July 28, 2019: Wonder where the Dallas Cowboys will finish this season.
July 28, 2020: Wonder if the Dallas Cowboys will finish this season.
As the Cowboys on Tuesday commence what will undoubtedly be the strangest training camp in franchise history - a "cluster***,'' as a Cowboys exec described it to us recently - there are myriad questions. Some even have to do with football.
But from the unprecedented move of holding preseason in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for the first time in 61 years to COVID-19 testing being the most vital part of the team physical, training camp at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco will be saturated with mystery, history and heaping dose of unfamiliarity.
A year ago B.C. (before coronavirus), sure, we had concerns about the Cowboys heading into camp in Oxnard, California.
Could the defending NFC East champions take the next step and save lame-duck head coach Jason Garrett?
Unhappy still playing on his rookie contract, was disgruntled Ezekiel Elliott going to be a camp holdout?
Would un-retired Jason Witten be productive after a year away from football in the broadcast booth?
How different/better would the offense be with the play-calling transferred from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore?
Other than Zeke’s absence, Tyrone Crawford getting in a bar fight with a couple of bouncers and David Irving choosing pot over pigskin, the Cowboys’ questions remained between the lines.
This summer: Football 101 includes how the heck do you form a proper huddle while attempting to socially distance?
There are some similarities in 2019 and 2020.
Last year’s contract controversy centered on making Elliott the NFL’s highest-paid running back; this year it’s Dak Prescott’s franchise tag.
Last year’s pursuit of a playmaking safety targeted Earl Thomas; this year it was Jamal Adams.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Cowboys’ camp without Randy Gregory flirting with reinstatement from suspension.
But, mostly, forget everything you think you know about Cowboys’ training camp. No cool California ocean breezes. No fans watching practice. Thanks to coronavirus, no preseason games.
The sports world endured a polar shift since the last time we saw the Cowboys, in a season-ending, 47-16 win over the Washington Redskins last Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium. Garrett and his cherished “progress” are now in New York with the Giants. Tom Brady is a Buccaneer. Washington dumped its offensive nickname and is now just a “Football Team.” Facemask is no longer a term associated primarily with football.
At the dawn of what will be a surreal, irregular season, we’re reminded that not even America’s Team is immune to America’s pandemic.
Because of a severe spike in COVID-19 that’s wreaking havoc on Major League Baseball, the prospects of college football and our accustomed way of life, nothing is for certain in 2020. Though all preseason games were canceled, the NFL – for now – plans to play its full 16-game schedule, albeit, for example, with only 12,000 fans allowed to watch the Packers in Lambeau Field.
Unlike years past, the most pressing Cowboys’ camp questions aren’t exclusively football. Most, but not all, will be answered by the time they kick off the season Sept. 13 against the Rams in Los Angeles.
If, that is, we make it that far.
Is head coach Mike McCarthy better than Garrett?
Since minicamps were nixed, McCarthy hasn’t been on the field with the entire team yet. So we’re just using his past to predict his future. The good: As head coach of the Packers he went to the playoffs nine times in 13 seasons and won a Super Bowl. The bad: With quarterbacks named Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for 13 seasons, he only won one Super Bowl. The Cowboys, Lions and Washington are the only NFC teams to not play in a conference championship game this millennium, so the bar is set pretty low.
Seriously now, how will players block and tackle and inadvertently swap sweat and blood – much less the coronavirus’ dreaded “droplets” – in 10-player piles without spreading the virus?
Sounds preposterous, but I guess … stay tuned?
So what happens if one of the Cowboys tests positive for COVID-19?
Per NFL protocol, if a player tests positive and has symptoms he will likely miss two weeks of action. Before returning, at least 10 days must pass since the symptoms first occurred and at least 72 hours must have passed since the symptoms last occurred. If a player tests positive but is asymptomatic, he can return either 10 days after the positive test or in just five days if he has two negative tests.
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"It will be good to get a break," Ezekiel Elliott says.
How often will players be tested?
At least at the start of training camp, daily.
What if a player fears catching the virus?
Then like the Cowboys’ Maurice Canady, they can simply “opt out” of the season. Signed as a free agent, Canady was a legit candidate to make the team as a cornerback. But he decided to skip this season, foregoing his $1.2 million salary (until next year, as his contract tolls) for only $150,000 in opt out pay. (See full story here.)
In these uncertain times, is there anything Cowboys fans can count on?
L.P. Ladouceur is back for his 16 consecutive as long-snapper. He hasn’t missed a game – or a snap – since 2005.
How are the Cowboys better on offense?
First-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb gives them speed and playmaking from the slot, flanked by Amari Cooper and ascending star Michael Gallup. Gone are Witten and Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick, replaced by Blake Jarwin and veteran Joe Looney.
Will some Cowboys players kneel in protest during the National Anthem?
In response to the nationwide movement against police brutality and systemic racism, the NFL will allow players to wear decals of victims’ initials on their helmets. Poe, for one, has hinted that will indeed kneel. Hold onto your hats, because in red-meat, red-state Texas, that will cause quite the stink.
How are the Cowboys better on defense?
Um … new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has his hands full. Arguably Dallas’ two best players from last season – Robert Quinn and Byron Jones – left in free agency. As did Jeff Heath, which some of us believe will be a good thing. The Cowboys are counting on productivity from second-round draft pick and former Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs and a trio of retread defensive linemen – Aldon Smith, Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe.
Will Dak be distracted by playing on a one-year contract?
Extremely doubtful. The quarterback that played for $2 million last season is playing for $31.409 million this season. Difficult to envision him being truly unhappy at getting a $29 million raise. Besides, Prescott can be criticized for accuracy and pocket presence.
But his durability, leadership and commitment have so been flawless.
When the Cowboys host the Falcons on Sept. 20, will fans be allowed in AT&T Stadium?
A lot can change in eight weeks, but as of now yes. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is currently suggesting 50-percent capacity in stadiums, which would mean a crowd of around 50,000 – somehow all spaced six feet apart.
Who the heck is the kicker?
With Brett Maher’s balky big leg now in New York with the Jets, the Cowboys expect to hold a good ol’ kicking duel in camp between veterans Kai Forbath and Greg Zuerlein. The latter should win the job, given his history and the fact Dallas gave him a three-year, $7.5 million contract.
Will Jerry Jones ever talk to the media again?
The most powerful, visible and outspoken owner in the NFL has gone mute for three months in the middle of unprecedented health and societal crises. Does. Not. Compute. Jones’ silence on the country’s raging race relations has been deafening. We last heard/saw him aboard his yacht on April 23, crowing about the Cowboys stealing Lamb in the draft. We’ll see him again soon, likely early during camp. But by then, will we view him differently?
Will the Cowboys finally win another Super Bowl this season?
A. Will there be a Super Bowl?