Before week one’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dallas Cowboys have some work to do. Mike McCarthy’s first year did not go according to plan to say the least. Injuries and a global pandemic created a strenuous environment for a coach in his first year with a new team. To take control of the NFC East and create some buzz around the league, here are a few knives Dallas needs to sharpen leading up to Training Camp.

#1 The Health of Dak Prescott

Last season was derailed as soon as Dak Prescott went down against the Giants with a gruesome ankle injury. Prescott has shown glimpses of a timely recovery and McCarthy said he expects his quarterback to be ready by week one. Prescott has also been seen throwing on the gridiron once again during minicamp and OTA’s. He has participated in team and individual drills without an offensive line to avoid anyone falling on his leg or ankle. During OTA’s Prescott said, “As far as saying I can’t do drills or can’t do something, I’m pretty much full go.”

Prescott inked a $160 million deal this offseason, and with money comes expectations. Prescott currently ranks eighth in MVP odds, according to the lines. If he wants to reach or exceed that mark he will need some protection up front.

 

 

#2 Health of the Offensive Line

The Dallas Cowboys were plagued by injury last season, especially up front. Going into the offseason, offensive line depth was a major concern. Dallas waiting until the fifth round before drafting any lineman shows the confidence in the health of the entirety offensive line. Tyron Smith only appeared in two games for the Cowboys before undoing season ending neck surgery. La’el Collins missed the entire season with a hip injury, and even Zach Martin missed extensive time. Although, Prescott says they look better than ever. Those are strong words for a guy in Smith who wears a knee brace on his elbow. Brandon Knight has taken heavy reps at guard, and seventh round pick out of Nebraska Matt Farniak is capable of playing every spot on the offensive front but has spent most of his time at center thus far. If this group can manage to stay off the injured reserved list, this offense will be dangerous.

 

#3 Dan Quinn’s new scheme

The Dallas Cowboys defense was historically bad last year and Dan Quinn is expected to simplify the defensive scheme and create a manageable system for this young defense. It’s difficult to pinpoint where this defense could rank in the NFL. The talent is there, but the majority of this defense is either unproven or inexperienced. The Cowboys are eyeing potentially two-four rookies to start around the defense. Offensively, if healthy, the Cowboys are looking at a top five offense without question. Although, this team will only go as far as the defense will take them. The last eight Super Bowl champions had their defenses slotted in at least the top 10 overall, according to Pro Football Reference. This Cowboys team is not ready to make a Super Bowl run yet per say, but that is the ultimate goal. If Dallas has any shot to get into the upper echelon in the NFC, Quinn needs his young guys to play exceptional football.

#4 Linebackers

Jaylon Smith underperformed a year ago, Leighton Vander-Esch has an extensive injury history, Keanu Neal will play linebacker, first-round draft pick Micah Parsons has taken reps at the middle linebacker position and Jabril Cox has exceeded expectations in OTA’s in just a few weeks. The linebacker position is deep yet filled with question marks. This might be the most confusing position group in the NFL. Parsons versatility could slot him at any spot along the defense, as a middle linebacker, pass rusher or a cover linebacker. Vander-Esch has missed 13 games in the last two seasons, and with the Cowboys shaking their head on his fifth year option, nothing can be guaranteed from his production. Neal has been confirmed to start for Dallas as a nickel linebacker on the front seven, which leaves the other linebacker positions pretty much wide open for the taking. The good news is, the Dallas Cowboys do not have to worry about depth within this group.

#5 Lack of Experience at Corner

Only three corners are returning with at least eight games of experience from a 2020 defense that in a word, underperformed. Anthony Brown (27), Jourdan Lewis (25) and Treyvon Diggs (23) are the “veterans” at the corner position. The lack of experience on the outside could prove disastrous for a defense that is going up against the defending Super-Bowl champions week one. Treyvon Diggs will start for Dallas as the number one cornerback come September, but the question remains on who will stand opposite of Diggs. Second round corner Kelvin Joseph seems to be emerging as the leading candidate to start as the CB2. The Kentucky prospect missed part of OTA’s due to illness but has turned heads since his return. Controversial third round selection Nashon Wright is not going unnoticed either. The 6’4 corner out of Oregon State is exactly what Quinn is looking for at corner, and seems to be a quick learner when it comes to his scheme. Both corners play aggressive and look to force turnovers at every snap. McCarthy and Quinn have young, hungry and talented corners to choose from, but with no experience at the professional level, Dallas could be in trouble.

 

Featured Image Via: © Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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