Some of the latest camp observations.
Wide receiver Devin Smith was a standout. He caught multiple touchdowns, including a red-zone play in which he shook past second-round pick Trevon Diggs in coverage. Smith is fighting for a roster spot. His lack of contribution on special teams kept him from finding the field in 2019; he appeared in four games with two starts.
Cedrick Wilson has had a stronger camp to date. Lamb, Diggs, Wilson and Pollard returned punts.
Cornerback C.J. Goodwin was the Cowboys’ best special teams player last year. That very well could be the case again in 2020. Certainly, he looks to be the top gunner on the field in punt coverage.
Ranking the most impressive players in training camp and 25 other Cowboys notes – Jon Machota, The Athletic
25 camp notes, including how a new addition will fit right in with the scheme change.
7.) Aldon Smith on the defensive scheme. Smith has the ability to play a traditional 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker spot. He’s expected to do both from the right side, the spot that opened up when Robert Quinn signed with the Chicago Bears in March. We haven’t seen Everson Griffen in practice yet, but the expectation is that Smith and Griffen will get the bulk of the work rushing opposite of Lawrence.
“I like the scheme because it makes everybody a playmaker,” Smith said. “It puts everybody in a situation where they can make plays and the way (defensive coordinator Mike Nolan) has it drawn up, I’m going to be in situations where I can use my skill set and be able to make plays. So I’m just looking forward to being able to put it all on film against people.”
This is the plan for 2020.
If the Dallas Cowboys re-emerge as title contenders under new coach Mike McCarthy, it will happen via a complementary football formula that meshes their offensive approach with defensive and kicking-game philosophies. The veteran head coach, who went 125-77-2 and won a Super Bowl during 13 seasons in Green Bay, tipped his hand on how America’s Team will play this year when he talked to the media after the team signed Everson Griffen last week.
“We all understand the priority of what pass rushers bring to your football team,” McCarthy said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We want to be explosive on offense, put points on the board, and then we really, really want to put our pass rushers in position to pin their ears back. That is part of the way we look to attack this season. You can never have enough good pass rushers.”
McCarthy’s offense certainly has explosive potential in Year 1. CeeDee Lamb’s unexpected availability to Dallas in the draft at No. 17 overall allowed the Cowboys to add a five-star playmaker to an attack that already featured a pair of 1,100-yard receivers (Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup), a two-time rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott and a highly decorated offensive line.
All of that collective firepower should encourage offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to be more aggressive in the early stages of games. The ‘Boys will aim to put foes in early holes, thus forcing them to chase points — and allowing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to unleash his pass rush against one-dimensional offenses airing it out in catch-up mode.
This is why Dallas loaded up on pass rushers in free agency, to give Nolan a deep and talented bullpen to tap into. Everson Griffen, Aldon Smith and Demarcus Lawrence are a formidable trio — not to mention, Randy Gregory could eventually enter the fray, too. Meanwhile, athletic off-ball linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are both capable of adding some spice as second-level pass rushers.
If McCarthy can keep the offense humming at a high level, the Cowboys’ upgraded pass rush should be a big part of the team’s winning formula this season.
The Cowboys new defensive line coach had positive things to say about second-year defensive tackle Trysten Hill.
During a conference call with the Dallas media on Saturday, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula shared his excitement in what he’s seen from the second-year pro from UCF.
”Trysten Hill has been doing some really good things,” Tomsula said. “I’m tickled to death in how hard he’s working both mentally and physically, and how hard he’s working in the meeting rooms. The questions, the phone calls, the texts – him swinging back by the office at night, asking questions. He’s wanting to look at a clip of tape. When you see him walking around the hallways, his eyes are buried in his (tablet) and he’s watching reps of film. I’m really exciting for that guy and the way he’s approaching it and getting better every day.”
Things are changing up a bit on defense, and the Cowboys young linebacker is excited about what’s to come.
Head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan inherited Smith coming off of a Pro Bowl season. Their first move? Switching his position amid a transition to a 3-4 defense. Smith has essentially traded spots with Leighton Vander Esch. Smith will now technically be a weakside linebacker. Asked about what this new position entails, Smith suggested that he might cover more of the field, fitting responsibilities for an elite athlete.
“[The switch allows me to be] a lot more active, able to showcase my versatility. Roaming around a lot, being able to make things. Leighton will be more in the middle.” The switch is a return for Smith to the role that he played in college at Notre Dame where he was arguably the nation’s top linebacker before injuring his knee in his final college game. Smith admitted that he’s “excited about that” before noting the other big factor that training camp has him anxious for.
Hopefully, the offense will by more complex as the arsenal of weapons are plentiful, but that means the team’s second-year running back will need to be sharp mentally.
A player must have a firm grasp on the concepts being asked of him, especially a player like Pollard who can excel not just in catching out of the backfield, but can be sent out wide or in the slot. Combined with the receiving weapons, this could lead to mass confusion for opposing defenses, but only if Pollard is on top of his assignments.
“Physically, I’m pretty much the same as last year. But mentally, I’m in a completely different stage as last year. Just knowing how to play things and knowing what to expect and just seeing things before they happen from the experience of last year and having a whole camp under my belt from last year.”
The Cowboys did a little bookkeeping this weekend by spreading out Smith’s 2020 base salary over future years. Mike Fisher provides a little insight as to what the team is thinking.
There are two wrinkles that make it more acceptable than the old much-criticized “kick-the-can’’ strategy.
One, the $7 million of cap space gained can certainly be applied to the “present-day,’’ meaning 2020 – though the Cowboys indicate there is no imminent move there. More key: Any cap space not used this year (when Dallas arguably doesn’t need it) can carryover to 2021 (when Dallas figures to need it in its retention of QB Dak Prescott).
Two, the stretching of Smith’s deal adds a year (2024) – but it’s a “voidable year.’’ There may be about $2 million of dead money to deal with in that season, but that’s a small price to pay when one considers how tiny a slice of the salary-cap pie will be then (the cap will explode following the creation of a new TV deal following 2022) compared to the value of having $7 million more in room available in 2021 … when COVID-19 issues indicate a lack of revenue that Cowboys sources say will at best keep the cap flat (at about $198.2 million, as it is this year).