Here we go again. For me, it is Dallas Cowboys Training Camp #19. I have certainly picked up on the patterns of optimism, high hopes, and "best shape of his life" descriptors. It happens every year at this time, and frankly, since camp has moved from Wichita Falls and San Antonio to the Pacific Coast, I will confess to enjoying every bit of it (with my fish tacos).
I personally won't leave until Sunday, but that leaves me plenty of time to enjoy a nice Cowboys mailbag with you folks. Let's see what you have on your Cowboys mind today:
Q: Cowboys went 12-4 in 2014 without much of a pass rush. Is there too much concern going on there?
Well, first of all, I don't think you can ever have too much concern about not having a pass rush. If this has evolved into a passing league, then you better figure out how to stop a passer. From there, we can discuss the finer points of accomplishing that, but at the core, you better not allow a passer to stand back there all day and try to pick you apart. The Cowboys simply did not do enough to put pressure on the passer in 2014, but it didn't matter too much. In 2015, they actually did better at getting to the passer on a "per pass" basis, but it still wasn't close to enough to turn games.
Now, they lose Greg Hardy's pass rush and his attention he attracted. Don't fool yourself on Hardy; he was being double-teamed a lot which made everyone else's job easier. This year, Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence aren't going to be left alone very often. Then, we have the stupidity of the suspensions to consider. This could be a very poor group where the career sack total of any Cowboys defender on the roster is 9.5 (Orlando Scandrick and the likely-departed Rolando McClain). Ouch. The real hope has to center around Benson Mayowa. He has some signs of being a decent edge guy. Otherwise, the group looks very light in this regard and I think it has to be the top concern after Romo's health. So, no, I don't think too much is made out of it.
Q: Do you think with Scandrick back and Byron Jones being an up and comer that the Cowboys' secondary is solid enough to perhaps force some coverage sacks?
Ok, now this a good follow-up. The return of Scandrick should be great. Last year, they tried to replace Scandrick with Tyler Patmon, Corey White, and Terrence Mitchell. If you are struggling to find any of those guys on this year's depth chart, it is ok - they aren't on there anymore. I often wonder why they sent Patmon away (I thought he was decent), but the bottom line is none of them came close to approaching the levels of excellence in the slot that Scandrick provides. Additionally, he is one of those voices on the sideline that make a difference that every team needs from its veterans. You may see that there aren't a lot of voices on defense that have credibility, so I think Scandrick does that trick.
Additionally, Byron Jones at free safety is another fantastic opportunity for a major upgrade. I thought the times he played there in 2015 were all sufficiently solid with hopes of him growing into something very nice back there. The problem was - partly thanks to Scandrick - that they needed Jones everywhere else in the secondary for most of the year. But, I think I like him better at FS than at corner. He can be a good corner, but I think he can be a great safety, and I don't think this team has been great at safety in ages.
Now, do either of those moves help the pass rush up front? It certainly can't hurt. The secondary is still going to depend on the ability to cover well and if you want to send extra pass rushers, then you are likely going to need more man coverage behind it and that hasn't always been great for Dallas. The good news is that they played a ton of Cover 1 last year and did it pretty well. Now add Scandrick and Jones at their spots and maybe it just gets better and better. We can hope that. And if it is true, the QB holds the ball longer and that helps the boys up front to get some heat there. We shall see.
Q: Have all these defensive problems for the Cowboys changed your opinion of how the NFC East is likely to shake out?
For sure. The Cowboys have taken themselves out of a good spot with their own stupidity with as many as 24 games of suspensions. This leads to a weaker front. This leads to fewer stops. And this leads to issues in winning the NFC East which needs to be priority #1 in 2016.
It is obviously too early to speak with any certainty because now we wonder down this 6-week path where at any moment, any of these teams can suffer a massive personnel loss for the year when a knee blows out.
But, my July 29th feeling is that the Cowboys and Redskins are the two best teams in the division. The Giants are a close 3rd and the Eagles a distant 4th. I think the Redskins are going to be a real issue this year as their roster build has come along nicely for sure. But, Dallas still has as good a chance as anyone.
