Memorial Day weekend mailbag rolls along, with all the appropriate offseason angst:
— Ian Rabin (@IanRabin) May 27, 2016
I understand the temptation to compartmentalize and check off by position. The pass rush looks good, there's depth at running back, they think they have their long-term answers at center, left guard, left tackle, etc. This is how much offseason analysis is done. For some teams, it works.
But I really think the biggest concern with the New York Giants entering training camp will continue to be roster depth. And no, that's not a cop-out answer.
As we have discussed here many, many, many, many times over the past three years, the Giants' problems are the residue of a too-lengthy run of unproductive drafts that left the roster hollowed out because not enough players developed to replace the ones that got old. They are still in the process of rebuilding that roster, and the idea that a team that went 19-29 the past three seasons could fix all of its problems with one big free-agent spending spree is naive. So if I'm the Giants, what I want to see in training camp is not just who my 22 starters are going to be, but how many of the younger players are developing to the point of being reliable backups.
The problem, for example, on the offensive line is not that John Jerry and Marshall Newhouse failed to exceed expectations last year. They didn't. They were signed as backups and forced to be starters because starters got injured and the Giants had to rely on free-agent backups to replace them. This is because the Giants haven't filled their offensive-line pipeline with homegrown replacements. The same can be said at many other positions on the roster, which is why your question could simply be answered by saying "linebacker" or "wide receiver" or "nickel cornerback" just as easily as the two examples you cited.
The Giants have four young candidates for the free safety spot, but none has proved anything. One was in college last year and the other three all missed the whole season (and a season's worth of development) to injury. Yes, 2015 seventh-rounder Bobby Hart could put himself in the mix for a starting spot, but that's a lot to ask of a seventh-rounder who barely played as a rookie. The fact that it's even possible speaks to the state of the Giants' roster. There should be 2012, 2013 and 2014 draft picks ahead of Hart for playing time. Other than the first-rounders and second-rounders on the left side of the line, there aren't.
So while I get where you're coming from, I think the Giants' biggest concerns lie beneath the starting lineup and in their foundation, which still isn't all the way back to where it needs to be. The problems here are long-term ones that are still being worked on.
IRVING, Texas -- Pass rush remains the Dallas Cowboys' biggest need. It will be that way until the 2016 season starts.
"I think it's a little early for us,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We kind of like our young guys right now. Obviously Dwight has had an amazing career. Nothing to say but great things about Dwight with what he's accomplished in this league, but we all know this is a younger man's game. But I do think what he showed last year he was able to help a playoff team. So, all those things will be things that we keep our eyes on. But I don't think we're ready to make any move on any veteran that is available at this point."
Freeney, who is 36, like starting quarterback Tony Romo, had eight sacks in 11 games last season for the Arizona Cardinals. He showed he could still provide pass rush even in limited snaps, and without the benefit of an offseason program or training camp.
The nine defensive ends listed on the Cowboys’ roster have 10.5 career sacks between them. Freeney had 10.5 sacks or more by himself in six seasons. He had more than 10.5 sacks five times.
Of those 10.5 sacks by the Cowboys’ current defensive ends, eight belong to DeMarcus Lawrence, and he is facing a potential four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. (Jones said he has not heard when the league will make an announcement after Lawrence has appealed.) Benson Mayowa has two. David Irving has one.
Jack Crawford is listed as a defensive tackle but has played some end. He has six career sacks, with four coming last season. Tyrone Crawford could slide out to defensive end as well. He has eight career sacks. That’s 25 sacks among those who could play the position this season.
Freeney had 24 sacks in his first two seasons.
Teams want to see what they have in younger players all the time. It makes perfect sense. It’s also cost-effective. For the Cowboys, it’s clear they are banking on the offense to be their best defense. The more they score and control the ball, the easier it will be for the defense.
Freeney apparently can fall out of bed and get eight sacks.
That’s something the Cowboys could use.
ASHBURN, Virginia – He doesn’t quite see the difference, even if others have told him he looks bigger. But Trent Murphy, 24 pounds heavier than his listed weight last season, takes that as a good sign. It means he can add more weight and still be comfortable.
