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.
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
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