OXNARD, Calif. – Some more practice observations as the Cowboys move through their second week of training camp:
DQ's defense is coming together.
If trust and communication are essential to playing great defense in the NFL, the Cowboys are taking steps in the right direction. The defensive side of the practice field is full of chatter with defenders barking out alerts, audibles and adjustments at every turn. The increased communication in the secondary, in particular, has resulted in fewer blown assignments and coverage busts. In addition, the constant chatter has enabled the unit to forge a bond built on trust. With each defender operating on the same page, the defense has started to make more plays on the ball. The defense harassed Dak Prescott and Co. during team periods, as the defensive line and defensive backs took turn batting down balls and picking off passes throughout the drill.
The secondary also stymied the first- and second-team offense repeatedly in the red area with sticky coverage on an assortment of pick and rub routes from bunch and cluster formations. The defense effectively passed off receivers and running backs on spaghetti route concepts designed to confuse second-level defenders. The execution from the secondary, particularly from the young defensive backs in the rotation, bodes well for a unit that is intent on tightening up the coverage this season.
The Cowboys are experimenting with a position-less WR corps.
One of the most explosive pass-catching units in the NFL could be more difficult to defend in 2021 with Mike McCarthy and Adam Henry shuffling the deck at wide receiver. The Cowboys are not only encouraging their wide receivers to learn every position (X, Z and Slot) but they are intent on utilizing that versatility to create and exploit mismatches on the perimeter. With Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup capable of playing out-wide or in the slot, the Cowboys can make it harder for defensive coordinators to bracket or double team a designated receiver by moving receivers around on the perimeter.
In addition, the positional flexibility mandate helps younger receivers prepare for Swiss Army knife-like roles as backups. Remember, the Cowboys will only dress five or six receivers on game day, so it is imperative that backups like Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown and Simi Fehoko know every position as super subs.
In a league in which every coach is looking for a competitive edge, the Cowboys might increase their chances of winning by trotting out an interchangeable WR corps that makes their offense nearly impossible to defend.
Who is the man in the middle?
For all of the attention paid to the WR corps due to the star power of their perimeter playmakers, the biggest question mark on the offense is the tight end position. Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz are not household names but the "Y" could have a significant impact on the passing game when the season starts. Last season, Schultz seized control of position following Jarwin's injury. The Stanford product tallied 63 receptions and four touchdowns as an underrated chain mover in the passing game. As a reliable target between the hashes with crafty moves as a route runner, Schultz emerged as a valuable third down/red zone weapon and trusted playmaker at the TE1.
Jarwin returns from an ACL that prematurely ended his season in Week 1 before the Cowboys could tap into his talents as an athletic playmaker between the hashes. The fifth-year pro was expected to break out in 2020 following back-to-back seasons with 300-plus receiving yards and three touchdowns. As a polished and patient route runner with soft hands, Jarwin is the perfect underneath threat to utilize in a lineup that is bursting with star power.
That said, the Cowboys are at their best with a three-receiver lineup that features only one tight end on the field. With Schultz coming off of a strong season, Jarwin will need to show the coaches that he remains a viable option over the middle to crack the rotation and force McCarthy to expand the playbook to feature more two tight-end sets.
After watching a few practices with Schultz and Jarwin flashing solid playmaking skills between the hashes, the Cowboys should tap into each of their talents to diversify an offense that looks unstoppable on the field. With the Cowboys suddenly capable of playing "big boy" football with a pair athletic tight ends on the field, Kellen Moore should have a lot of fun designing plays for an offense with explosive potential.