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Phillips: 5 Takes From OTAs, Including A Potential Breakout Player To Watch

IRVING, Texas – Here are five observations and opinions with Cowboys OTAs in its third week, minicamp set for next week and the start of training camp inching closer:

  • The most outstanding player through two weeks of no-pads OTA workouts: Tony Romo. Sure, it's easier to evaluate quarterbacks in helmets-and-shorts settings, but he looks like himself coming off last year's collarbone injuries. Moving well, throwing well. Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson described his play best: "Throwing with a lot of velocity, a lot of accuracy."
  • Why is Kellen Moore the frontrunner to back up Romo? He showed the coaching staff he can get the ball down the field. In roughly 11 quarters of play in late December/January, Moore delivered 13 pass plays of 20 yards or more. How many did the rest of the Cowboys' 2015 quarterbacks have in the season's other 53 quarters? 27. There certainly are times when Moore's lack of height works against him and he'll get a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage, but he does have some mobility to buy an extra second in the pocket, even though he's not much of a scrambler. "He keeps plays alive. He scrambles a different way, if that makes sense," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan says. Another thing the coaches like about Moore as a backup: he can run the offense without the coaching staff having to make many tweaks.
  • Randy Gregory played only 244 defensive snaps as a rookie due in part to injuries, and now he's facing a four-game NFL suspension, but he's clearly still the most fluid pass rusher on the team. You can tell his defensive teammates see it, too, based on the encouragement they give him in drills before the snap. It's like they expect him to capture the edge. Shame he won't be eligible to play the first month of the regular season, because this D-Line needs him.
  • As a rookie, receiver Lucky Whitehead was listed at 180 pounds. By the end of the season he said he checked in at 170 pounds. Now he's up to about 183, the extra weight and strength there to help him battle through the upcoming 16-game grind. But don't worry: he doesn't believe a few extra pounds will compromise his speed. Whitehead said he also worked on improving his lower-body strength this offseason so he can better carry the extra weight.
  • Some of our faithful readers have asked us whether the team should consider trading Ronald Leary or a veteran running back such as Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris. (Stephen Jones recently told reporters that the team got trade calls about its backs during the draft but weren't interested.) I've never understood the belief that teams should simply trade away depth, especially at running back, just because they have it. Over the last 10 years, the Cowboys' starting back has played a full season only three times (DeMarco Murray in 2014, Julius Jones in 2006-07). It's a physical position that takes a cumulative toll. The Cowboys had no running back depth to speak of last year, and McFadden in particular has a well-rounded skill set to complement Ezekiel Elliott, if indeed the rookie becomes the featured back as expected.[embeddedad0]
  • OK, one more: Know how many snaps receiver Brice Butler got with Romo and Dez Bryant on the field simultaneously last season? Zero. Butler arrived in the Oakland trade the week after Bryant broke his foot, then he got hurt two weeks later against the Saints and was inactive when Romo returned against the Dolphins and Panthers. By the time Butler got healthy for the final three games, Romo was out for the season with his second collarbone injury. Butler has been working with the first-team offense opposite Terrance Williams while Bryant continues his recovery from offseason foot and ankle surgery. He has the talent to be an important part of this receiving group. It'll be interesting to see what he can do with No. 9 and No. 88 in the lineup, too. Same for all the Cowboys' receivers who missed their presence last year.
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