FRISCO - Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard is on the horizon. OTAs and minicamp are behind us. In the middle? The Cowboys' hope that their top 10 performers in workouts here inside The Star carry over to California. Oh, and who were those top 10 performers? In our opinion (with the help of Cowboys staffers) ...
10 - Anthony Brown: Every year now, they'll try to replace him. And yet he continues to be a rock as a contributor, and maybe even as a starter. Last year, he missed games with broken ribs and a punctured lung. Now he's back for more, "big-brother'' teaching the kids who are trying to take his job ... while also holding them off. Again.
"My mindset,'' he said, "is to make everybody better around me and do my job at the same time."
9 - Micah Parsons: The team wants him to win the middle linebacker job. But before that? We've come to realize that the negative questions that needed to be answered before Dallas selected him with its top pick in the recent NFL Draft have been answered. There are no indications, to put it bluntly, that he is the "turd'' some labeled him. And in practice so far? He's a force.
"You can see the ability and just the instinct, the way he can react and get off the spot at the linebacker position," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're just going through our installs, going through our concepts. But he's fitting in real nicely."
8 - La'el Collins: He's down 10 pounds from a year ago, he says (we'll bet it's more) and instead of trying to be at camp at 323 pounds-plus a year ago, he'll plan to go to Oxnard at 309. His weight is down and his spirits are up. And his devotion to protecing QB Dak Prescott "at all costs'' sends a powerful message.
"When I see that guy, that’s who I do it for, I do it for that guy,'' Collins said of his QB. "That’s my locker mate. And I’ll protect him at all cost.”
7 - Leighton Vander Esch: He says he's "on a mission.'' And he says the franchise decision to not pick up his fifth-year option is not bothersome. And he says he's in the weight room adding "body armor.''
Vander Esch, as goes the plan, will move to WILL. And so far? He looks free to make plays from that spot, and yes, unbothered and yes, "on a mission.''
And if "body armor'' prevents more "bad-luck'' injuries? Go for it.
6 - Nahshon Wright: The second-round rookie corner, Kelvin Joseph, was limited by COVID quarantine. The third-round rookie corner, Wright, took advantage of the available snaps, consistently making plays on the ball and in the end, issuing a quote that shows far more wisdom than his infamous "The Next Richard Sherman'' claim.
I’m looking forward to (training camp),'' Wright said, "just being able to go out and showcase my talents, just because I know football’s not a game of T-shirts and shorts.''
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5 - Tyron Smith: It was not long ago that there were rumors of Smith being physically shot and emotionally drained, of maybe even considering retirement. The "blessing-in-disguise'' neck surgery behind him, Tyron, we're told, is bouncing around The Star with a newfound enthusiasm.
“You got to think as if you’re still a young guy,'' Smith said of his mindset. "If the team thinks you’re an old guy, you’re going to be an old guy. I try to keep a young mentality. That’s why I come around laughing and joking.''
4 - Connor Williams: And we were all told he was in danger of losing his job.
Hey, it's minicamp; how can we truly judge the performance of the O-linemen? We can't. But we can judge snaps. And amid all of the offseason talk of Williams being "pushed'' by competition, whoever was "pushing'' him stayed behind him while doing so.
Maybe we get to Oxnard and the competition re-opens. But Connor Williams in his career has essentially shown up for work, in practice and on gameday, every single day. And he did the same thing in OTAs and minicamp.
3 - Ezekiel Elliott: "Sleek Zeke''? It's true. We can't give you exact weight changes and such (though we're working on it). But Elliott to our eyes, and to the eyes of teammates, looked closer to being a "scatback'' than he has since being drafted No. 4 overall by the Cowboys in 2016.
“Zeke looks great,” Prescott said. “He’s in the best shape of his life, looking fast. ... His cuts, just how explosive he is. ... When Zeke’s healthy and Zeke’s doing his thing, he’s the best running back in the league.''
2 - Dak Prescott: Prescott was so good following the ankle surgery and the rehab that we almost forgot the supposed controversy about the healing. Heck, as we watched him, we almost forgot about the ankle surgery and the rehab.
Prescott did almost everything (short of 11-on-11 team drills) and demonstrated a mastery of what coaches wanted - and what what demanded of his ankle. Planting in the pocket. Throwing on the run. Moving with smooth mobility in all directions. No issues.
"I've buried the injury, honestly," Prescott said of the injury. "From the point of practice, from the point of just moving forward and going about my life, I've buried it. I've buried it mentally. Put it on the tombstone."
1 - CeeDee Lamb: One of the problems with the "Underwear Olympics'' is that it is almost "fixed'' for the receivers to excel. They aren't getting bumped, grabbed, held up, slowed, tackled or even threatened to be touched.
Still it was impossible to ignore Lamb imposing his physical will on defenders, sometimes going around or behind them, sometimes simply using his superior leaping ability to go above them. The "contested catch'' is a specialty, but the second-year Oklahoma product seems on the verge of making every aspect of playing the position a specialty.
“My expectations are super-high,” Prescott said of Lamb. "That’s a playmaker who we’re privileged to have. He’ll be big-time and definitely have a breakout season.”
READ MORE: CeeDee About To 'Break Out,' Says Dak