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.
Don’t Forget Special Teams Value in Cowboys Roster Decisions
Building a 53-man roster in the NFL is a complex formula, requiring balance between numerous positions on each side of the ball. But what often gets overlooked in our analysis as outsiders is special teams, and that's a huge factor for many of the Dallas Cowboys players hoping to make it past final cuts.
Some players have survived in the league by being just good enough at their listed positions but excelling in special teams roles. You may think of former Dallas safety Bill Bates, who was personally responsible for a special teams player being made part of the annual Pro Bowl roster. A more recent example would be Keith Davis, who was an adequate safety but a special teams ace for several seasons.
To be sure, someone is going to be on this 2019 Cowboys more for their special teams value than their actual offensive or defensive ability. Who might he, or they, be?
One candidate is veteran Cornerback C.J. Goodwin. He is considered an exceptional talent in coverage on punts, which is probably the only reason he's still in the NFL today. At age 29, Goodwin has never really emerged as a consistent contributor on defense.
Young players like Donovan Olumba or rookie Michael Jackson, if not already superior cornerbacks to Goodwin, have far more upside to keep on the roster. But
considering how little they may get on the field anyway as the fifth or sixth corners, you can see why special teams value becomes so important. It may be the only time you actually see them in the game.
If the Cowboys don't want to lose a young prospect but can't let go of Goodwin's special teams ability, it may prompt them to go long at the CB position. But that means taking a roster spot from some other position, and thus the balancing act continues.
Another player to watch in this discussion is second-year an Running Back Jordan Chunn. He doesn't have Alfred Morris' experience or maybe Mike Weber or Darius Jackson's rushing talent, but he has been showing up on the special teams units.
Yesterday, Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus called Chunn "a better Rod Smith" in analyzing his chances of making the roster. If you don't recall, Jaylon's older brother was a solid RB but a standout special teams player in his few years with Dallas.
As we just mentioned with the 5th/6th CB slots, the third running back is not a guy you expect to see much on offense. That will be especially true this year as Dallas will be struggling just to give rookie Tony Pollard the touches he deserves as the number-two RB.
Given that, special teams play becomes vital for the value of whoever is behind Zeke and Pollard on the depth chart. If Jordan Chunn is superior to his competition in that regard, it could negate whatever he lacks as an actual running back.
This same conversation can be had throughout the roster. It's why Noah Brown might make the team over more traditionally gifted receivers, or why a certain linebacker or safety might be more valued than others.
We make the common mistake of referring to "both sides of the ball" when we talk about football teams. There are three sides; special teams can't be underestimated. It will certainly play a part in how the Dallas Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster this season and in years to come.
Cowboys Preseason: Wide Receivers Power Rankings
When cut-down day arrives for the Dallas Cowboys, the team's decision making ability will really be put to the test once they get to the wide receiver position. The Cowboys have plenty of young talent there and choosing the players that will make the 53-man roster won't be easy. Unfortunately, you can't keep them all.
With the Cowboys offense set to take the next step in 2019 under Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore, the team has to get WR right. Since the offseason, we've seen many things from the team's wide receivers that make us wonder who's better than who and who should wear the Star once September comes around.
Today, I share with you my power rankings for the Dallas Cowboys' wide receivers.
1.-3. The Absolute Locks
It's really not necessary to discuss the Cowboys' top three wide receivers. We know there is absolutely no way they fail to make the roster. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb are expected to be the team's starters. Cooper proved he can be a big-time threat as the Cowboys WR1 after many questioned his future following his struggles as an Oakland Raider.
Gallup has had an impressive offseason and preseason, building on his very solid playoff work from last January. This guy is poised for a breakout season and has even shown flashes of having WR1 talent. For now, though, he should be a great number two for Dak Prescott.
As far as Randall Cobb is concerned, he should be more than a decent slot receiver for Dallas replacing Cole Beasley.
Don't worry about the three starting wide receivers. They should be a very good unit.
4. Cedrick Wilson
I might be high on Cedrick Wilson, but I really believe he can be special for the Cowboys. I put him at number four because I believe he's the most balanced player among the other wide receivers. Before going down injured versus the San Francisco 49ers in preseason, he was having himself quite a performance, shadowing undrafted rookie Jon'Vea Johnson, who was supposed to steal the show at WR.
