The Dallas Cowboys head into week seven of the NFL season with a 2-3 record and third place in the NFC East. Disappointing would be an understatement. Many of the team's struggles have come from the defensive side of the ball. Stopping the run, especially, has been a difficult task for Rod Marinelli's defense.
Over the past few days I've been scouting some other team's practice squads. While a lot of people will roll their eyes at the thought of signing a player off another team's practice squad, don't forget that David Irving--maybe the Cowboys' most disruptive defensive lineman--was signed off of Kansas City's practice squad just a few years ago.
There were a few players who caught my eye in this process that I was a big fan of pre-draft. They could help this team at a few different positions on defense.
DT Antwaun Woods, Tennessee Titans
Antwaun Woods was a draft crush of mine in the 2016 NFL Draft. After going undrafted in the '16 Draft, the Tennessee Titans signed him as an undrafted free agent. He plays nose tackle in the Titans' 3-4 defense, which I think is limiting his potential.
Woods is a shorter defensive tackle at only 6-foot-0, 320lbs. but he plays with good leverage and power in his lower half. He would fit in great as a one-technique in the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme.
The Cowboys currently have Brian Price as the only true one-technique, but Woods is a much better option if you ask me. His power, explosiveness off the ball, and ability to hold up his man at the point of attack would help the Cowboys run defense immediately.
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OLB Joshua Perry, Indianapolis Colts
When I found Joshua Perry on the Colts' practice squad, it was a bit shocking to learn he wasn't already on an active roster. So I decided to go back and watch some film.
If you're looking for a linebacker to help stop the run, Perry is your guy.
At 6-foot-4, 254 lbs, Joshua Perry is a big bodied thumper in the middle of the field. Likely fitting in as a MIKE in the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme, he would be a good rotational linebacker who is probably a two-down player for now.
Perry has good vision, range, and instincts that allow him to make plays at the line of scrimmage and sideline to sideline.
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LB Connor Harris, Arizona Cardinals
One thing this Cowboys defense lacks is consistent tackling. Connor Harris was one of the NCAA's best tacklers at the linebacker position.
Harris isn't overly athletic, but he has a motor that doesn't stop running and a tremendous nose for the football.
Harris isn't a guy who will help much in coverage, but when it comes to stopping the run, he can help this football team as a two-down rotational player at all three linebacker spots.
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EDGE Tyrone Holmes, Cleveland Browns
Tyrone Holmes is a guy who had tons of success in college, but has also had some success in the NFL. After being drafted and released by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016, he ended up with the Browns and was on the 53 man roster for 11 games.
In a limited role during his rookie season, Holmes registered a sack and six tackles. The one knock on Holmes coming out of Montana was if he'd be able to hold up setting the edge and playing the run. Admittedly, that's not his strength, but rushing the passer is.
Tyrone Holmes is a weak side defensive end and the Cowboys are currently playing Tyrone Crawford--a defensive tackle--at WDE. Holmes is a quick twitch-style rusher with great explosion off the ball and the ability to bend the edge to get to the quarterback.
Currently, the Cowboys only have DeMarcus Lawrence, Damontre Moore, Benson Mayowa, Taco Charlton, and Tyrone Crawford as defensive ends, and Crawford may be making a move back to defensive tackle to help that position out. Holmes would be a good depth player and offer some juice of the edge.
If Sean Lee’s the Cowboys Starting SAM LB, Who’s his Backup?
If you believe the talk around the water cooler, Sean Lee is going to be the Dallas Cowboys starting strong side (SAM) linebacker in 2019.
On paper this looks like a brilliant move. It puts the Cowboys best three linebackers (Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee) on the field the same time when they are in their base defense. It should also help "General Lee" healthwise since the SAM LB over the last three years (Damien Wilson) never played more than 30% of the defensive snaps.
But, we all know No. 50 has struggled to remain healthy for an entire season pretty much his whole career. What happens if he once again succumbs to the injury bug? Who do the Dallas Cowboys plan on making his backup?
I think second-year LB Chris Covington, not to be confused with DT Christian Covington, could get the first crack at becoming Lee's backup. At 6'2", 245 pounds, he has the size to play SAM, but he's unproven and will have to prove himself in training camp and preseason to become a serious consideration.
There may be a dark course candidate to become Sean Lee's primary backup.
Luke Gifford, an undrafted LB out of Nebraska, was supposedly pretty impressive in previous summer workouts. He's been spoken pretty highly of already, but like Covington needs to prove himself. Could he be another undrafted hidden gem?
Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer Bryan Broaddus seems to like what he's seen so far from Gifford.
"If there is a young linebacker to keep an eye on I have a sneaky feeling about Gifford. This kid has a nose for the ball. He plays well on the move and he's a finisher when he gets into position to make plays. Gifford can play both inside and out which gives him that flexibility coaches covet. Where Gifford is going to have to make his mark is in these padded practices and then in preseason games. I have already seen flashes of traits and instincts and range which makes me believe he could pull this off."
You can't help but like the way Broaddus talks about Luke Gifford. He sounds like the kind of depth player the Cowboys like due to his versatility and skill set, but he's going to have to continue to prove himself when the pads come on if he wants to stick around. That's the life of an undrafted free agent though.
