Are you ready for some football in Dallas? The Cowboys certainly are.
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are a week into training camp in Oxnard. Expectations are always high for 'America's Team', but this year they seem to be ramping back up to playoff-, if not Super Bowl-level.
After a forgettable 6-10 season in 2020, Jones is trusting head coach Mike McCarthy to figure things out on offense, while new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn must prove his scheme can repair and transform last season's historically horrible unit.
Most of the optimism surrounding the Cowboys is powered by what should be an almost unstoppable offense. The Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback and three veteran offensive linemen are healthy. The running back seems committed to regain the form - while stopping the fumbling - that earned him two NFL rushing titles. The trio of receivers are as talented as any in the league.
The core is all paid up, and another year under Kellen Moore's system should do wonders for those on the fringe of the roster. There will be competition for depth on the offense.
But who are the "locks" to make the team come Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
QB Dak Prescott: He is the highest-paid player in the NFL after signing his new contract earlier this offseason. Last year, he led the NFL in passing yards the first five weeks before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. In 2019, Prescott finished second in passing yards with 4,902. Those numbers should expand with a 17-game season, meaning Prescott could be setting records come December.
RB Ezekiel Elliott: He spent the offseason working on his game and his fitness. After a horrendous 2020 campaign, he looks leaner, more agile and should be in for a bounce-back year. He needs to show he can still be a lead runner, but all indications point to last season being a fluke.
RB Tony Pollard: Elliott's primary backup does a little bit of everything. Last season, his numbers diminished, but they still were acceptable for a team's No. 2. Moore could expand the passing game, meaning Pollard's snaps should grow as well as a legitimate threat out of the backfield.
WR Amari Cooper: Even without Prescott, Cooper still led the team in catches (92), receiving yards (1,114) and was tied for the most touchdowns (5). There have been questions surrounding his future and he could be challenged for the No. 1 target job during the season, but he'll enter Week 1 as the leading man for Prescott.
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WR CeeDee Lamb: The second-year marvel has the opportunity to become the next big-name target in Dallas. In his rookie season, the Oklahoma sensation dazzled as the team's No. 3 weapon, recording 74 receptions for 935 yards and five scores. He'll pass the 1,000-yard marker if he can remain healthy for all 17 games.
WR Michael Gallup: It might be a contract year for Gallup, but he's not going anywhere yet. Even in what could be considered a down season, the fourth-year pro can win matchups and is a top vertical option. In a contract year and in a crowded huddle begging for passes, Gallup should be plenty motivated to have his best season in the NFL.
TE Blake Jarwin: He would have been the top tight end last fall if he didn't suffer a season-ending injury in Week 1. He's a quality route-runner and provides more stability as a blocker. This is a big year for his future with the team, but he'll be given every chance to remain on the field in pass sets.
TE Dalton Schultz: With Jarwin out, Schultz ascended to the No. 1 tight end option. Overall his numbers were productive, as he finished third on the team in catches. He'll have to win the starting job over Jarwin, but teams are looking to run two tight-end sets more. With him, the Cowboys are blessed with two capable tight ends.
OL Tyron Smith: A perennial All-Pro left tackle, he missed most of last season with a neck injury that ultimately required surgery. Prior to 2020, he was coming off seven consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl and was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2010s. His time in Dallas will last another season, and perhaps even longer if fully healthy.
OL La'El Collins: He is set in stone at right tackle opposite Smith. The former undrafted (due to a fluke) gem missed all of 2020 after undergoing hip surgery before the start of the season. Back to full strength, Collins says he still has a lot left to prove.
OL Zack Martin: He is the glue of the offensive line. He can play anywhere and someday he’ll be in Canton. Although he missed six games in 2020 with a calf injury, in training camp he appears to be back stronger than ever - well he’s presently got a nagging ankle issue.
OL Tyler Biadasz: He's listed as the team's only center, but there's a story here. The 2020 fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin comes from a school that has historically produced quality offensive linemen. Biadasz also had a full year to learn the system and improve as a pass blocker. Moore gave high praise to the 23-year-old this spring, meaning he'll have the first chance to start. But we are also watching to see if Connor Williams might not take some snaps at center, All depends on whether Connor McGovern is ready for more playing time.
OL Connor Williams: He's has been the starter at left guard for the past three seasons. So far in camp, he's also taken reps at center. As he enters a contract year, the extra snaps just make him more valuable to the Cowboys.
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