The Dallas Cowboys begin OTAs on Tuesday. They will have nine days of those, then end things up with the minicamp. This is all we will see of the team before the long, dry spell leading up to training camp. The work will be very limited and will at best just give us some tantalizing hints of what is to come for the team this year. Still, there are some things to watch for. And for the next few months, it is all we have to work with while we anticipate the coming season. Here are four things that are very interesting.
Actually, this is a bit of a two-fer. First, word is that Tony Romo is expected to be a full participant, which may or may not also include the pre-programmed rest days that have become part of his routine for camp and the regular season. Every throw he makes is going to be scrutinized as he returns from surgery on his collarbone, and of course the health of his back is always lurking in the back of everyone’s mind. How much zip will he have on the ball, and will his accuracy be the same?
The other story is the battle of the backups. Based on what the brain trust has been saying all along, Kellen Moore is expected to be getting the second team snaps, but everyone is going to be anxiously watching to see how Dak Prescott is adjusting to the pro game. How quickly will he adjust to the speed of the game, and can he start making good progressions with his reads? And eyes will also be on Jameill Showers, who is back to working on the quarterback position full time. Can he mount a serious challenge to earn a spot on the 53-man roster? If he does, it would almost have to be at the expense of Moore, which seems very unlikely. But a lot of us will be pulling for Showers to do so. If Moore holds onto the QB2 job, it will hopefully be due to his showing some much-needed progress, and not just because Scott Linehan is his biggest fan.
The running backs
Will Ezekiel Elliott be treated like just a rookie, or will he claim the starting job quickly? Will Darren McFadden hold onto his position as the starter in the early rotations? How will Alfred Morris look? Darius Jackson is probably going to be the fourth man in the rotation, but could still have a chance to use his speed and power to impress the coaches. Meanwhile, the experiment with trying Rod Smith and Keith Smith at fullback will also provide something to keep our eyes on, so to speak. Hopefully the media will relay some juicy details about how the running game is shaping up with all the new faces.
The defensive line
The big story here will be who lines up at defensive end. Will Tyrone Crawford get a lot of work there in anticipation of the suspensions for DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, or will the team try to keep him inside and find a workable end group in David Irving, Benson Mayowa, Ryan Russell, Jack Crawford, and Charles Tapper? There are also a couple of wild cards in Mike McAdoo and Jason Neill that could start to make a little noise at end. The pass rush, especially during the first four weeks of the season, still has far more questions than answers, and the coming practices are the first chance to see if some of those answers may be at hand.
How will having Orlando Scandrick back affect the coverage? He has a lot of skill and even more attitude, which may be a big boost to the entire cornerback group. And is he ready to go full speed, or is he going to be held out as he continues to recover? There is also a wide-open battle coming for the fourth corner spot, plus the question of how many the team can carry into the season. The safeties are also going to be watched. With Byron Jones the expected starter at free safety, and Barry Church having a leg up at strong safety, the depth will be a battle, with J.J. Wilcox the man with the biggest target on his back. Can he overcome some of his deficiencies and keep his spot on the roster, or will Kavon Frazier become a serious challenge to him?
Those are some of the biggest things to watch the next few weeks. Definitive answers are unlikely to emerge, but that will not stop us from trying to glean every bit of data we can. What are you most interested in seeing?