That, in turn, will help him at his new position. Though the Redskins didn’t officially tell Murphy about their plans until April, it’s something they had been considering since last season ended. They could keep him at linebacker, where he’d be behind Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Junior Galette. Or they could move him to end and hope he could be their version of Justin Smith, a player Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan once signed in San Francisco.
Smith was one of the best defensive ends in a 3-4 front, so duplicating his success would be difficult. And that’s not what the Redskins expect. But Smith was a hard-working, 290-pound end, and that’s what the Redskins expect from Murphy.
He weighed 282 pounds and wants to add eight more pounds by training camp. Murphy told reporters after practice Wednesday that his secret to adding weight thus far has been protein shakes and constant meals.
“It’s just constant uncomfortable because you’re never really hungry,” he said. “You kind of have to watch the clock and every two to three hours make sure that you’re getting some calories in, weighing yourself constantly. I just never want to see the scale go down.”
One reason the Redskins felt Murphy could add weight was his frame. He’s 6-foot-5 and lean; also, they know his father has a similar frame and weighed more, but carried it well.
“To be honest, I haven’t felt it yet,” Murphy said of the extra pounds. “That’s why I think I can keep going. I have such a long frame. Visually, some guys see it but I don’t feel that much different. I’ll keep going until I feel filled out.”
The transition will take time, considering Murphy has always played linebacker. There are nuances of the position to learn – reading blocking schemes differently and quicker; training your eyes on new keys. This is a long-term project, not a one-year, quick-fix hope.
This past week, Murphy took snaps at both end positions (Chris Baker and Kendall Reyes were the first-team ends). He could also play inside in their nickel package, creating a different look for the line. Murphy’s linebacker background could allow the Redskins do to different things with him, too, such as dropping into coverage on the occasional zone blitz. In the past, he played some end in nickel packages.
“He’s a hard-working guy and still a developing player and young kid,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “His versatility is good. … This is the beginning stages for him and this is new to him, but he will be fine.”
But he also has to shake his old linebacker tendencies.
“The biggest change is getting rid of my old instincts,” Murphy said. “[Tuesday] I was supposed to be keying the tackle and it was a run away. But I saw the QB flash in front of me rolling out and I was like, I have to pull him up on the boot. But that’s not my responsibility anymore. Stuff like that. Get out of my old habits, but that will come.”
It would be good for the Redskins if it does, giving them the youth they wanted at this position.
“He’s definitely bigger, definitely a lot stronger,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “He’s moving around with some pretty significant weight. He hasn’t lost his movement ability, which is going to be vital for him. He’ll be a different matchup for offensive tackles. He’s a different body type and has a different kind of twitch, a different explosiveness. He’ll find a nice home there.”
Janga channeled his inner Bryant, throwing up the "X” after being named co-champion with Jairam Hathwar on Thursday night.
Bryant took to Twitter to congratulate Janga.
— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) May 27, 2016
Janga is a fifth-grader at River Ridge Elementary School in the Leander Independent School District, outside of Austin, Texas, so naturally he’s a Cowboys fan.
Before the spelling bee, Janga’s father promised him to take him to a Cowboys game in 2016 if he won, though later, when Janga made the top 10, he changed his tune and said they'd go regardless of where Janga finished. The opponent Janga wants to see the Cowboys play? The Giants.
Now he might not only go to a game, he might be a guest of Bryant’s.
ARLINGTON, Texas – The lawsuits surrounding the seating issues at Super Bowl XLV have kept the Dallas Cowboys from pushing for a return of the NFL championship game to AT&T Stadium, but executive vice president Stephen Jones expects that to change soon.
“We obviously totally understand that we had business that needed to clear up here from the previous Super Bowl, which was unfortunate and hopefully that is coming to an end here this summer,” Jones said. “We think that hopefully we’ll be in the hunt. We think this building is special, AT&T Stadium, certainly a great place for players to come play. I think if you ask players around the league they certainly enjoy playing the game here and I think North Texas is a great area. I think we were a little snake bit in terms of our weather.”
A snow and ice storm blanketed the region for the week of the game, which caused issues. Also temporary seating was not complete in time for the game, leading to lawsuits from fans. In March 2015 a jury found the NFL breached its contract with seven fans and were ordered to pay nearly $76,000 in combined damages.
