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Random thoughts at Cowboys training camp include Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and the improving defense

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By: Tom Ryle

Let’s step back and look at some big picture stuff for the Cowboys.

I’m both happy and sad that I only have Tuesday’s practice left to attend at the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp in Oxnard. Sad because this has been a true bucket list trip for me, and I got to spend time with so many great people that were just profile pictures in my computer. Happy because if I keep eating like this I will gain back those ten or so pounds I lost in the past few months.

We won’t even get into the temporary increase in alcohol consumption.

Even though I still have one session to attend, I have already formed some thoughts about this first time experience for me. Hope you are interested, because I am in a sharing mood.

If you ever get a chance, you should try to come to camp in Oxnard.

The Cowboys have always been one of the most open and inviting teams for fans. They have made Oxnard a rather festive thing, and of course offer you many ways to put more money in their coffers. But you also can buy refreshments from kids raising money for their local high schools, which for me adds a certain charm to things. From talking to some of the old heads, the experience is rather different due to COVID, but for the league wide welcome back weekend, there was an apparent effort to have the practices right in front of the bleachers.

It is still practice, and I think three is a good maximum for anyone attending these on theri own. There is repetition and building from session to session, so you really aren’t going to gain much more than a handful of times other than perhaps a highlight or two that is normally going to be much easier to see on social media.

But it isn’t just about camp. The scenery is gorgeous, the weather is as magnificent as advertised, and there are some great places to eat and drink. By far the best way to do this is to come with or meet some friends to hang out and do a little exploring. And you will also have plenty of opportunities to make some new friends who share your interest in all things Cowboys. You might want to come back year after year, or just do a one time visit. Either way, if you can make it, do so.

Dak’s shoulder problem really sucks.

I don’t doubt that it is rather minor and should have minimal if any effect on his performance. What is does impact is the evaluation of the rest of the team, because now the best passer is just a spectator. For receivers who are trying to make a case to be on a roster, they obviously are missing any chances at reps with QB1. That can not only hurt them in trying to make an impression on the Dallas coaches, it takes away possible highlights that could land them a spot somewhere else. The defense has looked a lot better, but you have to wonder if they would be a bit less successful if it was Dak Prescott throwing to CeeDee Lamb and the rest of the first team receivers instead of Garrett Gilbert.

That sore shoulder hurts the rest of the team and even the staff more than it does the guy with the 4 on his jersey. But the concern and caution are understandable. It is just regrettable.

We really do hope that the defensive improvements are not a mirage.

The improvement is noticeable. It is also a case of practices looking better versus last year’s performance in real games, and that is certainly a case of comparing apples and advanced lithium battery technology.

And yet, the defensive tackles are somehow both bigger and more athletic. Randy Gregory has been a monster, and should only be more effective when he is able to pair with DeMarcus Lawrence. Roster decisions in the secondary may truly be more about who is best and not just trying to find enough adequate bodies. Dan Quinn’s hands on approach seems to have either filtered down or been more or less ordered for his assistants. A lot of the new talent seems to be working out quite nicely. Perhaps the most exciting thing is that communication on the field is an obvious point of emphasis. If the right guy has that green dot on his helmet and the players are all on the same page, a lot of the ills from 2020 should be much better.

As long as we are not just being fooled again.

Some eye tests.

You do pick up some things from being at the practices that you cannot get from social media. Here are a few of mine, with some helpful input from the guys I was hanging out with.

  • CeeDee Lamb is poised to just crush it this year. He has a different look from those around him. The best way I heard it put was that he is just incredibly smooth, not having to show as much effort as those around him while still outperforming the rest. He has emerged as the biggest standout of camp so far.
  • These are not normal human beings. It is not just about athleticism or things like pain tolerance. For the most part, they are just BIG. When the Tyron Smith/Zack Martin/La’el Collins triumvirate makes their daily appearance, their physicality is appreciable even from the stands. When the offensive and defensive lines are doing drills close to one another you expect the ground to shake. A player like UDFA running back JaQuan Hardy looks diminutive on the field – and he is 5-10, or taller than the average adult male. The recent emphasis on length for both receivers and defensive backs means that they are tall. It’s something you just don’t appreciate as much on your flatscreen.
  • There is so much mix and match going on for the lines on both sides of the ball. We have heard a lot about working Connor Williams at center. Isaac Alarcón is reportedly joining Brandon Knight in switching to guard. There is a real emphasis on that position flexibility we keep hearing about. It seems to be pointed at going light on offensive linemen on the roster.
  • Meanwhile, defensive linemen seem to be moving around a lot. But the most important movement for them is forward. While caution has to be taken in reading too much into practice, there is often a lot of push up the middle for the interior defensive line. They may have found some real help for the pass rush as well as plugging up those running lanes.

As always for me, it seems amazing that we are on the cusp of another season. The Hall of Fame game is only two days off. The regular season kicks off in just five weeks. Being here in Oxnard has just heightened the anticipation for me, and I hope I’ve been able to share a little of that with you. I still will get one more post-practice report in before taking a few days to do some pure vacationing. But here at BTB we will be covering things wall to wall the rest of the way.

As we have been doing all throughout camp we recapped Sunday’s practice (with highlights included) over on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Make sure to subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of the videos that we are putting out. We will be having a livestream on Tuesday evening to recap practice and discuss what we saw!