Training camp preview: Cowboys' offense must excel

Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.

Today, we take a look at the Dallas Cowboys. Click on the tabs above to see other NFC East camp previews. For the rest of the NFL, click here.

Training camp report date: Rookies and veterans, July 29.

Training camp location: River Ridge Playing Fields, Oxnard, California.

Offseason in a nutshell: It feels appropriate to end our 32-team odyssey with the Cowboys. All summer long, we've been asking questions of each team -- and which potential division winner has more questions than Dallas? The team weathered a dismal 2015 and returns with Tony Romo under center. The Cowboys have a shiny new running back in No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott and have successfully (finally) cut ties with Greg Hardy after he came to Dallas -- as advertised -- in a bad way. It wouldn't be Big D without some drama -- Randy Gregory seems to be in a bit of a tailspin -- but isn't that why we can't keep our eyes off the Cowboys?

Player to watch: Running back Ezekiel Elliott. Who else can make this thing work? A game-changing running back turns Dallas into a 12-win offense. We watched a banged-up Darren McFadden glide to a top-five rushing season in 2015 behind that offensive line -- largely without Romo and Dez Bryant. Now, everyone is back and conceivably healthy for another run. While we won't see much of Elliott running up the gut during camp, we will get a feel for how he's understanding passing concepts and how comfortable he is making one cut and turning upfield. This is a big gamble for the Cowboys, who had much bigger issues before the draft but opted to sign potential.


1. Who is going to be left on defense?

Second-round pick Jaylon Smithisn't playing this season, while Rolando McClainis missing 10 games due to suspension. Gregory could be out at least 10 games, and DeMarcus Lawrenceis out four. If you're keeping score at home, that is a front seven that will now be composed of the following: David Irving, Cedric Thornton, Tyrone Crawford, Benson Mayowa, Anthony Hitchens, Andrew Gachkar and Sean Lee. We could see some rookies make a name for themselves in camp (Charles Tapper and Maliek Collins come to mind), but this is essentially the battle Dallas is fighting at the moment. They need to score enough to negate whatever issues come out of all these suspensions.

2. What does Dallas' quarterback development program look like now?

When Jerry Jones sets his mind on something, it gets done. Last year, he determined that Dallas was getting "cute" at the backup quarterback spot and found that out the hard way. The immediate fixes? Kellen Moore at No. 2 and Dak Prescott in the pipeline. While that might not seem any better than Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel, there could be a heightened sense of purpose when it comes to getting these quarterbacks ready. Could we see that manifest itself in more shared reps or real-time game simulations during camp?

3. Can Morris Claiborne rewrite his narrative?

Claiborne is sick of being asked about mistakes. He hopes, one day, to be talked about like a premiere cornerback. While we're quick to bury high-upside "busts," training camp is always a chance for life to begin anew for football players. The sixth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft will be one of Dallas' top cornerbacks, regardless of how the depth chart shakes out from 1 to 3. It would be a massive boost for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli if he could count on Claiborne without designing extra help.

Way-too-early season prediction: The Cowboys' offense might end up being the best in the division, but is their defense good enough to play above the 9-7 record that seems to make the most sense as of now?

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