I recently completed my sophomore year of college here in New Jersey at Montclair State University. You may have heard me chatting about sports on our campus radio station once a week and seen my Cowboys themed portion of my dorm room.
Now home for the summer and missing football like the rest of us, I started my "Cowboys Sophomores" series a few weeks ago to bring Cowboys Nation up to speed on the second-year players that will significantly impact the 2016 Cowboys' season.
Training camp is quickly approaching for the Dallas Cowboys, and with it will come plenty of heated position battles. To conclude my Sophomore Series, I decided to put all of these profiles in one place. Additionally, I have graded all ten players into categories based on their overall job security for the 2016 season.
Class is in session!
Honor Roll Cowboys
The following players are not only locks to make the roster this season, but players that will carry some high expectations with them. With most of my "Cowboys Honor Roll" players coming on the defensive side of the ball, it is safe to say that Rod Marinelli will be up to the tough task of preparing his unproven and youthful squad each and every week.
Jones, Russell, and Collins should all be starters come September 11th when the Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants in their regular season opener. Jones' expectations may be the highest of this group, as the now full-time safety will be asked to cover up a lot of potential deficiencies around him in the backfield.
Russell has taken great strides early on this summer to put his name in the running at left defensive end. Even if he is not named the "starter" on that side of the field, with DeMarcus Lawrence set to return from his suspension in week five, we know that the Cowboys' pass rush is built around it's depth - and Russell seeing and making the most of a significant amount of snaps will help that depth get to the quarterback more.
Lastly, there is La'el Collins, who will be asked to make a seamless transition into his first full season as a starter at left guard for the Cowboys. Dallas' offensive line is going to get a lot of attention this season based on the performance of rookie Ezekiel Elliott, and Collins will have to prove with some consistency that he deserves to be the newest face starting alongside the likes of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin.
With Rolando McClain suspended for the first ten games of 2016, the Cowboys' linebacker position has gone from a perceived strength to another uncertainty defensively. Wilson and Nzeocha will lead the young talent that Matt Eberflus has at his position to work with, as both will get opportunities in the middle of the field at MIKE, boosting them into spots on the "honor roll".
Wilson was one of my "pet cat" players last off season, so I'll be hoping that the sophomore can find some time at any of the three linebacker spots for the Cowboys this season. Likewise, Nzeocha could project well at SAM if he is not the starter at MIKE.
Cowboys with Passing Grades
The next group of four players that I chose to put together are Cowboys' who will all likely be with the team in 2016, but their role is relatively undefined.
Like DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory will serve a four game suspension to start the 2016 season. Many in Cowboys Nation are already growing tired of the troubled edge rusher, and the reality is that you may not see him on the field a whole lot after week four.
Gregory has yet to do anything that proves he is an every down player (which is already rare in the Cowboys' current defensive scheme), and has opened the door for the likes of Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, David Irving, and others to take away more of his snaps on the edge.
If Gregory comes out of his suspension truly determined and ready to showcase all of his skills though, he is going to be an invaluable piece of the Cowboys' defense this season.
So much has been said about Chaz Green in his short time with the Dallas Cowboys. The most recent chatter about the 2015 third round pick came just before OTAs, where rumors spread that the coaching staff was going to push Green to beat out Doug Free as the starter at right tackle.
While I highlighted why this is far from a reality in the article, Green still can provide valuable and much-needed depth to the Cowboys offensive line. His focus must remain on staying healthy and furthering his development.
Lucky Whitehead is undoubtedly a fan favorite player, and has a chance to bring a special element to the Cowboys offense and return game in 2016. However, undrafted free agent WRs Andy Jones, Chris Brown, and Ed Eagan, are all also here to try to carve out their own niche roles in this offense.
While I personally think that Whitehead will earn his job on this team pretty safely, it is going to take a few weeks of training camp practices to see how Scott Linehan plans to really utilize all of his skills.
Cowboys In Need of Extra Credit
Of all the position battles that the above players find themselves in, the backup QB spot that Jameill Showers, Kellen Moore, and Dak Prescott will fight for is probably the most uncertain at the moment.
As you'll see in the article, I have a high level of respect towards Jameill Showers as a Cowboy, but unfortunately had to group him into a category of his own due to the steep competition ahead of him.
Which of these second year Cowboys are you particularly excited about?! Let us know! Share your thoughts on this entire series and the final rankings by commenting below or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
You can also talk Cowboys with me on Twitter at any time by following me @ShoreSportsNJ!
How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?
Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.
Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.
It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.
Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.
Safety Kavon Frazier
Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.
This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense. Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.
The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.
Safety Xavier Woods
Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana State. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.
The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.
Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.
Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.
Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.
There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.
Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.
With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.
No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving
For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.
On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.
However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving.
First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.
We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.
For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.
Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear. In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.
Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.
The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.
However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.
Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.
We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.
Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?
The Dallas Cowboys are extremely thin at the safety position. Fact. They haven't really brought in anyone to upgrade the position from last season. Fact. I just wanted to point that out because there's a lot of discussion as to whether or not the Cowboys need to add another safety before training camp.
I don't know where you stand on this debate or how I feel about it personally, but it's definitely something that needs to be discussed from the Cowboys end. It is the one position where there is a lot of unknown and inexperienced. If one of their current safeties were to go down with an injury and miss any time, the whole defense would suffer.
As things stand right now, Jeff Heath is the only one who will reprise his starting role on the backend of the Cowboys defense. Behind him are Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier, but knowing exactly how they fit in at this moment is completely up in the air.
Unfortunately, that's the top three safeties for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2018 season. What's even more bothersome is their fourth might be an undrafted rookie, Tyree Robinson. I don't know about you, but I find that very concerning. But, maybe Kris Richard, the defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, knows something we don't.
Fortunately, Kris Richard was recently asked if he had any concerns about the safety position on the "Doomsday Podcast" with Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. He said he had "none".
"I'm confident. I feel really good at this point in time and it's because the level of character of our guys," he said. "We're going to get better. That's the deal because our guys are young, focused, I think the hunger's there. I love the look in their eyes. I love how everyone is buying in, is focused and paying attention to detail. It makes a difference when guys care. It makes a difference when each one wants to teach one. We're trying to build something special. We want to be tribe-like. We want to be more than a team."
It certainly sounds like Kris Richard is excited about the Dallas Cowboys current safeties. Of course, he would never just come out and say that this group is terrible or he wished they'd add
Earl Thomas another available safety. That's just not how things work. He's here to coach up the guys on the roster and not worry about personnel moves.
I don't know about you, but I know I would feel a lot better if they had one more experienced safety who could come in and compete for a starting job. Maybe someone like Tre Boston or Kenny Vaccaro, who are still unsigned. Maybe make that trade for Earl Thomas? That's a dream that just won't die.
Regardless, the Dallas Cowboys need to do something to address their depth at the safety position. I don't know what their plans are moving forward, but hopefully they have a contingency plan in place. It's just smart business.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys need to add a safety before training camp?
Want to help make Inside The Star better?
We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.
Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Should Cowboys DT Jihad Ward Be Getting More Attention?
Star Blog1 week ago
Could Connor Williams Actually Define the Cowboys’ Season?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Can WR Cedrick Wilson be the Cowboys Next Deep Threat?
Player News6 days ago
Report: Cowboys Sign OL Zack Martin To 6 Year Deal
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Could Cowboys CB Anthony Brown be a Trade Asset?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys 2018 Job Security Rankings: Defense
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
4 Reasons Terrance Williams Won’t Be a Cowboy
Player News2 days ago
BREAKING: David Irving Suspended For 2nd Consecutive Year