Takeaways from Cowboys OTA's Week 1

The media was allowed access on Wednesday to the first week of Organized Team Activities at Valley Ranch. Here are some topics Cowboys fans need to know about.

1. Romo is "back" -- One of the lingering issues with the 36-year-old quarterback heading into the 2016 season isn't his doubly-fractured left clavicle but still his back he had a discetomy performed on two off-seasons ago. Said Romo: "Right now it’s been exciting to be able to do some of the things that I haven’t been able to do. Signs of that show on the football field for myself. And they’re subtle. It’s tough to see from the naked eye. But I do think that my coaches and teammates around me see it." Even his position coach, Wade Wilson, concurred by saying the four-time Pro Bowler has looked "phenomenal" and has "velocity" and "accuracy" with is passes. Receiver Dez Bryant said of Romo: "Seeing Tony being strong the way he’s been strong the entire off-season, he’s been great. Just the guys seeing him and the young guys, including myself seeing Tony work, it just makes you want to work harder. You can see that he wants it, so we have  to be there to back him.”

 

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2. Dez wanting to be better than 2014 -- The seventh-year receiver out of Oklahoma State earned his first All Pro in 2014 catching 88 passes for 1,320 yards and setting a single-season franchise record with 16 touchdowns. For everything that season was, 2015 was the exact opposite with Bryant playing just nine injury-laden games catching 31 balls for 401 yards and a paltry three touchdowns. Getting back to his 2014 self would be a marked improvement, but Bryant wants to exceed even those standards. “Man, I’m not even trying to [get back] to 2014," said Bryant. "I’m past that. I’m going to be better than that. I’m going to. The way we’ve been working, the way the coaches have been on us, the way we’ve been holding each other accountable, I think that alone is going to make us all be better than what we were in these past years.”

 

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3. Darren McFadden is the starter -- I know. I'm as surprised as you are. Anyone can see McFadden excels in the Cowboys' zone-blocking scheme as well as my buddy Mark Lane excels at avoiding fast food. But it is all part of a strategy to make Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas' fourth overall pick, earn the starting role. "He’s our starter," running backs coach Gary Brown proclaimed. "He’s going to compete. Zeke has to earn it. I think that’s the best thing for our team and for those guys going forward." However, McFadden isn't being a jerk like some veterans on other teams who shun their eventual replacements. McFadden, once a top-5 pick himself, has taken Zeke under his wing and been a mentor to him, according to Brown.

 

 

4. Tempers flare -- According to multiple reports, during the 11-on-11 portion of OTA's, receiver Terrance Williams and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford got into a shoving match while on the sidelines. Williams could be heard shouting to Crawford to not "show it" but "prove it," whatever it was. The scuffle on the sideline, which even the street-clothes wearing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence tried to break up, caught the attention of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Being a combination of a kindly grandfather figure and a Marine drill sergeant, the latter shone through as he told Williams and Crawford to, "Knock off that horse ****." The two veterans complied and practice resumed with anymore hitches.

 

 

5. Veterans impressed with Zeke but still challenge him -- Romo is in the Zeke camp undoubtedly, saying of the former Ohio State product: "He's doing a good job. We're in the middle of the process right now, but he's asking questions... He's working hard and he's committed himself. So, that's all we can ask right now, I guess." Dez was a little more demonstrative with his enthusiasm for Elliott, declaring that he was "a hell of a running back." If the offensive veterans are like the good cops who encourage Zeke to do his best, the defensive veterans are the bad cops who demand better from the Cowboys first-rounder. Fourth-year safety J.J. Wilcox shoved Elliott at the end of a rep during 11-on-11, and third-year linebacker Anthony Hitchens collided with him on a slant during 7-on-7. Elliott will unquestionably be a star for the Cowboys someday, but for now the rest of the team is making him earn his place.

 

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6. The injured and absent -- Linebacker Sean Lee (knee), safety Barry Church (arm), cornerback Orlando Scandrick (knee), tight end Gavin Escobar (Achilles), running back Lance Dunbar (knee), and rookie linebacker Jaylon Smith (knee) rehabbed while their teammates took reps. Linebacker Rolando McClain, defensive lineman Jack Crawford, tight end Rico Gathers, and left guard Ron Leary were missing at Wednesday's practice. McClain had a family issue, Crawford a passport issue he's resolving in London, and Gathers some academics to finish. Leary, on the other hand, is skipping OTA's as part of a business decision. The fifth-year offensive lineman has requested a trade, and our man Matt Postins has the details on how that might work.

 

 

7. Garrett wants Leary back at Valley Ranch -- Speaking of the 27-year-old Baton Rouge native, the Cowboys head coach would rather have his left guard that started all of 2014 for the team back in the building, even though the emergence of La'el Collins relegated him to a reserve role. Said Garrett: "Ron has not been part of the off-season program at all. That’s a contract situation that he and his agent feel it’s best for him to stay away. We have spoken to him, and at this point none of the off-season program is mandatory. The only mandatory part of the off-season is the mini-camp at the end of the off-season program. Right now, he’s choosing to stay away. We don’t think it’s good for him, we don’t think it’s good for our team. But that’s how they’re handling the situation right now."

 

 

 

8. Dak Prescott making strides -- While the quarterback of focus this off-season will certainly be Romo, Prescott shouldn't go unnoticed. After all, he is just the fifth quarterback drafted since the Jones took over the Cowboys in 1989. Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson is impressed with the former Mississippi State field general. Said Wilson: "[Dak is] coming a long way. He has. From the time he's been here since the rookie mini-camp, it's a pretty big transition coming from a spread offense and not calling plays to digesting all this stuff. But it says a lot about the kid. He's a really hard worker and really dives into everything that he does."


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