The Dallas Cowboys started voluntary organized team activities last week. Here’s a quick summary of the top storylines to come out of their first team-wide practices.
Quarterback Tony Romo announced he had a medical procedure done last month to remove a cyst from his back. Romo downplayed the surgery as very minor. Although he was on the field during this week’s OTAs, he was more like a coach than a player. Romo is expected to return to full status as early as mini-camp in June or as late as the start of training camp in July. The Cowboys said recovery time was typically two to three weeks, and that was while being very cautious with their $108 million dollar man. If Sunday was gameday, I have a feeling Romo would be suiting up.
DeMarco Murray tweaked his hamstring this week. Head Coach Jason Garrett reiterated that holding him out of practice was being extremely cautionary on their part. With rookie running back Joseph Randle also out due to thumb surgery, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar had their chances to impress the coaching staff. The star of the rookie mini-camp and former Missouri half-back Kendial Lawrence did little to distinguish himself from the pack this week. The undrafted free agent, who is said to remind those of Darren Sproles without the catching ability, is expected to compete with both Tanner and Dunbar for the third spot on the running backs’ depth chart. All three backs need to improve their blocking skills before seeing the field for any significant amount of time.
The Cowboys coaching staff had their first chance to play with their three tight end sets. Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar and James Hanna are all expected to give the Cowboys more offensive flexibility this season. Although certainly a need, the Cowboys surprisingly selected Escobar in the second round of this year’s NFL draft. They are expected to utilize the new pass-catching rookie with Witten in a similar style to New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez tight end scheme. When you throw Hanna into the mix, you have a three-tight end set that could cause a lot of problems for defenses both in the air and on the ground.
Cornerback and last year’s number one draft pick Morris Claiborne bulked up over the off-season. He added six pounds of muscle to accommodate the more physical style of play that new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s scheme requires. This will also be the first full off-season for Claiborne as he missed a majority of last year’s workouts due to a wrist surgery.
Linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter returned from season ending injuries to full speed this week. The Cowboys lost Lee in late October of last season due to a toe injury. Carter was lost a month later due to an elbow injury. Both injuries required surgery. But this week, Carter and Lee both took the field at full strength and full health. Many came away impressed, especially by Carter, whose speed is more evident than ever.
Also returning from season-ending injuries were safeties Barry Church and Matt Johnson. Attendees said Church has returned to the form that got him the starter’s job last season, which is great news. And for the very first time, Johnson took the field. For anyone who knows Johnson’s story from last year knows how big that is. He is essentially a rookie learning the ropes in his second season.
OTAs continue next week…and so will the storylines.