By David HelmanFOX Sports Dallas Cowboys Writer
OXNARD, Calif. Let’s be clear that this will be a gradual process.
Yes, the Dallas Cowboys have reported to training camp.
The team plane left Dallas-Fort Worth on Monday afternoon, and the guys have settled into their summer digs at the Residence Inn River Ridge.
Exciting as that might be, it’s a slow process. They won’t practice for the first time until Wednesday. They won’t put on pads for practically another week Monday, Aug. 1.
I’m not interested in sounding ungrateful for the start of football season, but it’s going to be a bit of a wait to get into the thick of things.
With that in mind, I obviously have a list of things to keep an eye on as the Cowboys ease their way into training camp:
What to work on
Leave it to the elder statesman of this roster to sum things up so beautifully.
Zack Martin, entering Year 9 of his distinguished career, spoke briefly with reporters upon the team’s arrival in Oxnard on Monday. The All-Pro guard was asked about his goals for this year’s group, and he offered up a blunt assessment of the improvements he wants to see.
“I want to be a tough football team. I want to be a smart football team,” Martin said. “Last year, we had some trouble with some discipline and some penalties and stuff. That’s A-No. 1 for us a disciplined, tough football team.”
I imagine Cowboys fans are nodding along earnestly with that sentiment. Dallas led the league in penalties in 2021 with 127. A significant chunk of those came from its sloppy offensive line play.
Going back to the toughness aspect, that offensive line also got bullied a bit by better defensive fronts, most notably by San Francisco, in the playoffs, to the tune of five sacks.
Martin makes a great point. Some more toughness and some better discipline would go a long way toward improving this team.
In good health
It has been surreal to see many teams in the league pass Dallas up in this regard. Of the 32 clubs in the NFL, 23 have asked their rookies to report ahead of time.
The Cowboys are one of nine clubs to have everyone report at once. To put it succinctly, a lot of teams have already announced which of their players are going on the Physically Unable to Perform List, the Non-Football Injury List, not to mention any other concerns.
Best guess is the Cowboys’ list won’t be terribly noteworthy. But it will be interesting to see where things stand with key players recovering from injury, such as Michael Gallup and Jabril Cox.
Stay tuned to see where this goes.
For my money, the story of this season centers around how well this current crop of Cowboys rises to the occasion. It just doesn’t seem like Dallas has done a wonderful job of replenishing its roster.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper is gone. His replacements are either not fully healthy (Gallup) or not fully trustworthy (James Washington, Jalen Tolbert).
The same can be said for La’el Collins and Randy Gregory’s departures, as both longtime starters left behind position groups with nowhere near as much experience behind them.
Now, recall the part where this front office has drafted 20 players these past two years 11 guys in 2021 and another nine this spring. All 20 guys are still here, and the Cowboys will require contributions from many of them.
Take your pick among the trio of young offensive linemen, Tyler Smith, Josh Ball and Matt Waletzko to bolster the offensive line.
Tolbert will have an opportunity at a starting job from Day 1, not to mention the opportunity in front of second-year wideout Simi Fehoko.
Then there’s defensive end Sam Williams, who will be tasked with contributing to the pass rush right away.
The list goes on. To compensate for losses at wide receiver, CeeDee Lamb will be expected to grow into a true No. 1 receiver. Tight end Dalton Schultz will be asked to have a hand in that, as well, both for the betterment of the offense and his own chances at a new contract.
Obviously, expectations will be high for Dak Prescott to make all of this work and prove he’s worth the monster extension he signed. Reinforcements aren’t coming not meaningful ones, anyway.
If the Cowboys are going to meet their goals in 2022, it’s largely going to be this group of guys that gets the job done. That’s going to require multiple players growing into bigger roles than we’ve seen from them before.
David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports, providing insight and analysis on the NFLs most visible franchise. Prior to joining FOX, David spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the teams official website, DallasCowboys.com. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterbacks time at Mississippi State.