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.
Report: Cowboys’ Travis Frederick Ready for Start of Training Camp
With the Dallas Cowboys opening training camp with their first practice on Saturday, July 27th in Oxnard, California, a lot of information is coming out regarding who will be available when they report.
It was already reported that Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will be placed on the physically unable to practice (P.U.P.) list to start training camp. Now, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network is reporting that Travis Frederick will avoid the Non-Football Injury list (NFI) and be ready to report for the starting of training camp.
Very good news for the #Cowboys: All-Pro C Travis Frederick, who dealt with Guillain-Barré syndrome last year, is expected to be active for the start of training camp. He avoids NFI and is ready to go.
Frederick has been out of action for a year after being diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome during last year's training camp. Guillen-Barre is a disorder that can affect the peripheral neurological system. Basically, the neurological system that doesn't consist of the brain and the spinal cord, which is the central nervous system.
There was talk that Frederick might have been ready to go for the playoffs at the end of last season, but the team continued to hold him out in order to get him back 100% for 2019. It looks like the time has come for Frederick to regain his spot as the leader and lynch-pin of the offensive line.
While Joe Looney was effective in 2018, there's no doubt the team suffered a drop off from All-Pro Travis Frederick to career backup Looney. Getting Frederick back in the middle of the offensive line is the most significant upgrade the Dallas Cowboys could have made this offseason on either side of the football.
Frederick is one of the smartest players on the team and does a lot for Dak Prescott and the offensive line in terms of setting protections. For Dak Prescott, he'll be able to have a little more faith that the front of his pocket will hold up if he needs to step up to make a throw. Frederick will also help Connor Williams as the two work combo blocks against opposing interior defenders. Frederick will immediately improve the Dallas Cowboys red zone offense as they'll be able to get more of a push on the interior.
It was almost expected that this would be the case, but hearing it for certain should give the Dallas Cowboys and their fans a lot of optimism for what's to come in 2019. Travis Frederick returning to the starting lineup is a huge addition for a Dallas Cowboys offense that looks ready to roll in 2019.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Cornerback
The Dallas Cowboys have spent a lot of draft picks the last few years to build up their cornerbacks group. There is a lot of potential heading into 2019, but Dallas needs these young players to take the next step if they want to compete for a championship. This weekend's start to training camp will be an important part of the process.
Dallas' best move to help the cornerback position was switching Byron Jones back there in 2018 after a few seasons at safety. Jones went to his first Pro Bowl and has positioned himself for a big contract extension.
Byron is currently set to play 2019 on his fifth-year option of $6.27 million, which is a steal for a CB of his caliber. Whether or not the Cowboys allow him to enter unrestricted free agency next year, or get a new deal signed, will be something to watch for throughout the upcoming season.
Jones' future may be in question, but we at least know he'll be the team's top corner this season. None of the other Dallas CBs can enjoy that same certainty in 2019, as depth chart positioning and job security are all in flux right now.
Here is the current CB depth chart headed into training camp:
- Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie
- Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
- Michael Jackson, Donovan Olumba
- C.J. Goodwin, Chris Westry
- Treston Decoud
Will this list hold as is, or will we some shifting over the five weeks of training camp and preseason?
The battle for snaps between Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis will be an intriguing ongoing storyline. Awuzie was the starter last year, and will hopefully make a big developmental leap in his third year.
But Anthony Brown has proven himself a capable player despite being just a 6th-round pick in 2016. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Brown will certainly be pushing for a significant role this season to hopefully help his free agent marketability in 2020.
If things go like they did last year, both Awuzie and Brown will get plenty of playing time. The true enigma of this bunch is Jourdan Lewis, who is hoping to be more than just the number-four CB in 2019.
Though he was drafted a round later than Awuzie in 2017, Lewis was generally considered the superior talent by most draft analysts. He fell due to a domestic violence accusation a month before the draft for which he was eventually found not guilty.
Jourdan was looking good at the end of his rookie season, but the arrival of Kris Richard as Defensive Backs Coach last year seemed to cause a regression. Lewis only got in on a little over 18% of the total defensive snaps in 2018, while the top three all had 67% or higher.
Despite his few opportunities, Lewis still had one of the biggest plays of the year with his interception that sealed Dallas' stunning upset over the New Orleans Saints. His potential has been noted, with Coach Richard even calling him an "exception" to his general preference for bigger, stronger cornerbacks.
But even if the team likes Jourdan, can he beat Awuzie or Brown? Could he perhaps have more value in a trade, with two years left on that rookie deal, to a team in greater need at CB?
The idea of moving Lewis, which existed prior to the draft, gained steam when Dallas used a 5th-round pick this year acquire CB Michael Jackson out of Miami. He fits that prototypical build at corner, and perhaps the Cowboys are hoping he can show enough early to provide an adequate replacement if they want to trade Jourdan.
If not Jackson, prospect Donovan Olumba is another option. He nearly made the 53 last year but got squeezed out when Dallas only kept four cornerbacks. After a year on the practice squad, Olumba is back and could be ready for a roster spot.
Veteran C.J. Goodwin has bounced around the NFL since 2014 but has some real-game experience. If the young guys aren't in a position to be game-day active, perhaps he would be the best option. Dallas added him in the middle of the 2018 season and he was helping on special teams and as a reserve corner at the end of the year.
Undrafted rookie Chris Westry, listed at 6'4", is another intriguing player to watch in camp. That rare size is something you can't teach, and hopefully Richard can develop Westry enough to get something out of the physical gifts.
This should be a fun 2019 training camp at cornerback, with competition potentially at every spot on the depth chart except the very top. And while secure at number-one, even Byron Jones has his own question marks around his long-term future in Dallas.
We'll start getting some answers in just four more days!
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OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence and CB Byron Jones to Start 2019 Camp on PUP
The Dallas Cowboys will be missing two of their defensive leaders when they open 2019 training camp this Saturday. Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will both start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List as they recover from offseason surgeries.
Lawrence, who got a new five-year contract in April, immediately underwent shoulder surgery once his deal was finalized. DeMarcus reportedly was waiting for contract negotiations to be completed before he had the procedure.
Jones had hip surgery in late May. He is playing 2019 on the fifth-year option from his original contract, and is no doubt hoping for his own long-term extension sometime in the near future.
Sources: DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones will open Cowboys camp on PUP and won't practice in California https://t.co/jzWV5FjBO6 via @sportsdaydfw
Neither Lawrence or Jones, who are both coming of Pro Bowl seasons in 2018, are expected to be absent once the regular season starts in September. But either participating in this year's training camp is doubtful, and even preseason appearances are in question right now.
With DeMarcus out at DE, newcomers like Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder will get plenty of chances to show their stuff. It's also a nice opportunity for Taco Charlton, assuming he's recovered from his own offseason surgery, to get some work against the first-team offensive line.
No Byron at CB will give Jourdan Lewis a nice opportunity to work with the starters as well. He was likely stuck at the 4th spot behind Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown but should now get more time on the field and against the best competition.
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