Skip to main content

Offseason | 2024

Spagnola: This could be a blessed time of year


FRISCO, Texas – Many times, invaluable blessings come in disguise.

Take the Dallas Cowboys. Take this week. Take this first session of OTA workouts, three of them total out here at The Star with 86 players on the roster.

At various times during these sessions, the Cowboys had anywhere from a dozen players not participating in these "voluntary" workouts. Various reasons, too. Some still rehabbing from offseason surgeries. Some with a slight pull or strain suffered during previous strength and conditioning workouts or from the day before. Some being veterans and not needing extensive work this time of year.

Guys such as Trevon Diggs, DeMarvion Overshown, John Stephens and David Durden all continuing to rehab from reconstructive knee surgeries.

Or Mazi Smith and Luke Schoonmaker, making their ways back from offseason shoulder surgeries, the tight end also dealing with hamstring issues.

Or take CeeDee Lamb, withholding services trying to gain negotiating leverage for a contract extension.

Take Micah Parsons, boxing to the beat of his own drummer, though expected to take part next week.

Or like not wanting to overwork veterans such as Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence and Eric Kendricks.


But no one really gets too bent out of shape over those not participating. Hey, it's May. Not head coach Mike McCarthy. Not those in the upper offices. Not the team leader, Dak Prescott. These workouts are pretty sanitized. No pushing. No shoving. No competing for a ball in the air. Mostly mental conditioning, knowing where you're supposed to be and what you're supposed to be doing on a particular play or defensive call.

And as if you need a primer this time of year, we always go back to former Cowboys linebacker Darren Hambrick. Back around the turn of the century, when asked about his absence from what was then termed "Quarterback School," after finally reporting to The Ranch he said, "What do voluntary mean?"

But here is the blessing with some of these more veteran guys not wearing themselves out in May:

Young guys get snaps. Valuable snaps. More snaps than they might normally get if all the starters were here.

"The goal for every offseason program has always been tailored to the young players and even more so the second-year players," McCarthy has been quick to point out. "Between now and the end of minicamp (June 4-6), our players have to have everything they are going to be asked to do in training camp because if they don't have it before they leave here, they are going to be behind.

"We want to be sure they have all the tools to be ready."

Thus, the blessings.

Let's explain. Say CeeDee was here. When the first-team offense would go 11-on-11, or even in 7-on-7, the first receivers up would be CeeDee, Brandin Cooks and a rotation at the third spot between Jalen Tolbert, Jalen Brooks and KaVontae Turpin. But now it's Cooks with Tolbert, Brooks and Turpin getting far more snaps with Dak at quarterback than they would have if Lamb were here.

And they all sure need those snaps, seeing as there is going to be a need for them to step up to replace the departed Michael Gallup as the third guy. Not only that, but one or two of those guys will have to step up if either of the top two guys suffer an injury. And between the three of those guys (Tolbert, Brooks, Turpin), they have totaled all of 43 NFL receptions, more than half of those belonging to Tolbert (22) last year in his second season.

"I think it's huge during this time of the year, right, to get these valuable reps. Especially these young guys that just came in, or guys who may have not gotten many reps last year," the 11th-year veteran Cooks said. "These are important to be able to create that time so you are not waiting until training camp. I tell them get all you can out of this time. Take it seriously.

"If you got to grab Dak out there, this time is very important from that aspect to create that type of relationship with your quarterback."

Plus, there is a trickle-down effect, youngsters such as sixth-round pick Ryan Flournoy and a Racey McMath now get upgraded snaps.

Take the tight end position. Without Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot and John Stephens out there, this is giving young guys such as rookie free agent Brevyn Spann-Ford and last year's practice squader Princeton Fant actual snaps with Dak they otherwise wouldn't be getting.

Then to the offensive line. This would be child's play for Martin. Got to save his legs for the season. So without Martin taking part in the team portions of these drills, that means T.J. Bass, a second-year player who arrived here as an undrafted free agent last year, gets first-team snaps at right guard. And with Bass getting first-team reps, now players competing for backup spots like Asim Richards and seventh-round draft choice Nate Thomas are getting second-team reps.

Go on to linebacker. Since Overshown is expected to be ready by the start of training camp to compete for a third spot beside Kendricks and Damon Clark, now third-round pick Marist Liufau is getting snaps with the first unit, and likely snaps he would not have received if Parsons were here and playing linebacker.

Or defensive line. No Mazi Smith, and he sure needs these reps and should be ready for the start of training camp, but now the likes of Chauncey Golston and seventh-round draft choice Justin Thomas are getting first-team reps at the nose tackle position. Then at defensive end, no Parsons and Wednesday no Lawrence, so now Sam Williams and second-round draft choice Marshawn Kneeland are getting first-team reps.

And finally at corner, with Diggs still rehabbing after his ACL repair, that also means working outside with DaRon Bland is Nahshon Wright, who is battling for a spot on the roster as a backup and will have his hands full with Eric Scott, Josh Butler and Caelen Carson, the fifth-round pick, all breathing down his neck.

So as you can see, in the scheme of things there is an overlooked blessing with some of these guys not participating in the OTAs, and likely not the upcoming minicamp in two weeks. And the Cowboys realize they will need huge jumps from some second- and third-year players such as Tolbert and Brooks and Turpin and Bass and Overshown and Golston and Williams and from this rookie class to create enough depth to compensate for the loss of 11 unrestricted free agents, six of those starters and several other key rotation players.

There are many years that a whole bunch of guys on the 90-man roster are merely camp guys. Not so much this year. There are plenty of real chances to make this 53-man roster and 16-man practice squad. In fact, as McCarthy has been saying, since there has been limited salary cap space to replace so many of the significant free agents lost, the biggest improvement on this 2024 Cowboys team must come from within, along with hitting on these draft picks.

This time of year is not frivolous.

"It's about getting these younger guys up to speed so we can make sure we hit training camp with everybody taking the next step. To make sure when we hit the fall, with Game One, that we're full speed," Dak said.

A definite need to be blessed by these unintentional consequences.

Related Content