IRVING, Texas -- The next time the Dallas Cowboys are on a football field they will be enjoying the cool temperatures in Oxnard, California, for training camp in late July.
The Cowboys went through nine organized team activities and a three-day minicamp in the heat and humidity of Valley Ranch.
It is impossible to come up with answers to offseason questions when players are not wearing pads, but after the six practices that were open to the media over the course of the spring, here are some observations:
Best news: Tony Romo was able to do everything. He had surgery on his collarbone in March but did not miss a practice. He was sharp and said he is throwing the ball as well as ever. He looked like he was moving better than he has in the past few years as well. The Cowboys will go as Romo goes. He had a strong spring, which portends to a strong summer, which the Cowboys hope leads to a strong fall when they will need him to win games.
Best rookie: Ezekiel Elliott. It has to be Elliott, since the Cowboys’ second- and third-round picks, Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins, were limited to rehab because of knee and foot injuries. Elliott will play a major role in the offense. His work last week in minicamp brought out a "wow" moment. Taking a simple checkdown from Tony Romo, he turned upfield and outraced the entire defense, first running away from Kyle Wilber and then Brandon Carr. It was so impressive that the offensive players started hooting and hollering. The big plays will return to the offense.
Best rookie not named Elliott: Fourth-round pick Charles Tapper made strides as the spring went on, but from the first day through the last, undrafted receiver Andy Jones might have been the best rookie. He seemed to earn some trust with the coaches, who put him in with the first-team offense at times. He won’t run away from defenders, but he can pluck the ball with his hands and can position his body in a way to keep defenders on his back.
Best chance to earn spot: Randy Gregory will miss the first four games because of a substance abuse violation, and DeMarcus Lawrence is facing a similar penalty and didn’t practice because of back surgery. Free-agent pickup Benson Mayowa missed minicamp for knee surgery. All of that allowed Ryan Russell, who played in just one game last year, to get a ton of work. He was on the wrong end of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s tongue-lashings last year. He has the ability to play both defensive-end spots. He was able to work with the first team for most of the spring, which helped his development. Until the pads come on you won’t know for sure, but he can go from roster bubble to part of the rotation this summer.
Still waiting: Chaz Green did not play a year ago because of hip surgery. In a conference call with season-ticket holders this offseason, executive vice president Stephen Jones said he thought Green could push Doug Free for the starting right-tackle spot. That didn’t happen in the spring. He was better in minicamp and maybe he needed to knock off some rust before he started to feel comfortable. He has an issue with dehydration, which is curious since he played at Florida. He might not be in a roster fight, but he could be in a battle with Charles Brown to make the game-day roster.
Biggest disappointment, defense: You can talk about injuries, but those will happen and a lot of guys were held out for precautionary reasons. To me, it’s Rolando McClain. Jerry Jones can say the Cowboys cut him some “slack” because McClain’s kids live in Alabama. What about the other players with kids in other states who did not miss a day? McClain has not earned that type of slack. His conditioning will always be a concern, and the Cowboys wanted him around in the spring mostly to help with that. He was not in good shape when he showed up for minicamp.
Biggest disappointment, offense: Devin Street suffered a rib-cartilage injury that prevented him from working the back half of the program on the field. He is entering his third year and is still looking to make his mark. With Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead and even Jones, the undrafted receiver, Street will need a strong start to training camp.