By Matthew Postins
The Dallas Cowboys will host their Mandatory Mini-Camp starting Tuesday. Below is what you need to know entering the mini-camp:
Where: The Cowboys’ practice facility at Valley Ranch
Who: The Cowboys’ 90 players currently on the roster.
Offensive Players to watch
RB Ryan Williams: The former Arizona Cardinals second-round pick is trying to rebuild his career and reputation after injuries ended his 2012 season and made him irrelevant in 2013. There may be no player on the offensive side of the ball in camp that has the motivation that Williams right now. Expect him to get some second-team reps as the Cowboys evaluate Williams’ short-term value in keeping him around for training camp.
WR Chris Boyd: The Vanderbilt rookie has been turning heads since the day the Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent. The character issues surrounding his dismissal from the Commodores program, after he accepted a plea to a misdemeanor charge of criminal intent in the rape investigation involving four other former Vanderbilt football players, don’t seem to be lingering. He’s stretching the field and has flashed enough talent to be considered a No. 5 or No. 6 wide receiver candidate.
TE Gavin Escobar: This is an important season for the second-round pick from last season. Escobar needs to show progress after a season in which he contributed little to the Cowboys’ offense. Keep up with how many reps he’s getting in practice this week and how much he’s being used as a blocker. He’ll need to do more of both in 2014.
Defensive Players to watch
CB Morris Claiborne: Claiborne has been limited to individual drills for organized team activities. Will the Cowboys get him involved in team defensive drills this week or wait until Training Camp? And is that an indication of his progress after offseason surgery?
DE Tyrone Crawford: The Cowboys really missed him last year after he tore his Achilles. He’s still not quite 100 percent, but it will be interesting to see if Crawford really tries to let it go this week as the Cowboys try to find out where they should play him amid all the new pieces they’ve acquired this offseason.
LB Justin Durant: With Sean Lee out for the season and youngsters like Anthony Hitchens and Devonte Holloman cross-training inside and outside, Durant’s steady veteran play is more important than ever.
Five Burning Questions
Will Kyle Orton show up? The tea leaves say yes. So do the Cowboys. Money has something to do with it. While the Cowboys couldn’t fine Orton during OTA’s, they can fine him up to $70,000 for not showing up at all this week. That’s incentive. But perhaps more importantly, does he really want to be here? The only thing worse that a backup with declining skills – which is not the case with Orton – is a backup quarterback who doesn’t have the right attitude about the job. Especially when you have a starting quarterback coming off two back surgeries in a year. If Orton shows up, gauge his play and his attitude as much as his words.
Is the defensive line REALLY in good shape? On the one hand, no. Anthony Spencer could be on the PUP at training camp. Henry Melton won’t be working out this week. Neither will Amobi Okoye. On the other hand, this is giving players like Terrell McClain, the former Houston Texans tackle, and second-round pick Demarcus Lawrence more reps. It’s difficult to say what the Cowboys’ defensive line rotation will look like in September. But the real competition starts this week for a rotation where, theoretically, two or three of the spots are already spoken for.
Holloman or Hitchens? That’s where my brain is at when it comes to one of the starting linebacker spots. Bruce Carter has a lock on the weak side and Durant will start at another position. So Holloman, last year’s sixth-round pick, and Hitchens, this year’s fourth-round pick, will likely be an opening-day starter when the 49ers come to town. Keep up with who’s getting starter’s reps and where, but keep in mind the Cowboys want them to be able to play multiple positions come September.
A Martin progress check. Two things. First, check to see where first-round pick Zack Martin is getting reps. During the few times the media had access to OTAs that Martin was working at right guard. But check how much, if any, he’s splitting reps between right guard and right tackle. Second, see how he’s doing in pass protection. That’s usually the place where rookies struggle on the offensive line.
Oh, and that Romo guy. Tony Romo has had a relatively quiet offseason, which is exactly what the Cowboys wanted with him coming off surgery for a herniated disc. He’s been throwing but staying away from team drills for the most part. He declared himself close to being able to go 100 percent earlier this offseason, but don’t expect him to be too involved in team drills this week. First, the Cowboys don’t want to risk anything when it comes to Romo. Second, even if Orton shows up, Brandon Weeden needs the reps