When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a position or role on a team or when they're fighting for survival.
Today, we're going to look at how secure the Cowboys' players should feel in 2018. This not only applies to if they make the final roster, but also their position as a starter or key roleplayer.
The offensive players were covered earlier this week. So naturally, today we're going to focus on the defense.
Tier 1 - The Untouchables
DE DeMarcus Lawrence, LB Sean Lee
Immediately, you will notice a sizable difference in the number of players on certain tiers between offense and defense. For example, the top tier on offense had six players and there are only these two on defense.
That is to be expected when one of side of the ball is under renovation and the other is more established, as is the case in Dallas. The investments made in the offensive line have already paid off and there are clear starters in place at quarterback and running back.
The Cowboys are still waiting to see if recent picks like Taco Charlton, Maliek Collins, or their two young corners eventually become clearly entrenched starters. As it stands, they have only have two guys who have clearly defined starting roles in 2018.
One of them is the franchise-tagged DeMarcus Lawrence, whose breakout 2017 season has made him one of the premiere pass rushers in the NFL. He will be back next year, and hopefully for many more to come, as the crown jewel of the Cowboys' emerging defensive line. He will get as many reps as he can physically handle.
The veteran leader of the defense, Linebacker Sean Lee, will also return to his starting role. As long as his body holds up, Lee will be a fixture on nearly all defensive schemes and packages. We could see more rotation with Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch as the team prepares for the future, but Sean will be a clear first-teamer throughout the year.
Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable
LB Jaylon Smith, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis
These young players should all have significant roles on the team, and almost certainly as starters. However, their youth does leave the slightest room for questioning.
Every report you hear about Jaylon Smith right now is glowing, both his play on the field and his medical progress. If it holds through August, he should be a starter and major factor right alongside Sean Lee this season.
Any kind of injury setback with that knee, though, and Dallas could easily get scared into limiting his reps. Damien Wilson is still here if the Cowboys start wanting to limit Smith's reps again.
As for the corners, Awuzie and Lewis are looking like one of the best young tandems in all of football. But with Byron Jones moving back to corner, Dallas may elect to have him as a starter and move one of the sophomores into a nickel role.
That said, in the modern NFL there are essentially three starting cornerbacks on defense. Teams utilize their nickel scheme more than any other these days. So no matter what, Chido and Jourdan will both be on the field a lot next year.
Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?
DE Taco Charlton, DE Dorance Armstrong, DL Tyrone Crawford, DL David Irving, DT Maliek Collins, DT Jihad Ward, LB Leighton Vander Esch, LB Damien Wilson, CB Byron Jones, CB Anthony Brown, S Kavon Frazier, S Jeff Heath, S Xavier Woods
These next two tiers are heavy, and that speaks to the ongoing makeover of the defense. Of these two groups, anywhere from 6-9 players won't make the 2018 roster.
There are a lot of options on the defensive line right now, but Taco Charlton's first-round pick keeps him safe in just his second year. His positive play to close 2017, and good reports out of the spring camps, cement his being on the team next year. Rookie Dorance Armstrong, drafted in the fourth round last April, should also make it on draft stock alone.
Veteran Tyrone Crawford is back for probably his last season, and his ability to play end or tackle gives him value despite a bad contract. Maliek Collins also returns, hopefully getting healthy and back to his rookie form after a slump last year. Jihad Ward, a former second-round pick that Dallas traded for during the draft, should also make it.
David Irving is too good to cut but his recent struggles and absence from camps and OTAs put a question mark on him. How big a role will Irving get next year if the team loses confidence in him over the remainder of the offseason?
Battling for playing time at linebacker will be first-round rookie Leighton Vander Esch and veteran Damien Wilson. One will start in the base defense and one will be a key reserve, but that competition should be fun to watch.
Byron Jones and Anthony Brown could challenge for starting roles given their experience edge on Awuzie and Lewis, but at the least they will be talented depth. Yesterday, I considered the possibility of Brown being traded before Week One but odds are he will be on the squad next year.
At safety, there are three guys competing for two starting spots. Will veteran Jeff Heath be able to fight off the young prospects Kavon Frazier and Xavier Woods? No matter what, all three will be on next year's team. And that's even if a certain safety from Seattle gets added, too.
Tier 4 - Bubble Players
DE Kony Ealy, DE Randy Gregory, DE Charles Tapper, DL Datone Jones, DT Richard Ash, DT Lewis Neal, DT Brian Price, LB Chris Covington, LB Justin March-Lillard, LB Joe Thomas, CB Kam Kelly, CB Duke Thomas, CB Charvarius Ward, CB Marquez White, S Marqueston Huff
You might think of veteran Kony Ealy as a roster lock, but his minimal one-year deal means Dallas could go with younger players if they ultimately decided to. Ealy should make it on his experience and the upside Dallas still sees in him, but $200k is the only thing guaranteed for him right now.
If he gets reinstated, Randy Gregory's return to football will be one of the most interesting stories this year. He could be exactly what this team needs as an athletic edge rusher, or his absence from the game may be too much to overcome. The same goes for Charles Tapper, whose ongoing injuries have kept the fourth-round pick from securing a role on the team.
There are several interesting prospects for the remaining defensive line spots; more than Dallas can keep. Datone Jones was an emerging force last year and should make the team, but guys like Richard Ash and Brian Price are younger and still growing. Lewis Neal was a preseason darling last year but has a lot of competition at that 3-tech tackle spot.
Rookie Chris Covington was a sixth-round pick and we've seen those guys not make the team before. There is a lot of opportunity at linebacker, though, so hopefully he can find work against more experienced depth options. Justin March-Lillard and Joe Thomas may be competing for the sixth and final LB spot this year.
Who will round out the CB depth chart? Rookies Kam Kelly and Charvarius Ward are getting buzz now, but last year it was Duke Thomas and Marquez White drawing interest. With only one or two spots for these four talents, the competition will be strong.
If Dallas keeps four safeties this year, Marqueston Huff has a leg up with his experience. He has played in 41 professional games for other teams since being a fourth-round pick 2014. Given the youth of Frazier and Woods, Dallas may lean toward a veteran over the far younger prospects competing with Huff.
Tier 5 - Longshots
With so much talent already on the bubble, it's going to be hard for any dark horse player to break through this year. However, almost every season sees someone come from nowhere to make a roster. 2018 could be no different.
Some guys have experience, like Defensive Tackle Daniel Ross. He was in the CFL from 2015-2016 and then bounced around a few NFL teams last year. He got some playing time last year after being a late-season addition by the Cowboys, but has an uphill battle against younger prospects this offseason.
Many of you likely have your own rooting interest among the longshots. Perhaps they went to your college or you just got intrigued by something you saw or read. We wish them all the best, but predicting any of them to make the team this year would be a stretch.
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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