IRVING, Texas– Minicamp dawns bright and early on Tuesday morning, and with it we'll see three-straight days of Cowboys practices before the summer it begins.
This is our last opportunity to watch the Cowboys in action before the team departs for training camp on July 28. With that in mind, I wanted to preview what all I'll be looking for during these last three practices of the offseason.
Quarterbacks: Will we continue to see Tony Romo take the majority of the snaps at practice or will these next three practices be about Brandon Weeden and Dustin Vaughan getting the reps? After three weeks of work, I am betting that the coaches allow Romo to start his vacation a little early. Vaughan especially needs the work.
Running Backs: Is this Joseph Randle's job to lose? Darren McFadden hasn't been the competition for Randle in these practices that I thought he might. McFadden has been banged up a little which has allowed Randle to take the majority of the snaps. Lance Dunbar and Tyler Clutts have taken more snaps than McFadden at running back.
Wide Receivers: Where has George Farmer been? After the draft all we heard about was how much of signing bonus that rookie received to sign. As the other young receivers have been on the field working, Farmer has spent more time watching than practicing. It might be only a minicamp, but this is an important three days for him in my opinion to see where he fits in this group.
Tight Ends: More Gavin Escobar in the running game? There were several snaps last week where these offensive coaches set the formation where Escobar was the lead blocker as the inline "Y" at the point of attack. These are usually formations where we see Jason Witten or James Hanna in that role. Escobar doesn't play with the leverage of either Witten or Hanna due to his height, but it is interesting to see the coaches feel that he could handle that role.
Offensive Line: How good has Tyron Smith been? There is not a player at any position in these practices that has faced better competition down after down than Tyron Smith. His snaps are usually against Jeremy Mincey, Greg Hardy or Randy Gregory, which means he has seen three different styles. He has handled the power of Mincey, the moves of Hardy and the quickness of Gregory with surprising ease.
Defensive Line: More to the point – Ben Gardner or Jack Crawford? I have to admit I really wasn't sure what this club had with Ben Gardner and I was impressed with Crawford in the opportunities he had to play in 2014. Both players have been asked to play at different spots during these practices. Gardner took a few snaps on the right side at end and was productive. Crawford has played both at end and tackle and like Gardner showed up well. If you asked me to choose one over the other, Gardner would be my backup behind DeMarcus Lawrence.
Linebackers: Who is Rolando McClain's current backup? Jasper Brinkley has been getting of plenty of work at middle linebacker, but if this team had to play a game right now, I believe that Anthony Hitchens would be the starter there. When McClain returns to the lineup, it is most likely that we will see Hitchens as the starter on the strong side, while Sean Lee plays on the weak side. The coaches will tell you that Hitchens can play any of the linebacker spots, but his two best positions are the Mike and Will -- but he is too talented to keep him off the field. I expect that in these three practices with no McClain that we will see Hitchens running with the first team, starting on Tuesday.
Defensive Backs: Is there a corner on the way back? The trainers have worked Sean Lee back into the practices slowly to the point where we are seeing him in more defensive team work. I might be totally off base here, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see Morris Claiborne doing more work than just individual period. Claiborne has looked comfortable with his knee and how it physically feels. Claiborne has shown grit in the way that he battled back in his attempt to be ready for training camp and getting some snaps before training camp could go a long way in helping his confidence.