After 21 practices or walkthroughs in Oxnard, Calif., ESPN Dallas’ Calvin Watkins, Todd Archer and Tim MacMahon hand out their training camp awards and disappointments.
Best player, offense: Dez Bryant was dominant from the first day of practice through the end, making a highlight grab just about every session. It was the continuation of what Bryant did to close the 2012 season and whets the appetite for what he could do in 2013.
Best player, offense, not named Dez Bryant: Jason Witten is entering his 11th season and is coming off an NFL record for tight ends with 110 catches. He does not appear to be slowing down. The Cowboys’ move to more of a zone-blocking scheme helps him in the run game, and he showed he will be more of a factor in the red zone as well.
Best player, defense: Like Bryant on offense, DeMarcus Ware was dominant on the defensive side of the ball. Tyron Smith will be glad when the season starts so he does not have to see Ware on a daily basis. The move to defensive end agrees with Ware, and he looks poised for another double-digit sack season.
Best player, defense, not named DeMarcus Ware: Ware is the defense’s best player, but Sean Lee is the conscience. Like Ware, the move to the 4-3 might make Lee more of a playmaker and free him to roam from sideline to sideline. The toe injury that limited him to six games last season is not a worry. It’s time for him to take the Pro Bowl step.
Best rookie: Easy answer here: Travis Frederick. The Cowboys caught some grief for taking Frederick in the first round, but, after a couple of weeks, Jason Garrett said he was as smart a young lineman as he has been around, and Tony Romo said he will be a player for a long time.
Biggest surprise: Even if Jermey Parnell was healthy during all of training camp, Doug Free would have won the right tackle spot. He has been more solid as a pass-blocker than he was last season and showed the ability to move in space. He looks more like the Free who excelled in 2010 than the one who struggled badly in 2012.
Biggest disappointment: For the second straight summer, Jay Ratliff was been a spectator in Oxnard. He was hurt in the conditioning test and is still recovering from December sports hernia surgery. The Cowboys are banking on him being a key piece in their defensive switch, but being unable to practice is not a positive.
Biggest question answered: I just mentioned Ratliff has not practiced. Anthony Spencer has missed time with knee surgery. Morris Claiborne has a knee injury. Tyrone Crawford is done for the season with an Achilles tear. That’s not good, but the defense looks primed to be a difference-maker under Monte Kiffin. It’s too much to say dominant right now but definitely one that will create takeaways.
Biggest question remaining: This is as easy as the Frederick answer: the offensive line. Free, Smith and Frederick have looked good, but the guard spots are a question. Mackenzy Bernadeau has not earned raves from the coaches and Nate Livings and Ronald Leary are recovering from knee surgeries. Continuity up front looks like an issue again.
Best moment: Bill Callahan will be under pressure as the playcaller this season. Will the Cowboys be more balanced on offense? Maybe. Callahan showed a lot of guts early in training camp in situational work with the offense at the 2-yard line with less than 10 seconds left and trailing 24-20 by calling a DeMarco Murray run. Murray ran his way for a touchdown, and it was a definite tone-setter for how the Cowboys want to run the ball in 2013.