The Dallas Cowboys started mini-camp Tuesday with five players to watch, including one that will have to be found first. That would be backup Kyle Orton who has still not shown up at camp and is reportedly contemplating retirement. Here are the five players to watch.
Tony Romo – Why Romo? Because the franchise quarterback and face of the Dallas Cowboys on the field had back surgery at the end of 2013, causing him to miss the final game of the year, severely damaging Dallas’ chances of defeating Philadelphia on the final day of the season and making the playoffs. The Cowboys have been a .500 team each of the last three seasons and given how bad the defense has been during that time, losing Romo for any significant amount of time would be catastrophic for Dallas. Jerry Jones’ goal of just getting to the playoffs and trying to make a run would be gone. A more likely scenario, if Romo were lost for much of the schedule, would involve the Cowboys competing for the No. 1 overall draft pick. This is both a reflection how putrid the Dallas defense has been and how valuable Romo is.
Zack Martin – One look at Romo’s health chart may very well have been the final nail in the coffin when Jones and his front office decided to take the Notre Dame offensive lineman with their first-round choice in the 2014 NFL draft last May. Martin is considered a premier talent and was called the safest pick in the draft by some experts. Translation. He will not be a flop. Only time will tell how good he becomes but Jason Garret would like to see some improvement from OTA’s where Martin reportedly was manhandled at times by veteran defensive lineman. That would be normal for his first practices as a professional. It is a month later now though, and it is time to show some progress.
DeMarcus Lawrence – The rookie defensive end from Boise State has been much heralded by the Cowboys as a second round steal in the 2014 draft. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli raved about Lawrence after OTA’s. Cowboy fans are hoping Marinelli is right as this defense needs all the help it can get. If Lawrence resembles at all what Marinelli envisions the Cowboys would be thrilled and the defensive end will jump from one of five Cowboys to watch to one of the players Jones is counting on in 2014.
Gavin Escobar – The second-round pick from the 2013 draft disappointed last season. A lot of that was out of his control as he backed up Jason Witten and was used sparingly. That should change under new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who promises more two tight end sets. Escobar has picked up where he left off last training camp, catching everything thrown his way and displaying the athleticism that caused Dallas to draft him. The Cowboys will not have much defense so the more points they score the better. Escobar could help.
Kyle Orton – Back to Orton. He is a capable backup, perhaps the best in the league. The question regarding Orton is whether he will ever show up as he has been out of contact with the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff and front office and allegedly pondering retirement. The Cowboys are banking on Orton not wanting to cough up $3 million of his $5 million signing bonus after a long break this off-season. If Orton does not come back that would leave the backup duties to Brandon Wheeden. Jones has indicated he is willing to let things play out with Orton but Wheeden could gradually become a better option than dealing with Orton’s drama.
An injured quarter back, an AWOL quarterback, two rookies and a backup tight end make up the five Dallas Cowboys to watch this mini-camp. An odd group to be sure but a necessary one if the Cowboys are going to succeed in 2014.
By Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Dallas Cowboys