However, they also seem to have the fewest insurance policies if you look at where they are "covered" for disaster. So, from that point, Dallas seems to have the largest range of possibilities this year. 11-5 or 5-11? Tell me how Romo's attendance record is.
Q: With such a wealth of talent on the OL, would it make sense to try and move somebody like a Chaz Green and a future draft pick to perhaps get some legit DL help in here? Or is a trade not really feasible?
I would just like to confirm that Chaz Green is an actual pro football player before we examine his trade value. He really needs to establish some level of performance in the NFL for the Cowboys to believe they have a sufficient swing tackle. After all, they spend a 3rd rounder on the guy, so he better be decent. But, for now, the Cowboys drafted him 15 months ago, in front of RBs that might have allowed them to feel better about that position (Matt Jones, Jeremy Langford, Jay Ajayi), which would have allowed them to use pick #4 on something more practical. Nevertheless, they need Green to be good enough to handle actual snaps in the event that either of their tackles miss a month or more - which is a reality that many teams face every year.
We are now hearing La'el Collins trade rumors (likely started by media people) and of course Ron Leary rumors are there, too. Clearly, trades are rare in the NFL. And we have no idea what is out there, but teams are rarely giving up pass rushers. I am into the idea if you can fix your DL with your OL depth, but these things are seldom available in the NFL. Especially a month before cut-downs.
Q: Do you think the Cowboys' offense can handle the expectations of having to outscore opponents week in and week out? Seems like in 2014, the expectations weren't there, it just kind of happened.
I don't like that plan very much. It may be the only plan around here, but I don't think there are too many cases where you just "out-score" your opponent. They will need takeaways and sacks to make that work, in my opinion. If this league was "make it, take it", we might have that ability. But, for now, I think we see that this is a decent regular season philosophy and a poor playoff philosophy. Teams like Green Bay have been trying to "outscore" their opponents for years and it worked in 2010, but since they have been hit in the mouth in the playoffs by great defenses from San Francisco, Seattle, and Arizona. A good defense will eventually slow you down and you need to have all 3 phases working to have a chance to advance.
Q: Is there a DL that you think could help out pass rush wise that's maybe flying under the radar?
I think there is far more information in those two links than I could provide here. Take a look at each of them and then allow your optimism to run wild. They will both get big chances this year and they both have plenty of ability. David Irving is another to keep an eye on for sure.
Q: Will you be going out to Oxnard? If so, what will you be keeping an eye on in camp?
Beyond golf in 65 degrees and fish tacos, I will be looking at plenty. Obviously, there are all sorts of things to consider, and I will have a full breakdown for Monday morning for you. But, QB2, WR depth, the new additions to the secondary, and of course that defensive front are all considerations. Mike LB and who is the new version of Rolando McClain is likely a question that has no answer right now.
Q: Do you think it would make sense to bring in somebody like Dwight Freeney if he wouldn't cost too much? Think Freeney would take a one-year deal?
Yes. I think Dwight Freeney should be signed today. Although, given his ability and the league's need for pass rushers, he has lots of leverage. You are not doing him a favor by offering him the minimum. Also, he likely has no use for a full training camp. So, if Dallas wants him - which I am sure they do - they would have to bid big right now. More than likely, they will evaluate what they have on campus and then around Aug 15 or Aug 20, prepare to bid against any team that loses their pass rushers in camp (Washington is already on that list). But, yes, Freeney could fix a lot of what DeMarcus Lawrence has messed up for September.
Q: Do you know what the NFL suspension protocol is? How many tests do you have to flunk to get suspended for a year like Josh Gordon did? Would seem Gregory is approaching that.
If I am not mistaken, it is your 5th failure that gets you the year. I think Gregory just missed his 4th. Clearly, this is getting to a point where we are silly to assume he is ever going to get things worked out.
Q: Do you think Randy Gregory will play for the Cowboys this season?
I really don't. Nor, do I think Rolando McClain will, either. It has not been a great year for the Cowboys rehab projects.