The Dallas Cowboys are just now 19 days away from the start of training camp and I know that there are a lot of individual players that you will want to be keeping an eye on.
Yesterday, I decided to share with you the five offensive players to watch in training camp and now I thought I would share with you the players on the defensive side of the ball that I will be paying close attention to in training camp.
It's no secret that the Dallas Cowboys defense could use all the help that they could get with the suspensions to Rolando McClain, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory. That means that some of the players are going to need to step up and prove that they are ready for larger roles in 2016.
Here are the five players I will be following closely in training camp when it finally gets underway later this month on July 28 in Oxnard, California.
Byron Jones, Free Safety
I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to seeing Byron Jones solely focused on the free safety position and what he should be able to do for the Cowboys defense.
I am anxiously anticipating a few training camp battles between Byron Jones and Jason Witten. They already kind of scuffled with one another in mini-camp practices, but with the intensity of practices picking up now that they will be in full pads it should only add a little more fuel to the fire for both players.
I'm personally expecting big things from Jones in 2016 and the experience he should gain from guarding a crafty veteran tight end like Jason Witten in training camp should help him progress as a player.
If Jones performs the way I'm hoping, he could be on the verge of making his first Pro Bowl.
Cedric Thornton, Defensive Tackle
I can honestly say that I don't know much about Cedric Thornton except that he was previously a member of the division rival Philadelphia Eagles. I do however think he will be an upgrade over Nick Hayden at the 1-technique in the middle the Cowboys defense.
I'm hoping that Thornton's presence in the middle will not only provide a little more pass rush from the 1-tech, but also help free up Tyrone Crawford to put pressure on the QB as well.
Thorton's defensive play could also help keep defensive lineman off the middle linebackers and we know that's a question mark now that Rolando McClain has been suspended for the first 10 games.
Whoever starts at MLB for the Cowboys might become Thorton's best friend if he is able to just run and make plays instead of having to fight through traffic.
I'm really interested to see what Cedric Thornton can do for the Cowboys defense in 2016 and the training camp will be the first glimpse we will have of him in full pads going up against the Cowboys talented offensive line.
Ryan Russell, Defensive End
Ryan Russell has the opportunity in front of him to seize one of the starting defensive end positions to start the season with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory suspended the first four games.
The second year DE has wisely taken advantage of the Cowboys' off-season weight training and conditioning programs and has transformed his body to better prepare himself for the physical nature of the NFL. Russell's hard work may pay off and earn him a starting role along the defensive line.
Russell's name popped up several times in OTA's and mini-camp practices, but now he will need to be able to prove to the coaching staff that he is ready for a larger role once the pads come on.
Charles Tapper, Defensive End
I don't know about you, but I for one am really excited to see what Charles Tapper can do in training camp for the Dallas Cowboys. The defense is desperate for pass rush help and Tapper might just be the player to help in this area.
I really haven't heard his name mentioned much since being drafted by the Cowboys in the fourth-round, but I'm expecting to see him get his chance to prove to everyone including the coaching staff that he can at the very least be a good rotational defensive end in 2016.
Tapper has rare athleticism for a player his size and I'm really hoping that he can learn to use his athleticism properly in hopes that he can be an impact player sooner rather than later.
Tapper should receive plenty of practice repetitions in training camp. I'm just hoping that he is a quick learner and can develop into a quality defensive end for the Cowboys.
Mark Nzeocha, Linebacker
Mark Nzeocha isn't a name that a whole lot of people are familiar with, but I personally think that he could be an option for the Cowboys as a middle linebacker. He has the size and athletic ability to play the position, but he simply lacks the experience.
Nzeocha didn't receive much playing time as a rookie because he was still recovering from an injury he suffered while he was still in college at the University of Wyoming. He did however get a little bit of game experience towards the end of the season last year, but that was mostly on special teams.
Anthony Hitchens is probably the favored linebacker to take over for the suspended Rolando McClain, but I really think Mark Nzeocha has the physical tools to play the position as well.
I'm really interested in seeing how he is used in training camp practices and how he has developed from his rookie year to his second year in the NFL.
What defensive players will you be keeping a close eye on in training camp?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share your thoughts and opinions. I look forward to hearing back from you so that we can discuss this topic further.
Cowboys, Seahawks Week 3 Injury Report
Believe it or not, Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas isn't the only guy whose playing status is in question for today's game. Other key players for Seattle and the Dallas Cowboys appear on the teams' Week 3 injury reports.
The Cowboys are looking to move to 2-1 and maintain a slim lead in the NFC East. The Seahawks are still looking for their first win of 2018, and the drama around Thomas isn't helping the fear of a locker room implosion.
What players may not be out there to help their teams to victory?
