OXNARD, Calif. – Here are some talking points as we watch another padded practice here from training camp.
While we have some questions to answer, some things are becoming rather clear.
CeeDee Lamb is special
It is easy to fall in love with players you watch daily, particularly when they have a knack for spectacular playmaking. But my affinity for Lamb extends beyond his highlight-reel catches and his pizzazz as a playmaker.
The second-year pro is a rare find as a five-star talent with an Alpha dog mentality and a detailed approach. He can win with finesse or power as a superior athlete while flashing a mastery of route running that separates him from other young pass-catchers. Lamb's impeccable timing, balance, and body control enable him to create separation utilizing various stems, hesitations, and hard cuts throughout his routes. With few defenders capable of matching his stop-start quickness at the break-point, No.88 is routinely open against one-on-one coverage on the perimeter.
As Lamb expands his role from the team's primary slot receiver to multi-dimensional playmaker aligning all over the field, the Cowboys could see the super sophomore challenge Amari Cooper for the No.1 spot in the passing game pecking order.
Who is Dak's backup?
As No.4 sits on the sideline resting his right arm, all eyes are on Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush. The young veterans are engaged in the most important position battle on the roster as they vie for the QB2 spot behind Prescott.
Last season, the Cowboys secured a valuable high-priced insurance policy in Andy Dalton to serve as the backup quarterback. The long-time starter and former Pro Bowler not only brought experience and wisdom to the QB room but he could still function at a high level as a spot starter. The proof was in the pudding when Dalton posted respectable numbers (64.8% completion rate, 2,170 pass yards, 14-8 TD-INT ratio, and 87.3 passer rating) with a 5-5 won-loss record in games in which he appeared in a prominent role.
Gilbert and Rush are quite the opposite as unknown commodities with a combined 47 career pass attempts between them. Neither has scratched the win column as a starter, and their inexperience has shown up throughout the camp. The defense has blanketed the passing game over the past two days (since Prescott's injury) and the lack of production has put the young field generals on the hot seat.
To be fair, it is too early to make determinations based on practice performance. The scripted periods and familiarity of defense make it nearly impossible to anticipate how each would fare under fire but interceptions, deflection and hesitant pump fakes that we have seen in various team drills certainly lead to more questions than answers when evaluating the group.
While I am leaning towards Gilbert as the favorite to win the job after watching a few practices, I would pause before scribbling his name in as the QB2. He needs to show more consistency and urgency when the preseason opens in a week. Despite the memory of a solid regular-season debut from last season lingering in the minds of evaluators, the SMU product needs to show the football world that his performance was not a fluke.
Rush needs to earn the trust of a coaching staff that moves on from him shortly after signing Dalton during the 2020 offseason. The 27-year old passer has intriguing physical tools but needs more polish as a player. Perhaps Rush will display a refined game in live-action but he needs to step it up over the next few days to inspire confidence in his ability to handle the job.
With Prescott sitting out to rest a sore arm, the Cowboys have a chance to settle the QB2 debate or make a last-minute move to sign a veteran with more experience.
Practice makes perfect
It is not a coincidence that the Cowboys' defense has taken the ball away at an alarming rate in training camp. The unit catches more balls in drills than some offenses around the league. From warm-ups to individual drills to their post-practice routine with the Jugs machine, the linebackers and defensive backs are acting like two-way players catching balls at every turn.
The hard work is paying off with the defense producing more interceptions in practice than observers are accustomed to seeing from the Cowboys. The picks are coming in bunches with defenders snagging balls on tips, overthrows, and timely breaks. Defenders are catching the ball with confidence after honing their skills in drills every day. Considering the impact turnovers have on the outcome of games, the Cowboys' scripted catching sessions could lead to more Ws in the win column this season.