OTA's are finally getting started this week which means that position battles and fights for roster spots are about to kick off.
Of course, the real battles won't be decided until Training Camp opens up in late July and the team has a chance to evaluate the players while they play actual football.
For a few Cowboys veterans, however, the battles have already begun.
Last week, I discussed the ever fading chances for Darren McFadden to make this roster and have an impact in 2016. McFadden is going to have to compete with the 4th overall pick in this years draft, a new free agent addition who is clearly the better scheme fit, and now another 6th round pick who seems to have all the youth, athleticism, and breakaway speed which McFadden lacks.
Well, if you think it looks bleak for McFadden, consider the situation that free safety JJ Wilcox is now in.
In a season which featured a whole lot of darkness for the Dallas Cowboys, rookie defensive back Byron Jones shined through with some light. He showed versatility, playing at both safety and cornerback when needed, and playing well at both positions.
Jones especially excelled at free safety, however, and is expected to make a push for the starting job this summer, and to eventually be the week 1 starter at the position.
This puts Wilcox on the outside looking in.
On the other side, Barry Church has been all but cemented into the strong safety role in Dallas, at least until the team can find an adequate replacement.
The Cowboys re-signed free safety, special teams contributor, and fan favorite Jeff Heath to a 4 year $7.6 million deal this offseason, and then drafted Central Michigan's Kavon Frazier in the sixth round.
With these moves comes more competition for Wilcox to face as he fights for any playing time he can find in 2016.
Starting 29 games over the last two seasons, fans have had to accept the bad that comes with Wilcox's good. Having only played safety one year during his time at Georgia Southern, the Cowboys knew that a steep learning curve was ahead of Wilcox when he entered the league.
The infamous bad pursuit angles, poor coverage at times, and overall inconsistent play from Wilcox has all been apart of that learning experience. But, entering his fourth season, the time for learning is over, and the time for performing has come.
What will Wilcox have to overcome to guarantee himself a spot on this roster?
Well, we know that Byron Jones and Jeff Heath are going to be there, leaving just rookie 6th round pick Kavon Frazier to be competed with.
I have already broken down some of Frazier's game during my "Draft Film Review" series, but to sum it up, I see potential in Frazier.
Frazier has NFL size as a rookie, and has the athleticism which could impress coaches that see an upside in him which they may think has passed Wilcox by.
But, Kavon Frazier will face a steep learning curve as well. He is still shaky in coverage at times, and tends to be overaggressive in the box, leaving receivers open downfield after he bites on the play action fake.
Similar to McFadden's battle with Darius Jackson, the team may decide that Wilcox's experience should win out over a sixth round pick with an athletic upside.
However, I think Frazier can contribute on Special Teams right away, and could very well turn into a contributor on defense in a year or two. The Cowboys may agree, and conclude that Frazier's upside is higher than Wilcox's perceived ceiling.
Who makes the team?
How about both? I think the Cowboys will keep Wilcox around to finish out the final year of his contract which expires at seasons-end. After that, who knows what Wilcox's future holds, as it is hard for me to imagine him being re-signed by the Cowboys unless he shows dramatic improvement this season.
The team has already locked up Heath for four more years, and Byron Jones isn't going anywhere. That doesn't leave a lot of room for Wilcox on this roster after 2016.
But, I expect Wilcox to contribute on Special Teams this season, and to see some time on defense in different packages and to spell Jones or Church.
In my estimation, Frazier will make the 53 man roster as well, but will be designated to the practice squad for most of the season. But, after Wilcox is gone, Frazier very well may be asked to fill his role in 2017 and beyond.
What do you think?
Is JJ Wilcox worth the Cowboys time? Do you think it is fair to expect an improvement in his game after having only four years playing the safety position?
Let's debate in the comment section.
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle David Irving, once a key member of the team's defense, will not make his return after all against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. For the second straight week, Irving was reportedly trending towards suiting up before being ruled out. The Cowboys haven't missed his unique presence for 13 weeks (playing against the Jaguars and Redskins), including through an ongoing four game win streak that began with a win against these Eagles on the road.
In that road win, veteran Tyrone Crawford recorded a sack and three tackles, while Antwaun Woods added two for a Dallas defense that held Philadelphia to 23 first downs and 71 rushing yards. The Eagles managed to cross the Cowboys' 30-yard line just four times.
There are many scenarios in which the Cowboys could have cut ties with Irving for not being worth the off-field trouble he's caused - beginning the season with a four game suspension. The absolute best case scenario is what they've realized amidst this turnaround, with other defensive linemen taking advantage of the opportunity left behind by Irving.
While it can still be true that Irving would make more splash plays than the likes of Crawford, Woods, Maliek Collins, and Caraun Reid, this defensive tackle group deserves praise for their ability to step in. Pass rush ability is one thing teams can't have enough of, and the Cowboys are missing some with Irving, finding ways to win thanks to the other traits these defenders bring to the table.
Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard may effectively be the team's defensive coordinator with an emphasis on the back seven, but DC Rod Marinelli's impact is still felt - particularly up front. Regardless of where they're lined up and deployed, the Cowboys front four is expected to be disruptive on every snap, something this scrappy unit excels at.
Prepared once again to play on the edge this season, Crawford is thriving at his original position of 3T-DT. Crawford has two sacks, nine total tackles, and three other hits on the quarterback over the past four weeks. Leading by example with a relentless spirit on every play, Crawford has meant just as much to the Cowboys defensive ends as Irving could.
In a short period of time, the Cowboys have gone from building up Irving thanks to his transcendent ability to make those around him better to simply -- and importantly -- being better across the defense.
Led by DeMarcus Lawrence as their premier rusher, the Cowboys defensive line is a lot for opposing offenses to contain. The "Hot Boyz" work up front has allowed Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to play fast and make plays all over the field.
Maliek Collins, battling back from his second broken foot in three years, is proving again he's a patented Marinelli guy. Collins' play speaks for itself when considering if the Nebraska product is best as a 3T or 1T tackle. Wherever he's asked to play, Collins creates penetration with an explosive first step and can finish at the quarterback with an array of power rush moves.
At 7-5 and fighting for their playoff lives, the Cowboys are done making excuses on the 2018 season. Their strides on defense speak for themselves, and with a group that keeps Dallas in every game they'll play, the door remains open for David Irving to earn snaps again when ready.
The Cowboys don't know any better than their play without Irving right now, and as winners of four straight, it's worth questioning if we'll see Irving over the last three weeks of the regular season.
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