The Dallas Cowboys secondary is entering the 2018 season with high expectations, although we are still a long way from knowing exactly how this unit will be deployed. Now coached by former Seahawks DC Kris Richard, second-year players like Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie can build on solid rookie campaigns to become top starters.
For Lewis, so far this offseason, the first step of this process must be getting on the field. Playing in 15 games as the Cowboys third round pick in 2017, Lewis outplayed his draft status and became the steal Dallas always knew he could be.
Primarily lining up as an inside player at Michigan, Lewis was impressive in his transition to the next level while also learning how to play on the outside. The 5102 (5' 1 2/8") cornerback brought the same athletic cover skills and instincts to this "new" position.
These are certainly traits that Kris Richard will love to see, but so too is the trademark height and length of his former "Legion of Boom" defenses. Such has been the case for the Cowboys through OTAs and into this week's mini camp, where third-year Cornerback Anthony Brown has continued to impress out of the slot.
Understandably, Lewis will have a hard time keeping his job as a boundary corner over Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones. Drafted a round before Lewis in 2017, Awuzie recovered from injury in his rookie season to appear in 10 games. In Awuzie and Jones, the Cowboys have their ideal mold for two physical cornerbacks on the outside.
It is Jones' move from safety down to corner that was Richard's most immediate impact on his new secondary. His next act may very well have to be finding a spot for Jourdan Lewis.
Playing almost unnaturally poised as a sixth round rookie in 2016, the Cowboys working Anthony Brown back to form is far from a bad thing. Brown is the perfect depth piece for any secondary to have, capable of lining up anywhere and adding speed to a defense.
Already proving that he can do much of the same, the Cowboys will be making a mistake if Brown's continued progress stunts the growth of Lewis. Whether or not both players can coexist on the field at the same time will be another hurdle for both Richard and Rod Marinelli to handle, as Richard's Passing Game Coordinator responsibilities spill into the coverage assignments of the linebackers.
Favoring Nickel defenses that keep two linebackers on the field, Marinelli has been reluctant to play two cornerbacks like Lewis and Brown at the same time. Right now, these are two players competing for one spot.
Going from a potential fringe player on the roster to one regaining his confidence, Anthony Brown should be looked at as a great developing story for Dallas this season. As the true battle for roster spots begins in Oxnard for training camp though, Brown will have to put aside any previous praise if he's truly looking to hold off Jourdan Lewis from contributing for the Cowboys.
Cowboys LB Named NFC Defensive Player of the Week Against Eagles
You already knew that Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker, had a great night last Sunday in Philadelphia. Apparently the rest of the football world agreed, and now he's been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
The award is the first of what could be many for Leighton, who has emerged as a defensive leader for the Cowboys. He's been playing more in the absence of veteran Sean Lee, who has been battling hamstring issues all season.
THE. WOLF. HUNTER. Congratulations to #DallasCowboys rookie LB @VanderEsch38 on being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week! → https://t.co/XeSTt2tIpX
This is the second Player of the Week award for a Dallas Cowboys this season. Kicker Brett Maher won the Special Teams version in Week 4 after going 4-for-4 and hitting a game winner over the Detroit Lions.
The Defensive Player award hasn't gone to a Cowboys since Week of 2017, when DeMarcus Lawrence put up three sacks against the Arizona Cardinals.
Leighton's recognition is also well-earned. He led Dallas with 13 tackles and an interception in a pivotal road victory against a division rival. In what was arguably a "must-win" game for the Cowboys, their first-round pick stepped up and stood out.
A few more games like this, and Vander Esch could be in the running for the Defensive Rookie of the Year. But even above personal accolades, Leighton's play could help the Cowboys make a push in the NFC East.
If nothing else, he's making that first-round pick look smarter every week.
Jerry Jones: Lincoln Riley to Cowboys Pure Speculation
In his weekly visit on 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth yesterday, Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones refuted Ian Rapaport's report that the team had considered moving on from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. He doubled down on what his son, Stephen Jones, said yesterday in interviews. The second aspect of that report was the Dallas Cowboys interest in University of Oklahoma Head Coach, and offensive wizard, Lincoln Riley.
Jerry to @1053thefan on @OU_Football Lincoln Riley attachment: "That's pulled out of thin air. I think that Coach Riley is outstanding. It doesn't surprise me because of proximity and his success but it's total speculation.
