Yesterday here at Inside The Star, I outlined seven Dallas Cowboys players with the most to gain at this year's training camp. While this marked the team's upbeat arrival to sunny Oxnard, California, the reality is their upcoming practices will go a long way in determining which 37 players miss the cut from 90 down to 53.
That is why today, I'll be taking a look at players that may have others breathing down their neck on the depth chart as camp gets underway. Many positions around the team are being coached by new additions to Jason Garrett's staff, offering a rare fresh start for some players to capitalize on and others to succumb to expectations.
Here are four Cowboys that could lose the most ground with the team in this last portion of the offseason.
The NFL has yet to weigh in on Terrance Williams' May 19th arrest in Frisco, meaning that discipline could still be coming to make matters worse. As it stands currently, Williams is beginning camp as something of an oddity to new WR Coach Sanjay Lal and the Cowboys offense.
Along with Cole Beasley, Williams is a reminder of what once was for the Cowboys pass catchers. A lackluster group under coach Derek Dooley, headlined by Dez Bryant's disappointing 2017 season, Williams stands alone as a player that could continue to frustrate in 2018.
The Cowboys should ideally be leaning on Williams to show young receivers like Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson the way, and I believe the starting Y-WR job is still his to lose at the moment. All around him are faster, more dynamic targets that were brought in with Quarterback Dak Prescott's strengths in mind though.
Williams is averaging just over 48 receptions and 581 yards in two seasons with Prescott as his quarterback. With diminishing production, particularly throughout his five years as a scoring option, Williams has proved to the Cowboys long ago that he'll never be a true number one receiver.
I know, the Cowboys and Prescott himself claim they don't need such a receiver to succeed, but it would sure be nice to expect progress from Terrance Williams. Instead, it will be the progress of not only rookies Gallup and Wilson but Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson too that potentially cause Williams to fade into the season.
The Cowboys will need to get creative with their receivers to get the most out of this unit, a change in philosophy that could easily go over Williams' head.
Tight End Rico Gathers
In his introductory press conference, Jason Garrett alluded to "three or four" tight ends the Cowboys are excited about, although the roster currently features five.
It may be entirely too early to tell which tight ends will have the task of replacing Jason Witten for the Cowboys in 2018, but the team's dismissive attitude towards Rico Gathers is nothing new.
Frequently calling the 2016 seventh round pick's work ethic and commitment into question, the Cowboys have not been able to find a role for the converted basketball player either in the passing or running game.
Gathers' potential as a receiver is higher than that of Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, or rookie Dalton Schultz. This leaves plenty of room for the Cowboys to end up looking foolish for never giving Gathers a fair chance, but even without a decided starter at TE it seems like Gathers is beginning camp as an afterthought.
The optimistic way to look at things is that Gathers has plenty of time to change his fortunes, as the Cowboys haven't begun actually practicing in Oxnard yet. Another month's worth of practice would do little do displace what has been over two years of stubbornness from the Cowboys towards Rico Gathers, and the looming separation of the two parties may be inevitable.
Whether or not this counts as ground lost or simply the Cowboys plan for Gathers all along will be determined by his consistency level at practices.
Defensive End Charles Tapper
Now feels like as good of a time as any to remind everyone that availability is the best trait that any player can possess. It's easy to lose sight of this as we get caught up with daily team updates coming down for the first time in over a month, but not so much so when considering Charles Tapper's unfortunate career in Dallas so far.
The fourth round pick of 2016 has managed to play in just two games for the Cowboys. Constantly set back by injuries, the time has come for the team's defensive depth to potentially pass up Tapper.
There's no doubt that Tapper's skill set can still help the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers, but justifying a roster spot over any of the defensive ends preparing to work with Rod Marinelli as soon as this afternoon could prove difficult.
New to this group is rookie Dorance Armstrong, FA signing Kony Ealy, and the recently reinstated Randy Gregory. Adding DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Taco Charlton makes finding as much as consistent reps for Tapper a struggle -- a promising player that finds himself a long way from this team's final roster.
Linebacker Damien Wilson
How exactly the Cowboys deploy their linebackers throughout this training camp is something I'll be keeping a close eye on. Adding rookies Leighton Vander Esch and Chris Covington to the mix while also signing Joe Thomas, the Cowboys feel better prepared to deal with losing Sean Lee.
This isn't to say that Lee and Jaylon Smith won't be the Cowboys preferred options at linebacker, typically running out just two in their Nickel defense. A package that should be utilized more with the arrival of Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, all of the Cowboys linebackers are going to be tested in new ways.
While this should excite an athletic depth player like Damien Wilson, the fourth-year linebacker has done little to stand out in his development. If his SAM linebacker position is becoming a thing of the past in Dallas, so too may be Wilson depending on how tight the final roster crunch becomes.
Predicting the Cowboys to be strong enough at LB by the end of camp to move on from Wilson is simply not a smart approach to the roster, but by his own standards Wilson could end up disappointed in the role he carves out for the Cowboys defense.