- C Travis Frederick (illness) - OUT
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - OUT
- WR Cole Beasley (ankle) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
- S Xavier Woods (hamstring) - Questionable
Frederick remains out as he deals with his neurological disease. Dallas decided to keep him on the 53-man roster, rather than place him on injured reserve, with the hope that he could return before Week 9. There are still several weeks before we'll know if that was a good move.
Maliek Collins will be out today after a minor knee injury suffered last week against the Giants. Taking his spot will be Datone Jones, who returns from his own knee issue after missing the first two games.
You don't like seeing your quarterback's favorite receiver and your defensive leader on the same injury report. Thankfully, though, it appears both Cole Beasley and Sean Lee will be available today.
For the #Cowboys, WR Cole Beasley (ankle) is expected to play, and LB Sean Lee (hamstring) should be good to go, as well, based on how he moved around in practice on Friday, sources say.
Finally, we come to the ever-intriguing Xavier Woods. While limited in practice all week, Woods is expected to make his season debut in Seattle. We will see if Xavier gets the start at free safety, or if Dallas will ease him back in and keep Kavon Frazier starting for now.
With all of the hype around Dallas' possible acquisition of Earl Thomas, one has to hope that Xavier won't overdo it and make matters worse with his hamstring. Between the enthusiasm just to play and the threat to his starting job, the second-year stud should be pretty amped up.
- WR Doug Baldwin (knee) - OUT
- C/G Ethan Pocic (ankle) - OUT
- LB K.J. Wright (knee) - OUT
- C Justin Britt (shoulder) - Questionable
- LB Mychal Kendricks (ankle) - Questionable
- S Earl Thomas (???) - ???
Seattle remains without Baldwin, their leading receiver from 2014-2017, and it shows in their offensive play. QB Russell Wilson is currently at career lows in completion percentage and passer rating, plus has already thrown three interceptions in just two games.
The Seahawks have issues up front as well. Starting left guard Ethan Pocic will also miss today's game. With right guard D.J. Fluker returning this week after missing the first two, that will allow backup J.R. Sweezy to flip over to the other side.
If that wasn't enough, starting center Justin Britt missed the entire week of practice with a shoulder issue. He has not been ruled out, though. Regardless, those are a lot of red flags on your offensive line with the Cowboys' emerging defense coming to town.
Also out today will be Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright. That means we could see Mychal Kendricks, who was just recently booted from Cleveland after being charged with insider trading, playing a major role today. Kendricks knows the Cowboys well, having played with the Eagles from 2012-2017.
And lastly, Earl Thomas.
No health or injury-related reason has been given for why Thomas missed practices on Wednesday and Friday. "Personal reasons" is all you're getting from Seattle, fueling rampant speculation that a trade is in the works. Whether or not that trade is with the Dallas Cowboys is pure conjecture at this point.
What we do know is that Seattle is 0-2 and trending down this year. Holding onto Thomas and his expiring contract, only to lose him for nothing next year in free agency, would be foolish.
We'll see if Earl plays at all today. If he doesn't, the trade talk is going to explode.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dallas Cowboys VS. Seattle Seahawks
It's week 3 of the 2018 NFL season and this match-up already feels like one of the most important ones the Dallas Cowboys will play in the season. The reason why is they need to prove they're good enough to win consistently and that they won't have another year that feels like a roller coaster of wins and losses like 2017 did. As they travel to Seattle to face the 0-2 Seahawks, the 1-1 Cowboys can't miss a perfect opportunity versus one of the weakest units in football: the Seahawks' offensive line.
As every gameday, here is my Cowboys Wishlist for this week's action. As always, I encourage you to share your wishes with me in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Brett Maher Kicks a 50+ yard FG.
Dan Bailey recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Cowboys Nation will experience a very odd feeling when they see their former kicker wear purple. If there's something that can make fans feel better is watching the guy who replaced Bailey nail a long field goal in Seattle.
Brett Maher showed he could kick a 47-yard FG in preseason, but we want to see him pull it off in a kick that will actually go down in the books. The decision to release Dan Bailey won't leave our minds until we see Maher do his job.
Wish #2: Rico Gathers Scores His First Career TD.
It felt like forever, but tight end Rico Gathers was activated for the first time in his career last Sunday. Rico didn't get his first catch even though he was targeted twice by Dak Prescott. The most notable moment was when Gathers seemed to be open in the endzone but Dak missed him.
Although Prescott's pass could've been better, Gathers did stumble a little bit and wasn't where he should've been to catch that touchdown. No worries, Rico's career is only beginning. I wish his first touchdown ever finally comes this week.
Wish #3: Defense Gets Its First Interception of the Year.
Through two weeks of NFL action, the Dallas Cowboys defense has been one of the most impressive units. Ranking as the third best in total points in the league, the Cowboys' defense might begin being the team's best side of the ball. At least, it has been for the first two weeks.
Last week, they limited Odell Beckham Jr. to only 51 yards. Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie have played pretty well so far, but I wish they're able to get their first interception of the year. Dallas has one takeaway from week 1 versus the Panthers, but it came in form of a fumble.
