Top 10 Stories to Watch at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp: Return from Injury
By Matthew Postins
Return from Injury
The Dallas Cowboys have dealt with a myriad of injury issues the past couple of years, and 2013 was especially difficult. As the Cowboys enter training camp this month these are the five players the Cowboys need to not only show full recovery from their 2013 maladies but also play at a level that might help the Cowboys break out of their 8-8 rut in 2014:
Tyrone Crawford. Crawford was locked and loaded to, at worst, be the Cowboys’ top backup at defensive end before he blew out his Achilles on the first day of training camp. It was a devastating injury for both Crawford and the Cowboys. It was an injury that seemed to send the Cowboys into a spiral of defensive line injuries throughout the season. In a one-on-one interview with DallasCowboys.com he told Bryan Broaddus that this offseason has made him feel like a rookie again, in terms of shaking off the rust from being off for a year. Crawford quickly needs to show that he’s comfortable with his repaired Achilles and that he can find a good fit in Rod Marinelli’s version of the Cover 2. At 284 pounds, the Cowboys can move Crawford around and use him in a variety of ways, but he appears to be the best fit at left defensive end.
Matt Johnson. He is easily the biggest enigma on the Cowboys’ roster entering training camp. The Cowboys have been super-high on Johnson since they drafted him in 2012. But in two seasons a myriad of injuries — mostly hamstrings — has kept Johnson from playing a single regular-season snap in two seasons. The Cowboys need Johnson to be ready to play this season as much as Johnson needs to be ready to play. In Year 3 of a four-year contract Johnson needs to prove he might be worth a second deal, if not the final year of his deal. The Cowboys need Johnson because they’re thin at safety beyond Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath.
Anthony Spencer. You have to qualify this with the knowledge that no one is sure that Spencer will be ready for training camp. He’s about 10 months out from microfracture surgery on his knee. There’s a possibility that Spencer might miss all of training camp and, for that matter, might end up on the season-opening physically unable to perform list. But even if he comes to the table late, he could be helpful to a Cowboys defensive line that needs all hands on deck. Spencer will have to show that he’s recovered from one of the most difficult surgeries in sports and then must show he can contribute meaningfully. If he’s ready to work out at training camp, his progress requires scrutiny.
Ben Bass. The Cowboys have always been a bit intrigued with Bass, ever since he made the practice squad as an undrafted free agent his rookie season. He worked his way up from that into a prospective role in a defensive line rotation last summer, but an injury ended his season before it even started. The Cowboys had planned for Bass to be a rotation play in the interior, and at 295 pounds he has the potential to play either tackle position. He can be that for the Cowboys in 2014, but he has more competition this summer with the presence of Amobi Okoye, Henry Melton and Terrell McClain, along with holdovers like Nick Hayden. Health is vital for Bass to show the Cowboys that he can be relied upon to play 20-25 plays a game.
Lance Dunbar. For one-quarter last season, Dunbar was the bomb. In the third quarter on Thanksgiving Day against Oakland Dunbar just crushed the Raider defense and he finished with 82 yards on 12 carries. For a moment it looked like the Cowboys finally had a companion back for DeMarco Murray. But later that game Dunbar injured his left knee and was out for the season. He told reporters in June that he’s fully recovered and ready for training camp. While Dunbar feels like the Cowboys’ top backup option, Dallas did bring in veteran Ryan Williams, and rookie Ben Malena is on the roster entering camp. The Cowboys usually keep four running backs, so the odds are with Dunbar. But he bears watching in camp because he has shown a propensity for injuries and any setback in July or August puts his roster spot in flux.