Earlier this week the NFL awarded Super Bowls LIII, LIV and LV to Atlanta, South Florida and Los Angeles. The earliest the Super Bowl could return to Arlington, Texas, would be 2022.
Despite the issues surrounding Super Bowl XLV, it was profitable for NFL owners.
“We all know economics are important in any situation and we certainly hope that plays in our favor,” Jones said. “We have more suites than any team in the NFL. We’ve got more premium-type items. We’ve got a great situation for just fans in general, general admission fans. We’ve got great areas out here in Arlington to entertain in terms of the plazas and things of those nature. We think we can have a very, very competitive bid and tell a compelling story as to why we ought to have one of the greatest events, which is the Super Bowl, the event, at this stadium.
“Obviously we have college football championships, we have NBA All-Star Games, we have all sorts of major events here and we certainly would hope at some point we’d get another opportunity here with the NFL.”
Jones said the Cowboys would like to host the 2018 NFL draft at either at AT&T Stadium, their new facility in Frisco, Texas, The Star, or a combination of the two. The Cowboys are among a number of teams that have expressed interest in hosting the draft. The NFL expects to announce where it will hold the 2017 draft this summer.
“We think those two things might make for a unique experience for our fans,” Jones said.
But it's the passion and ferocity Westbrook displays on the court combined with his strength and athleticism that should remind you of the way Dez Bryant plays on the football field.
"You're the fifth person today to tell me that," Bryant said with a grin. "Maybe, that's why we like each other so much."
Westbrook, who says the Cowboys are his favorite NFL team, gives the Thunder an energy and emotional boost no one else -- not even Kevin Durant -- gives his team, and Bryant does the same thing for the Cowboys.
When Westbrook hits a key 3-pointer, he brings out his six-shooters before thrusting them back into his imaginary holster. When Bryant scores a touchdown, he turns to the crowd and throws up the X.
Bryant brings an energy and natural enthusiasm to the Cowboys that they certainly missed last season when a broken right foot forced him to miss seven games. Everybody from coach Jason Garrett to quarterback Tony Romo will tell you that.
Each player also will drive you crazy at times.
Westbrook will take some of the worst shots you'll eve see, the kind that would land lesser players on the bench. Bryant will struggle for a yard with three players wrapped around his body, putting his health in jeopardy and occasionally leading to fumbles. But each man does it because he's singularly committed to winning in a way others aren't.
They both play without fear, a trait all great players must have. You can't be afraid to have the ball in your hands at winning time and be a great player.
Westbrook's performance is among the reasons why Oklahoma City is on the verge of eliminating the Golden State Warriors, who set the NBA's single-season record for wins, from the playoffs. Bryant's return to health is among the reasons the Cowboys feel so optimistic about this season. That's one more thing they have in common.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The changes were mostly subtle, once you get beyond the fact that Josh Norman is no longer wearing Carolina Panthers gear. He’s now in the Washington Redskins’ burgundy and gold, which might still take a minute for some to process.
Mostly, though, Norman is going about his business. About a month after joining the Redskins, he’s adapting to his surroundings, learning different route combinations and dealing with a quarterback who gets a little fired up in spring practices.
But Norman sounds like a guy who's still in the honeymoon phase.
“I’m excited, oh my gosh, I’m super excited,” said Norman, the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback in average salary ($15 million). “I can’t say enough how grateful I am to be here. It’s just being caught up in the moment and you see it out here with the guys. It’s love.”
The Redskins signed Norman shortly after Carolina decided to lift the franchise tag on him. He gives Washington a standout corner to replace
Chris Culliver, who tore his ACL last November and was cut earlier this month. Norman will pair with Bashaud Breeland in the starting lineup. Washington also has rookie third-round pick Kendall Fuller, Quinton Dunbar and veteran Greg Toler among its corners.
“It’s been great,” Norman said of the defense. “Sharing that love, and they actually do care for their jobs. That’s the biggest thing. These guys have passion. They want to learn and they’re willing. You can see it. One person has success, and that gravitates to the other person and they reach out and it touches another person, and now you have all 11 feeling that juice and you can do some special things.”