Let's get that interception from Russell Wilson, who will be pressured most of the day by a very productive Cowboys' front seven.
Wish #4: 20+ Point Performance
Despite a very exciting first drive versus the Giants last week, the Cowboys' offense still needs to prove it can be successful enough to win games. Scott Linehan's unit had some good drives but it also failed to maintain a consistent attack all game. That may seem okay, but the Cowboys will have to win against some pretty tough defenses.
Seahawks will present the team with a very interesting challenge and one that I wish they pass. As good as the defense is playing, the offense needs to show up in order to win later games.
Wish #5: Contain Russell Wilson
Wilson is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. His agility might be the best among every other signal caller in the game, becoming a very tough guy to defend. He can hurt you with his arms and legs and can throw on the run pretty well. All week we've been talking about how sacking the Seahawks' QB is a key to the victory, but it's more than that.
Wilson is good in the pocket, but when he starts scrambling or running out of the pocket only to throw the ball once the defense is out of position, he becomes a pretty painful headache. The Cowboys need to put him on the ground, but they also need to contain him all day long. He's basically his team's entire offense.
Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle
Through just two games, the Dallas Cowboys addition of Kris Richard to their revamped coaching staff appears to be the team's best move of the offseason. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli revealed that Richard is calling the team's plays on defense, which explains their attacking style of play so far.
It was the Cowboys blitzes that disrupted the Giants offense enough for Dallas to earn their first win a week ago. With the schedule set up favorably for the Cowboys to build off this win, Richard must lead his defense past his old team in Seattle for Sunday's week three match up.
On paper, the Cowboys defense should be able to limit the Seahawks thanks to their strong pass rush and lengthy secondary. Welcoming back Xavier Woods at safety, the Cowboys are getting even better in the back end against the Seahawks, allowing Richard to throw even more looks at Seattle with his front seven.
Starting wide receiver Doug Baldwin and guard Ethan Pocic will both miss this game for the Seahawks.
With an offense still trying to find its footing though, Richard' profound impact on the Cowboys staff has extended past the defensive side of the ball this week. Perhaps the most criticized Cowboys coach this season, Offensive Coordiator Scott Linehan has sat down with Richard to study the Seahawks defense - coordinated by Richard against the Cowboys specifically.
Scott Linehan and Kris Richard have been spending a good chunk of time together this week dissecting Seattle's approach. Richard obviously knows Seahawks well. Linehan said Richard has great recall, taking him through each play of teams' previous games.
At 1-1, the Cowboys are still looking to put a complete game on the field and prove they deserve to sit atop the NFC East. The defense being their strongest unit through an ugly loss in Carolina and grind-it-out win against the Giants, Linehan's offense creating some explosive plays against the Seahawks could be all the Cowboys need to exit CenturyLink field as winners on Sunday.
Since Linehan officially took over as the Cowboys OC, he is 0-2 against Seahawks defenses coordinated by Richard. When Kris left Seattle, it was believed that he got out at the right time, with the Seahawks defense declining in talent ever since 2015 (his first year as DC).
The NFL's top scoring defense in 2015, the Seahawks were a full point per game worse in 2016, and nearly 2.5 points worse than that in 2017. So far this season, the Seahawks have allowed 27 points to Case Keenum's Broncos and 24 to the Mitch Trubisky lead Chicago Bears.
The Cowboys biggest problem against Richard's defenses had been finishing drives, something they improved on against the Giants last week. Both Cowboys losses coming at home, the Seahawks kept Dallas out of the end zone in both week eight of 2015 and week 17 a year ago.
Last year's loss to the Seahawks should still sting those at The Star who saw a desperate push for the playoffs hit a wall against Seattle's defense - holding the Cowboys to 282 yards in Ezekiel Elliott's return from suspension.
Not having to rely solely on motivation for revenge while sitting back and trusting Elliott to carry them, Richard could be the key to the Cowboys passing game finding some rhythm. After all, his official title beyond "offseason steal" is Passing Game Coordinator - a position occupied previously by Linehan himself back in 2014.
With a win, similarly to 2014 when the Cowboys came out of Seattle victorious, Dallas would go a long way in earning respect around the league.
This goes for both the offense, where the Cowboys will remain a work in progress regardless of result, and on defense where Dallas can expect Maliek Collins (knee) and David Irving (suspension) to return in the coming weeks.
Kris Richard's focus has been on bettering the Cowboys since they added him to the organization with a clear path up the ranks. Just how far Richard ascends, and how quickly, will depend on the Cowboys performance - expecting to be more than ready for the challenge ahead this week thanks to the coach responsible for building the "Legion of Boom".
The Cowboys kickoff in Seattle being FOX's game of the week, this team has never been one to back away from the spotlight, and winning under it with Richard on the sideline would give the Cowboys all the momentum they need returning home for week four.
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