A guide to “what to watch for” as the Cowboys prepare to open training camp

Cowboys training camp guide for the Cowboys fan.

By the time you read this, the Dallas Cowboys should be settling into their rooms in Oxnard to start their 2021 training camp. For many fans this is the real beginning of football season. Finally we will start getting actual news to report and lots of quotes from staff and players. Added into the mix is the presence of HBO’s Hard Knocks crew to bring us an inside (if not always perfectly accurate) look at what is going on as the team prepares.

I recently joined RJ Ochoa and Dave Sturchio, both from BTB, for a live stream on YouTube about what we are looking for at camp. I also plan on attending three practices in Oxnard (July 31st, August 1st, and August 3rd). Here are some topics discussed during the stream, which you can watch on this page.

Most excited to see: The starting offensive line together again. While the team is planning on being extremely careful with all the players returning from injury, it appears that the starters will get at least some work together in preparation for the season. It will be a real joy to see Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins line up together. Heck, just seeing the traditional walk out together for practice will be noteworthy.

Most interested in watching: What Dan Quinn and defensive staff are doing with the defense. There are so many unanswered questions at all levels. How do they use DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in the anticipated 3-4 looks? Who starts at linebacker? How does the interior of the defensive line shape up with all the new faces? What is the depth chart in the secondary? A lot of information might be gathered from who is lining up with the ones, twos, and threes in camp. That is probably going to be more clear than the actual details of Quinn’s scheme, which will probably be kept more or less under wraps until the team returns to Dallas and they can have closed practices.

Something I don’t expect to stand out: Mike McCarthy’s real influence on things. With Quinn, Kellen Moore, and John Fassel, the head coach has assumed a “walk around” role. Most of his real impact is probably going to come in meetings with his subordinates. That is one reason to watch Hard Knocks in the hopes of seeing some of those interactions.

Who will have the best camp: It’s going to be Dak Prescott. Just being on the field with what is expected to be full participation in practices, or just slightly modified to make sure he doesn’t get in any unnecessary collisions, is huge. But during his recovery from injury last year, he really cemented his role as the true leader of the locker room. It will be very exciting to see him exerting that leadership on the practice field. This is his team.

Who can most improve their standing with the team in camp: Rookie cornerback Kelvin Joseph, just because he was so limited in the OTAs. He has a legitimate shot at being a starter in game 1 or very shortly thereafter, but only if he can prove to the coaches he is ready for it. He comes into camp behind some others and has to make up ground.

Rookie to watch: That would be one player who probably gained a leg up on Joseph, Nahshon Wright. He had some glowing reports from OTAs, and is right in the mix for a starting job with Joseph. Both are almost certain to make the 53-man roster, but the interesting part will be trying to supplant Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis as starters.

Most predictable thing to be mentioned repeatedly: How great Ezekiel Elliott looks. He has not been in great shape in a couple of previous years, including 2020 when he was still fighting the aftereffects of a bout of COVID. It’s pretty clear he is out to prove something to the NFL about his impact on the field and is clearly ripped and raring to go. It generates a lot of interest, but it is not exactly breaking news at this point.

Most feared thing that could happen: Injuries. Just Tuesday, another team was dealt a big loss before camp even started.

#Rams RB Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles while training, per source.

Brutal blow for L.A., which loses its leading rusher from last season a week before camp begins.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 20, 2021

That’s all I’ll say about that. I’m not superstitious. That knocking on wood you hear has nothing to do with me.

Players on the bubble: Bradlee Anae and Dorance Armstrong may be fighting for the last DE spot. Noah Brown could be challenged by Simi Fehoko and the annual UDFA WR who steals hearts. And Reggie Robinson II may be one of the most likely returning veterans to wind up on the street.

Pet cat: You can’t be a proper fan without your pet cat. One choice could be Quinton Bohanna, but the staff probably already has plans for the big nose tackle. Also using a draftee is sort of cheating, so I will take UDFA linebacker Anthony Hines III. There is a good chance that the team will not carry just five LBs on the 53. That is just too shallow for a position that sees so many violent collisions. It is also a prime place to have bodies for special teams, so Hines is the candidate to break through.

Non pet cat UDFA to watch: Safety Tyler Coyle got a lot of positive comments during OTAs. It may be reading a bit too much into things, but that often reflects what the reporters in attendance are picking up from the coaches as well as watching drills. Safety is once again one of the weakest position groups on the team – probably the worst. He’s the UDFA to put some money on to fight his way onto the roster.

Unexpectedly fierce camp battle: Garrett Gilbert may have the inside track, but you can’t write off Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci for the QB2 job. We all know how important that can be after 2020. There is still an excellent chance that the team will go outside the organization to add a veteran. However, that will not likely happen before the rest of the league is cutting players at the end of camp, and it still is not a great place to find legitimate QB talent. Rush has a history of looking very good in camp and preseason, even if it was just one year. And DiNucci hardly got a fair shake when the team threw him onto the field last season. With Prescott likely getting frequent rest days out of an abundance of caution, the backups may get more chances to throw to the good receivers than normal. It should be more entertaining than this job usually is.

We discussed everything that we are looking forward to with camp beginning during a livestream video session on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. You can re-watch it below and make sure to subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) as we will be live-streaming a lot throughout the season.

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