It may seem a little odd to talk abbout backup players this early, but because of Sean Lee's inability to remain healthy it could be an important position battle to keep an eye on once training camp gets underway. I know I'm going to be keeping a close eye on Chris Covington (#59) and Luke Gifford (#57). What about you?
Who do you think will become Sean Lee's primary backup at SAM LB?
Trysten Hill Could Make the Interior Defensive Line Complete
Confusion. Probably the first word that came to minds of Dallas Cowboys fans worldwide when the 58th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft was announced, considering the glaring need at safety. Nonetheless, the team decided to buffer its defensive line by selecting Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill out of Central Florida.
Reports say there was a decision to be made between Hill and Virginia Safety Juan Thornhill at 58, with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and Defensive Backs Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard ultimately convincing everyone Hill was the guy. Looking back on the Cowboys playoff loss to the Rams, it isn't hard to understand why this particular decision was made. They were gashed for 273 rushing yards that night, after holding the league's top rushing attack under 80 yards between four ball carriers in their win against Seattle.
Trysten is excellent against the run, racking up 20 career tackles for loss, including an unreal 10.5 in 2018. Even though the NFL is more of a passing league now, stopping the run is a formula that will always work, you want to make teams one-dimensional.
Character concerns were one of the major sticking points against the selection of Hill. He went from a starter in 2017 to a rotation guy in 2018. Even though he played a lot of football, and played well, why was his role reduced? Head Coach Jason Garrett quickly dispelled any questions about Hill's character, after talking with former UCF Head Coach Scott Frost.
"The staff who was there before, Scott Frost and his group, we spent a lot of time with them, talked to them, and they endorsed him highly, both as a player and as a person. He did a good job in that environment. And even though he wasn't a starter this past year, he did play a lot of football for them and played a lot of football for them in critical times," Garret said.
Not only was he one of the 30 guys that came into the team's facility for pre-draft visits, but he also had a sit-down with the Cowboys at the combine in Indianapolis. To top it all off, he had a workout lead by his future Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli at UCF's pro day, where he received high praise.
With that praise came a "Work Ethic" contract signed by Hill between himself and Marinelli. Explaining what is expected of him day in and day out in terms of hard work, preparation and dedication. A very unique approach by Marinelli, and one that Hill is more than willing to honor.
"I can't put into words how important our relationship is with each other. He wants the best out of me and I want to give him everything I've got. Him really taking hold of me this whole process, and me being able to call him and chat with him and hear his voice was huge in this whole ordeal," Hill said.
If that doesn't give you goosebumps I don't know what will.
Antwaun Woods is the starter at the 1-technique defensive tackle position. He was a big reason the Cowboys finished fifth against the run last season. Hill will have to battle it out in camp with Maliek Collins to see who will put his name at the top of the depth chart as the team's starter at the 3-technique. Hill could edge out Collins, but being that he's in a contract year he definitely won't make it easy on the rookie. Throw in Tyrone Crawford, Daniel Ross, and Christian Covington this group can be productive where quarterbacks hate getting pressure from the most, straight up the middle.
He's young, raw and full of potential. A close bond has already been formed with Marinelli, which can only boost the confidence of a 21-year-old kid ready to take the NFL by storm. The lights shine the brightest in Big D, it's all there for him, now it's up to him to become "King of the Hill" so to speak.
The Ringer Names Byron Jones, La’el Collins As Potential Trade Bait
The Ringer's Robert Mays published a piece this week discussing the most realistic blockbuster type trades which could go down in the NFL this summer.
And, as tends to be the case, there were Dallas Cowboys all over his list.
Mays named both cornerback Byron Jones and right tackle La'el Collins as players which could potentially be on the move prior to the season starting.
The reasoning? (You've probably heard) the Cowboys have a lot of players to pay these next two offseasons, both Collins and Jones being on the list, and they have a good amount of talent at their position groups already.
"Dallas is slated to have about $75 million in cap space in 2020, according to Over The Cap, but that number is a bit misleading. A new contract for Dak Prescott is imminent, and even if the Cowboys manage to keep his cap figure relatively low in the deal’s first year, he will probably still cost at least $15 million against the cap next season. Combine that with the fact that Jones, Collins, and linebacker Jaylon Smith all have deals that expire this year, and Dallas’s robust cap space starts to shrink quickly."
The reasoning makes logical sense, though I don't see the trades actually happening. The Cowboys are going for it this year, looking to win their sixth Super Bowl and first in over two decades. Whether or not it'll happen is, of course, up in the air, but their roster is good enough to make you believe they have a real shot at contending. Trading away one, or two, of their returning starters would likely take them farther from their ultimate goal in 2019.
Robert Mays also put the Cowboys in discussions to trade with the Raiders again, this time for safety Karl Joseph.
"Dallas signed George Iloka this spring to bolster its safety depth, but the position remains the biggest weakness on an otherwise strong roster. Dallas has more than $19 million in cap space, so it would have no issue taking on Joseph’s relatively modest deal. Players selected by a departed GM are often excellent trade targets, and it seems like the Cowboys could land Joseph for the right price."
Now this is a deal I could get behind.
Dallas still likely has a hole at safety, though there is reason to be hopeful about the prospects for George Iloka in 2019. If by the middle of the season Dallas is still looking for a suitable starter and upgrade over Jeff Heath, maybe they'll toss a day two or three pick at the Raiders and see if they can snag Karl Joseph.
Trading with the Raiders in 2018 worked out pretty well, after all.
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