The Dallas Cowboys 2017 Training Camp opens two weeks from tomorrow, meaning you're about to get bombarded with various "season preview" articles from this site and many others. Various players will be spotlighted as key figures in this year's camp, be it for their star status or for being part of an intriguing position battle.
Today, I thought we'd look at a few guys who seem to be flying under the radar as camp approaches. Despite this, I think any of these five guys could wind up with spots on the 53-man roster and perhaps even significant roles on this year's team.
Emmett Cleary, OT
Signed last September to replace an injured Chaz Green, Cleary was the swing tackle for 13 games and then started in the Week 17 finale. He had to come in for Tyron Smith during the Week 16 game against the Detroit Lions, playing very well in an important game against a playoff team.
Cleary is a massive 6'7" and has been floating around the NFL for four seasons. He went undrafted in 2013 and was with five different teams before finally landing in Dallas. Now, with real game experience and plenty of moving parts on the Cowboys offensive line, Cleary shouldn't be ignored as a contender for a roster spot.
As it stands, Cleary should be very competitive for the swing tackle role. Many are focusing on Chaz Green or veteran Byron Bell, but Cleary didn't look at all like a liability in the snaps he played last season. That alone should keep him in the conversation through final cuts, if not beyond.
Brice Butler, WR
Some are projecting that Butler won't even make the team, losing his roster spot to seventh-round rookie Noah Brown or some other younger player. However, Butler's experience, 6'3" frame, and exceptional top seed will make him hard to beat if he has a strong camp and preseason.
The one-year, $1.1 million contract that Butler got from the Cowboys last March speaks to his tenuous status with the team and why people think he could be expendable. At age 27, Brice is certainly in danger if younger players make noise. But with Dez Bryant missing 10 games over the last two seasons, Dallas won't be quick to cast aside veteran depth.
What's more, Butler's role in the offense could be enhanced by the development of Dak Prescott. If the playbook gets opened up and Prescott is willing to take more shots down the field, Butler's speed could be put to better use. He could provide a vertical threat that compliments the work of Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley in the short and mid-range passing game.
Cedric Thornton, DT
Last year, Dallas gave Thornton a four-year, $17 million contract to join the defensive line. His playing time was cut short because of the unexpected rise of Maliek Collins and the sudden health of Terrell McClain. With McClain now in Washington, Thornton could finally have the larger role that the Cowboys anticipated when they signed him.
As always with Rod Marinelli's defense, Thornton will be rotating with other players. One will be free-agent signing Stephen Paea, a former Marinelli pupil in Chicago. Money talks, though, and Paea only got a one-year deal for $2 million to become a Cowboy. That may not mean much depending on how camp unfolds, but it at least shows what Dallas was willing to pay to acquire both players.
Terrell McClain played 500 total snaps last year, leaving plenty of work for new guys to take on. Thornton has the size to play the one-tech role and the athleticism to stay on in the nickel, meaning he could form a nice partnership with Maliek Collins. The Cowboys thought enough of Thornton last year to pay him well, and he should be a major factor in the 2017 plans.
Mark Nzeocha, LB
Held back the last two years with injuries, Nzeocha is a big and athletic player who could be called on for significant duties in 2017. The recent news about Damien Wilson's legal troubles only increases the potential need.
Last preseason, Nzeocha was looking a dominant player against the Rams' second-team offense. He followed the ball everywhere and even had an interception. He reminded you of Sean Lee, and there's no greater praise for a linebacker.
If Nzeocha can finally stay healthy, he could compete for the starting job SAM linebacker. If nothing else, he should be a primary reserve at other positions and appears to have the ability to play any LB spot. With the departures of Justin Durant and Andrew Gachkar, there is less veteran depth to contend with. Now in his third year, Nzeocha will hopefully be ready to become a contributor.
Kavon Frazier, S
It feel like Frazier has become an afterthought at safety, with many enamored over sixth-round rookie Xavier Woods. While Woods may be the shiny new toy, we're only a year removed from Frazier being a similarly-hyped rookie and inspiring hope of a late-round steal.
Along with cornerback Anthony Brown, Frazier was praised by Stephen Jones as being a player that the team had a fourth-round grade on in 2016. We saw what happened with Brown; injuries thrust him into significant playing time right away and Brown performed about as well as the veterans he was replacing. Frazier didn't those same opportunities with a loaded depth chart at safety.
If Frazier has the same talent and upside as Brown, and now a year of experience, he should be a real factor at the safety position. Dallas signed veteran Robert Blanton for insurance, but he could be the odd man out if Frazier and Woods both live up to their early expectations.
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.
The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.
Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:
"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.
If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.
The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.
But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.
Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.
Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?
I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.
If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?
Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.
If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Graduating From Notre Dame
The 2019 season is right around the corner for the Dallas Cowboys, with OTA's and training camp getting ready to kickoff in the coming weeks/months.
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith made the most of his offseason, going back to Notre Dame to finish out his college degree. Smith is set to graduate from Notre Dame this Saturday, and will walk to earn his degree in Film & Television.
Smith talked to DallasCowboys.com's David Helman about why it was so important for him to graduate and finish what he started at Notre Dame.
“When I left after my junior year, I promised my mom that I would go back and finish...Finishing my third year with the Cowboys, it was time.” - Jaylon Smith
2,025 @NotreDame undergraduates will receive degrees during Commencement Weekend. That contingent includes @thejaylonsmith Yes, the current @dallascowboys & former @NDFootball All-American linebacker, who took 21 credits this spring #4for40 #GraduatingChampions #CEV
Smith continues his leadership on and off the field, and we all send our congratulations to the Cowboys starting MIKE linebacker!
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
5 Dallas Cowboys Players Who Could Become Trade Assets
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Free Agent Targets for the Cowboys with Compensatory Pick Period Closing
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Which 5 Dallas Cowboys Will Shine in Their Contract Years?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
3 Reasons Why LB Leighton Vander Esch Will be Even Better in 2019
Player News1 week ago
RB Rod Smith Signs with Giants; Brother Jaylon Sends Farewell Message
Player News4 days ago
Leighton Vander Esch Graded Best Rookie Linebacker Since 2014
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Cowboys Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Will Cowboys DL Tyrone Crawford be a June-1st Roster Cut?