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8 To Eyeball: What To Look For At Cowboys OTAs

Mike Fisher for 105.3 The Fan | CBSDFW.com
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IRVING (105.3 THE FAN)  – My Eight To Eyeball: As the Dallas Cowboys begin another round of OTAs on Tuesday, here are eight angles worth watching:

1. Can we skip the pseudo-drama?

It’s a boon for the marketing wing at Valley Ranch but a drain on the football wing: Tony Romo is recovering from the cyst surgery so he conducts a press conference to address it and the media criticizes the press conference because he didn’t answer their questions in the way they wished.

It’s a vicious cycle of regurgitation, of “the coverage of a story’’ becoming a free-standing “story’’ itself … and it takes away from the business of football.

Owner Jerry Jones feeds this machine, of course – in part because he’s in charge of that aforementioned marketing department. But maybe we should be smarter in our approach. Maybe we should ask Romo if the cyst was near a nerve or near his spine, which would explain the month-long recovery period. Or maybe we should ask him if he approves of the use of the “Pistol’’ formation, which was worked on very subtly at OTAs last week.

Or, heck, maybe we should just keep asking him about whether he prefers to wear his ballcap forward or backwards. I dunno.

2. Is Justin Durant earning the strongside linebacker job?

Last time I checked, he wasn’t practicing while wearing a heavy sweatshirt underneath his jersey. Is the ex-Lions starter just working through water-weight issues or is there something more? If he’s slow to get on the field, can that mean Alex Albright’s acceleration into an important role?

3. Does Josh Brent continue to maintain a locker at Valley Ranch?

Yes, I know, I cautioned about ‘pseudo-drama.’ But there is nothing ‘pseudo’ about a teammate facing trial for intoxication manslaughter and how an organization handles it. It’s worth us watching because I promise you, Brent’s friends inside the locker room are watching, too.

DeMarcus Ware’s shoulder rehab is bigger. Jay Ratliff’s learning curve as the “3-tech’’ is more important. Whether Anthony Hargrove has his head screwed on is more immediate. But those guys share a meeting room with Brent. He’s in their hearts and heads. He’s a story – and they know it.

4. Who is winning The Tight End Shuffle?

Well, Jason Witten will win it. But “12 Personnel’’ now seems to be the base set for this offense. James Hanna could be a breakout player in this alignment. But Gavin Escobar was drafted to be the breakout. Oh, and because Dallas is likely not employ a fullback this year (sorry, Lawrence Vickers), some tight end around here needs to block. As I noted a week ago, maybe 6-6, 270-pound Anthony Smith comes from nowhere to win the job. Or maybe the blocking tight end doesn’t arrive here until other teams cut some veterans in August.

Is there room for three pass-catching tight ends? Sure, and we’ll see it when offensive coordinator Bill Callahan calls for the “Big 12’’ formation.

Oh and by the way: Yes, it will be Callahan calling for it, under the direction of head coach Jason Garrett.

5. How many legit candidates at safety?

What’s that old saying about quarterbacks? “When you think you have two starting QBs, you really have none’’? One of these weeks very soon, a starting safety alongside Barry Church will emerge. In the first week of OTAs, veteran Will Allen and Matt Johnson, who spent his rookie year on various injury lists, took turns jumping out. Rookie J.J. Wilcox also had impressive moments.

If this is an intellectual battle, Allen will win. If one of the kids can combine intellect with athleticism, Dallas’ secondary will be the better for it.

One more thing here: If you see a reporter who includes Danny McCray as a candidate for these jobs, ask for the recall of said reporter’s credential.

If we go through August with three candidates for the job? That isn’t necessarily a good thing.

6. Is DeMarco healthy?

DeMarco Murray told me a week ago that he was sitting out OTAs as a “precautionary measure’’ because of his hamstring. He also said he expected to return in a “few practices.’’ This week marks the “few’’ milestone.

So is DeMarco back on Tuesday?

Worth noting: Someone very familiar with the hamstring issues that bother Murray and that plague Miles Austin tells me that the core problem here has to do with lower-back problems … and that the hammy issues are a result of those. So I trust the fine Cowboys medical staff is treating the illness rather than just treating the symptom.

7. Can Ronald Leary make the O-Line better?

Tyron Smith is heavier and maybe better. Jermey Parnell is pushing Doug Free so maybe right tackle will be better. Rookie Travis Frederick is winning a starting job so maybe center will be better. And the early returns are in on prospect Ronald Leary … and he’s pushing for work at the guard spots.

Dallas’ offensive line was a trouble spot a year ago. I’m not suggesting Leary is a cure-all. But maybe he represents one in a series of incremental improvements that can make the line better at three or four spots.

8. How are contract negotiations for Anthony Spencer coming along?

I’ve talked to both sides. I am under the impression there is an agreement to resume conversations this week and that there may be progress in the next two weeks. The clock is ticking; Dallas has until July 15 to do a deal or else Spencer will play out this season under the terms of his $10.6-million franchise tag.

Spencer wants a long-term deal to stay. It’s impossible to approve or disapprove of that notion without knowing the dollars being discussed.

Maybe the Cowboys can live with the one-and-done outcome, though it would be nice to know that somebody like Tyrone Crawford is ready to take over the left-end job. … and the football calendar being what it is, Dallas won’t really know about Crawford’s readiness until well after July 15.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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