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 email@example.com!
You can also talk Cowboys with me on Twitter at any time by following me @ShoreSportsNJ!
Cowboys Chill While Pats & Rams Set to Thrill
If you were to check out the line on the Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, you might wander over to Sportsbook Review, where you could read a 5Dimes review and see what all the best online sportsbooks, first and foremost among them 5Dimes, are dealing on this intriguing matchup. Tom Brady and the Patriots, much to everyone’s chagrin outside the six New England states, are back in it – again – and are currently slight favorites over the emerging LA Rams.
In New England’s 37-31 victory over the Chiefs, the Patriots did what they always seem to do, which is rally late and win in dramatic fashion. It’s become almost a ho-hum experience in New England while the rest of the country bites on a bullet, cursing the embarrassment of riches and success that has been the standard of this Patriots’ franchise for two decades. But this was supposed to be the season that the dynasty would end after viewing Tom Brady’s often mediocre performances and his All-World tight end, Rob Gronkowski, hobbling up and down the field without the same reckless abandon as we’ve seen in year’s past. And then their only truly talented speed merchant capable of stretching the field, Josh Gordon, left the team under a cloud of suspicion.
Unfortunately for the rest of the nation, the Patriots' once porous defense coalesced into a rather stout unit and apparently, the two weeks between the end of the regular season and the start of the Patriots’ postseason was enough time for Brady to heal from his rumored sprained MCL that he had been dealing with in silence all season long.
Gronkowski must have also visited the same shaman as Brady because he looked as dominating as ever in ripping the Chiefs on every critical third-down throughout the final quarter. Finally, the conduit to much of Brady’s success, Julian Edelman, is now being mentioned as a Hall-of-Fame candidate when his run is done.
It’s all a bit much for everyone else, but not for Patriots Nation.
The LA Rams will be the Patriots’ latest foe on the league’s grandest stage as they have a burgeoning superstar in Jared Goff. Los Angeles tore through the regular season off of the golden arm of Goff and his Juggernauts, winning 13 of 16 and earning a first-round bye. Their first foray into the 2018 postseason was a 30-22 win over the determined but overwhelmed Dallas Cowboys. The Rams then traveled to the lair of Drew Brees and the Saints down on the bayou and came away with a 26-23 overtime victory.
However, had it not been for an inexcusable non-call, it is far more likely LA would be watching, rather than participating in this year’s Super Bowl. If you didn’t see it or hadn’t heard about it, then the question begs; why are you reading this article?
Of course, you know that LA’s cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman steamrolled New Orleans’ wideout Tommylee Lewis as Brees’ pass was descending toward Lewis inside the five-yard line. It was a penalty without a flag and that one blown call forced the Saints to settle for a field goal that pushed them ahead 23-20. Yet, there was still enough time on the clock to give Goff and his prolific Rams’ offense one last gasp at either tying the game or putting a dagger through the hearts of Saints’ fans everywhere with a touchdown in the waning moments.
It was the former and not the latter that occurred, but an errant pass by Brees in overtime sealed the deal as the Rams picked it off and ultimately ended the contest off the thunderous foot of Greg Zuerlein.
If you want to check out the line movements over the next two weeks for Super Bowl LIII then get on over to Sportsbook Review, read the 5Dimes review, and see exactly where the money is moving the spread as well as the total in the game. Buckle up Cowboys’ fans, it’s gonna get even more interesting as February 3rd draws near.
Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?
Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.
Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli
El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.
Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.
Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.
Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.
En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.
Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan
Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.
Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.
A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.
Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.
Head Coach Jason Garrett
El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.
Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.
Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.
Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.
Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
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