The Dallas Cowboys are loaded with talent headed into the 2019 season. There will be plenty of competition throughout the roster, both from newly-added players and returning prospects who are continuing their development. At what roster positions could one of these fresh faces potentially steal the job from a returning player?
One new arrival who is quickly asserting himself is Defensive End Kerry Hyder (pictured above). He had eight sacks in 2016 as a 4-3 end for the Detroit Lions. An Achilles injury cost him the entire 2017 season, and then he had a down year when the Lions switched to a 3-4 scheme last year. So far in the offseason practices, Hyder has been one of the standout performers.
While Kerry certainly isn't going to push DeMarcus Lawrence for a starting job, and will likely begin the year behind veteran Robert Quinn, he does pose a major threat to 2017 1st-round pick Taco Charlton.
Taco is hoping to get back on a good trajectory after a disappointing sophomore year. He needs to make a big push in 2019 to hopefully get Dallas to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Being a key rotation player at DE is vital to that goal.
But if Kerry Hyder keep shining this offseason then Charlton may wind up playing third fiddle. He's already had to miss minicamp and OTAs while recovering from minor surgeries, giving guys like Hyder and Dorance Armstrong chances to fill the void.
Taco will get playing time this year, but what about in the crucial moments of games? How many layers of players will he have to get through to get opportunities when it matters most?
Big moments are when 1st-round picks prove their worth, and Charlton may wind up buried on the sideline. The arrow was already pointing down on Taco's value, and now the arrival of Kerry Hyder may cause his stock to drop even further.
Another potential job-stealer is Quarterback Mike White. The backup QB the last two seasons has been undrafted Cooper Rush, but White was a 5th-round pick in 2018 who now has a year of experience under his belt.
There have been past years when the Cowboys only kept two quarterbacks on the roster, saving a spot to go long at another position. With a durable starter in Dak Prescott, this seasons feels like a time when Dallas may be pushed to use that strategy again.
Rush and White can battle for the backup job, with the loser probably landing on the practice squad. If things are fairly even between the two, White's youth, draft status, and the years left on his rookie contract become logical tiebreakers.
But even if the Cowboys plan to keep three QBs, there is still a strong chance that Mike White could push Cooper Rush down the depth chart.
After a dazzling 2017 preseason, Rush failed to repeat in last year's exhibition games. White actually looked slightly better in his playing time.
The hard part with evaluating preseason performances, though, is factoring for the other talent on the field. The third-string QB generally has less talented players alongside him, but also less talented defenders to contend with. How much does that skew perception?
Ideally, Dak Prescott's health makes this a non-issue. We never want to see either of the guys play outside of August or some meaningless Week 17 finale.
But if Mike White takes a significant leap in his second year, he could at least push his way into the second-string and the backup QB role.
Back to defense, where a veteran linebacker in his prime could oust a guy who was contemplating retirement. 28-year-old LB Joe Thomas, who was a surprise in his strong play last year as a reserve, may push for more opportunities this year.
Sean Lee returned for 2019 and even accepted a pay cut to do so, but Father Time could still have a say in matters. While the Cowboys will give Lee plenty of deference given his legacy, there is a limit if Sean simply doesn't have the tools anymore to be a consistent playmaker.
Joe Thomas has shown that potential. He also has the athleticism to play in the nickel and other passing situations, which is where the majority of snaps are in the modern NFL.
Of course, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are still the top dogs at linebacker. But what we could see is Thomas becoming the next man up in the rotation, or even pushing for a spot as the third LB in the base defense.
We all want to see Sean Lee have a great season. Like with Jason Witten at tight end, having these longtime leaders back in 2019 to help the Cowboys push for a title is a great story. If Dallas can have a glorious year then we'd love for these guys to have played significant part.
But it could turn out that, to be the best team possible, the Cowboys will have to turn to younger talent. Joe Thomas is one of those guys who has flashed potential in limited opportunities, and holding on to the memory of Sean Lee may wind up costing Dallas in the long run.
Some situations, like the one we just discussed at linebacker, still allow for both players to make the team. But others are more likely to push the loser right off the roster. That's the danger that veteran Wide Receiver Tavon Austin faces thanks to rookie Running Back Tony Pollard.
How does a RB threaten the job security of a WR? It's an unusual situation because both are unusual players. And it also has a lot to do with every NFL team's melting pot, Special Teams.
Last year, Dallas signed Austin to be a multi-purpose tool on both offense and in the return game. We heard him discussed as a WR who could be deployed all over the field and even the third RB. Injuries limited his use in 2018, but we did Tavon shine toward the end of the year on punt returns.
Tony Pollard, the Cowboys' 4th-round pick this year, comes in with a similar expectation of versatility. While a RB by trade, he has strong receiving skills and has been compared to players like Alvin Kamara and Darren Sproles. He also was a prolific kick returner in college.
