The Dallas Cowboys hosted their annual scrimmage Sunday evening at AT&T Stadium, but there was little that was traditional about it.
No jersey numbers, filtered crowd noise, and the timing of it are just a few things that reminded us how different this season has been, and will be when they kick off against the Rams at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 13 at SoFi Stadium.
But it was a bit of a refresher that football is here and some of the questions we have about this 2020 season.
Offensive Line Rotations
Joe Looney is the assumed starter at center for the 2020 season after All-Pro Travis Fredrick retired in March following his first year back from Guillain-Barrésyndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system, which knocked him off the field in 2018.
During that year, Looney took command over the center role. The eye-popping stat from that year is Dak Prescott was sacked a career-high 56 times – compared to 32 the prior year and 23 in 2019.
The Cowboys also struggled to run the ball in the RedZone with Ezekiel Elliott only recording six touchdowns on the year – he had 12 last year. Dallas also made changes at guard with Connor Williams appearing in the first half of the season and Xavier Su’a Filo taking over for the back half.
The left guard-center pairing appears to be Williams and Looney again, so it’ll be interesting to see how that duo plays out in 2020.
It’s amazing how losing one player can alter the way you perceive a position group. After Byron Jones left in free agency, Dallas is left with Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Anthony Brown as the returning contributors from 2019.
They also added rookies, Trevon Diggs, and Reggie Robinson, along with a few veterans, to create some competition at those spots. However, none of those aforementioned players are proven at the number one corner spot.
And none of them may not ever be asked to shadow a receiver, so this coaching staff may have belief in their ability to fit well in a group system than be individual talents. But the upside about this fairly new-look group from camp has been their aggressiveness with attacking the ball.
Even the players have said this system has allowed them to better thrive in taking the ball way, so this could be an underrated position group on this roster.
Replacing Gerald McCoy
The excitement level after the addition of Gerald McCoy was rampant when he signed a three-year deal to be in Dallas during free agency. It soon dissipated early in camp when he suffered a season-ending quad injury.
Now the options become Tyrone Crawford, Neville Gallimore, and Tristen Hill to fill in snaps for McCoy. We know Crawford is solid and Hill hasn’t anything to warrant belief he will secure the starting role – his progress has been noted by the coaching staff.
Gallimore was a player defensive line coach Jim Tomsula talked about predraft, and afterward shared his excitement on how big it was for him to fall to the third round.
There isn’t a lack of options just a lack of high-powered talent from what we can see right now.
Better year from linebackers
This time last year the Cowboys’ linebacking core was hyped up to be one of the best in the league – certainly top three in terms of youngest star duos.
Leighton Vander Esch is returning from a neck injury that caused him to miss seven games. Jaylon Smith is coming off a Pro Bowl year, though he didn’t feel like a Pro Bowler every Sunday. And Sean Lee is a year older.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan wasted no time switching Vander Esch to the Mike linebacker role and moving Smith to the strong side. It’ll allow Smith to use his speed and burst to react more instead of waiting for the play to come to him.
A lot of times you saw offensive linemen able to get to the second level without much resistance from the defensive tackles. With 350-pound Dontari Poe now manning the middle, Vander Esch should be freer to make plays without being physically worn down throughout the game.
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