That’s what he hopes to do with Breeland who, like Norman, hails from South Carolina. They’ve discussed their various techniques for playing certain coverages, from footwork to leverage.
“He’s got the drive in him as much as I do and the competitiveness in him and you can see it out here,” Norman said. “He wants to compete and be that guy. You can see it in the way he works. There are things he can help me with -- I don’t know everything. If he can teach me something, I’m all ears. You always need to learn.”
Norman said he’ll have a little more freedom playing corner in Washington than in Carolina. He said the Panthers’ system was much more disciplined as far as what it asked of the corners. With the Redskins, he’ll be asked to do a little more.
“You have different combinations to get involved in,” Norman said. “It’s pretty cool to see that and to see me grow in this defense. I can’t wait, man. [Wednesday] was better than [Tuesday]. If I can continue to grow like that, oh my gosh, the sky’s the limit.”
Part of that growth will be learning new route combinations. Norman said he was used to the NFC South and the various route combinations that teams there used. He said he’s noticed that NFC East teams use different combinations, including the Redskins. It’ll be harder to rely on his instincts while he's still learning the different schemes of new teams.
Norman said that one strength of his game has been reading and anticipating route patterns. He said he noticed a difference between how he defended certain routes on the second day of spring practices versus the first, simply because he had seen some of what the Redskins’ offense wanted to run.
“There are a lot more quick games and short routes and patterns,” he said of the NFC East. “If I can keep picking up things like that and see how they run things in the NFC East, then everything takes its just due and I’ll be where I need to be.”
Another change: the exuberance of the quarterback. Last year he played with a quarterback who liked to dab (Cam Newton) now he’s with one who gets fired up during May practices. Teammates have joked about how Kirk Cousins is during practices in the past. He’ll sprint downfield after big gains or shout out after clutch plays. The two actually worked out together when coming out of college before the 2012 draft.
But he saw a different side of his new quarterback in practice.
“I was like, 'Gosh, calm down,'” Norman said laughing. “I was like, 'I don’t want to go there yet so I’m going to be cool.' But [Wednesday] I came back out here and he looked away a couple times and didn’t throw the ball so I got a little jubilant. I was like, 'What are you going to do with it?' It was a little competition. The last play out there he threw a ball and completed it and got excited again. I was like, 'Kirk, we whipped your butt today, calm down a little bit.' But it’s all fun and games.”
Don't look for a repeat of what happened last August in Carolina when Norman fought with Newton during a practice. Norman merely smiles and says now, "What can I say? I don't back down from a challenge. ... Kirk's my guy. He's great."
Cousins said, “It’s exciting to have a player of that caliber to go against every day."
And the Redskins hope that continues for a long time.
Since 2013, the Cowboys are 23-11 with Romo as their starter. They are 1-13 without Romo, including a 1-11 mark last season.
Brandon Weeden had an 0-4 record as Romo's fill–in over the course of two seasons. Matt Cassel went 1-6 last year, throwing for 223 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions in win against the Washington Redskins. Kellen Moore went 0-2 last season. Kyle Orton took the loss in the 2013 finale against the Philadelphia Eagles with a playoff spot on the line.
It has set up an interesting dynamic for those who believe Romo should not be considered among the game's elite because he has just two playoff wins, and those who believe Romo is underappreciated.
"I don't sit around and analyze how I'm viewed necessarily," Romo said. "I do know that when I can play football, it helps our football team. That's why you work as hard as you do, to give yourself every opportunity to be out there on Sundays and winning football games."
A starting quarterback's health is important to every team in the NFL, but the Cowboys have put all of their faith in Romo even though he has missed games because of a herniated disk (2013), transverse process fractures (2014) and a broken left collarbone (2015).
He missed 10 games in 2010 with a broken left collarbone as well. In 2011 he played with a broken rib and punctured lung.
When teammates and coaches laud how Romo looks this offseason, it's easy to slough it off as, "Nothing to see here," or remember that similar things were said in the past. The proof of Romo feeling good will come starting Sept. 11 against the New York Giants, when he can get hit for real for a full game.
