Training Camp Tour: D-line pressure, secondary depth still questions for Cowboys

After visiting camp in Oxnard, Calif., yesterday, Neil Hornsby reports back on Dallas' biggest questions entering the season.

| 10 months ago
Morris Claiborne

(Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

Training Camp Tour: D-line pressure, secondary depth still questions for Cowboys

OXNARD, Calif. – Oxnard, like Renton, Wash., on Tuesday, had the benefit of perfect weather. A wispy blue sky and limited humidity made for a pleasurable experience whether you were a player, coach, fan, or member of the media. While Wednesday’s practice had a little more bite than Seattle’s the day prior, it was still relatively low key in comparison to some of those we witnessed earlier in the tour and featured none of the Cowboys’ veteran stars. This was the team’s last full day on the West Coast, as they fly back to Dallas on Thursday, with their preseason home opener against the Dolphins kicking off Friday night.

[More: Get the full PFF training camp tour schedule here.]

Given the circumstances, as with yesterday’s Seahawks camp report, let’s focus more on what we saw in the first preseason game and its implications for Week 1.

More three-WR sets in 2016?

The Cowboys played 28 of 34 snaps in three-WR sets against the Rams in their first preseason game, perhaps belying the fact that (on paper, at least) they don’t have much behind the starting trio of Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley. In truth, that may have had more to do with their lack of viable tight ends in that game, with neither Jason Witten nor Gavin Escobar playing a snap.

Last year, the Cowboys were in 12-personnel (two-TE packages) on 23 percent of snaps—a little above the NFL average of 21 percent—so it will be noteworthy to see if in their second game they revert to form.

The wide receiver getting the most snaps in preseason Week 1 was Andy Jones, with 21, and he dropped two of his three targets. If one of these guys is to come through, it may be Brice Butler, who has played 200+ snaps in each of the last three years, and graded decently in the last two. Keep an eye on who the Cowboys bring in as the second string this week for a big clue as to who they may call upon in the regular season.

Replacing D-line pressure a tall task

The hot topic of conversation is where Dallas will get pressure from among their defensive linemen. Between players who have left and suspensions, the Cowboys lost over two-thirds of last year’s pressure this offseason (Dallas ranked 17th in our 2015 pass-rush grades).

Dallas DL 2015 QB disruptions

David Irving has perhaps the best chance of success based off last year’s performance, but even there we have questions. Irving played all but two of his 41 snaps in preseason Week 1 as the left defensive end, but last year, he played just 12 of 206 snaps outside the tackles, lining up as a 3-technique more often than not. How will he adjust to this change? If the game against the Rams is anything to go by, then just fine, but he’ll have much tougher challenges ahead.

Biggest questions may be in secondary

We’ll get to see soon enough if the Cowboys passing on Jalen Ramsey (or Vernon Hargraves III, even) in the draft works out. The Dallas cornerback position is a tenuous one, with their best player, Orlando Scandrick, just coming back from injury, and last years’ starters consistently failing to live up to expectations. The last two years, Brandon Carr has allowed QB ratings against him of 114.0 and 117.6, while Morris Claiborne was as good as released and resigned for a meager $3 million—a far shout from his status as the 2012 sixth-overall selection.

Deji Olatoye stood out in the first preseason game; targeted five times, he allowed only one 12-yard reception, intercepted one ball, and recorded a pass defense on another. Olatoye managed 140 snaps last regular season, and did well enough that he at least warrants a look, particularly given what’s in front of him.

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

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