretched out for five weeks … Only two rookie players ever have totaled more than Micah Parsons' 13 sacks last season, Jevon Kearse (14.5) and Aldon Smith (14), while tying Reggie White and Dwight Freeney, pretty high company there … This also means no rookie has totaled as many as Parsons 13 sacks since 2011 and the only two reaching double digits during that time period are Bradly Chubb with 12 in 2018 and Von Miller with 11.5 in 2011.
Let's give Cowboys owner Jerry Jones this week's last words, first when talking about defensive end Sam Williams, the Cowboys' second-round draft choice who has been impressive this preseason.
"I really like what Sam Williams has shown," Jones said on The Fan. "I think he's got (DeMarcus) Lawrence type tenacity, and he's got the skill and speed to run across that field to cover a lot of ground."
This as well on the safety position: "We've never been in better shape," with deference to Darren Woodson.
And a last one, talking about the interior of the defensive line, knowing they have 330-pound Quinton Bohanna, Neville Gallimore at 315 and have added 320-pound John Ridgeway: "When you look at where we are inside, we're beefed up, and that's what we wanted."
Good place to know where the beef is.