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The Dallas Cowboys are out to prove a lot of people wrong this season, and you won't see me complaining if the four players above have their say in doing just that. These differences in evaluation paired with how the new-look Cowboys coaching staff will actually see this roster is what makes training camp so intriguing.
After months of pure speculation, it's time for things to be decided between the lines -- such as roster spots and playing time for the 2018 Cowboys over the coming weeks in Oxnard.
CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss
The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.
Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.
Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.
The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.
- There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
- Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
- Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
- Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
- Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
- We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
- Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
- Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?
Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.
But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.
After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.
Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.
Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.
During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.
This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.
Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.
Cowboys en Español: ¿Es Tavon Austin Más Importante de lo que Creemos?
Cada vez más cerca de la verdadera acción en la NFL, tuvimos una oportunidad de ver a los Dallas Cowboys en el campo contra los San Francisco 49ers hace una semana. Francamente, a pesar de perder la ventaja en los últimos segundos del partido, la actuación del equipo dio una muy buena señal a los aficionados de la Estrella Solitaria.
Todavía quedan tres partidos por jugar, empezando por el enfrentamiento contra los Cincinnati Bengals este sábado. Hay muchas cosas que ver de parte de los Dallas Cowboys y quizá algunas de ellas las veamos este mismo fin de semana.
Una de las cosas más interesantes esta semana fue la conversación de los wide receivers (receptores abiertos). Lance Lenoir se ha mostrado como un candidato real al roster de 53 jugadores, pero esa es sólo una pequeña fracción de la conversación de receptores.
Hay muchos receptores de que hablar, y el día de hoy, eso haremos en Cowboys en Español.
¿Cole Beasley es realmente el receptor #1?
A lo largo de todo el offseason, se ha manejado la narrativa de que "los Cowboys no tienen un buen WR." A pesar de que Dez Bryant es un nombre difícil de olvidar, esta aseveración sobre los receptores en Dallas me parece errónea.
Si bien es cierto que Bryant es uno de los mejores WRs en la historia de los Cowboys, también es cierto que Jason Garrett y compañía tienen un mejor grupo de lo que la afición considera. Si somos sinceros, un trío titular de Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley y Michael Gallup no suena mal.
La pregunta será: ¿quién es el #1? Comentarios de Dak Prescott han hecho referencia a Cole Beasley como el dueño de dicho rol. ¿Realmente puede fungir como el receptor líder del equipo siendo un jugador de 1.73 metros?
Se ha hablado mucho de Beasley jugando fuera de los números e intentando vencer a los defensivos por fuera. Es intrigante, pero sin duda un poco difícil de creer.
Tavon Austin: ¿Es un arma más importante de lo que creemos?
Los Cowboys dejaron ir a Ryan Switzer y obtuvieron a su aparente remplazo con el ex-WR de los Rams por una selección de sexta ronda. Tavon Austin ha tenido un viaje extraño con el equipo. Fue listado en el roster como un corredor pero utilizado como un receptor.
Lleva poco tiempo en Dallas pero ha sorprendido en training camp y ha sido utilizado como más de lo que esperábamos. Desde que llegó al equipo, empezamos a compararlo con Lucky Whitehead y Ryan Switzer. Ambos talentosos, pero destinados a ser un jugador "gadget" que fueron utilizados casi exclusivamente en jugadas "en movimiento" o los famosos "jet sweeps."
Pero Austin puede ser más que eso y lo ha demostrado en training camp. No parece que Tavon vaya a tener el mismo destino que Switzer, sino que tendrá un rol mucho más involucrado en la ofensiva constantemente. Bien puede ser un factor sorpresa para la ofensiva en Dallas.
¿Puede Terrance Williams perder su trabajo?
A pesar de que el coraje puede llevar a los aficionados a criticar a Terrance Williams un poco más de lo que merece, la verdad es que Williams está en riesgo de ser cortado por los Cowboys antes de que inicie la temporada en septiembre.
Es uno de los WRs con más experiencia, sí. Pero durante su estadía en Dallas, cada vez que Dez Bryant ha caído lesionado, Williams ha tenido la oportunidad de surgir como un receptor #1 capaz y preparado. Y nunca lo ha logrado.
Con un roster lleno de talentos jóvenes como el de Lance Lenoir y Noah Brown, es probable que la administración y los coaches opten por el potencial joven en vez de Williams, quien ha tenido problemas para demostrar que puede ser un jugador constante.
Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que conseguir que su ofensiva sobreviva las pérdidas de Jason Witten y Dez Bryant y tendrán que comenzar en la posición de WR. A pesar de que Williams esté en el equipo, Cole Beasley será el único en repetir titularidad del año pasado en Dallas esta temporada.
Dak Prescott tendrá un rol enorme cuando la ofensiva trate de emprender su marcha y definitivamente será responsable del éxito de esta. Es ahora o nunca para Dak.
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