Assuming that Pollard can also handle punt returning, does the Cowboys really need Tavon Austin at that point?
While having two versatile players is a good thing, the 53-man roster limit makes it hard to carry redundant offensive specialists. It seems likely that Tony Pollard's arrival will mean a quick end to Austin's time with the Cowboys.
Our fifth and final potential job-change is at safety, where veteran George Iloka could wind up starting over the incumbent Jeff Heath. Dallas signed Iloka as a free agent this year, and his 79 career starts in seven seasons suggests he has the ability to challenge Heath.
Iloka was a full-time starter for five years with the Cincinnati Bengals. Last season, he was cut in August due to his high cap hit and quickly signed with the Minnesota Vikings. He didn't get to play much behind Pro Bowler Harrison Smith and the other tenured safeties.
Dallas signed Iloka this year in a budget-conscience move rather than going for the splash signing in Earl Thomas. At worst, he will be a versatile reserve with ample experience. But he has the ability to start, and the Cowboys should allow him to compete for one of those jobs.
With Xavier Woods' star on the rise, it's Jeff Heath who is at risk. While he's been solid these last two years as a starter, Heath still has more coverage breakdowns than you'd like to see. He's capable of making some exceptional individual plays at times, but those don't outweigh the overall liability.
Last year was Heath's first with new Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard so perhaps he will step up his game in 2019. But Iloka has the size at 6'4" that Richard covets, and Dallas didn't sign him for nothing.
While all of these will be intriguing camp battles to watch, Heath and Iloka's may be the important because it impacts a starting position. Both guys will likely play a fair bit, with whoever doesn't start being the primary reserve and capable of playing either free or strong safety.
But if George can move ahead of Jeff onto the first-team defense, it should mean an upgrade in the secondary for the Cowboys in 2019. Game in, game out and from play to play, that can have a significant impact.
Tony Pollard Should See More Work with Injuries at Wide Receiver
After making it through the preseason relatively unscathed on the injury front to the team's starters and primary role players, the Dallas Cowboys have caught a case of the injury bug in the last week. Already it's been announced that Xavier Woods is going to miss some time with an ankle sprain and Antwaun Woods is dealing with an MCL sprain. Injuries at any point in the season will test a team's depth and the Dallas Cowboys are about to be tested at the wide receiver position with Michael Gallup out for up to a month and Tavon Austin still in the concussion protocol.
Heading into the Cowboys week three matchup with the Miami Dolphins, the team currently only has four healthy wide receivers on the roster; Amari Cooper, Devin Smith, Randall Cobb, and Cedrick Wilson. It's certainly plausible that the team could look at a veteran player, perhaps even one that's been with the team in the past, or they could call up one of their practice squad players like a Jon'vea Johnson or Ventrell Bryant.
The player the Dallas Cowboys should look to incorporate into the passing game, either in week three or beyond, is Running Back Tony Pollard.
Tony Pollard came to the NFL with the reputation of being mostly a receiving threat. In three seasons at Memphis, he caught nearly as many passes (104) as he had rushing attempts (139). In 2018, he had 1,000 yards from scrimmage with nearly half of those yards coming in the passing game. As a pass catcher, Pollard averaged more than 12 yards per reception for his career at Memphis and could be a dynamic weapon for the Cowboys to deploy in the passing game.
We've already seen how Pollard can be an effective runner for the Dallas Cowboys. On Sunday he averaged 5.5 yards per carry on his four attempts and had a touchdown brought back due to a penalty.
The Cowboys love to use jet motion, throw bubble screens, and traditional screen passes, and Pollard can be an effective weapon in addition to his ability as a running back. Now it's not likely that the team will want to put a lot on his plate early in the season or give opposing teams film of how they might use Tony Pollard in the passing game, but if they need to get some snaps at the receiver position from a player they trust, Pollard's your guy.
They showed a lot of faith in Pollard during the preseason, running him exclusively with the first-team offense and giving him a vast majority of the workload. The team's raved about his ability to pick up the playbook and execute the things they're asking him to do. Unleashing his receiving skills will be a difference-maker for the Cowboys and could be huge while Michael Gallup and Tavon Austin are out of action.
The Dallas Cowboys have a weapon that the rest of the NFL is unfamiliar with and it's only a matter of time until Kellen Moore calls his number in a way we haven't seen yet. With only four healthy wide receivers on the roster currently and for the foreseeable future, Tony Pollard could find those opportunities rather soon. Despite the injuries to Gallup and Austin, the depth of playmakers the Cowboys have is very exciting. It's only a matter of time until Tony Pollard creates a little excitement of his own.
Report: Cowboys S Xavier Woods Could Only Miss One Game
The Dallas Cowboys might not be without their rising star at free safety as long as they originally thought. According to DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus, Xavier Woods could only miss this Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.
