The Dallas Cowboys opened training camp Wednesday with their annual State of Union press conference.
There was no headline-grabbing glory hole talk from owner Jerry Jones this time. Aside from a couple questions on the anthem controversy and Papa Johns, the focus was mainly on football
Here at 10 things we learned:
1. Running back Ezekiel Elliott had a quiet offseason after being the talk of the league and TMZ in 2017 as result of year-long NFL investigation, some off–the-field troubles and a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Owner Jerry Jones, vice president Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett said no news about Elliott was good news for the Cowboys and a sign of his maturity.
“Oh, I think it’s really important,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “It’s important for him, it’s important for his teammates, it’s important for our franchise and what people’s thoughts are on him. I thought it was great that he did have a quiet offseason. It’s a growing process for him. He obviously was a great player coming out of college, and then he steps into a situation and a limelight there with the Dallas Cowboys and what that brings. He had one of the all-time rookie seasons in terms of an NFL football player and he had a lot of challenges. But I think it was huge that he was able to really get his hands around what this is all about, the challenges that are out there. Hopefully it’ll continue. Obviously, nobody is perfect, but I certainly have a lot of confidence that he’s getting his hands around what he needs to to be a great player.”
2. Whether the Cowboys admit it or not, they are heading into the season with a lot of unknowns at receiver, tight end, linebacker and in the secondary, especially with the losses of tight end Jason Witten to retirement and receiver Dez Bryant (released). The Cowboys say they are excited to see the competition at those positions in training camp and the prospect of a star emerging. But they are not naïve to the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty. And they will be monitoring the waiver wire for opportunities to improve the team.
“I actually believe this is going to be one of the more interesting camps in years because of some of the unknowns that are out there,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “No one is naïve here. You are going to miss Witten’s production and Dez’s production. Someone is going to have to step up. But in the meantime when we watch these players battle and compete..we will be observing that…and when opportunities arise out there to improve our roster we are going to jump on that.”
3. The Cowboys couldn’t talk directly about Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. But vice president Stephen Jones said there have been no trade talks with Seattle about Thomas since the NFL draft in April. But Jones allowed that the Cowboys are keeping abreast of the situation, especially with Thomas holding out training camp with the Seahawks in hopes of a new contract.
“You are always aware of what is going on whether players are reporting or unhappy,” Jones said. “Sometimes those do lead to opportunities. We will keep an eye on that.”
4. While the world is worried about Earl Thomas, the Cowboys are continuing to sing the praises of second-year free safety Xavier Woods, who could render in the discussion of a trade moot if he has a strong training camp.
Woods looked good in minicamp but must take it to the field when the pads come on in training camp and preseason games.
“We were really pleased that these guys did a have good offseason,” Stephen Jones said. “But you don’t play the game in shorts and shells. Lot of it is going to come to fruition out here. But we do believe there are players who are going to step up. Xavier Woods did a lot of impressive things, not unexpected. We gave up a future pick to get him. One of his biggest attributes was making plays on the ball. That is showing up. One of the biggest parts of playing defense is if you can make plays and create turnovers and do those types of things. He has certainly showed a propensity to do that. We will continue to look for ways to improve that situation. If we feel like is needed and if the right situation presents itself then we would look at it.”
5. Defensive end Randy Gregory reported to camp in pretty good shape after missing all last season serving an NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gregory weighed 242 pounds and ran pretty well, although the Cowboys kept him out the conditioning test. Coach Jason Garrett said the team will have him work to the side with strength coaches and trainers at the outset of camp to make sure he is good condition.
“We’re going to work him back in,” Garrett said. “He hasn’t been part of our team in over a year, he hasn’t been around NFL players in a long time. He looks in good shape. His weight is good, spirits are really good, we’re excited to have him here, but he’s going to work with our strength coaches and with our trainers to make sure we get a good base and a good foundation underneath him before he starts practicing.
What is the hardest thing for Gregory?
“I think just getting his football legs back up underneath of him,” Garrett said. “We’re going to be very thoughtful and through as to how we allow him to do that, it starts with drill work and then you put him in competitive situations and then you get him closer to playing in the game. He’s a young player, he’s a very instinctive player. He’s got a really good feel for the game, that’s one of the reasons why we like him, he’s an outstanding athlete. We don’t think it’s going to take long, but we have to check ourselves as coaches. You get excited about getting a guy like this back, you don’t want to get ahead of yourself. We’re going to be very deliberate very thoughtful and how we go through this process and taking it step by step by step before you put him in a competitive situation.”
