OXNARD, Calif. – Training camp is in the books – at least the California portion – as the Cowboys return to Frisco for another six practices indoors.
But four weeks in Oxnard was plenty of time for players to stand out. Let’s find out the Top 10 training camp standouts, voted on by the staff writers of DallasCowboys.com.
10. Dan Bailey – If practice is any indication for a kicker, Bailey is primed to have another great season. He missed one field goal the entire camp and that was of at least 54 yards. Other than that, Bailey has split the uprights with just about every kick, which isn’t easy considering the steady wind that is noticeable on the field at Oxnard.
9. Travis Frederick – He just doesn’t get beat too often – simple as that. The Cowboys have actually given him some good competition in the middle with the likes of Stephen Paea and Maliek Collins but Frederick wins just about every battle in both team and 1-on-1 drills.
8. Tyron Smith – Had he not sat out a handful of practices with a nagging back injury, Tyron Smith would likely be sitting near or at the top of this list. That’s how good he is when he’s healthy and so if the Cowboys can get his back under control, he looks on point to return to Pro Bowl form in 2017.
7. Maliek Collins – It’s hard to make this list while missing more than half of camp. That just goes to show how well he played when he was in there. A hip injury early in camp didn’t slow him down when he returned. This second-year player looks ready to take that next step in his career. With so many question marks on the line, Collins is the one player the Cowboys seem to be able to count on.
6. Dez Bryant – If vote was over the last week of practice, book Mr. Bryant for the No. 1 spot. It’s not that he struggled early in camp, but he was definitely making plays over the last few days. Several dunks over the goal post symbolized Dez taking his game up a few notches. We saw the jaw-dropping plays that has been a staple for Dez here at camp.
Top 10: Oxnard Campers
5. Stephen Paea – We didn’t know what to expect from the veteran free agent, but his best pro season has occurred in Chicago when he played under current defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. If these last four weeks are any indication, Paea seems rather comfortable in this system and put his strength on display num4rous times. He’s a bit undersized but he uses that quickness to his advantage. Going up against Zack Martin and Travis Frederick many times, Paea more than held his own.
4. Anthony Hitchens – With so much talk about Jaylon Smith taking his job in the middle, Hitchens look unfazed for the last four weeks. In fact, he played like a guy on a contract year. Hitchens was overly active and had some practices where he was literally all over the places. He doesn’t back down from competition, often going up against the top backs and tight ends in the 1-on-1 drills. Had the Cowboys recovered the fumble in the end zone in the first preseason game, we might be talking even more about Hitchens, who delivered the timely hit.
3. Byron Jones – Year 3 looks like a turning point season for Jones, who is getting rather close to the quarterback of the defense role, especially in the secondary. All of a sudden, the youngster Jones is now one of the oldest and most experienced players among the defensive backs. This camp, Jones made many plays throughout the practices, showing off his range and athleticism just about every day.
2. Zack Martin – He gets challenged now and then, but rarely, if ever, loses a battle whether it’s 1-on-1 drills or team. Martin is the closest thing to consistency as the Cowboys have and he’s only getting better. The three-time All-Pro had yet another great camp and the only surprise was that we didn’t have a press conference announcing him getting a new long-term contract. Expect that to happen at some point in the near future because he showed again just how valuable and talented he is for this offense
1. Dak Prescott – What a change from a year ago. Last year he wasn’t even the starter but still didn’t look too great in the summer practices. Dak has certainly improved from a game-standpoint, but also in the practice sessions. You can see he’s made an effort to become a better pocket passer and he has the ability to throw on the run with accuracy. It seemed like his deep balls were connecting most of the time and he also has a better feel for when to dump it off to one of the backs. Overall, he just looked like a more polished version of himself in 2016, a year that just so happened to be the best of any rookie quarterback in NFL history. Read