The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 19 for rookies, July 22 for veterans
Where: Oxnard, Calif.
1. Can Dak Prescott handle a bigger role in the offense?
Last year at this time, Prescott was a third-string rookie ready to learn from Tony Romo and Kellen Moore. By Week 1 he was the starter, and we all know how that story went. Prescott had a remarkable rookie season (though he shouldn’t have been NFL offensive rookie of the year; that should have gone to teammate Ezekiel Elliott) with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. But Prescott was not asked to carry the offense very often. He was in a great spot, able to manage the offense while a great offensive line and Elliott carried the load. His role should change this season. When he threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff loss to the Packers, it was a sign he was ready for more. Camp will be spent expanding the passing game and seeing what Prescott is ready for in his second season.
2. Who are these defensive players?
The Cowboys weren’t exactly the 2000 Ravens on defense last season, but they were solid. However, five starters from the Cowboys’ playoff loss are either gone or suspended for the first four weeks of the season. Many key backups are also either suspended or somewhere else. To fix that the Cowboys spent seven of their nine draft picks on defensive players. Getting them all acclimated is a big priority in training camp. One second-year player who will be watched closely in camp is linebacker Jaylon Smith, the former Notre Dame star who missed all of last season with a severe knee injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl. Before the injury he was considered a top-10 talent in the 2016 draft, and a return to form would be a boon.
3. Can the Cowboys handle the pressure?
Modest owner Jerry Jones would prefer a nice, quiet training camp with minimal attention on his team … yeah, that’s a joke. Jones is looking for a microphone as you read this. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey might have closed up shop, but there’s still an annual circus at Cowboys training camp in Oxnard. The Cowboys are used to the attention but this year will be even more intense than usual. Last season the preseason expectations were modest. That’s not the case after a 13-3 season with an NFC East championship. Dallas enters this season with Super Bowl dreams and every move will be dissected, starting with that first camp practice in California.
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