Dallas Cowboys

Stephen Jones says 5 Cowboys will be cut who would have made last year’s team

Dallas Cowboys receiver Tavon Austin (10) running with the ball during the afternoon practice at training camp in Oxnard, CA, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.
Dallas Cowboys receiver Tavon Austin (10) running with the ball during the afternoon practice at training camp in Oxnard, CA, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Executive vice president Stephen Jones likes what he has seen so far from the Dallas Cowboys in training camp.

He is especially excited about the depth at receiver, defensive back, linebacker and defensive end.

Jones said the quality of competition is so good that the Cowboys will likely have to cut five players who would have made the roster last year.

Jones is especially excited to see what tight end Rico Gathers can do in Thursday’s preseason game and whether he can sustain it after blowing up early in preseason last year then tailing off.

Here are five other thoughts from training camp:

1. Scouting director Will McClay went on 103.3 FM ESPN Radio Monday morning and declared linebacker Jaylon Smith 100 percent healthy from the knee injury he suffered in college that kept him out his rookie season in 2016 and had him on a pitch count in 2017.

It’s been well-chronicled that Smith is feeling much better this season. He is no longer wearing a brace for his drop foot and his brother, Rod Smith, declared him back to being as good as he was at Notre Dame when he was considered a top-five pick before suffering the knee injury.

Of course, Jaylon Smith said he is better than he was at Notre Dame.

Coach Jason Garrett will leave the comparisons to the Smith brothers, but he said Smith has grown leaps and bounds from last year and the Cowboys are treating him like any other player with no limits.

“Again, he worked so hard in his rehab. Coming into this off-season he was able to take that brace off. I think that’s freed him up a little bit,” Garrett said.

“And he just looks so much more natural. So again, you’ll have to ask him that very question, but from our point of view, he looks like he’s moving around really well, changing direction really well, making a lot of plays. I think he’s gaining more confidence with each day. We don’t really have a plan for him right now. He’s full-go and ready to practice every day with no limitation.”

2. There has been a lot of talk about cornerbacks Chido Awuzie and Byron Jones but Anthony Brown had been quietly playing just as well. He was under the radar until the past two days when he recorded three interceptions. The picks are an example of the growth Brown has made since last season when he disappointingly had seven dropped interceptions. It has been a focus throughout the off-season. He works on the Jugs machine and carries bricks like the receivers to strengthen his hands. It has paid off so far in practice.

“It’s a big emphasis,” Brown said. “It’s a new year. New goals. New dreams.”

3. One thing observers forget when they talk about the struggles of the offense in practice is that what the Cowboys do best, running the ball with Ezekiel Elliott, doesn’t show up well in a limited contact training camp session.

Elliott is the basis of everything the Cowboys plan to do on offense and he will also be a big part of the passing game. Elliott came to camp in great shape and has had some great practices.

The Cowboys unveiled a new wrinkle with Elliott on Monday when they had him split out wide and then moved to the slot before tossing a shovel pass to him. He slipped on the play. But it’s an example of how the Cowboys are going to get him the ball in as many ways as possible.

4. The Cowboys have a plan for Tavon Austin as a runner, receiver and kick returner. He had been featured as a pass catcher for much of camp but the past two days the Cowboys have gotten the ball in his hands on handoffs from the backfield, jet sweeps, reverses and quick screens.

Garrett said Austin has a lot of juice and the Cowboys plan to use his explosiveness as part of their package on offense with some games being more than others.

“Well, he’s a dynamic player,” Garrett said. “When the ball’s been in his hands throughout his career, he typically does good things. I think everybody saw that in college. That’s why he was such a high pick. I think throughout his career, teams have been trying to just get him the ball — whether they throw it to him or hand it to him or certainly in the return game. He’s got great quickness, speed and acceleration. I think he has playmaking ability. So we’re going to try to give him some chances to do it.”

5. There has been a lot of talk about the struggles of quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing offense in training camp. Prescott was pretty good on Monday, completing 9 of 12 passes in team and 7-on-7 drills. The best play was a deep pass to receiver Cole Beasley against safety Kavon Frazier when Prescott rolled to his left to beat the blitz. But his best throw came in 7-on-7 when he hit Allen Hurns on a crossing route against tight coverage from Byron Jones.

Garrett said Prescott is having a good camp, especially with so many veteran receivers like Deonte Thompson and Hurns missing time with injuries and with Terrance Williams being limited early.

“Still knowing the guys, getting to know some of the guys,” Garrett said. “We’re a little disappointed Deonte is not out there, Allen Hurns hasn’t been out there consistently. Twill is coming back. You’d like to have that work every day but again that gives other guys opportunities. We’ve seen a lot more of Michael Gallup every day and that’s a really good thing. It’s good they’re getting to know each other better a little bit.”

Cowboys Special Teams Coordinator Keith O'Quinn and his unit face new NFL rules on kickoffs this season. Thursday night's preseason game will be the Cowboys first under a host of new rules aimed at preventing player injuries.

Clarence E. Hill Jr. :@clarencehilljr
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