The Dallas Cowboys began their quest to win their second consecutive NFC East title one week ago when they returned to Oxnard, California, for the start of training camp. After the team made a few key additions in the offseason, Dallas has seen some encouraging signs for the 2015 campaign.
Having lost DeMarco Murray to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, the Cowboys signed running back Darren McFadden. But most of the team's major moves came on defense, as they signed defensive end Greg Hardy and drafted cornerback Byron Jones with their No.1 draft pick. Linebacker Sean Lee has been with the team since 2010, but he’s making his return after a torn ACL forced him to miss all of last season.
Dallas has yet to see what McFadden can do on the field, as he recovers from a hamstring injury. But the running back is getting healthy, and he could be on the practice field by Saturday.
“I went out there and did a couple of good runs for a few days and I’m feeling good, didn’t get sore or anything,” McFadden said via The Dallas Morning News. “I did a little straight-line running and a little cutting, so I got a good feel for it. It’s one of those things where the trainers want to make sure I can put a couple of days back to back before they throw me back out there. I’m just looking forward to getting back out there on the field. No soreness or swelling the next day, so definitely a good sign for me.”
With the Cowboys a week away from their first preseason game, they still have a lot of questions to be answered at the running back position. Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar will also be competing for carries, and the latter suffered an ankle injury on Wednesday, though it’s not considered to be serious. McFadden participated in all 16 games last year, playing in more than 13 contests for the first time in his seven-year career.
While McFadden hasn’t been able to show what he can do, Dallas’ No.1 defensive addition has already impressed. Hardy has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season, but he’s looking like he could be a big help over the final three-quarters of the year. Hardy has proven that he can be a star in the NFL, and he may not have missed a step after sitting out the 2014 season.
“As soon as he steps on the field, there’s a focus in his eyes,” defensive ends coach Ben Bloom said via The Sporting News. “I had seen him play on tape, and I could see the energy on tape, but to meet the man and feel it firsthand, it’s exciting. I have a whole lot respect for him. He sets the tone with his motor, his effort and his toughness.”
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will find a bigger challenge in integrating Jones into the defense. Jones joined the team with a lot of hype, wowing scouts with his athleticism and having unofficially broken the broad jump record at the Scouting Combine. The rookie’s inexperience has shown at times during camp, but it’s clear that he has the talent to be a contributor in 2015.
The 22-year-old stood out on Tuesday when he covered Dez Bryant in a one-on-one drill. Jones stuck with the All-Pro and knocked away the pass that came his way. Bryant praised Jones for his coverage, and he has high hopes for the No.27 overall pick.
"I like him because he's poised," Bryant said. "I think the beautiful thing about it is he's willing to learn. You can see it. He's not down on himself if he don't make the play because he knows. I think that's how you become great. It's nothing wrong with listening and he does a great job of that. He wants to be a great contributor when it comes to this team."
With Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr entrenched as the starting cornerbacks, Jones could see time at safety. He’ll be battling with the likes of Morris Claiborne and Corey White for playing time in nickel situations.
Dallas has been cautious with Lee, keeping him out of team drills in the early going. The team is also playing it safe with Tony Romo and Jason Witten, holding them out of a few afternoon practice sessions.