5 things to monitor as Cowboys begin training camp this week

Dallas offensive lineman La'el Collins (71) is pictured during the Dallas Cowboys OTA practice at Valley Ranch in Irving, Texas on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Whether it feels like it or not, the NFL season is just about here. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett made note of that Tuesday afternoon after the team arrived in California for training camp.

“We felt we had a really good offseason, I think everybody felt like they had a really good break,” Garrett added. “But everybody – coaches, players alike – chomping at the bit to get back to work. Excited to get here to Oxnard and to start our work here in the next couple of days.”

Since you might also be chomping at the bit, here are five things to keep an eye on when the players start practicing on Thursday.

1.) The Running back situation. How are the carries being split? Who is working with the first-team offense? Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden will be doing most of the heavy-lifting. How will they look running behind the talented offensive line that paved the way for a record-breaking rushing season? Despite the Chris Johnson and Ray Rice rumors, the Cowboys will give Randle and McFadden a chance to show what they can do before looking for viable options outside of the current 90-man roster.

2.) Monitoring players. Who will be on the field and how much will they be used? Some of the key names to keep an eye on: Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Doug Free and Morris Claiborne. Injuries during training camp practices forced Tyrone Crawford to miss the entire 2013 season and DeMarcus Lawrence to sit out the first half of 2014. The Cowboys will be careful not to overwork anyone, especially during the early stages of camp. Romo’s back caused him to be limited throughout last year. Bryant didn’t participate in the majority of offseason workouts. Lee missed the entire 2014 season with a knee injury. Free had offseason foot/ankle surgery and didn’t participate in offseason workouts.

3.) Offensive line vs. defensive line. Who is winning those battles? There weren’t a lot of big names on the Cowboys defensive line last year. The additions of Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory have changed that. Mix those two in with Lawrence and Crawford and the battles in the trenches should be outstanding. In one-on-one drills, it doesn’t get much better around the NFL than Hardy vs. Tyron Smith … or Smith vs. Gregory … or Martin vs. Crawford …

4.) Defensive backfield. How much has the group improved from a year ago? The Cowboys spent their first-round pick on Byron Jones. They also signed veteran Corey White. Both are capable of playing corner and safety. How will that affect the final 53-man roster? Does it lead to the Cowboys only keeping three safeties? It’s also noteworthy that Brandon Carr will be with the team to start camp. He missed the early part last year to be with his ailing mother. And then there’s Morris Claiborne, who is coming off season-ending knee surgery. His rehab is ahead of schedule. How effective can he be during the early part of camp? A healthy Romo and a recently-signed Bryant should be a great challenge for all involved.

5.) Left guard. Will the starting job go to Ron Leary, the player who has started there the previous two seasons? Or will rookie La’el Collins prove to be a better option? Some think Collins will get the job because he has first-round talent. After all, he was wined and dined at Jerry Jones’ home on an impressive recruiting visit just two months ago. Others pick Leary because he has already proven himself. In the end, it might not end up being a battle at all. Keeping five starting offensive linemen on the field together for a month can be difficult. Injuries happen. The good news for the Cowboys is if one of the five suffer a setback, the group appears deep enough to have a reliable backup plan.

Source: Dallas News

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