Football is the focus as soon as the players enter the door of the West End Zone on their way to the first team meal at the newly remodeled training table and then the first team meeting.
Now that the start of practice is less than a week away, here are five early items that we are guessing are on the to-do list for the Cowboys coaching staff and front and center on the agenda for fall camp.
1. Find the Candidates at Linebacker
Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Glenn Spencer said this summer that he knows one player that will be starting at linebacker is Ryan Simmons, who is a returning starter at the weak side and now moving back to his previous home in high school of middle linebacker.
"I don't know who the other players will be at linebacker but I guarantee you they will be playing hard and giving every ounce of effort that they have," Spencer said earlier this summer.
Truth be known, Spencer knows he will have Demarcus Sherod (42, shown above) at the weak side, although he can play in the middle too. He knows that Seth Jacobs has been working hard this summer and may be more comfortable at weak side. That leaves it wide open at the star linebacker position with Michigan transfer Josh Furman a possibility along with freshmen like Tucker, Ga., safety Kirk Tucker; Pearland, Texas standout Justin Phillips; and fellow freshman Gyasi Akem of Broken Arrow.
A bonus would be the unexpected return of junior college All-American Devante Averette, who has had a record pace rehab of the ACL he tore in the spring. Another bonus could be defensive end Jarrell Owens, who at 6-3, 240 flashed a sub-4.6 forty this summer when reporting.
2. Figure Out the QB Depth Chart
We know that J.W. Walsh will be the first quarterback to trot out there with the offense. Honestly, I have a great deal of confidence that Walsh is going to have a really good season. However, Walsh is a running quarterback and needs to run to have success. Running quarterbacks are one play away from a trip to see the trainer, so you need to clearly know who is number two.
Mason Rudolph, as predicted, has steadily improved through the spring and summer, but Daxx Garman still has that kind of bazooka arm that captures some fascination. I've said it will be one of the most interesting position battles in fall camp. Keep an eye on who is number two. That is a very important position for the Cowboys.
3. What is Brandon Garrett's Status?
New offensive line coach Bob Connelly said last week that he felt that Garrett, who suffered the compound leg fracture in the first half of the Cotton Bowl game with Missouri, would be ready right from the start of fall camp. That needs to be answered early.
We know that Devin Davis will not be and that is a situation that likely will take some time. Garrett could compete right away at tackle with young pup/redshirt freshman Zach Crabtree, who improved every day in practice this spring and comes in holding down the right tackle position. It also helps the depth at tackle with Daniel Koenig (left tackle), Crabtree and Garrett forming a solid three. Michael Wilson is the back-up behind Koenig going into camp.
Garrett provides depth and experience, two critical needs on any offensive line.
4. What About a Backup Center?
Connelly also said he was happy with starting center Paul Lewis. He complimented Lewis on his effort to learn everything Connelly wanted him to in making all the calls and all the recognition and adjustments up front on offense.
Lewis was recruited to someday be the starting center, but it is critical to find the backup center. It may stay Zac Veatch, who is also the starter at right guard currently. You would love it if someone could slide in there and actually be a solid backup for Lewis. Connelly will have his eyes open.
5. Is Zach Sinor Going to Compete for the Punting Chores?
Robbie Discher told me the other day that he doesn't care whether he has three separate specialists or if somebody doubles up. We know that Ben Grogan will handle the field goal and PAT kicking. We know that Kip Smith will do the kickoffs. The question is whether freshman and Texas two-time All-State punter Zach Sinor is ready to take the punting job from Smith.
Last season Smith averaged a pedestrian 39.6 yards per punt and even though some of his punts were flat and helped set up some long returns, the net punt average for the Cowboys was 34.9 yards. That isn't bad. Sinor averaged 43.5 yards per punt last season with 16 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. He had a long punt of 66 yards.
Early in practice it will be time to see what Sinor can do in the way of distance and hang time. My guess is all three will travel regardless, so that is not at issue.