The Brandt Report  

 

Early signs point to rebound season for Dallas Cowboys

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IRVING, Texas -- I know it's June and it's the time of year every team in the NFL feels good about its chances for next season. But when I visited the Cowboys this week and last during their first two OTA sessions, I sensed renewed energy. It didn't feel like I was around a team coming off a four-win season.

And maybe that had something (everything?) to do with the return of Dallas' starting quarterback, Tony Romo, who talked with enthusiasm and looked like a spry 27-year-old vet rather than a 36-year-old quarterback coming off a broken collarbone and heading into the twilight of his career.

No matter the conditions this week (it rained, sometimes hard), Romo threw the ball extremely well. He looked great in goal-line drills, and threw the ball with accuracy and velocity in tight quarters.

But what really stood out to me was his attitude. We had a chance to catch up after an OTA practice last week, and he showed a lot of enthusiasm. I'm sure it feels great to get back to football after an injury-riddled season that saw him play in only four games.

Romo wasn't the only one. Tight end Jason Witten could have passed for a player coming into his second season. He came into the OTAs in great shape, maybe the best I've seen him, and had no problem syncing right back up with his quarterback.

This is a team that's going to challenge for a division title, maybe more. You can't say that about too many 4-12 teams. There's still a long way to go before the season starts, but the signs in the offseason are pointed in the right direction. And there were a lot of them these past two weeks, including:

» Ezekiel Elliott's quick study. The rookie running back looks as good as advertised. So many times you get a rookie and he comes in and everything is overwhelming to him. Not Elliott. Nothing seems to bother him; he looks exactly like the running back Urban Meyer had at Ohio State. At the OTAs, he displayed very good quickness and speed. I didn't see a coach correct any of his routes or runs. He has the mental ability and work ethic to succeed right away. He was always one of the first on the field, and one of the last to leave. I feel as strongly about him winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as I did with Todd Gurley at this point last year.

» Dak Prescott's progression. The Cowboys knew Prescott would be a work in progress, but I'm not sure they expected it to come this quickly. Credit should go to offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson for getting Prescott up to speed so quickly. Prescott wasn't getting first- or second-team snaps, but when he did get in there he looked like someone who had taken the ball from under center all of his life. He made several good sight adjustments in passing drills and his mechanics were very sound. He also showed natural leadership qualities; players gravitate toward him and seem to genuinely like him.

» Randy Gregory's special skill set. The second-year player could have a bright future in the NFL, if he can figure out what it takes to be a professional off the field. His quickness and length as a pass rusher were easily identifiable at the OTA practices. If the four-game suspension he faces doesn't hurt him, I think he'll end up having a very good year.

» Cole Beasley's improvement. If Beasley were 6-2 and not 5-8, I think he'd be a star in the NFL. The fact is he's not, but there's still a lot to like about his game. I thought he looked much improved catching the ball and running routes. He showed last year when Dez Bryant went down that he wasn't ready. I think he learned something from that and went into the offseason to improve his overall game as a slot receiver. It showed.

» Sean Lee's and Orlando Scandrick's presence. Neither defender coming off injury practiced, but the fact that they were present was a good sign for team chemistry. I visited with both of them, and had an extended chat with Lee. He's got his weight down to 238 pounds but because he's so chiseled, he looks 250. He's worked hard in the offseason even though he can't practice.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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