Whenever younger players can earn starting jobs on a NFL roster, that team is going to improve, and such was the case in a dramatic way following the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 NFL Draft. Now with a fresh haul of players brought in with the 2017 draft, nine young members of America's Team will look to push current members for their jobs.
After already looking at which Cowboys were given a vote of confidence based on Dallas' draft plans, here are a few that need to be ready to finish the fight in proving their worth for the 2017 season.
The world may have very well ended if the Cowboys came away from the 2017 NFL Draft without addressing the defensive end position at all, but dedicating their first round pick to Taco Charlton is bad news for DeMarcus Lawrence entering a contract year.
Charlton, like Lawrence, projects best as a very solid LDE - but the Cowboys seem committed to giving him an opportunity on the right side, another position Lawrence was asked to fill in at during his brief nine games with just one sack in 2016.
Various injuries and a suspension along the way have held DeMarcus Lawrence back from being the cornerstone pass rusher that the Cowboys desperately needed him to be when selecting him in the second round in 2015, appearing in just 32 career games.
D-Law has a lot of ground to make up in a short period of time this season if he is going to prove of any value beyond 2017 for the Cowboys, especially with Taco Charlton bringing fresh blood to his position.
CB Orlando Scandrick
Whether or not veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick's services are even part of the Cowboys plans for a young secondary this season is something discussed by Staff Writer Brian Martin here at Inside The Star, following reports of Dallas' intention to trade Orlando.
Scandrick has proven to be at his best when a fire is lit under him, and if he is here to stay, this fire will spread not only amidst trade talks but via rookies Chidobe Awuzie and slot CB Jourdan Lewis.
I still believe the best version of the Dallas Cowboys defense moving forward included Orlando Scandrick, but they may certainly feel differently when it comes time to actually crunch the numbers on this roster.
S Robert Blanton
Playing in the NFL can be a cruel life for mid-tier players like veteran safety Robert Blanton. A pre-draft addition in free agency, Blanton can certainly bring some toughness and consistency to the position in Dallas, but will now face competition from Xavier Woods along with Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier.
All younger options to replace a player that certainly doesn't bring anything amazing to the back-end of Rod Marinelli's defense, Blanton may have a tough time standing out with limited opportunities. Jeff Heath was already a player I highlighted as one the Cowboys are confident in, and with that confidence should come reps over the summer.
Assuming Woods gets his fair chance as well along with Frazier - who practically redshirted his first season - Robert Blanton could soon be back on the free agent market.
DT Cedric Thornton
Already employing a rotation along their defensive line, Cowboys DT Cedric Thornton's roster status may not be in jeopardy, but his playing time at the 1T position certainly could be.
The Cowboys feel good about their depth on the interior of the line with second-year player Maliek Collins holding down the 3T position, surrounded by contributions from Thornton, David Irving, Tyrone Crawford, and Stephen Paea.
More snaps off may even help Thornton make more plays as a disruptive 1T DT, but not if his role becomes entirely diminished by any combination of Paea, Irving, or seventh round picks Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell.
WR Lucky Whitehead
On a roster as competitive as the Cowboys, Lucky Whitehead's role is incredibly limited - and the gadget player/return man has left the door wide open to be replaced by not only a more dynamic but a more complete one too.
This player could be the 133rd overall pick Ryan Switzer, who served as a do-it-all offensive weapon and dangerous punt returner in the ACC at North Carolina.
Quincy McDuffie was also added from the CFL this offseason as a return option, creating additional competition for Whitehead, but using a fourth round draft pick on a receiver that fits the mold of Lucky's replacement is a telling sign for Whitehead and the rest of the WRs fighting for opportunity in what projects as one of the league's best offenses in Dallas this season.
WR Brice Butler
A look at the way the Cowboys have handled Brice Butler's status on the WR depth chart this offseason is a great example of how the team wants to build the entirety of the roster through competition.
Once an absolutely necessary target to have on the outside in the absence of Dez Bryant, Butler is signed on a new one-year deal only through 2017 and will have to earn his chances against both Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown.
Switzer projects more as a gadget player and slot WR offensively, but the Cowboys' fourth round pick could still take Butler off the field in certain situations - a one-dimensional player at times as is with downfield speed but inconsistent hands.