It doesn't surprise me to hear his name being mentioned every time an NFL head coach is fired or is put on the hot seat. Lincoln Riley has been the hottest name in college football over the last couple of years. Every team in the NFL would probably love to have him. If you believe Jones, which is always a dubious idea, the Cowboys aren't interested.
Let's add, at this point in time, to the discussion.
Jerry and Stephen Jones aren't going to throw their coaches under the bus. That much has been evident through first nine games of the season, though they've had a lot of reasons to. They continue to support the coaching staff despite the down season. It's unlikely that the Dallas Cowboys are moving on from Head Coach Jason Garrett regardless of what happens in 2018. He's a coach that Jerry Jones believes in and unless the team absolutely get's pummeled down the stretch or quits, I don't see them making a change at the top of the coaching staff.
In an attempt to set aside my college football rooting interest in the Sooners, I don't think it's likely that Lincoln Riley is coming to the NFL. It's a slim proposition.
The only job in which Riley were to leave the comfy confines of Norman would be America's Team, but I don't think he makes that move in the 2019 offseason. He's had a lot of success in his first two seasons at Oklahoma, but has goals in mind for his tenure as the Sooners' head coach. I doubt that Riley would leave the University of Oklahoma for an offensive coordinator job or a head coaching job with a team with average or below average organizational profile. So, Garrett would have to be fired in order for Riley to be interested about making the jump to the NFL.
Jerry Jones has been clear about his support of Jason Garrett and I for one believe him. The Dallas Cowboys still have a lot to play for in the NFC East in 2018 and an outside shot at making the playoffs if they were to go on a serious run. Jerry Jones has always been confident that the Dallas Cowboys could win with Jason Garrett.
That makes what he's saying about the Cowboys' interest, or lack there of in Riley, just as believable.
Takeaway Tuesday: Amari Cooper Proving to be Worth It
Just when all hope was lost, the Dallas Cowboys went on the road and surprised fans with a 27-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Both on defense and offense, it was a game that showed us plenty of silver linings to be excited about. While a playoff run certainly remains pretty difficult to accomplish, at least the team isn't leaving without a fight.
The last Cowboys' victory came approximately a month ago, so it is with great pleasure that I share with you this week's edition of "Takeaway Tuesday!"
Vander Esch Among Best Cowboys' Players
Just before last game, I wrote about how Leighton Vander Esch could be in contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Playing on Sunday Night Football (on national TV), the rookie helped his case a lot with 13 solo tackles and an interception.
Little by little, he's making sure the Cowboys know they can move on from frequently injured Sean Lee down the road. Vander Esch can play. Forget about him being an impressive rookie, he's currently one of the best players on this roster.
Scott Linehan Shouldn't be Off the Hook
As any Cowboys fan, I loved the win. There were quite a few things to like about the offense on Sunday, but there's no denying play calling could've been way better. As much as the Dallas Cowboys are still in the hunt in a mediocre division, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan should remain on the hot seat.
Ezekiel Elliott took the Cowboys to the 5-yard line by leaping over a human at full speed and right after the Cowboys stopped using him on that drive. Against the Titans, the offense found itself on third and 16 twice and ran a running back screen pass. In Philadelphia, they were on third and 16 once and they ran a RB screen once again.
Dallas has left a lot of points on the field this year and in big part thanks to play calling. Linehan shouldn't be safe right now.
Amari Cooper Proving to be Worth It
After two games wearing the Star, Cowboys Nation is feeling a lot better about trading a first rounder for Amari Cooper. On the field, he's proven to be an impact player. An impact that has been felt immediately, by the way. Out of 11 catches, Cooper has gotten the Cowboys' offense ten first downs.
Versus the Eagles, though, his impact is felt beyond his single stat line.
On Sunday Night, he accounted for six catches and 75 yards. He helped QB Dak Prescott get 270 yards through the air and most importantly, to spread the football.
7 different Cowboys have a reception of at least 13 yards tonight.
That stat above is an underrated one. No wide receiver in next year's Draft would have the kind of impact Amari Cooper is having on this football team. In the long run, lots of people could be eating their words after heavily criticizing the Cowboys' trade for the two-times Pro Bowler wide receiver. Hopefully, that's the case.
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