Where the Cowboys’ offense stands with training camp on the horizon

After acclimating to a new offense in 2023, the Dallas Cowboys are counting on the second year of the Texas Coast offense being even more successful.

DALLAS — For the Dallas Cowboys, it’s officially vacation time. There are no more OTAs or minicamps to attend, but players are still preparing for the 2024 campaign and they have until the end of July before it’s time for training camp and the long haul of another NFL season. 

The last three years have brought a trio of 12 wins seasons, two NFC East titles, and, of course, heartbreaking playoff defeats. Despite not getting near the Super Bowl, the Cowboys have been a very good team in part because of their offense. Led by quarterback Dak Prescott and the new “Texas Coast” install via head coach Mike McCarthy who took over the reins as play caller, the expectation is that the trend will continue. 

Dallas has the pieces in place to once again be a top offense, but there are a few questions that they will need to answer after a lackluster offseason.

Here’s a look at where the offense for the Cowboys stands ahead of training camp:

In good hands at QB

Prescott has thrived in his last few seasons under McCarthy and last year might have been his best. 2023 was the veteran QBs first time earning All-Pro honors and Prescott led the league in touchdown passes with 36, which came just two seasons after setting the franchise record by tossing for 37 scores. 

There aren’t many better signal callers in the league than Prescott and indeed the veteran heading into his ninth season after finishing second in NFL MVP voting is one of the main reasons that the Cowboys have a chance to win every Sunday. Despite playing in a contract year, Dallas is in good hands with Prescott under center.

The team is in a good position behind Prescott as well. Cooper Rush has gone 5-1 when called upon to be the starter when Prescott has faced injury, and although he won’t light up the stat sheet, the veteran plays smart and protects the ball, giving the team a chance to win games. That’s the best you can ask for from a backup.

Trey Lance, meanwhile, is also in the picture and the organization will likely give him every chance to earn his place in Dallas. If the seldom-used QB makes the strides to live up to his potential from when he was selected No. 3 overall by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cowboys will have one of the very best quarterback rooms in the league.

The luster is off the star at RB

The running back position is much less stable. The team doesn’t currently have a clear-cut starter, but they have four RBs on the roster who will compete for playing time, none of whom surpassed 642 yards last season.

After lead runner Tony Pollard left via free agency, veteran runner Ezekiel Elliott was brought back to the mix after a season in New England and is the favorite to be the lead RB but expect the Cowboys to rotate him with Rico Dowdle and fellow free agent signee Royce Freeman. 

There’s no dynamic playmaker in the group and the only juice that might come from the current RB options is from second year sparkplug Deuce Vaughn, who didn’t see the field much as a rookie. If Vaughn makes the jump in year two, the offense could have something, but that’s a big leap.

RB is a position that doesn’t have the same significance on an offense as it used to, but Dallas doesn’t have enough skill at the position currently to be dangerous in the running game. That’s a problem.

Top heavy at WR

There’s much more game-breaking ability at wide receiver, led by CeeDee Lamb. The All-Pro hasn’t been around for team activities this offseason as he awaits a new contract, but he’ll eventually be with the team and when he’s on the field, Lamb is among the game’s best WRs. 

Lamb set Cowboys records for catches and yards in a season during the 2023 campaign and he’s been a big play machine over the last two years.

Opposite of Lamb, the passing game counts on shifty veteran WR Brandin Cooks to make plays. Cooks started slowly developing a rapport with Prescott after being acquired via trade last offseason, but the chemistry between the two got better as their first season together wore on. Cooks was often the receiver that Prescott turned to in key situations and that should continue this year.

After the big two, the Cowboys will have a competition for opportunities. Third-year WR Jalen Tolbert could be counted on to turn the corner into a solid contributor, while second-year man Jalen Brooks turned heads this offseason. 

Those are the likeliest options to earn more snaps, but rookie Ryan Flournoy could state his case during camp. The athleticism from the sixth-round pick was on display at minicamp, and he might surprise. Speedy return man KaVontae Turpin is also in the mix for more looks in the passing game, but the same was said last year and he only earned 18 targets. 

Dallas needs another WR to step up, but they have a star in Lamb, which can help carry the passing game.

A wealth of options at TE

Fortunately, tight end is where another playmaker resides on offense. Jake Ferguson had a breakout sophomore season and he’s looking to cash in even more in his third year. With his athleticism, Ferguson is a matchup nightmare who found a rhythm with Prescott.

After taking over for former TE Dalton Schultz, Ferguson was second on the team in targets, receptions and yards. Ferguson capped off his season with a monster 10-catch, three-score day in the wild-card playoff loss, proving that he’s capable of being a top threat in the passing game.

Behind Ferguson is Luke Schoonmaker, who was a second-round pick at last year’s draft. The 2023 season was an adjustment year for Schoonmaker as a rookie, and his development was slowed by an injury. That is also the case this offseason, but he’s expected to be ready for camp and to play a bigger role in the passing game.

The Cowboys also have a few undrafted free agents in the mix who could contribute as well. Peyton Hendershot was a hot name after signing out of Indiana in 2022 and he caught a couple of scores that season before injuries ravaged his 2023 campaign. Meanwhile, John Stephens was on his way to making the roster last summer before a torn ACL cost him the season. He’s expected back for camp and his work as receiver last year impressed the team.

Former Minnesota standout Brevyn Spann-Ford got the highest guaranteed money for any undrafted free agent from the team, which could be a sign that they like what they see in the rookie TE.

Offensive line gets younger

The offensive line is one of the biggest question marks this season. After a season where Dallas had three All-Pros along the line, they return two of them, but also are replacing two starters on the unit. The team is hoping that two rookies can step in and play at a high level at positions where they don’t have much experience.

First and third-round selections Tyler Guyton and Cooper Beebe are set to take over at left tackle and center, but how they will respond to that task is currently unknown. Guyton has the potential but is raw after starting his college career at TCU as a tight end before transferring to Oklahoma and playing right tackle. He will be asked to take over for a future Hall of Famer with All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith leaving via free agency. 

Beebe, meanwhile, feels like the safer bet to play well as a rookie even though he has no game experience at center. Terence Steele was something of a weak link in the chain in 2023 and he could use a rebound season at right tackle. If he’s not much better than he was last season, the offense will be in trouble. 

While the two tackle spots and center are question marks, the guard spots are a position of great strength for Dallas with Tyler Smith and Zack Martin returning as All-Pro players.

Overall, the Cowboys have had a top five offense in each of the last two seasons where Prescott has been healthy, so they should be good again in 2024. Being in year two of the “Texas Coast” offense should help as well.

However, lack of quality at RB, depth at WR, and with a young offensive line learning on the job, there could be some bumps along the way on the offensive side of the ball. 

Do you think year two of the Texas Coast offense will be a success for the Cowboys? Share your thoughts with Ben on X (formerly Twitter) @BenGrimaldi.

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