Noah Brown will be motivated to earn a tough roster spot at receiver thanks to his blocking ability, an elite trait of his that is absolutely valued in Scott Linehan's offense. This too could push Butler to become more consistent and contribute at the top of the depth chart with the likes of Bryant, Williams, and Beasley.
The heat of the upcoming summer months are sure to bring with it plenty of heated competition for roster spots on the Dallas Cowboys through training camp and the preseason. Head Coach Jason Garrett would not have it any other way, and with his front office orchestrating another solid draft, look for some young players to try to continue the youth movement in the silver and blue.
4th-and-1 Conversions Against JAC Were Hollow Victories for Garrett
The Dallas Cowboys' Head Coach Jason Garrett was under fire all week-long after his passive decision to NOT go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Houston Texans 42 yard line in overtime last week. Instead of taking a shot with a really good offensive line and one of the best running backs in the NFL, Garrett opted to punt the ball to a Texans offense that the Cowboys defense struggled to stop -- until it got inside the five yard line that is.
Well, in typical Jason Garrett fashion, in a game in which they were leading from start to finish en route to a 40-7 victory -- that was never really that close -- the Dallas Cowboys' head coach kept the offense on the field on two 4th and 1 occasions. Converting both of them.
The head coach and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys organization may feel vindicated in pulling the trigger in situations that the Dallas Cowboys have been almost automatic in converting since the start of 2016. The reality is there was nothing at risk in the point of the game in which Garrett opted to try to convert the fourth down.
Though they converted on both 4th-and-1 attempts, they were nothing more than hollow victories for the much maligned head coach.
Their first 4th and 1 attempt was late in the first half of the game with the Dallas Cowboys already leading 17-0. They were driving with under two minutes to play in the half at the Jacksonville Jaguars 37 yard line. The Jaguars had only crossed midfield once and hadn't sniffed any scoring opportunities. There was little risked at that point in the game. If you miss on the conversion, the Jaguars would have to pick up at least 26 yards to get into field goal range. At that point in the game the Jacksonville had only picked up two first downs. The Jaguars had only averaged 13 yards per drive on their four first half drives to that point and three of those drives went three and out.
You can make a case that if the Dallas Cowboys missed on this opportunity and the Jaguars took the ensuing possession and scored, it could have had an impact on the outcome of the game. But with the way that the defense completely dominated the Jaguars in the first half, there was little chance of them driving the length of the field to score a touchdown with under a minute to play.
The next time the Dallas Cowboys went for it on 4th and 1 was with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys up 37-7. The game at this point was already decided.
Unlike the week before.
Tony Romo said it best during the broadcast. He talked about the leeway Garrett would have gotten from Jerry Jones had the Dallas Cowboys gone for it on 4th-and-1 against the Texans and missed because Jones is a risk taker (paraphrasing). Now, I know Garrett has been known to take a chance or two at times, think of the Chris Jones fake punts, but there are situations in football that aren't that big of a risk. When you're in opponent territory and have the run game that the Cowboys have, picking up 4th-and-1 is about as sure a thing as you'll find in the NFL. Since 2016, the Dallas Cowboys had gone 18 for 19 on 4th-and-1 situations. Even if they don't make it, the opponent still has to pick up a 2-3 first downs to have a shot at winning the game.
Don't be fooled by what Garrett did on Sunday. He wasn't being aggressive. He wasn't taking the fight to an opponent who was still in the game. He was kicking a team while it was down. The Jaguars had zero answers for the Cowboys on either side of the football. The Cowboys wouldn't have lost the football game if they missed on either of those two opportunities.
If anything, Garrett was just being petty about all the criticism he took this week for declining his offense the chance to keep the ball week five. I've always been a Garrett believer because of the way he gets his teams mentally prepared to play. They rarely have bad games and typically when their backs are against the wall, they respond. On 4th and 1 against the Texans a week ago, their backs were against the wall as a team and he didn't give them the opportunity to respond. Had Garrett had faith in his defense, he would have gone for it because he would have believed in their ability to prevent the Texans from getting into field goal range. He showed a lack of faith in both sides of the ball by not giving the offense a chance to convert and by trying to help the defense with better field position.