But the fact that Romo looks good shouldn't be completely discounted.
"Tony has looked phenomenal," quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said. "This is the best stretch I've seen him in the spring in a long time. There are no effects from any of the injuries. He still does a routine to take care of his back, but he's done his full workload out here. He hasn't gotten out of anything.
"He's throwing with a lot of velocity and a lot of accuracy. He missed a lot of the season last year, so he's got a rejuvenated spirit out here and he's really into it and pushing other guys. We're putting in a few new things and it's got him excited."
On Wednesday, Romo agreed with owner and general manager Jerry Jones' assessment that he could play another four or five years. Romo jokingly upped it to seven or eight years when asked about his successor, then settled on five or six years.
"With the way that it's going right now -- the running joke in here is that I'm the only one in here that keeps getting younger each year," he said. "Hopefully that continues."
Romo tried to downplay his importance, even if the math is so simple.
"I just think we're all in this together," Romo said. "It's not about one individual. The more you can preach that, you can win football games. Football is not about one guy. It's not about any one person in any capacity. Anybody that's been around the game long enough knows that it takes a group of men committed doing something great to achieve really anything at the NFL level. I think we have a collection of men that have a chance to do that."
But recent history says that will only happen if Romo can stay healthy.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When you put up the kinds of numbers Odell Beckham Jr. has during his first two seasons, you can make people forget a lot of things. Like, how you missed huge chunks of offseason prep time for both of those seasons due to hamstring injuries.
Beckham was injured around this time each of the past two years. Hamstring injuries in 2014 cost him much of the New York Giants' offseason program, all of training camp and the first four games of his rookie season. Yet, he still managed to catch catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Last year, a hamstring injury in organized team activities cost Beckham the entire June minicamp. But he was fine in training camp and ended up catching 96 passes for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns to make the Pro Bowl again.
This year? Well, knock on wood or throw salt over your shoulder if that's your thing, but as of now, Beckham is healthy and working with the team in OTA drills. And as great as he has been with limited offseason practice time his first two seasons, imagine what could happen if he has a full offseason of practice.
"It's just good to have him in that third season and healthy and going to all of the OTAs and being able to move him around in different spots," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said Monday. "You kind of have a controlled set of plays, just because you don't want to overload him and you want to make sure that what he does, he does it well, and then you can expand him in that and put him in different spots with matchups.
"I think now he can handle all of that. We put him in different routes and make sure he's doing them correctly. I think there's an understanding of the offense, how things are supposed to go and the timing of things, and I think that third year, he should start really picking up on that."
The notion that the Giants have been somehow limiting Beckham's role in their offense the first two years while he acclimated himself to the league is mind-boggling. In the 15 games Beckham played last year, he was the target of 27 percent of Manning's passes and the recipient of 26 percent of his completions. Only five players in the league had more targets per game than Beckham's 10.5.
But Giants coach Ben McAdoo, who was the team's offensive coordinator the past two years, wants to be able to move Beckham around the formation as much as possible. And Manning's comment indicates they've held back a bit on that the first two years and that they expect to expand the number of roles Beckham can play in the offense in Year 3. If that's the case, and if he stays healthy and it works, then it's entirely possible that Beckham's 2016 numbers could make his 2014 and 2015 numbers look pedestrian in comparison.
Fun to imagine, for sure.
He isn't worried about the disaster that was the 2015 season, when a broken right foot essentially wrecked things for him. He played in only nine games and established career lows for receptions (31), yards (401) and touchdowns (3).
Nor is Bryant interested in recapturing his form of 2014, when he was among the game's best receivers and had the stats to prove it. He caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns as the Cowboys went 12-4, captured the NFC East and won only their second playoff game since 1996.
“2014? I’m past that. I want to be better than that and I’m going to. I know that,” Bryant said. “The way we’ve been working, the way the coaches have been on us, the way we’ve been holding each other accountable. I think that alone will make us all be better than what we was these past years.
“I really don’t let [last year] bother me. I understand. We all know what really happened. There’s only so much you can do. Just being out there shows you strength. I can’t look at it as it brought me down. I look at it as a challenge -- [a] fun challenge.”
