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.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
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.
Todd Gurley Leaps Ezekiel Elliott on NFL Rushing Leaderboard
After several weeks as the NFL's rushing leader, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been bumped to second place. With a 208-yard explosion last week against the Broncos, Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams has leaped Zeke on the leaderboard.
Elliott was no slouch himself in Week 6, putting up 106 yards on the vaunted Jaguars defense. But Gurley nearly doubled that in Denver, and now leads Zeke by 37 yards.
Here are the current NFL rushing leaders, :
- Todd Gurley, Rams - 623 yards
- Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys - 586 yards
- Melvin Gordon, Chargers - 466 yards
- Kareem Hunt, Chiefs - 456 yards
- James Conner, Steelers - 453 yards
- Saquon Barkley, Giants - yards
- Matt Breida, 49ers - 430 yards
- Isaiah Crowell, Jets - 430 yards
- Sony Michel, Patriots - 400 yards
It's still early in 2018, but it's already starting to look like a two-horse race for the rushing title. And it's no surprise that those two would be Elliott and Gurley.
Last year, Zeke and Todd were the top two in the NFL for yards-per-game. Gurley missed one game that year and finished second in total yards behind Kareem Hunt. Elliott was held back by his suspension.
Week 7 could allow Elliott to retake the lead. He'll see a Washington defense that he ran for 150 yards on last season in a single game. However, they are currently sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.
Gurley gets a slightly softer opponent in the 49ers defense, who are just 13th in run defense. Both games will be on the road.
While these stats certainly aren't as important as wins and losses, they do matter to the players. Rushing titles come back into the conversation when Hall of Fame credentials are being considered.
If things stay at their current pace for Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley, we may be tracking this race all the way through the end of the regular season.
Michael Gallup Showing Signs of a Breakout
We're only six games into the career of Rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup who was selected 81st overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2018 NFL Draft. It's been a slow start to his career, mostly because of usage. On Sunday, he took a step toward what many thought he could be for the Cowboys when he was drafted; Wide receiver one.
The numbers, one reception on two targets for 27 yards, may not indicate a breakout is coming, but if you look at the two targets he saw and the quality of the corner he faced, they're more impressive.
Look at this catch by #Cowboys rookie WR Michael Gallup https://t.co/lD1xJ2WemD
On the Dallas Cowboys first drive of the day, Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott looked Michael Gallup's way down the left sideline and hit him on a nice back shoulder fade that looked an awful lot like a Dez Bryant-like contested catch. It was a key play on 3rd-and-9 to get the Dallas Cowboys into Jacksonville territory on a drive that led to a Brett Maher field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Later in the game with the Cowboys driving to score a touchdown, Gallup made a tremendous catch when he got perfect depth behind All-Pro Corner Back A.J. Bouye and in front of the safety help. It looked to be an impressive touchdown catch just inside the end zone, but was overturned on replay. On review, Gallup wasn't able to get his second foot down after he made contact with the defender. Though the touchdown didn't stand, it was an impressive effort for Michael Gallup.
Michael Gallup with a near circus catch to ALMOST haul in his first NFL TD. Ruled incomplete. #cowboys #jags @CSUFootball https://t.co/SePSc3n1Yp
Michael Gallup led the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver group in snaps (81% of the offensive snaps) on Sunday, and according to Mike Clay from ESPN, he led the Dallas Cowboys in routes run as well. Both of Gallup's targets came against Bouye, showing an ability to beat one of the best corners in the NFL.
Michael Gallup paced the Cowboys in pass routes (25) for the first time in his career on Sunday.
As Michael Gallup sees more opportunities to play, his opportunities to make plays are going to continue to grow. With news coming down that Tavon Austin is unlikely to play for several weeks because of a groin injury, more snaps are opening up at the wide receiver position. Tavon played 18 snaps before getting injured on Sunday, so there will be increased opportunities for Gallup moving forward.
