OXNARD, Calif. — The Dallas Cowboys are about to put on the pads for the first time and kick off the real football practice at training camp.
So far, it’s been three days of practicing, but no popping of the pads due to the contact rules in place via the collective bargaining agreement, which mandates that teams have a ramp up period before the full workouts begin.
With the first week in the books, most reports about the Cowboys have been positive thus far. There have been highlight reel plays – we're looking at you wide receiver T.J. Vasher – and great moments from the team’s best players. Truth be told, if there aren’t good things to report about camp early on, it could be a long season.
It also wouldn’t be the Cowboys if there weren’t some oddities, even just a few days into practice. Here are some of the things making headlines with Dallas as we hit the dog days of summer:
Lamb counting sheep
When the team went to work out on Day 3 of camp, the offense was missing a receiver. New top option CeeDee Lamb was held out. The reason for the absence was not clear and the No.1 WR for the Cowboys was seen on the field, he just wasn’t involved in the practice.
It’s understandable why the Cowboys want to keep Lamb fresh throughout the season, he’s their best receiver and primed for a huge year. Without him in the lineup, and especially until Michael Gallup returns from ACL rehab, the passing game would take a big step back if Lamb were to miss time.
There’s nothing wrong with being smart about making sure your best players get ample rest ahead of a grueling NFL slate, but three days into camp when the pads aren’t on yet seems overprotective. Dallas’ staff must feel like feeling safe is better than being sorry.
Jones backs Zeke
The Cowboys have one of the best RB tandems in the NFL, but owner and GM Jerry Jones see’s Ezekiel Elliott as the clear-cut starter and wants to see the two-time rushing champ be the focus of the running game.
As Jones stated, there’s room for both Elliott and Tony Pollard to get touches in the offense, but last season showed that Pollard deserves more carries and is more than just a backup. Pollard’s explosiveness in the running game is something that the Cowboys need, and something that Elliott has lacked in recent seasons.
There’s room for Dallas to get creative and make it close to a 50/50 share, but Jones is interested in seeing Pollard get more touches as a receiver. That makes sense, as the Cowboys are down some receivers from last season and Pollard is expected to be a target more often, but Jones shouldn’t be making the call on how players are used.
It seems clear that Jones wants to justify handing out a huge contract for Elliott, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the team. The Cowboys have coaches and coordinators that Jones pays to make these kinds of decisions and the team would be better off maintaining that structure.
A potential defensive reunion
The Cowboys have been in need of some veteran help at defensive end and had former first-round pick Takkarist McKinley in for a visit over the weekend. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was the coach of the Atlanta Falcons when they selected McKinley in the 2017 draft, so he’s familiar with what the pass rusher can do.
The Falcons traded up in front of the Cowboys – who were rumored to like McKinley – to snatch him up and leave Dallas with Taco Charlton.
McKinley had two strong seasons with the Falcons, totaling 13 sacks in his first two years, before some injuries caught up with him. The veteran edge rusher suffered a torn Achilles in December last season so the team would have to feel comfortable about where he is at in his recovery to sign him.
McKinley left without a deal and is exploring his options, but there’s little doubt that the Cowboys are exploring options for the defensive line.
Will he, or won’t he?
With the Cowboys, it’s never solely about what is happening on the field. There’s always a sideshow in Dallas. Over the weekend, the question was once again brought up to Jerry Jones about including former head coach Jimmy Johnson in the team's Ring of Honor.
Jones, despite saying last year that he would honor Johnson as the two-time Super Bowl winner earned his spot in the Hall of Fame, still hasn’t announced a Ring of Honor date and took a defensive stance on the topic. Jones made it known that he will decide when to put Johnson in, and it won’t be because Johnson is “sniveling or not.”
At some point this needs to end. Johnson deserves to be in the Ring of Honor and Jones should make it happen sooner rather than later. This whole situation is coming off as petty from Jones.
However, as is often the case with the off the field stuff for Dallas, it’s much ado about nothing. Winning games in 2022 should be the focus for the Cowboys.
Do you think Jerry should get over it and put Jimmy in the Ring of Honor? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.