IRVING, Texas — Pigskin purists like to claim there are two favorite sports in Texas: 1) Football. And 2) Spring football.
On Tuesday at Valley Ranch, "favorite sport No. 2" launches with full-team OTAs for the Dallas Cowboys.
My 10 storylines to watch this week:
1) It’s all about the quarterback, and that truth is no less so just because Tony Romo continues to rehab from back surgery. This will be Brandon Weeden’s week as he works to establish himself as a viable NFL backup. Kyle Orton is being paid to be a viable backup but isn’t expected to show until minicamps are mandatory (June 17) while he weighs his future.
2) Dallas is pouring resources into its offensive line, and now Zack Martin gets to debut with other young studs Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. First-round rookie Martin won’t be gifted the right-guard job; Mackenzy Bernadeau will need to be out-performed.
That may not occur Tuesday. But it’s coming.
3) Safety starters? Barry Church is locked in at one spot. His partner will emerge from a grab-bag of kids including incumbent J.J. Wilcox. Oft-injured Matt Johnson is in the mix. Jeff Heath, overmatched last year as an undrafted rookie, is, too. Another second-year guy, Jakar Hamilton, along with rookies Ryan Smith and Ahmad Dixon, will get their chances.
There are a lot of candidates here … But not necessarily a lot of answers.
4) Sean Lee launches yet another attempt to start and finish a Cowboys season as their leader and best defensive player. The switch to a 4-3 was made last year in part because the club views Lee’s unique talents as being Urlacher-like. That goal will never be realized if Dallas’ middle linebacker can’t stay heathy. Indeed, if Lee is unavailable for long stretches as he’s been throughout his career, Dallas’ defensive might be destined to be as statistically awful as it was in 2013.
5) There will be competition for jobs behind projected starting Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and that is a story on some level. But it’s not nearly as important as the work of Carr and Claiborne itself. It’s odd that this organization has heaped praise on them and yet their confidence was clearly shaken over the course of a wobbly 2013.
If they don’t regain their groove, Dallas backup cornerbacks will inch toward being in a discussion about being Dallas starting cornerbacks.
6) Erstwhile star Henry Melton (knee) isn’t ready to go yet. Nevertheless, defensive boss Rod Marinelli’s wish to have a deep D-line attack in "waves" can begin to take hold now.
Tyrone Crawford, injured all last year, might have star quality all along the line. Newcomer Terrell McClain could be a 1-tech upgrade. And of course second-round rookie DeMarcus Lawrence – labeled a "quarterback hunter" by personnel chief Will McClay – must be a premier performer.
7) the Cowboys’ injury plague last year was alarming enough to cause the organization to investigate changes in how they do their training business. During the recent rookie OTA’s, Dallas pulled back from a pads-and-helmet day to lessen wear-and-tear. And this was in a non-contact practice! In May! With players in large parts are not destined to play in the NFL!
The Cowboys don’t want to sacrifice a season to a rash of hamstring injuries. But how much practice work will be sacrificed in order to avoid the same?
8) I believe the Cowboys know what they have in Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams and rookie Devin Street. I’m interested in seeing how and where they line up (Dez in the slot?), how Cole Beasley fits in, and whether there are enough snaps to allow tight end Gavin Escobar to play a role as a pass-catching hybrid.
9) Dallas won’t use a running-back- by-committee approach, exactly; DeMarco Murray is a clear No. 1. But he’s in the final season of his contract and the Cowboys would be wise to develop a budget replacement at the position. That’s why Joseph Randle was drafted last year, but now he gets a push from newly-signed Ryan Williams, the ex-Cardinal limited to give games in three years due to injuries.
And then there is Lance Dunbar, the scatback specialist who figures to be a favorite tool for new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
10) Speaking of Linehan: The Cowboys coaching staff suddenly follows a logical organizational flow for the first time in years with head coach Jason Garrett having tabbed Linehan and Rod Marinelli (rather than owner Jerry Jones having tabbed them).
Another facet of the logical organizational chart: while Garrett is high on it, he’s in the final year of his contract with no extension forthcoming – which is exactly as it should be.
Garrett and his entire staff are coaching for their occupational lives here … a "life cycle" that begins Tuesday.