Before Bryant can embark on this season’s challenge, he must first be cleared by the Cowboys’ training staff after having surgery on his right foot and ankle in January. While he attended the club’s voluntary practices Tuesday and Wednesday, he hasn’t been involved in individual or team drills.
He has participated in some of the walk-through practices.
Bryant is waiting on test results he’s supposed to receive next week that will let him know how close he is to participating fully in the offseason practices.
“I been working out real good,” Bryant said. “I’m getting back to my old self. I feel like I’m on track -- past track -- and I’m excited. I’m just ready for these results next week.
“I’m trying my best to remain patient because we have a long way to go until they let me get back on the field. Right now, I’m just getting back into rhythm.”
Coach Jason Garrett knows how hard it is to persuade Bryant to give his body time to heal. The man loves football, and when he wasn’t doing rehab exercises Wednesday afternoon, he was catching passes, as usual, from a member of the support staff.
“He is very engaged, working through all the walk-throughs. That is huge. We don’t have him like we did two years ago, but he is here,” playcaller Scott Linehan said. “Last year, he was in the contract situation. We understand that is the business part of the game, but having him here engaged and around his teammates, leading those receivers is huge for us.”
The offseason program should help Bryant, who missed it last year because of the contract dispute. He wound up signing a five-year, $70 million deal but didn’t set the conditioning foundation that he normally does during training camp.
That didn’t play a role in Bryant breaking his foot, but he was never in great physical condition. When he returned from the injury, Bryant lacked his usual explosion and physical edge. He couldn’t even run some plays because they required him to cut hard off the injured foot.
The injury handicapped Bryant and the Cowboys' offense.
Bryant wants to get back on the field because he thinks the Cowboys will have a dynamic offense with Tony Romo at quarterback, Ezekiel Elliott at running back and tight end Jason Witten. He thinks the offense can be as difficult to stop as it was in 2014, when the team scored more than 30 points 10 times and averaged 29.2 points per game, good for fifth in the NFL.
Bryant will be a significant part of any offensive success the Cowboys have. When he plays well, trying to cover him with one defender is a joke. He demands double coverage, which makes it considerably easier for Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Witten to operate in single coverage.
If Elliott can give the Cowboys the kind of dominant running game they had with DeMarco Murray, then teams will be forced to use a safety to stop the running game, which means more single coverage for Bryant.
See how it all works together?
“I just want to be the best version of myself," Bryant said. "I do a damn good job of that because I love the game."
IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant said he's not focused on 2015, a miserable season because of a broken right foot that cost him seven games. And he's not thinking about 2014, a fantastic season that had folks saying he was among the NFL's best players.
He's focused only on the 2016 season -- and the test results he's supposed to receive that will let him know how close he is to participating fully in the club's offseason practices.
"I been working out real good," Bryant said. "I'm getting back to my old self. I feel like I'm on track -- past track -- and I'm excited. I'm just ready for these results next week.
"I'm trying my best to remain patient because we have a long way to go until they let me get back on the field. Right now, I'm just getting back into rhythm. They're not going to let me do everything, so I'm OK."
Bryant is excited to return because he believes the Dallas Cowboys will have a dynamic offense -- with Tony Romo at quarterback, rookie Ezekiel Elliott at running back and tight end Jason Witten -- like they did in 2014. That team scored more than 30 points 10 times and averaged 29.2 points per game, good for fifth in the NFL.
"We're going to be able to create a lot of one-on-one situations for the wide receivers with our running game," Bryant said. "I think we're going to be real strong. We're going to be a physical football team."
The offseason program should help Bryant, who missed it last season because he was embroiled in a contract dispute. He wound up signing a five-year, $70 million deal, but he didn't set the conditioning foundation that he normally does during training camp.
That didn't play a role in Bryant breaking his foot, but he was never in great physical condition. When he returned from the injury, Bryant lacked his usual explosion and physical edge. Some plays he couldn't even run because they required him to cut hard off the injured foot.
The injury handicapped Bryant and the offense.
"I really don't let that bother me," Bryant said of last season. "I understand. We all know what really happened. There's only so much you can do. Just being out there shows your strength.