I liked him as a prospect coming out of Boise State last year and I still do. I believe he'll make the roster. He's also shown he could have a role as a returner on special teams.
5. Tavon Austin
Austin didn't have a chance to prove his worth in 2018 after being out most of the season due to injury. With him returning and being in the thick of the WR battles, he'll likely have a spot on the roster. He has potential to play in the slot and steal a few snaps from Cobb while also being a threat for opposing defenses in the deep game thanks to his speed. Not to mention, he's expected to be a contributor on special teams.
6. Noah Brown
Often, I'm surprised by how many in Cowboys Nation feel about Noah Brown. However you may feel about the team's 23-year old receiver, don't expect him to be cut from the team.
We know the coaching staff values his blocking skills very much. Plus, he has upside as a receiver and could develop into a more serious weapon on offense. With the Cowboys set to carry only three tight ends, Brown is an important player for this football team.
7. Devin Smith
I expect the Cowboys to carry six receivers on their roster, so this would be where I expect the front office to start making cuts. Devin Smith has shined lately, specially against the Los Angeles Rams last Saturday when he hauled in a TD pass from Cooper Rush.
He has a chance to make the roster if he keeps turning heads, but right now, I have him in the outside looking in.
8. Jon'Vea Johnson
The undrafted rookie from Toledo was having a very strong offseason but his stock has been falling since preseason began. Unfortunately, Johnson's route running and ability to create separation aren't enough if his drop issues continue.
Hopefully, the Cowboys can keep him for the practice squad and continue to develop him because he really seems to be a special player. Right now, though, there are other guys the team should get on the team.
9. Jalen Guyton
Another undrafted rookie that made plenty of noise in the offseason. Sadly, we didn't see much from Guyton in preseason. This is another guy who could make the practice squad, but his chances of making the 53-man roster seem almost nonexistent right now.
10. Reggie Davis
Davis' chances of making the team took a huge hit when he muffed fumbled a punt versus the Rams last week. When you're fighting for those final spots, you can't make those mistakes on special teams.
Cowboys S Donovan Wilson’s Stock Continues to Rise
It's been no secret that the safety position for the Dallas Cowboys has been one of frustration in recent years. They've locked down the free safety spot with rising star Xavier Woods, however, the strong safety role hasn't found it's true ruler as of yet. Jeff Heath has started 31 of 32 games the last two seasons at strong safety but continues to be a liability in coverage and making tackles in the open field. Veteran George Iloka was brought in during free agency but still hasn't surpassed Heath as the number one. But the best attempt to shore up this particular position was made when the Cowboys took rookie Donovan Wilson in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
In the Cowboys first preseason game against the 49ers, Wilson got his first interception on the pro level. If you watch the video below, he does a fantastic job of reading the eyes of the quarterback and doesn't allow himself to be fooled when he tries to look him off. He sits on the route perfectly and creates the turnover. This is the kind of discipline you want to see from a rookie defensive back.
Rookie Donovan Wilson with the INT for the #Cowboys! Makes it a lot easier when the QB (C.J. Beathard) throws it right to you https://t.co/EIcACB6TSR
According to Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News, Heath missed last weeks game against the Rams due to a neck stinger. This made his participation in practice limited for a few days and allowed Wilson to get some work with the first-team defense this week. He also split reps with Xavier Woods as the down safety in the box. A box safety's responsibility is to give support in the run game as well as jamming receivers/tight ends off the line, blitzing the quarterback and providing coverage in the flat.
Another added dimension for Wilson is that he had two years of nickel corner experience at Texas A&M. Anthony Brown is the starter at the position currently but having another guy with this skill set provides the Cowboys with the all-important position flex.
Wilson had 8 interceptions in college so he has some ball skills. His 21.5 tackles for loss at proves how effective he was in run support in the box safety role. With the help of Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, who developed top talents like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, Wilson could see himself with a huge role on this defense fairly quickly. So much so that I wouldn't be surprised if by seasons end he's the permanent starter at strong safety.
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