I don't believe for a second that Jason Garrett changed his philosophy on those types of calls and I fully expect us to be rather frustrated by another conservative call in the future. Like I said before, these two 4th-and-1 conversions meant nothing in how the game was going to play out. Is it possible that Jerry Jones got in Garrett's ear about taking those kinds of chances to win the game? Absolutely. If we see a similar situation come in the future and Garrett goes for it, perhaps there was a change, but change is a difficult thing. Most humans do not like change and most people don't change.
I hope I'm wrong and this marked a change in the approach of Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. With their offensive line and the running ability of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, I don't care if they only convert half of those opportunities, those two are too good with the ball in their hands to not go for it.
Hopefully Jason Garrett realizes that running those two are his best avenue to winning football games and is aggressive on future 4th-and-1 situations. Since I like my life, I'm not going to hold my breath.
Report: Jason Garrett “Not Going Anywhere” with Possible Extension Coming Soon
With his 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Jason Garrett's Cowboys did more than enough to silence talks of possible firings on the coaching staff for at least a week. According to a report from Dallas Cowboys Feature Writer Jeff Sullivan, it's possible Garrett has earned much more than this, with an extension for the eighth year head coach looming.
@Markbristow22 Sounds like another extension could be signed soon he's not going anywhere.
The Cowboys have alternated wins and losses through the first six weeks of the season. Thanks to the rest of the NFC East getting off to an equally slow start, the 3-3 Cowboys are still playing for first place this week in Washington.
When considering these marginal victories in the grand scheme of what Garrett has achieved since taking over fully in 2011, the timing to extend him early in 2018 feels peculiar. The Cowboys went 8-8 in Garrett's first three years as he turned the roster over, and in similar fashion his young team has done little to prove they're not on track for a .500 record this year.
Sullivan does go on to explain Garrett's impact at The Star throughout the week, which is often forgotten about once he's in the public eye during game day. The Cowboys comfort with Garrett leading the way still has to be considered alongside the deficiencies of his staff to put players in the best position to win.
@Markbristow22 Six days a week top-3 coach in the league. Just struggles a bit on game days
As their last franchise quarterback said on his way out the door, "football is a meritocracy," where, "nothing is given".
It is widely accepted that the Cowboys coaching staff will be mainly responsible for at least one loss a season. Be it Scott Linehan or Garrett, the Cowboys chance at victory is snatched away from them by coaching annually.
Even with a win at the Redskins this week, it's hard to imagine not bringing up early season defeats in Carolina, Seattle, and Houston, as games the Cowboys missed out on.
The duality of Garrett punting away a chance to win at the Texans last week before leading his team to their largest win since 2014 is simply who he is. Even before the Cowboys took the field for a seemingly tough match up against the Jaguars, Jerry Jones delivered a vote of confidence in Garrett - as he's done before in an offense that finally capitalized on their talent, making 40 points come easy on the league's top defense.
Garrett's current contract runs through 2019. If you believe he's struck gold in Quarterback Dak Prescott, a young passer he hitched his wagon to early in order to survive the post-Romo era, the Cowboys would have a decision to make on both Garrett and Prescott at the same time.
Of course, that is if they're willing to let Prescott play out the final year of his rookie deal before signing an extension, and if an extension of his own isn't coming Garrett's way eminently.
This story has not gained traction with the rest of the local or national media, and that's likely because Garrett still has time in Dallas. Not only has he been afforded an amount of time that some would call unearned, but the time ahead of him makes the idea of a new extension obscene.
Regardless of when Garrett sits down to discuss his future with the Jones', it's become clearer by the day that he'll have their full support behind closed doors. Such is the stability Garrett provides the Cowboys, as well as the mediocrity to never advance past the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The Cowboys have done nothing so far in 2018 to prove they can be the team that snaps this streak for Garrett, and must first prove that their 40-7 win over the Jaguars was no anomaly. Earning their first win on the road and improving to 2-0 in the NFC East is another way for the Cowboys to take strides towards winning the division.
The Redskins would drop to 0-1 with the loss, and the Eagles have managed just one divisional win against the Giants thus far.
