Huddle-Up: Cowboys Minicamp Top 10

IRVING - Less than a month ago, we previewed veteran OTAs by examining the key storylines. The more things change the more they ... well, let's see if they've remained the same as the team is back to work at Valley Ranch today and as you grab a shovel and dig into our Cowboys Minicamp Preview: Top 10 Storylines:



Pigskin purists like to claim there are two favorite sports in Texas: 1) Football. And 2) Spring football.

Today at Valley Ranch, "favorite sport No. 2" launches with a full-team three-day minicamp for the Dallas Cowboys.

When full-time OTAs began a few weeks ago, I created my 10 storylines to watch. Let's look back to that ... while looking forward to today:

1) What we said: It's all about the quarterback, and that truth is no less so just because Tony Romo continues to rehab from back surgery. This will be Brandon Weeden's week as he works to establish himself as a viable NFL backup. Kyle Orton is being paid to be a viable backup but isn't expected to show until minicamps are mandatory (June 17) while he weighs his future.
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Fast-forward to today:

We've got the inside story on Orton's "disconnect'' here. Meanwhile, Weeden is likely to take the bulk of first-team snaps this week as the organization becomes increasingly comfortable with the idea of the ex-Browns QB as this club's No. 2. (I'm going to have to go back and research the who's who of this, but the personnel department at Valley Ranch tells us that when Oklahoma State's Weeden was at the Scouting Combine before his draft, he was the most impressive thrower of the bunch.)

And then there is Romo, who tells DallasCowboys.com, "I'm to a point where I can push it and kind of go, and I feel like at this point I could play in a game if I had to. ... In the next couple weeks I think I'll be 100 percent."

I did eyeball Romo last Thursday during Cowboys U and he was bouncing around with all the other fellas, high-fiving and dogpiling the teenagers during the 6-on-6 touch football games ... protected by only a Cowboys raincoat.

"Hey,'' Romo told me when I asked him if the jacket served as padding, "it was raining out there!''

2) What we said: Dallas is pouring resources into its offensive line, and now Zack Martin gets to debut with other young studs Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. First-round rookie Martin won't be gifted the right-guard job; Mackenzy Bernadeau will need to be out-performed. That may not occur (to start OTAs). But it's coming.

Fast-forward to today:

It did indeed start. That very first day. Martin was in the first-team rotation at right guard. There is no reason for him to release his stranglehold on a starting position at either right guard or right tackle for, oh, the next decade or so. And helping things run smoothly: Martin's rookie contract was agreed to on Monday.

By the way, that leaves Bernadeau and Ron Leary battling it out for the left-guard job. This will be a good battle and this is a good thing.

3) What we said: Safety starters? Barry Church is locked in at one spot. His partner will emerge from a grab-bag of kids including incumbent J.J. Wilcox. Oft-injured Matt Johnson is in the mix. Jeff Heath, overmatched last year as an undrafted rookie, is, too. Another second-year guy, Jakar Hamilton, along with rookies Ryan Smith and Ahmad Dixon, will get their chances. There are a lot of candidates here ... But not necessarily a lot of answers.

Fast-forward to today:

Dallas is raving about Church, Wilcox remains on the inside track, and Hamilton has had a good spring. But the team would like to see Johnson healthy enough -- for the first time, really -- to see if he can be the playmaker he was in college.

"Our attitude is to try to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do," coach Jason Garrett said. "We feel like what he's done up to this point is worthy of us having some patience with him."

4) What we said: Sean Lee launches yet another attempt to start and finish a Cowboys season as their leader and best defensive player. The switch to a 4-3 was made last year in part because the club views Lee's unique talents as being Urlacher-like. That goal will never be realized if Dallas' middle linebacker can't stay heathy. Indeed, if Lee is unavailable for long stretches as he's been throughout his career, Dallas' defensive might be destined to be as statistically awful as it was in 2013.

Fast-forward to today:
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We are so unhappy to have been so prescient.

5) What we said: There will be competition for jobs behind projected starting Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and that is a story on some level. But it's not nearly as important as the work of Carr and Claiborne itself. It's odd that this organization has heaped praise on them and yet their confidence was clearly shaken over the course of a wobbly 2013.

