The Dallas Cowboys have long been a lightning rod for attention in the NFL, especially since Jerry Jones purchased the team. Historically, there’s always been some type of controversy that attracts the eyes of everyone outside the organization.
That was the case Friday, when a misleading quote from a Stephen Jones interview launched a firestorm of rebuttals from former Cowboy Dez Bryant. These tweets caused an uproar, which brought responses from the Cowboys’ Executive Vice President, as well as team captains Sean Lee and Travis Frederick.
As sensational as the situation is in many people’s minds, the coaches and players have more important business they’d like to address. And for those outsiders who wish to focus on the football aspect of training camp, below are two issues that are actually more important than the current social media saga.
What everyone IS talking about: Should Bryant have responded to the Stephen Jones quote? Was he right to stand up for himself despite the misperception surrounding the quote?
Although these questions provide plenty of material for talk shows that discuss all things off the field, they have no bearing on this year’s team.
What everyone SHOULD be talking about: How will this offense be more creative in 2018?
One of the reasons the franchise leader in touchdown receptions was released was because the staff believed his skills and athleticism had declined and he was no longer worth his eight-figure price tag. But that wasn’t the only reason Dallas took a step back last year.
The offense became stale partly due to the six-game suspension of Ezekiel Elliott. Their situation was further exacerbated by the loss of Tyron Smith because of his back issues. They lacked speed and consistent execution at all levels of their roster. They also failed to incorporate more effective concepts into their offensive game plans.
With the retirement of Jason Witten, they now face a future without their most experienced and productive playmakers. How does offensive coordinator Scott Linehan plan to fix this?
For starters, he convinced Jerry Jones to trade for Tavon Austin. The team also signed free agent wide receivers Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson. How will these receivers be deployed with the likes of slot receiver Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams?
According to observers of the first two days of practice, not only were Beasley and Austin routinely in the same formation, but both lined up as outside receivers, as opposed to in the slot.
This is interesting because the two players are similar in height at around 5-feet 8-inches. Both are quick, with Austin possessing elite speed. Can the two players defeat press coverage, which is what many outside receivers face? What types of passing concepts will they deploy with their smaller wideouts aligned on the outside? How will this make them more dynamic and productive in the passing game?
The fact that Linehan did this on the first day of training camp (the first days of camp are typically reserved for the installation of base concepts) suggests that creativity won’t be stifled this year. Watch the specific players he trots onto the field and how he aligns them. This will tip his hand to start the season.
More theories on the 2018 offense can be found in the Grand Theft Audible series.
What everyone IS talking about: Did Sean Lee and Travis Frederick really orchestrate Bryant’s release?
Dwelling on this topic is understandable because it relates to the team’s current leadership structure. Even though all players allegedly involved are considered honest people, this issue is still a word-against-word situation. There’s no way to definitively prove anyone’s point of view. With the fans and media now involved, this topic has more in common with day-time drama than actual football.
What everyone SHOULD be talking about: How’s the leadership void being filled in the wake of Witten’s retirement?
There were already other players on the roster that served as formal or informal leaders, but Witten was such a mainstay at captain that it can be easy to forget about them.
Starting running back Ezekiel Elliott has stated he wants to be a more vocal leader. The third-year veteran voiced his belief that a leader needs to “encourage” his teammates, “bring them along, and be hard on them.”
How is he living up to that? Is he also leading by example and holding himself accountable? Dallas insider Mike Fisher recorded the following video on Thursday.
This is only a small peek into the interpersonal relationship between Elliott and his fellow running backs, but is this a clear enough example of his leadership?
What about the receiving corps and tight end group? Who will emerge as leaders there? Hurns is known to be someone who sets the example for others to follow. Does he also help the group stay energized like Bryant in years past? Do the wide receivers still have that same “swag” about them like when their former teammate was around, or do they need to work with a different demeanor under new coach Sanjay Lal?
The tight end room consists of inexperienced veterans or rookies along with a new position coach in Doug Nussmeier. Will Geoff Swaim emerge as a dependable player for others to follow? Will it be Blake Jarwin?
As has been stated online and on TV, the Cowboys have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. Only three players are 30 years old or older, and two of them are kicker Dan Bailey and long snapper L.P. Ladouceur. The last is Sean Lee.
Watch who leads each position group in drills and observe how they set the tone for the others.
These are just a couple of the topics that need everyone’s attention. There’s still the offensive line and how second-round draft pick Connor Williams is acclimating to the pros. And don’t forget about the defense, such as Byron Jones’s switch to cornerback, along with new secondary coach Kris Richard. The changes he brings to the unit could lead to more interceptions and a higher level of overall play.
The answers to these questions will not be easy to find and may take all of camp and preseason to flesh out. Regardless of how long the process takes, these topics are what everybody really should be talking about.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22