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49ers opponents training camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

The San Francisco 49ers face a tough schedule in 2016. They get a shot at a Dallas Cowboys team looking to bounce back from an ugly 2015. Here’s what Blogging The Boys has to say about the Cowboys heading into training camp.

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The San Francisco 49ers have entered a dead period, with a little over four weeks left until the team reports for training camp. Since we know the schedule, and most 90-man rosters are just about set, now seems like a good time to start previewing each of the 49ers opponents heading into training camp. With the help of the other 31 SB Nation blogs, we’ve come up with preview content breaking down where things stand for each team on a variety of issues. We’ve got a template looking at key additions and departures, big storylines and under-the-radar storylines heading into camp, and injuries to consider.

We’re going to run down the schedule, but I will be saving the divisional opponents for the end. We started with the Carolina Panthers, and today we move on to the 49ers Week 4 opponent, the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers host the Cowboys, two years removed from a 28-17 season opening win in Dallas.

Dallas finished the 2015 season with a 4-12 record, due primarily to Tony Romo’s absence. The Cowboys cannot exactly count on 16 games from Romo, but if he can stay healthy, they will be in a significantly better situation. Adding Ezekiel Elliott is certainly a big deal as well, but it always seems to come back to Romo.

Here is what our friends at Blogging The Boys had to say about their Dallas Cowboys.

Notable free agent additions

  • DT Cedric Thornton - Expected get significant snaps at the 1-technique spot, and probably will get the majority of starts at the spot. Left Philly because he didn’t think he’d be able to win a Super Bowl there and liked his chances in Dallas much better.
  • RB Alfred Morris - Two-time Pro Bowler who rushed for 1.000+ yards in three of his four NFL seasons. Looking for a career re-start in Dallas. He probably won’t get a lot of starts behind Ezekiel Elliott, but he’ll provide the Cowboys with some quality depth.
  • DE Benson Mayowa - Mayowa is most notable for the fact that he is pretty unnotable. The Cowboys poached Mayowa from the Raiders with a three-year, $8.25 million contract, and for that money they got a guy who has three starts in 30 games and two sacks on his resume. If they turn Mayowa into a bona fide pass rusher, they’ll look golden. Odds are they won’t.

Notable free agent departures

  • OLB Greg Hardy - Still looking for a job.
  • QB Matt Cassel - Landed a backup job with the Titans. Could be a short-lived job if they ever ask him to actually play.

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies

  • RB Ezekiel Elliott (first round pick) - He’s the starter from day one, without a doubt, and behind the Cowboys’ O-line he’s expected to be in the discussion for Rookie of the Year.
  • LB Jaylon Smith (second round) - The Cowboys are holding out some hope that he’ll recover sufficiently from the nerve damage in his knee to play late in the season, but that seems like a lot of wishful thinking right now.
  • DT Maliek Collins (third round) - A broken foot suffered in OTAs set him back, but he’s expected to be part of the defensive line rotation this season.
  • DE Charles Tapper (fourth round) - He’ll get some early looks in the defensive line rotation as a pass rush threat with Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence suspended for the first four games.

Biggest offseason addition

Three running backs (Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson) added to what Pro Football Focus called one of the most improved backfields in the NFL.

What many may see as a luxury is a necessity for the Cowboys, who are looking to re-establish their identity as a hard-nosed, physical offense, an identity they forged in 2014 en route to a 12-4 record - and a marked departure from the pass-happy offenses of the previous years.

Switching their offensive identity to a ball-control, ground-oriented attack, the Cowboys ran the ball 50.1 percent of the time, Murray set an NFL record with eight straight games of at least 100 yards to open the season, led the league in rushing yards by a wide margin, and earned OPY honors. The new identity proved to be the cornerstone of the team’s success. Romo had the best and most efficient season of his career, leading the league in passer rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt, Dez Bryant led the league in touchdowns, and the defense benefited from playing with a lot of leads by recording an unheard-of amount of takeaways.

And that’s exactly what the Cowboys are looking to repeat this year.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp

Tony Romo’s health. When healthy, few doubt that Romo can be one of the top QBs in the league. Few believe he’ll stay healthy.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp

Dez Bryant is a headline magnet and every piece of news however remotely connected to his name will get a lot of airtime, but the (possible) emergence of Bryant as a veteran team leader will be something to watch, even if it goes against most of the convenient Bryant narratives out there.

Notable injuries heading into training camp

Expected to be healthy at the start of camp: WR Dez Bryant (foot), LB Sean Lee (knee scope), DE Benson Mayowa (knee scope), S Barry Church (broken arm), CB Orlando Scandrick (ACL), TE Gavin Escobar (Achilles), DE Demarcus Lawrence (herniated disc), DT Tyrone Crawford (shoulder surgery).

Possibly out at start of camp: DT Maliek Collins (broken foot), Darren McFadden (elbow surgery)

Likely out at start of camp: Lance Dunbar (likely PUP after ACL)