5. Safety Kavon Frazier is surprisingly starting camp on the on non-football injury list. The Cowboys are saying it’s nothing serious at the moment. But per a source, the team is doing blood work on Frazier in an attempt to get a handle on the situation. Frazier was expected to compete with Jeff Heath for the starting job at strong safety.
6. The Cowboys have not been notified by the league of any concerns regarding the availability of receiver Terrance Williams following his arrest of public intoxication in May. And he should be ready to go for the start of training camp from a health standpoint as well. Williams missed the entire offseason rehabbing a fractured foot. But he participated in the conditioning test on Wednesday with no problems. Coach Jason Garrett said they may bring Williams along slowly with the trainers to be on the safe side but the team feels good about his recovery.
“Terrance ran the conditioning run this morning,” Garrett said. “He looked good, didn’t have any issues. We’ll have discussions about what we’re going to do with him each day, certainly at the outset of camp. We don’t want to rush it. Those foot injuries can kind of reoccur if you’re not patient with them. But he’s done everything we asked him to do. He looked good with the work. We’ll see how he responds to that work and really take his situations day by day.”
7. Vice president Stephen Jones acknowledged that the four-year, $60 million, including $45 million in guaranteed money, signed by Rams running back Todd Gurley has changed the game and will have a direct impact on future negotiations with Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
But the Cowboys are not afraid and are prepared to pay Elliott top dollar as they are with quarterback Dak Prescott, possibly as soon as the end of the 2018 season.
“That certainly moved the market in terms of running backs,” Jones said. “Certainly you’ve got great running backs out there right now that have been wanting to move that market. It certainly will affect Zeke. I’m sure Zeke smiled big when he saw it. But I wouldn’t take anybody for Zeke. I just think we’ve got the best one in the league, and I think he’s put his off the field issues behind him and I expect him to do very special things and just as I said with Dak (Prescott), I hope we’re looking at big numbers on both of them, because that’ll mean they’ve had great years and I would submit to you that if both of them go out and have great years, the Dallas Cowboys are going to have a great year too.”
Jones said the Cowboys have it in their budget to be able to pay Elliott, Prescott and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence following the season.
He doesn’t expect either player take a team friendly discount, especially Prescott who has already being paid below market value.
8. If there was any question that the Cowboys are now quarterback Dak Prescott’s team then look no further than the 2018 media guide. Prescott is the cover boy and face of the franchise. And while there has been a lot of talk this offseason about making the system Prescott-friendly, coach Jason Garrett said the goal has been to create a great environment for him to succeed in.
“And you do that a lot of different ways, putting good players around him, creating a system that suits his strengths and highlights his strengths and maybe minimizes some of the things he doesn’t do quite as well,” Garrett said. “When you have a guy like Dak Prescott, he’s capable of doing so much. He’s capable as a drop-back passer. He’s capable moving and rolling with design, nakeds, and rolls that we will have in our offense. But he is also capable of doing some of the zone-read type. The biggest thing we try to do is we focus in on the stuff we want to do. We feel like we have good players around him. We feel very good about our offensive line. We feel good about our young tight ends. We feel good about the competition we’re going to have at receiver and obviously our runner is one of the best in the league. So, I think there are good pieces around him. He’s as big a piece as we have on the offensive side of the ball and really excited about where he’s been and where he’s going.”
9. Owner Jerry Jones still has a lot feeling for receiver Dez Bryant and believes he will land a job in the NFL this season. But Jones has no regrets on cutting Bryant, saying the decision was best for everyone involved.
“Dez is an NFL player,” Jones said. “There’s no doubt in my mind and can really contribute. It was best for us that we’re in the spot we’re in, but when I say us it includes Dez. I believe that strongly. I love Dez. I spent a lot of time, and inordinate amount of time with Dez, but this is for the best. But he certainly good enough player that he can help people. He can help teams win games. I say that unequivocally. I believe that. Just look at our last few games and see if he made any plays against Oakland or anybody. He did.”
Jones said he hasn’t talked to Bryant in at 60 days believes he will have a job when the season starts.
10. Owner Jerry Jones didn’t advise former receiver Terrell Owens on his decision to snub to the Hall of Fame ceremony in Canton but appears he wished he would have.
Jones, who was inducted last year, said Owens is making a huge mistake.
“I did have discussions with him,” Jones said. “I had one of the great experiences that ever happened to me last year. He did not ask my advice. Had he asked my advice, or had I been compelled to, I would have shared with him that this is a mistake. You, for your own reasons, but more importantly because of fans, you should participate. I didn’t give him that advice and consequently, you see where he’s going. He is making a mistake, but that’s his decision. Terrell, as you know, has a mind of his own.”