"I can't look at it as it brought me down. I look at it as a challenge. Fun challenge."
IRVING, Texas -- Ezekiel Elliott is more than three months away from his first carry in the NFL and the offensive rookie of the year award is already his to lose.
Joyner listed Elliott as the front-runner for the award today, ahead of Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo and receivers Will Fuller (Houston Texans), Corey Coleman (Cleveland Browns) and Josh Doctson (Washington Redskins).
Elliott is walking into a ready-made situation for success. He has one of the best quarterbacks in Tony Romo. He has a passing game, led by Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, that defenses have to contend with. He has an offensive line that is the envy of most in the NFL.
So what’s not to like?
Eric Dickerson set the NFL record for most rushing yards by a rookie with 1,808 in 1984. George Rogers had 1,674 in 1981 for the New Orleans Saints. The third-best season by a rookie belongs to Elliott’s teammate, Alfred Morris, who had 1,613 yards in 2012 for Washington.
The hype around Elliott is so high that if he is not threatening some of the best rookie seasons ever, then his first season might be viewed as some kind of disappointment.
Having high expectations isn’t a bad thing, but setting unreal expectations is another.
Elliott looks to have all the tools necessary to be a complete back in the NFL. He can run. He has vision. His speed is good enough. He is tough between the tackles. He is nimble outside the tackles. He can catch. He can block.
This excitement is a product of being picked so high in the draft, but the buzz around Elliott is far different than it was for Morris Claiborne, whom the Cowboys took with the sixth overall pick in 2012.
Claiborne came to a defense that was going to an aggressive look. The Cowboys signed Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal that offseason. They still had DeMarcus Ware at the height of his game. Jeremiah Ratliff was coming off a Pro Bowl. Sean Lee was a playmaker.
People need to remember rookies need time. Some don’t need much. You could tell immediately Bryant would be a star. Maybe Elliott will be like Bryant and you’ll know right away.
But it would be wise to let the rookie breathe a little in his first year.
IRVING, Texas -- It's not quite "real football" practice, as head coach Jason Garrett called it last week, but it is the closest thing to football practice the Dallas Cowboys have seen since January.
The Cowboys hold the second of their nine organized team activities Wednesday at Valley Ranch. It's the first that will be open to the media.
"We'll be out there going through what looks like a regular practice that we'll have during training camp and the regular season," Garrett said. "Obviously different from the fact that we won't have pads on, but we'll structure the practice the same way."
Football played without pads is like basketball without a hoop. It's not football. But OTAs do allow the first live looks at players coming back from injuries, free-agent signings and veteran standbys.
Tempo is always important to Garrett. He wants to see the players moving quickly, but not so quick that they are out of control. The on-field teaching sessions that preceded the OTAs were about individual and group technique.
The OTAs allow for 11-on-11 work, albeit without full pads. Those don't come on until training camp.
"Everything comes alive," tight end Jason Witten said. "You're down in a stance. You're going to get tired. You're going to get tested a little bit. You can't let it be any other way than to go out there and play. So it will be good for our football team. I think Jason has made it clear, his expectations, talk less and just go to work. And I think the team has really adapted that mindset this offseason."
So what will we see on the field?
As always, it starts with the quarterback, Tony Romo.
How does Romo look?
From coaches to players to the front office, the feeling is that Romo is in the best shape he has been in the last few years. He had collarbone surgery in March that only temporarily laid him up. He has been throwing for the better part of a month, but his work off the field after breaking his collarbone for the second time on Thanksgiving has paid off. When the season ended, he felt he was ahead of the game because he was able to train harder. He has more strength in his surgically repaired back and can move more freely.
The Cowboys will continue to be smart with Romo, who turned 36 in April, but the early word from the offseason program is encouraging.
What is the running back rotation?
The Cowboys made it clear they did not draft Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick for him to be a spectator. Do they make the rookie work for the job, or is he running with the first team from the get-go? Darren McFadden ran for 1,089 yards last season, largely doing it in 10 games. Alfred Morris has three 1,000-yard seasons to his credit and joined the Cowboys as a free agent.
