IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys return from the holiday weekend on Tuesday, and they immediately begin the work of Organized Team Activities – or OTAs.
Tuesday marks the beginning of 12 days' worth of spring practices – nine total days of OTAs, followed by a mandatory three-day minicamp. With the team set to start its first work of 2015, I wanted to preview the things I'll be watching for on the field.
Today, I'll be breaking down the Cowboys' offense, with a look at the defense coming on Tuesday:
QB: The biggest question is what do they have in Dustin Vaughan? My expectation is that this front office and coaching staff are going to work to find out. The only other quarterback that was added to the roster was undrafted free agent Jameill Showers – so it will be up to Vaughan to see if he is once again backing up Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden, or if he can find a role behind just Romo. Look for Vaughan to get plenty of opportunities not only in these OTA practices but in training camp. The goal is to work on cleaning up his mechanics and becoming more confident as a leader.
WR: Devin Street is going into his second season and the coaching staff hopes that there will be a significant jump that would allow him to compete for more of a role in the offense. I don't see Street taking snaps from Cole Beasley and his role, but could he push Terrance Williams to the point where Williams is no longer the guy looked as the opposite of Dez Bryant? Hopefully for Street, he can use these practices to set himself up in Oxnard to really give Williams a battle. Depending on whom you talk to in the organization, there is a thought that Street is talented enough to take that job.
RB/FB: When practices are open to the media on Wednesday, I believe that you will see Joseph Randle running with the first offense while Darren McFadden, Ryan Williams and Lance Dunbar will serve as the main backups. Randle will get the nod over McFadden for the simple reason that he was the backup to DeMarco Murray last season. McFadden appears to be motivated to take this job, and with the target on Randle's back, I am wondering if he in fact can hold McFadden off for the job? If you asked me who I felt was the most complete back for the job, I would say that it is McFadden. Randle is talented for the scheme but the question will always be is if he mature enough to not let the pressure of trying to win the job affect how he performs. We will be able to see how serious he really is about the job and responsibility now that DeMarco Murray is no longer in the picture.
TE: I am going to be interested to see, when it comes to Geoff Swaim and Ray Hamilton, who is the better player. Swaim appears to be the better in regard to that up-the-field player that flashes the hands. Hamilton can get up the field as well, but he is not the athlete that Swaim is. Where Hamilton has the advantage is that I feel like he is a better point of attack blocker. Keep an eye on if either of these players have the type of practices where they could push Gavin Escobar for his spot if the front office and coaches decide to only keep three on the active roster.
OT: With Doug Free still rehabbing his injured foot, look for Darrion Weems to get those snaps with the first unit. Weems has been with the Cowboys since 2012, and there was a point early in his career where I believed that he had a real shot to be a nice piece along this offensive line -- but he really hasn't lived up to those expectations. There always seems to be something that holds him back and that is disappointing. He has the size and athletic ability, but he has average strength in his overall game. I have some questions about his will to compete and his toughness, as well. He doesn't have the nastiness for the position that you see in guys like Tyron Smith and Doug Free. How he starts out in these OTA practices will tell me what the future could hold.
OG/C: I have said this a great deal already, but Ronald Leary is not going to give up his job to La'el Collins without a fight -- if that is the case. I am curious to see if the coaches try Collins out at right tackle to start with until Free comes back from that injury. Collins could battle Weems early in these practices and then when Free returns, he could move back inside. It has been my understanding that when the rookies have worked with the veterans in these teaching sessions, that Collins has been taking snaps at both spots. This time last season, Mackenzy Bernadeau was working extensively at guard, but he will see all of his snaps this summer at center.