They gave him a physical and didn't sign so that tells me a little something. Xavier Woods is not going to be out 4-6 weeks. Might miss one game... https://t.co/EFcpjlZnPH
Woods suffered a high ankle sprain this past Sunday against the Washington Redskins that was supposed to keep him out 4-6 weeks. If he is only out one game that would be amazing news for the Cowboys with the toughest part of their schedule coming up. Safety Darian Thompson is set to start this Sunday opposite Jeff Heath in place of Woods, with rookie Donovan Wilson and Kavon Frazier also their for insurance. Will Xavier Woods be back against the New Orleans Saints next week? Something to keep an eye on. More details to come.
Cowboys Have to Remain Focused the Next two Weeks, Avoid any Letdowns
It's been seen in the NFL too many times before and it'll be seen again. A superior team letting an inferior team catch them by surprise and the next thing you know an unforeseen loss occurs, and sometimes that can spark a downward spiral. Coming into the 2019 season the Dallas Cowboys knew they had two division games for starters, against teams they were better than on paper. That makes it easy for a letdown or an underwhelming performance to occur, however, the Cowboys showed they have a single-minded focus that needs to continue in the next two weeks.
The New York Giants came out on fire on their first possession week one that was sparked by a 59-yard run from Saquon Barkley that set up an early 7-0 lead, but almost simultaneously, the magic ended after the score. The Giants would score just 3 more points until a late garbage-time touchdown made the final score a little more respectable at 35-17.
Although the Giants had 25 first downs and almost 500 yards of offense they were only 2 of 11 on third down and failed to reach 20 points. Meanwhile, Quarterback Dak Prescott had arguably the best game of his career with 405 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. They took the Giants best shot early and didn't flinch, just the kind of focus you like to see.
The Washington Redskins were up next in a big early-season NFC East road game. Just like the week before, the Cowboys offense started off slow in finding their groove and they fell behind 7-0 early in the second quarter, and then the flood gates opened. Dak Prescott once again was spectacular going 26 of 30 (ended the game with 18 straight completions, 14 of 14 in the second half) for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Cowboys scored on five consecutive possessions and at one time lead 31-14 before eventually winning 31-21. Falling behind on the road to a division opponent can be tough to overcome regardless if they are a good team or not. The Cowboys showed great poise and cut the head off the snake so to speak when they smelled blood and improved to 2-0.
This Sunday the Miami Dolphins come to town in your classic "Trap Game". On paper, this matchup isn't even close considering the Dolphins have been outscored 102-10 and have given up 391 rushing yards in the first two games. Smart money says the Cowboys should steamroll this team, but people shouldn't be so confident. Riding a wave of momentum like the Cowboys are currently on into a home game with an inferior opponent has all the ingredients of a letdown if they're not careful.
The defense needs to assert it's dominance this week. They have been excellent only allowing 19 points per game and stopping 16 out of 20 third-down situations. However, they have given up 44 first downs and allowed touchdowns on 5 of 7 red zone opportunities. Plenty of room for improvement and playing a bad offense should help the defense immensely. Offensively, keep riding the Dak-Zeke wave. Prescott is off to his best career start and Ezekiel Elliott is fresh off a 100-yard performance. The defense they are facing is allowing 51 points per game, attack early and often.
After that, the Cowboys travel to New Orleans to face the Saints in a game that was looked at as a premiere regular-season matchup when the schedule was released in April. Unfortunately, at least for the Saints, Drew Brees will miss the next six weeks with ligament damage to the thumb on his throwing hand. Also, the Saints defense is giving up 27.5 points per game so far in 2019.
What the Cowboys don't want is a bad performance in a game they should win on paper just like the Saints did last season, ironically against Dallas. The Saints were on a 10 game winning streak when they rolled into Arlington in week 13. Arguably the NFL's top offense was shut down as the Cowboys won a tough 13-10 battle. Let your defense pin it's ears back and make life miserable for backup Teddy Bridgewater, who while talented, can't operate the offense on the level of Drew Brees. Give Prescott, Elliott, and this high powered offense short fields all night and put points on the board early and quiet what should be a loud crowd down in Cajun Country.
The Cowboys have home games against the Packers and Eagles as well as a road game against the Giants in the month that follows the next few weeks. It's imperative for them to take care of business the next two games with the meat and potatoes of their schedule coming up. They will have to overcome the injury bug, though, as several players went down this past Sunday.
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup is out 2-4 weeks with a meniscus tear, Xavier Woods is out 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain, Antwaun Woods is day-to-day with an MCL sprain and Tyrone Crawford is being monitored as he deals with a hip issue. Nonetheless, the Cowboys still have more than enough to beat these two wounded dogs, but that's easier said than done. Will they keep their focus? Only time will tell.
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