The Cowboys put their other first-round picks in recent years -- offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin -- with the starters from the jump, but the line did not have a lot of competition when they were selected. In 2010, Dez Bryant was behind Roy Williams and Miles Austin at receiver. Maybe they will make Elliott wait his turn, too.
The new defensive linemen
Learning about line play is difficult in the OTAs because the players don't have pads, but the Cowboys have high hopes for Cedric Thornton and Benson Mayowa. Thornton signed a four-year, $17-million deal and the Cowboys believe he will boost their run defense and make things easier for Tyrone Crawford to rush the passer. Mayowa has just two career sacks, but the Cowboys are banking on him being an ascending player. They'll need him right away with Randy Gregory's suspension and the looming penalty for DeMarcus Lawrence.
The injured players
Last week Garrett said the team will take it slowly with players who had offseason surgery, with Romo possibly being an exception. Bryant had a second bone graft on his right foot in January and the team wants to make sure he's 100 percent right for training camp. Orlando Scandrick's recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that kept him out last season has gone well, but his eyes are also on training camp. Sean Lee had his knee scoped in late April and the team wants to limit his work until camp as well.
Crawford had surgery on a shoulder injury that prevented him from lifting more than 225 pounds last year. Lance Dunbar (knee) and Gavin Escobar (Achilles) are in the middle of their rehabs and likely to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Welcome to the NFL, Eli Apple. The New York Giants' first-round pick found himself thrown right into the fire Monday when the team opened organized team activities. With regular starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie absent from the voluntary workout, Apple lined up on the outside covering Giants star wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
"It was interesting, for sure," Apple said after practice Monday. "He runs his routes well. He's a fast guy. It was fun going against him. They didn't throw the ball his way when I was going against him, but you can tell, with his explosiveness and how he gets out of breaks. It's impressive."
Beckham wasn't Apple's only assignment this week in practice. He worked against Dwayne Harris and Myles White and whomever lined up against him when he was on the outside. For the most part, he held his own, though there were a couple of plays on which he slipped or turned the wrong way, as you'd expect from a 20-year-old rookie in his first NFL practice. It seemed as though quarterback Eli Manning was looking his way a lot, but Manning said that was just coincidence.
"Right now, it's just Day 1 of OTAs," Manning said. "We're not going after matchups or picking on guys. Just working on the basics and going through your progressions."
Apple has seen a variety of work early on. He worked in the slot Monday as well and surely did more of that Tuesday with Rodgers-Cromartie back on the field. Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins are the projected starting outside cornerbacks for the Giants this year, so if Apple wants to get on the field early, he might need to get comfortable covering slot receivers in that nickel corner role.
"It's not going to be an easy adjustment, for sure," Apple said. "I'm going to have to be in my playbook every day, talking to my coaches and trying to pick the brains of other guys and just get more experience out there. Getting more reps is definitely not a bad thing at all."
IRVING, Texas -- Ronald Leary has requested a trade from the Dallas Cowboys and has been a no-show for the offseason program, including the start of organized team activities Tuesday, according to sources.
Leary signed his restricted free-agent tender worth $2.553 million before the draft in hopes of facilitating a trade. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team received a few inquiries during the three-day draft but they would not just “give away” Leary. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
The only part of the offseason program that is mandatory for players to attend is the June minicamp. If Leary does not show up for the camp, he would be subject to a fine because he signed the tender.
The Tennessee Titans lost left guard Byron Bell on Tuesday for the season because of a dislocated ankle. Earlier this offseason, the Titans traded for DeMarco Murray, whom Leary helped run for an NFL-high 1,845 yards in 2014.
Leary started every game he played in 2013 and 2014 (31) at left guard and opened last season as the starter but was eventually replaced by La’el Collins, who signed a fully-guaranteed contract as an undrafted rookie. Leary started four games and was inactive for 12.
Leary is looking at a backup role again in 2016 and the Cowboys signed Joe Looney as a backup guard/center to replace Mackenzy Bernadeau, who left as a free agent this offseason with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since Leary does not have any center experience, he would likely be inactive on game day since the Cowboys generally dress only seven offensive linemen on the 46-man roster.
Leary joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2012, receiving more than $200,000 guaranteed. He spent that season on the practice squad before becoming a starter in 2013.