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!
Cowboys’ Patience With DE Randy Gregory Finally Paying Off?
Say what you want about Randy Gregory and his past struggles, but he might just be turning into the player the Dallas Cowboys envisioned when they drafted him in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. All I can say is, it's about time!
Randy Gregory is just one of many players Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones has gone out of his way to help in the hopes of improving his football team, but very few have received as much patience and personal attention as Gregory. Jerry has continued to stand by him through all of his off the field issues and suspensions, despite not getting much in return.
It's been somewhat confusing for a lot of Cowboys Nation. Many fans have been ready to move on from the troubled defensive end, but not Jerry Jones. This was his pick back in 2015 and he was bound and determined to see it through. That's exactly what he's done and he might actually see some return on his investment.
Randy Gregory isn't exactly blowing things up like Linebacker Leighton Vander Ecsh or some of his other defensive teammates, but he's quietly strung together some good games these past several weeks. In the last four games he has three quarterback sacks, three quarterback hits, and a tackle for a loss. That's not even mentioning how he's consistently applying pressure to the QB as well.
I know it doesn't look like much from the outside looking in, but to me he's starting to look like a player who's finally finding his groove. I don't know about you, but I will take any silver lining I can get when it comes to Randy Gregory. Even if it is the small sample size.
We all knew it might take him a while to get things going after missing all 2017 and parts of 2016 due to suspensions. That's a lot of football to miss for a young player and it's kind of hurt his development. That's probably one of the reasons the Cowboys brought him along a little slowly this season.
I don't think there's any reason to pull back the reins any longer though. Gregory looks as if he has acclimated to the game once again and is ready, willing, and able to start opposite DeMarcus Lawrence from here on out. The Cowboys defense is just better with him in the lineup.
Randy Gregory has had to overcome a lot of personal demons to reach this point in his career, and for that I commend him. It couldn't have been an easy road to go down, but the work he has put in is paying off and he can finally see the fruits of his labor for himself. That could pay huge dividends not only from a confidence standpoint, but also as a sense of validation.
Now, he just needs to keep his nose to the grind stone and continue to do what he's been doing. I think everything else will work itself out and both he and the Cowboys will be better for it.
Do you think Randy Gregory is finally hitting his stride?
QB Dak Prescott Continues To Come Through In Clutch Situations
Dak Prescott is possibly the most criticized quarterback in all of football.
Of course, this comes with the territory of being the Cowboys starting quarterback, but each throw Prescott attempts is placed under an intense microscope, even by NFL standards. We analyze every snap of every game, looking to find where Dak was right or wrong with this reads.
There's no question, though, that Prescott has been inconsistent throughout his young career. Week to week, drive to drive, and even play to play, we seemingly have no gauge on just how Dak Prescott will perform.
One scenario where we can say with confidence he will come through, however, is when it matters most. Last Sunday, in yet another must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott orchestrated a game winning drive to lead his team over the favored Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys offense was pedestrian for much of the afternoon, but when Prescott got the ball in a tied game, I felt confident he would give Brett Maher a chance to win the game. Even on the road, and even after the offense had struggled a bit through the air all day.
Prescott got the ball late in the fourth quarter, looking to answer former NFL MVP Matt Ryan's game tying touchdown strike to Julio Jones. Dak went for it all on the first play, looking for Michael Gallup deep down the sideline, but the ball fell incomplete. After that throw, Prescott went 4/5 for 45 yards, including a huge completion to Cole Beasley, putting Dallas in game winning field goal range.
This confidence in Dak Prescott is justified, as is shown by his numbers in late game situations. Prescott now has 12 game winning drives, tying him for the league lead over the last three seasons. For comparison sake, Eagles starter Carson Wentz has just 3 game winning drives over that same stretch.
Overall the box score shows a rather quiet day for Prescott, but it was exactly the kind of Sunday they need from him. He completed over 60% of his passes, ran for a touchdown, and avoided the key turnover which could have sung this close game.
He played efficient football, and gave the Cowboys a chance to win it late. Then, he did what he does best, making plays in clutch situations and coming through in the 2 minute drill.
For all of Dak Prescott's flaws, those end-of-half and end-of-game situations have been a clear strength for the young quarterback, and continued to be this week.
Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración
Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.
Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.
Cambios de Coach
A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.
A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.
Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?
A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.
A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.
En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.
La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.
Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.
Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.
No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.
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