Let's not forget that this is where the team expects to be every year. Even though the 4-3 Cowboys would face far fewer questions about the future for their coaches and tenured players, buying in to Garrett even more after each win, the week-to-week nature of the NFL should have Dallas weary of locking in Jason for a single game past next season.
Cowboys Defense Stands Out in Blowout Win over Jaguars
The Dallas Cowboys defense has found different ways to get the job done at different times during the 2018 season. They're a big reason the team is 3-3 and sits only a half game back of the first place Washington Redskins.
Even last week, I was critical of the defense for giving up a ton of yards and felt like they were very fortunate to only lose by three in overtime to the Houston Texans. They were amazing when the Texans got inside the five yard line forcing a turnover on downs on four first and goal attempts inside the five last week.
After giving up 462 total yards to Deshaun Watson and the Texans in week five, the Dallas Cowboys' defense only allowed 204 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. They held Jacksonville to 4 of 11 on third downs. The Cowboys forced four three and outs during the game and only allowed three drives to cross midfield.
The Cowboys' defense was led by Leighton Vander Esch with 11 total tackles (7 solo) and Jaylon Smith with nine total tackles (6 solo) and a forced fumble. Jourdan Lewis made an excellent hustle play along the sideline late in the third quarter to recover that Smith fumble.
Byron Jones was excellent in coverage yet again on Sunday and if this were hockey, would get a primary assist for his pass deflection that led to the Jeff Heath interception in the third quarter. The Cowboys were able to turn both turnovers into field goals.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive line blocked the Dallas Cowboys front seven pretty well and Quarterback Blake Bortles was really good at avoiding pressure. Bortles was only sacked three times during the game. Randy Gregory and Maliek Collins each had a sack, while Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford combined for the other sack.
Though he didn't register a tackle or a sack on the stat sheet, it was awesome to see Defensive Lineman David Irving on the field for the first time since the middle of the season last year. He had an impact early in the game. Irving had a pressure on Blake Bortles and forced a hold on a punt in the first half of the game. His presence was definitely felt.
As a defense they held Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles to 149 yards passing and a 70.8 passer rating. Even as the Jaguars were down 20 points at halftime, they never could get much offense going in the second half. The Cowboys kept Bortles and the Jaguars passing game in check for most of the night, only allowing a touchdown when Anthony Brown fell down when he released his receiver to try to get to the intended target, Dede Westbrook. Westbrook went relatively untouched into the end zone for the Jaguars score of the day. That play aside, the Cowboys did a really good job limiting big plays against a receiving corp with a lot of speed.
Even with Bortles scrambling, the Cowboys were able to hold the Jaguars as a team to 3.6 yards per carry on the day. The Jaguars' T.J. Yeldon was able to come up with some decent runs, but the defense kept those positive gains from having much of an impact on the game.
The Dallas Cowboys' defense isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a unit that has played really good football for much of the 2018 season. On Sunday, the Cowboys did an excellent job getting off the field on third downs and forcing turnovers and other errors, which were created by the Cowboys pressure.
Everything seems to be coming together for Dallas with David Irving and Maliek Collins getting back into the lineup. If Sean Lee and Chidobe Awuzie are able to go for the Cowboys next week, this defense is going to make life extremely difficult for Alex Smith and the Washington Redskins next Sunday.
After allowing a ton of yards last week, the Cowboys defense rebounded with a dominant performance against a Jaguars team that played for the AFC Championship last season. For the Cowboys to get to the playoffs in 2018, they're going to have to play at a high level like they did on Sunday.
I, for one, don't doubt that they can.
Star Blog6 days ago
If Jason Garrett’s Out, Who’s In? Potential HC Candidates
Star Blog2 days ago
Should the Dallas Cowboys Trade for These 2 Oakland Raiders?
Player News6 days ago
Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL’s Top 10 Rookies
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dez Bryant Tweets Desire to Return to Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Did Garrett’s OT Decision Cost Him More Than Just the Game?
Star Blog5 days ago
Is Jason Garrett Losing the Cowboys Locker Room?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Dallas Cowboys Players Who are Performing at an Elite Level
Game Notes2 weeks ago
Takeaway Tuesday: CB Awuzie Hasn’t Met Expectations in 2018