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Cowboys' OTAs offer chance for questions and answers

FRISCO, Texas – For the first time since their playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers in January, the Dallas Cowboys will get back to actual football as Phase 3 of the offseason program begins on Monday.

Well, it’s sort of like football as the organized team activities take place, starting Tuesday.

The players are in helmets, but not pads. They will work offense against defense, but there is no tackling. They will work on one-on-one drills and seven-on-seven drills. It will be competitive but not to the degree of, say, training camp.

While it’s like football, there will be plenty to see and learn.

All eyes on

At the top of the list is Jaylon Smith. His recovery from a major knee injury that included nerve damage has been well chronicled since the Cowboys took him in the second round last year. Through the first two phases of the offseason program, Smith did everything with the team. As the pace picks up Jerry Jones said Smith is expected to go through an every-other-day schedule in OTAs so as to not overdo the work for a player who has not practiced since January 2016.

The nerve is regenerating and Smith has feeling and some function. Will it be a 100-percent recovery? Nobody knows. Will Smith be on the field? The Cowboys and the linebacker fully believe that. Will he be the player many projected him to be? There is no way of knowing, but the OTAs will offer a glimpse.

New leadership

The Cowboys, from the coaches to the players such as Jason Witten and Sean Lee, have made it clear they want to empower Dak Prescott as he enters his second year. A year ago Prescott was just learning the finer points of taking a snap. Now he is one of the leaders on the team.

Prescott possesses a maturity that is not seen out of a lot of second-year players. He quickly won over the locker room last year with his work ethic. The 11 straight wins didn’t hurt either. And he has continued to work the same way in his second year, not missing a voluntary workout.

Prescott was not afraid to challenge some veterans last year if things weren’t to his liking. In the OTAs, he will get to demonstrate more on-field leadership by not only knowing what he is doing but what everybody else is doing.

Health check

There is more than just Smith to look at from a health standpoint.

Defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford (shoulder), DeMarcus Lawrence (back) and Cedric Thornton (shoulder) had offseason back surgeries. It’s not clear whether they will take part in any of the OTAs. Tight ends James Hanna (knee) and Geoff Swaim (foot) will not take part in much of anything in the offseason with an eye on being fully ready for training camp.

Safety Kavon Frazier is practicing after undergoing foot surgery earlier in the offseason. That should help him in a bid to earn more playing time in his second season. Tackle Chaz Green (back) has been working out in the offseason program and should be able to take some work in practices. That should help him in a bid to show he can be Doug Free’s replacement.

Who goes where?

Depth charts at this time probably won’t match what we see come September, but they aren’t meaningless.

The offense is mostly set but the line has some spots that could be shuffled. La'el Collins has been working with the first-team line at right tackle with Jonathan Cooper and Joe Looney working at left guard.

Defensively, injuries could play a part in the lineup viewed this week, but will the Cowboys go with Nolan Carroll, their biggest free-agent signing, and Orlando Scandrick as the starting corners? What about second-year corner Anthony Brown? Where will draft picks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis line up? Up front, does first-round pick Taco Charlton work with the first team from the start at right defensive end? Is David Irving at left end?

If we see Smith at Wednesday’s practice, which will be the first open to the media, will he be working with the first group at middle linebacker over Anthony Hitchens?