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.
I will be paying close attention to #99 in training camp and see how he performs against both Tyron Smith and Doug Free.
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.