Gallup's only seen about 3 targets a game, but with the increased snaps he saw in week six and the potential for even more with Austin coming, the opportunities should grow. As he continues to come down with impressive catches like he did on Sunday (even if only one of them counted), it's going to increase Dak Prescott's and the coaching staff's level of trust in the rookie.
It's safe to say that more big time catches are coming for Michael Gallup and a breakout is coming sooner than later.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cole Beasley is Your Interim WR1
Watching the Dallas Cowboys beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 40-7 was undoubtedly fun for Cowboys Nation. There were not many positive expectations for the Cowboys heading into this game but both the defense and offense put on impressive performances at home in an attempt to remain serious contenders within the NFC East.
We learned a few things about the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday as they beat one of the top defenses in the NFL. Let's talk about in this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday!
Cole Beasley Is Your Interim WR1
The Cowboys have yet to find their #1 wide receiver, but Cole Beasley is making a serious statement looking like the most reliable target in Dallas. Being 5'8 and a slot receiver doesn't really help Beasley's case to be the #1 guy, but he's making plays.
Last Sunday, he was the only wide receiver on the team with more than one catch. The other player with more than one reception was Geoff Swaim, who only got his hands on the ball twice. Beasley finished the day with nine receptions for 101 yards and two touchdown catches. The Cowboys need other WRs to step up but in the meantime, let Beasley put the sauce on opposing defenses. Hopefully he continues to hurt defenses like he did versus the Jaguars' feared secondary.
The team still needs a guy who can be a consistent threat on the outside, though. Third-round rookie Michael Gallup could develop into that, but he isn't there yet. We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, it's all Beasley.
Bright Future for the Defensive Line
Blake Bortles was sacked three times by the so-called "Hot Boyz" last weekend. To be quite honest, the future for this defensive line looks brightest than it ever has. The return of Maliek Collins and David Irving to the field were desperately needed for this defense to take the next step. Collins and Irving were somewhat limited, but their snap counts will surely increase as the season continues.
A lot of little details went into this sack from Maliek Collins. From his alignment pre-snap to his timing on the spin, it was a beautiful display of rushing the passer by @SavageSevv. https://t.co/CYcfLH6AfB
Randy Gregory also got limited snaps versus the Jaguars, but he was able to make an impact either way. He finished the day with one sack, two hits and one QB hurry. I can't wait until these guys' snaps increase. This should be a very scary unit for opposing quarterbacks.
Dak Prescott's Stats Don't Reflect His Performance
The Jaguars are the best defense this team has faced and yet it's been the offense's best performance. Dak Prescott's passing stats may not look great, but his play was. Even though he failed to cross the 200 yard mark on the air, he rushed for 82 yards and kept Jacksonville's defense honest. Dak has faced a lot of criticism this year and will likely continue to do so.
Even still, we've seen him ball out on various occasions now. Dak can play. He may not be an elite passer, in fact he's far from being that, but he can make this offense work if they play to his strengths.
We've heard players talk about "turning the corner" in Dallas. Cowboys Nation should hope that is the case. What's more frustrating than watching an offense being unable to move the chains and score touchdowns, is knowing they could do it with a better execution and play-calling. Thanks to players like Dak, Ezekiel Elliott and Cole Beasley, there's a silver lining for the Cowboys' offense.
Inconsistency is the Problem for Cowboys
Simply put, this is not the team we had witnessed in the first five weeks of the season. Even in the two prior wins this year, the Dallas Cowboys had not looked dominant at all. Specifically the offense. They hadn't faced a defense as tough as the Jaguars', but they were able to drop 40 on them. Now granted, they did it with the help of the defense, but still. We hadn't seen this version of the Cowboys.
Even with a 40-7 win over the Jaguars, it is tough to imagine Dallas will keep this up as the season continues. Hopefully, they do and I'm wrong about this. They need to be more consistent if they want to end up surprising the NFC East and walk away with the division title.
Although they got the big win, they still left points on the field and fail to execute for touchdowns in the second half. Even when the defense forced turnovers. In close games, this cost you wins in the NFL. The Cowboys can't afford to lose many more games, even in a weak division.
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