Dallas Cowboys 2017 training camp preview, projected team depth chart

By The Sports Xchange   |   July 19, 2017 at 11:26 AM
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FRISCO, Tex. -- The Dallas Cowboys can't wait to get to training camp.

It will provide a nice respite from the drama that has beset them this offseason.

It started with defensive end David Irving getting suspended for the first four games of the season for using a banned supplement.

Then cornerback Nolan Carroll was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

Linebacker Damien Wilson was arrested July 4 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

And now with camp less a week away, the Cowboys have hit the coup de grace of offseason craziness.

Receiver Lucky Whitehead went viral after his dog was allegedly kidnapped and returned.

Receiver Terrance Williams made TMZ headlines for racing outside of a strip club at 5 a.m. on Monday.

And running back Ezekiel Elliott doubled down on his elongated investigation by the NFL for domestic abuse by being involved in an altercation at a Dallas nightclub on Sunday night. Elliott allegedly punched a patron and knocked him out. Elliott was not named in the police report.

But the Dallas police is investigating the incident and the NFL is also seeking information and gathering facts.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he has spoken with Elliott, but he declined to go into details regarding the incident.

"I'm not going to get into that," Jones said of the altercation. "I'm not going into any of his activities over the last week."

But even more pressing for Jones is the possible suspension for the star running back, stemming from a domestic violence allegation by a former girlfriend last July.

The Columbus (Ohio) District Attorney did not think there was evidence to bring charges and dropped the case. However, Elliott has been under investigation by the NFL for the last year.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported last week the league has wrapped up its case and was awaiting a response from Elliott. He also said Elliott was bracing for a possible short suspension.

Jones said he has not spoken to the NFL and expects to get more detail in the future.

But more telling is that Jones was not as certain as he had been in the past of Elliott escaping any discipline from the NFL and said the team has plans in place if he does miss games.

"I actually don't know the status, but I surely don't want to speculate about any decisions from the league or any potential injury or lack of having a player available," Jones said. "Availability is a key. Ability is a key. But availability is a key, and we really do plan personnel-wise, we plan for a player not being available. That's just part of our DNA."

Jones said Elliott is still learning and adjusting to the spotlight of being an NFL star.

"I know that and I can say first hand that developing an awareness of where you are with the visibility that is involved today is in and of itself a learning, evolving thing," Jones said. "People who have been in the public eye for years and years are having to rethink about how they are and how they approach the public eye. So it's not just someone that's recent to the public eye, as you well know, because of his style, personality, it's like a rock star wherever he goes as far as potential.

"That anybody that thinks about it but certainly anybody that's experienced that knows that takes some getting used to, to have to learn many aspects of that. So certainly Zeke is evolving and being subject to needing to learn how to deal with the media and social media the way it is today."

Jones doesn't expect these issues to impact the Cowboys when they report to training camp on Saturday.

He said the team has had distractions before and they understand how to handle them.

But he said there is a message that must be learned.

"I think the biggest message is not one that has to be stated," Jones said. "That is your actions impact an entire team. It impacts an entire fan base. There is a responsibility there to the team. It is a reminder of the interest that is in your actions and behavior. It's not dissimilar to the message you have when you sit down with a child and a young person and you let them know they represent everybody."

TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

--Make sure quarterback Dak Prescott is not a one-year wonder. Prescott could seemingly do no wrong last season when he went from fourth-round project to fashioning the best rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history. Now the trick is to do it again and show some sustained success with the pressure of expectations upon him as the face of the team. He won't be able to sneak up on opponents. They have a book on him and his tendencies. There can be no sophomore slump. Prescott must build on last year's success and be better.

--Develop a pass rush. The Cowboys must find a way to get to the quarterback with their front four. They drafted defensive end Taco Charlton in the first round to improve the pass rush. They need DeMarcus Lawrence to rebound from his one sack of a year ago. He had eight in 2015. They need David Irving to build on his success at the end of last season when he was the team's best lineman. Of course, he will miss the first four games of the season under suspension. Benson Mayowa also had a strong finish to the season and led the team with six sacks. He needs to make an impact from the outset. Same with defensive tackle Maliek Collins, who finished with five sacks last year. Tyrone Crawford must finally perform in what could be his last year with the team as the guaranteed money on his contract runs out.

--See if linebacker Jaylon Smith can play. The Cowboys have been all in on Smith since the end of the 2016 season because of need and desperation for another legitimate playmaker on defense. It is lot to ask of Smith, who missed all of his rookie season with a college knee injury and still has some nerve damage. Him being able to play at all is quite the accomplishment. Yet, the Cowboys are counting him as an impact performer. The first step is being able to practice in pads in camp and then the preseason games. How he reacts to contact and recovers for the next practice and game will be key parts of the process.

PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Dak Prescott. Backups - Kellen Moore, Cooper Rush, Zac Dysert.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Ezekiel Elliott, FB Keith Smith. Backups - Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Jahad Thomas.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Jason Witten. Backups - Geoff Swaim, James Hanna, Rico Gathers, Conner Hamlet.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams. Backups - Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown, Andy Jones, Lance Lenoir, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Brian Brown.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Tyrone Smith, LG Jonathan Cooper, C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin, RT Lael Collins. Backups - G Joe Looney, T Emmett Cleary, G/T Chaz Green, G/T Byron Bell, G/T Dan Skipper, G Ruben Carter, G Nate Theaker, T Clay Dubord.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Tyrone Crawford, DLT Maliek Collins, NT Cedric Thornton, DRE DeMarcus Lawrence. Backups - DE Benson Mayowa, DE David Irving, DT Richard Ash, DE Taco Charlton, DE Charles Tapper, DE Lenny Jones, DE Damontre Moore, DT Stephen Paea, DT Jordan Carrell, DT Joe Ivy, DE Zach Wood, DT Woody Baron, DE Lewis Neal.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Sean Lee, MLB Anthony Hitchens, SLB Damien Wilson. Backups - SLB Kyle Wilber, MLB Mark Nzeocha, MLB Jaylon Smith, WLB John Lotulelei, WLB Joseph Jones, WLB Lucas Wacha, SLB Darnell Leslie, SLB Keenan Gilchrist.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Nolan Carroll, RCB Orlando Scandrick, SS Jeff Heath, FS Byron Jones. Backups - CB Anthony Brown, S Robert Blanton, CB Chido Awuzie, CB Jordan Lewis, S Xavier Woods, S Jamiell Showers, S Kavon Frazier, CB Marquez White, CB Leon McFadden, CB Duke Thomas, CB Sammy Seamster, CB Jeremiah McKinnon.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Dan Bailey, P Chris Jones, LS L.P. Ladouceur, KOR Lucky Whitehead, PR Ryan Switzer.

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