If they don't regain their groove, Dallas backup cornerbacks will inch toward being in a discussion about being Dallas starting cornerbacks.

Fast-forward to today:

Orlando Scandrick should be included in this mix, too, as the Cowboys view the cornerback situation as a three-man job.

"I think our three corners are really good," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "And in what we're doing, they can really play. You got youth and you got some athleticism and ball skills. Now, it's our job to get them coached-up and to fit in the system and understand the whys in the system. We feel good about that."

It's possible that Dallas lines up today in a way that has Claiborne as a non-starter. So, yeah, sure, it's a three-man job. But that, to me, is not a good thing.

6) What we said: Erstwhile star Henry Melton (knee) isn't ready to go yet. Nevertheless, Marinelli's wish to have a deep D-line attack in "waves" can begin to take hold now.
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Tyrone Crawford, injured all last year, might have star quality all along the line. Newcomer Terrell McClain could be a 1-tech upgrade. And of course second-round rookie DeMarcus Lawrence - labeled a "quarterback hunter" by personnel chief Will McClay - must be a premier performer.

Fast-forward to today:

DeMarcus Lawrence has taken most of the first-team snaps at right end and media scout Bryan Broaddus says he's held his own in wrasslin' matches with Tyron Smith. And Broaddus also has good things to say about a bunch of lesser-known kids: Ben Gardner, Davon Coleman, Ken Bishop and Dartwan Bush.

We don't know if the waves will be quality waves. But they will be waves. ... and there is bonding, too, as George Selvie led a bunch of the fellas to a beer-spillin' wrasslin' match. Selvie tells CowboysHQ the tale here.

(Can Josh Brent be in this mix, too, eventually? As he moved from jail to rehab, he CowboysHQ unique angle is here.

7) What we said: The Cowboys' injury plague last year was alarming enough to cause the organization to investigate changes in how they do their training business. During the recent rookie OTA's, Dallas pulled back from a pads-and-helmet day to lessen wear-and-tear. And this was in a non-contact practice! In May! With players in large parts are not destined to play in the NFL!

The Cowboys don't want to sacrifice a season to a rash of hamstring injuries. But how much practice work will be sacrificed in order to avoid the same?

Fast-forward to today:

Ballet bars? Sure. I guess.
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8) What we said: I believe the Cowboys know what they have in Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams and rookie Devin Street. I'm interested in seeing how and where they line up (Dez in the slot?), how Cole Beasley fits in, and whether there are enough snaps to allow tight end Gavin Escobar to play a role as a pass-catching hybrid.

Fast-forward to today:

Scott Linehan is "simplifying'' some aspects of the offense. But in the slot, the opposite is true. There is lots of flexibility there and lots of ways to create mismatches. Meanwhile, guys like Beasley are adding to their repertoire so they aren't "just'' slot guys. This might be a major 2014 storyline.

9) What we said: Dallas won't use a running-back- by-committee approach, exactly; DeMarco Murray is a clear No. 1. But he's in the final season of his contract and the Cowboys would be wise to develop a budget replacement at the position. That's why Joseph Randle was drafted last year, but now he gets a push from newly-signed Ryan Williams, the ex-Cardinal limited to give games in three years due to injuries.

And then there is Lance Dunbar, the scatback specialist who figures to be a favorite tool for new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

Fast-forward to today:

Williams seems to be ahead of Randle in the rotation behind DeMarco. But we wonder: Does Dunbar have to be a specialist? Or can Garrett and Linehan use him on a more regular basis in a Reggie Bush-style manner?
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10) What we said: Speaking of Linehan: The Cowboys coaching staff suddenly follows a logical organizational flow for the first time in years with head coach Jason Garrett having tabbed Linehan and Rod Marinelli (rather than owner Jerry Jones having tabbed them).

Another facet of the logical organizational chart: while Garrett is high on it, he's in the final year of his contract with no extension forthcoming - which is exactly as it should be. Garrett and his entire staff are coaching for their occupational lives here ... a "life cycle" that begins Tuesday.

Fast-forward to today:

The life cycle begins again ... with Texas' second-favorite sport closing in on giving way to No. 1.




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