Camping with the Dallas Cowboys: What the watch for

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) /

Training camp for your 2021 Dallas Cowboys has officially started. The team has arrived in Oxnard, California after missing the excursion last year due to the pandemic. New faces and familiar ones alike are ready to put last year’s debacle behind them and start the journey to a possible sixth title.

With the first practice scheduled for Thursday, now is a great time to discuss three things to keep an eye on as training camp progresses.

Optimism is in full bloom for 2021 after weathering the gloom and doom of last season. As camp and the season goes on, however, there is a very real possibility that this could be the last Cowboys camp for a few big-name players. Both receiver Amari Cooper and linebacker Jaylon Smith have team options after this season that, if exercised, would save the Dallas Cowboys a ton of money.

Smith is much more likely to be on the razor’s edge when it comes to his time in Dallas, however, Cooper could be playing in his final season as well depending on his play and the depth behind him. The receiver position is one of the deepest on this team with six guys likely making the final roster.

Budding star Michael Gallup is also a free agent after this season putting another financial decision squarely on the front office. Cooper has been extremely productive and professional but business is business.

One of the most intriguing aspects of camp is undoubtedly how the new-look defense will take shape. The Dallas Cowboys have a new defensive coordinator and several new position coaches. They also have 17 new players all fighting for various roles.

With eight of their eleven draft picks used on defense players, four veteran free agents, and several undrafted defenders invited to camp, the Dallas Cowboys are clearly trying to fix a huge problem from last season. Expectations of some of the big-name incumbents will be extremely high as well.

The Cowboys and their fans will be looking for a bounce-back season from defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. The sky seems to be a limit for his running mate, Randy Gregory, as he enters his first full camp in five seasons with the team. A big return from an injury-riddled 2020 is necessary for linebacker Leighton Vander Esch while anything resembling the college version of Smith would be a breath of fresh air.

Of course, it would not be a training camp if there were not some interesting battles for some starting spots on this team. The 2021 Dallas Cowboys have three prominent spots that will likely take all of camp to decide.

The tight end spot, featuring Blake Jarwin vs. Dalton Schultz is about both play and money. Last year, Jarwin played less than 30 minutes of game time in 2020, opening a door for Schultz to show out. Schultz did so, even without the luxury of a starting quarterback, catching over 60 balls for over 600 yards with four touchdowns.

Jarwin, fresh off last year’s four-year, $22 million deal, has to prove himself all over again. His deal, much like Cooper’s is easy for the Dallas Cowboys to get out of if he loses his spot to Schultz. Jarwin has all the potential in the world making this a battle, one that will benefit the team more than the individual.

For the first time in a decade, the Dallas Cowboys will have a new punter. Whether it’s the younger Hunter Niswander or veteran Bryan Anger will be answered in the month of August. Regardless of who wins, the feeling is that without a strong performance from either, neither will be safe from weekly scrutiny.

Lastly, the defensive backfield should be highly competitive. Three cornerbacks (Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis) come in as the favorites, but second-round pick Kelvin Joseph and third-rounder Nashon Wright are absolutely in the mix for heavy playing time or a starting gig.

At safety, Donovan Wilson is the closest thing to a lock there is and that is not guaranteed by any means. Veteran free agents Jayron Kearse and Damontae Kazee will compete for that spot opposite Wilson and possibly his spot as well.

Kazee once led the league in interceptions, something no Dallas Cowboys players has come close to in what seems like forever. He’s also coming off a torn Achilles so how he comes back from that will be what to watch. Kearse, meanwhile, has been a role player throughout his five-year career but has come to Dallas to fight for a starting spot.

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Regardless of which players become starters, the 2021 Dallas Cowboys will be forged by fire in the breezy beach city of Oxnard. Several guys have a lot to prove. Several young players are hungry to earn their star. Buckle up, these next couple of weeks will be a great start to the story of the season.