FRISCO, Texas — The change of offense has begun on the practice fields at the Cowboys’ headquarters. This week marked the beginning of organized team activity, marking the first opportunity for the recently added veterans and rookies to team up with quarterback Dak Prescott, new play-caller Mike McCarthy and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
“In terms of the installation, of course there are some additions, some things removed,” Prescott said after Thursday’s practice, the first open to reporters. “I think you just get the general feeling that maybe the game is going to be called a little bit different. I can’t give too much away. … But there are some changes. It’s not like throwing away our script and trying to start over, something like that.”
The Cowboys have each had a top five scoring offense over the past two seasons. They led the NFL in points per game (31.2) and yards per game (407) in 2021. But falling short in the playoffs the past two seasons, Dallas took a different direction this offseason, with the head coach took control of the offense. .
“If you look at the statistics of[the last]three years of violations and the direction we’re going,” McCarthy said Thursday, “we’re continuing in that direction.”
One notable change is that there is a new veteran wide receiver that works with the first team offense. Brandin Cooks took on representatives with the startup group, which included CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. As with Amari Cooper in the past, the Cowboys once again have three starting wide receivers all capable of 1000-yard seasons.
“Of course I’m still learning, but as you know, McCarthy has been involved in a lot of explosive fouls everywhere he’s been,” Cooks said. “That’s what you feel. He wants to be explosive and dynamic with all his players. And that’s what I’m still learning.”
A significant part of the offensive transition will be to establish what works best for the current group. Two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott is no longer on the team. Dalton Schultz, Dallas’ No. 1 for the past three seasons, is now with the Houston Texans. There are also several moving parts along the offensive line, which may not be fully resolved for several months.
There’s a lot of work to be done between now and the season opener on September 10. One OTA practice doesn’t tell much of a story. Prescott believes the small details will make all the difference in the group playing “faster” and “cleaner”. McCarthy’s West Coast offense will likely limit the number of reads Prescott has on any given game.
“Guys are faster and cleaner in place,” Prescott explained, “allowing them, if that’s not there, to scramble and make a play.” That just ensures that when the first reading and the second reading aren’t there, everyone is on the same page for that scramble exercise.
“Only in these first few days are guys flying off the ball. And I think that’s the biggest difference. The more we can get that, the better off we’ll be.
Defense Coordinator Dan Quinn has often talked about taking plays out of the game plan during the week if the players aren’t completely comfortable executing them in practice. It sounds like McCarthy will do the same when offended.
“While we were vomiting (practice today),” said Prescott, “(McCarthy) said, ‘Look at everything we put in there and make sure we’re doing the things that you like and that we’re good at. If it’s anything is what you’re a little dubious about, let’s get it out Let’s master what we do best.” Just having that clear communication, being able to work with him day in and day out, it’s new, it’s refreshing, it’s fun for both of us.
Here are more notes and observations from Thursday’s first OTA exercise open to reporters.
Cowboys veterans don’t participate. The group consisted of CB Trevon Diggs, DE Dante Fowler, S Malik Hooker, DE DeMarcus Lawrence and RG Zack Martin.
First team attack line. With Martin out, the first group was Tyler Smith at left tackle, Matt Farniok at left guard, Tyler Biadasz at center, Josh Ball at right guard, and Tyron Smith at right tackle. Terence Steele watched from the sidelines. He is not quite ready to return from last season’s ending knee injury. Chuma Edoga also worked with the first group on the left guard. Matt Waletzko did the same on right tackle.
There’s been a lot of talk about getting the “best five” on the field for the Dallas O-line. That may not matter much given the health issues of recent seasons. Since McCarthy became head coach in 2020, the “top five” hasn’t been available very often. In 2020, the “best five” of Tyron Smith, Martin, Steele, Connor Williams and the middle pairing of Biadasz/Joe Looney started just two of 16 games combined. Things got better in 2021 as the “best five” of Tyron Smith, Martin, Biadasz, Williams and Steele/La’el Collins right tackle combination started 11 of 17 games. Last year, the “top five” never started a single game together because Tyron Smith and Steele were never healthy at the same time. The Cowboys went 8-5 in those games over the past three years with their “best five.”
Tyron Smith’s demise in Dallas is discussed at volumes that don’t seem appropriate
Run back. It was a good sign to see Tony Pollard (leg) on the field during the early part of OTAs. He seems to be on track to start the season completely healthy. Malik Davis and Ronald Jones were the next two backups behind Pollard.
Did the Cowboys adequately replace Elliott in the running back position?
“I don’t think you’re just going to replace Zeke,” McCarthy said. “I’ve never looked at it that way. Business, cap economics, that’s real. You make decisions and sometimes the decisions definitely factor into the next decision or two coming up. We were working on short distances and goal lines last night and he just jumps off the tape. This is really not about replacing Zeke. It’s really about opportunities for the young guys. Tony’s chance to be the protagonist. We’re prepping all those guys. Deuce is the new man. It’s been cool to see him being implemented in the things we’ve been doing here for the past week. The group will look different because his presence is no longer there.”
Game of the day. Rookie RB Deuce Vaughn caught a 45-yard pass from Will Grier in 7-on-7 practice. Vaughn did a great job tracking the ball and coming back to make the catch. The defensive backs did not go full speed or try to intercept passes during the drill. McCarthy saves him from being fined for the third straight year for the team’s too much contact during OTA practices.
Hall of Famer. Former Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware was in the building, working up quite a sweat as he coached Micah Parsons and other defensemen.
Change of position? Kelvin Joseph had been an outside cornerback for the past two seasons. He worked the nickel position on Thursday.
Pace of practice. Prescott was asked if the speed of work on the field was slower and if the pace was faster. “It’s hard,” he said. “That’s exactly what we’re in right now, isn’t it? (Collective bargaining) and all that, more jog-throughs, walk-throughs, got to make the most of it though. I think that’s where it comes in individually, pushing myself, making sure that the drilling that I do, I don’t take for granted. I do it with a purpose, I do it with the right intentions. And then just when you’re there on 11-on-11 understanding that physically we can’t be at full speed but my mind can so just to make sure whether I check or not I just am going through everything and getting the most out of the workout regardless of the speed.
(Photo by Dak Prescott: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)