FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys offseason is over. To paraphrase Bill Belichick, we’re on to training camp.
In five weeks the Cowboys will head to Oxnard, California, for camp to get themselves ready for a season they hope ends at Super Bowl LII. But before dreams of that happening can enter your mind, let’s offer up a quick review of the offseason program, awards style.
There are no bonuses that come with these awards. And you won’t see any linemen in the mix either because it’s almost impossible to judge their skill set without pads.
But here goes:
Best offensive player: Dez Bryant. He caught everything that came his way. He made the difficult catches. He made the easy catches. He looks ready to get back to the status he had after the 2014 season as one of the top receivers in the NFL. Injuries the last two seasons have robbed Bryant of playing time and effectiveness. A full offseason of work has put him in the right frame of mind going into the summer.
Best defensive player: Anthony Hitchens. There might not be a Cowboy who gets more undeserved grief than Hitchens. He had more than 100 tackles last year and many just assume Jaylon Smith will take the starting spot over. Smith might if he proves healthy but Hitchens was everywhere, especially during minicamp. He is a smart, instinctive player. A close second was another linebacker, Damien Wilson.
Best offensive rookie: The easy answer is Ryan Switzer. He made a favorable first impression but there needs to be a tapping of the brakes over what he will do in the regular season. The Cowboys will have packages for him, but to think he will transform their offense is going too far. But he showed a good feel for the game with Cole Beasley out with hamstring soreness. Another rookie worth noting is undrafted receiver Brian Brown.
Best defensive rookie: Third-round pick Jourdan Lewis got the narrowest of edges on second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie. Lewis looks smooth in the slot, which is a challenging position. He was OK on the outside too. Awuzie had a nice pick on Wednesday and he did nothing wrong, but Lewis caught my eye a little more.
Best unknown offensive player: It’s hard to call Rod Smith unknown since he was on the active roster for seven games last season, but he is pushing hard for a roster spot this year. He saw more time in minicamp than Alfred Morris. He is smooth as a pass catcher. He has decent vision as a runner. He can play fullback. He can play all the special-teams’ units. Running-backs coach Gary Brown was heard often yelling, “That’s it, Rod. That’s it.”
Best unknown defensive player: Damontre Moore received a $100,000 signing bonus on a two-year deal from the Cowboys early in free agency. By the end of the offseason, he was working with the first-team defense. Some of that was due to injury, but he earned the extra work with his ability to get to the quarterback. Interesting to note: He was being used as a stand-up outside rusher on occasion. The New York Giants, who drafted Moore in the third round in 2012, might be surprised at this, but he could be a big part of the pass-rush rotation if he can continue to show up when the pads come on.
Wanted more from, offense: Rico Gathers has gained exalted status despite having just one preseason catch to his credit. He missed more than a week with pink eye and then a virus that caused him to drop weight. And on Thursday he had a mental error that would have resulted in a sack and led to the coaches pulling him from practice.
Wanted more from, defense: I was tempted to say Taco Charlton, the first-round pick, but then I remembered the "no pads" rule. After seeing Xavier Woods highlights from Louisiana Tech, I wanted to see him go get the ball in these practices. It never happened but that’s partly because he didn’t get as much work as I expected. I still believe he will make plays when camp starts.
Best play (tie): Darren McFadden was able to come down with a tipped Dak Prescott screen pass by flipping the ball forward to himself for a big gain in team drills on the first day of minicamp. It was a great adjustment by McFadden after Tyrone Crawford got his hand on the pass. Jeff Heath's interception on a deflected ball also deserved recognition. Prescott’s pass to Jason Witten was a little high and the tight end tipped the ball, giving Heath the chance to make a one-handed grab for the takeaway.
Looking forward to the most, offense: How will the offense shake out? La'el Collins appears to have the inside track on the right-tackle spot. I would give Jonathan Cooper the edge right now at left guard. If Chaz Green can show early on he can stay healthy, then he could get into the mix at tackle or guard.
Looking forward to the most, defense: Jaylon Smith. Jaylon Smith. And Jaylon Smith. How could it be anything else? The Cowboys have been deliberate with his recovery. He practiced every other day in the offseason and might be on a similar schedule early on in camp. If he can come close to what he was at Notre Dame, the Cowboys will have a playmaker.