Don’t look now but a Dallas Cowboys team that has been offensive-oriented as long as we can remember is one that is being led by the defense.
It is the part of the team with the strongest individual units and the fewest concerns heading into the 2022 season.
And that strength was on full display on the first day of a two-day joint practice session against the Los Angeles Chargers at their training camp headquarters in Costa Mesa.
Pro Bowl linebacker Micah Parsons had multiple sacks. Defensive tackles Osa Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore dominated up front, with each recording a sack.
Defensive end Tarell Basham had an interception of quarterback Justin Herbert just days after picking off Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson in a joint practice.
The secondary gave up no big plays down the field to the Chargers and cornerback Trevon Diggs and safety Malik Hooker combined for a nice pass deflection at the goal line during a red zone period.
“I thought we did a great job, knowing what they have on offense,” Parsons said. “We want to be a dominant defense. That just sets the tempo and standard of what’s to come this year.”
Here are five things that stood out from Cowboys-Chargers practice:
Dak Prescott and the offense struggled
Quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense, which had to practice without No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb, struggled moving the ball through the air. Prescott completed 9 of 16 passes in team drills.
He had one touchdown to tight end Dalton Schultz during the red zone work. But he also tossed two interceptions — one to cornerback Mike Davis on a deep ball to receiver Jalen Tolbert and one to linebacker Kyle Van Noy on a pass that tipped off the hands of running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The second pick was forced by pressure from linebacker Khalil Mack who beat tackle Tyron Smith on back-to-back plays.
Prescott said after practice that he is looking forward to going against the Chargers again on Thursday.
Lamb cuts his foot
No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb didn’t practice against the Chargers because he suffered a cut on his foot that required stitches. The injury is considered minor.
Lamb refused to disclose how he cut his foot but begrudgingly termed it “clown” stuff.
Without Lamb, Cowboys rookies Jalen Tolbert and Dennis Houston were at wide receiver along with Noah Brown with the first team offense. That inexperience at receiver also played a role in the struggles of Prescott and the passing game.
Elliott, run game strong early
With so many questions at the receiver, the Cowboys plan to rely more on the running game in 2022 with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
They certainly had a strong showing in practice against the Chargers, especially early in the proceedings.
Elliott broke off a couple of nice runs, courtesy of a strong effort by the offensive line.
“We want to emphasize running back and utilize Tony and myself,” Elliott said. “If we can run the ball efficiently, we can be that much better of an offense.”
No fighting between Cowboys-Chargers
A week ago, the joint practice between the Cowboys and Broncos was marred by at least six fights between the teams.
The Cowboys and Chargers recorded no fights in practice. The two teams met before practice with the captains and coaches. They made a point to keep the intensity high but without any extracurricular activities.
“It definitely was an emphasis,” Elliott said. “We are here to get good work in. We don’t need any of that after play. That slows down our tempo. It gets in the way. Both teams did a great job of taking control of that and not fighting.”
KaVontae Turpin continues to shine
Former TCU standout KaVontae Turpin is continuing to make a splash with the Cowboys.
Turpin got the coaches’ attention in last week’s preseason game against the Broncos with seven broken tackles on returns.
The team is trying to find ways to utilize his blazing speed on offense. He had the biggest play of the day against the Broncos with a deep reception from quarterback Cooper Rush.
“They know I can play special teams,” Turpin said. ”That is easy. I am trying to show I can play receiver at this level. That was the first deep ball they have thrown to me all training camp. I had to make that play.”