The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, but there is another important event kicking off today that should have all Dallas Cowboys fans at least a little bit excited, rookie minicamp. This will be our first glimpse of all the incoming rookies (both drafted and undrafted), plus a few veterans who are allowed to participate.
Rookie minicamp runs all through the weekend and closes out Sunday afternoon. This will be the first chance for many of these players to make a good first impression and show the coaching staff exactly what they have to offer to the team.
The Dallas Cowboys have one of the deepest rosters they have had in recent memory, but that doesn't mean there are not a few roster spots open for the taking. Several of these participants will be vying for some of these starting positions, which makes this weekend all the more important for them.
Below are the top five players I will be paying extra close attention to throughout the Dallas Cowboys rookie minicamp.
5. Ryan Switzer, WR
The first player I will personally be paying close attention to is the former North Carolina Tar Heel's wide receiver, Ryan Switzer.
At 5'10", Switzer is one of the smaller receivers on the Cowboys roster and has already been compared to fan favorite, Cole Beasley. Fitting right, since he is another small/shifty (white) WR?
Switzer was somewhat of a head scratching draft pick by the Cowboys, but they clearly have an idea of how to get him involved early in his rookie season in the NFL. He will most likely become the Cowboys main return man on special teams, but it wouldn't completely be out of the question to see him heavily involved on offense as well.
Switzer is an explosive player with the ball in his hands, which made him one of the best return men in the 2017 draft class. I'm sure he will get plenty of work fielding punts and kickoffs this weekend, but I will also be interested in seeing if he lines up strictly in the slot or if he gets work on the outside as well.
4. Chidobe Awuzie, CB
Out of all of the players on this list to watch this weekend at the Cowboys rookie minicamp, Chidobe Awuzie probably has the best chance to earn a starting role on defense in 2017.
Now, Awuzie will miss the first day of minicamp so that he can attend his graduation at Colorado, but that's all the more reason to follow his progress the rest of the weekend.
Awuzie's versatility will allow the Cowboys to utilize his skill set at any position in the secondary, but I expect him to lock down one of the starting cornerback positions in 2017. He has the size and length to play on the outside and is a fearless tackler in the run game.
There is a lot of influx of youth in the Cowboys secondary, which is why I will be paying close attention to how the coaching staff employs Awuzie and the other rookie CBs this weekend. That could possibly indicate who fits where.
I'm really looking forward to seeing how he matches up against Ryan Switzer and hopefully Rico Gathers. That will be something to see.
3. Taco Charlton, DE
More than likely you either loved or hated the Dallas Cowboys selection of Taco Charlton with their first-round draft pick. I personally like Charlton's game film, but I'm anxious to see how the coaching staff plans to use him in 2017.
Charlton's size and length would suggest that he would be a better fit as a left side defensive end, but that's a spot DeMarcus Lawrence currently holds down. Of course, the Cowboys could line him up at several positions, much like he was used during his time at Michigan.
He played up and down the defensive line at Michigan and it's that kind of versatility defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli loves in his players. It doesn't really matter where he lines up, because there are already high expectations for him to come in and help improve the pass rush for the Cowboys defense.
I'm really anxious to see what kind of first impression he can make this weekend and if he will be one of the standouts during the entirety of rookie minicamp. That may be a little difficult to do without pads on, but first impressions can go a long way quieting his doubters.
2. Charles Tapper DE
Charles Tapper's rookie season was wiped out after being diagnosed with a pars defect condition in his back during training camp. Since his first year in the NFL qualified as a "redshirt" season, he is eligible to participate in this weekend's rookie minicamp.
You may have forgotten, but Tapper was the first of the Cowboys fourth-round draft picks, the other being QB Dak Prescott. Tapper may never live up to what Prescott has already achieved the NFL, but he should be able to become a valuable piece on the defensive side of the ball.
I nearly put him as the top player I will be watching this weekend because I thought he would compete for the starting RDE position last season, but I have tempered my expectation due to his back injury.
Tapper might just be the most athletically gifted DE the Cowboys currently have on the roster, but he will have to prove he can be depended on, despite his problematic back. This weekend marks the first chance he has to catch the coaching staff's eye before the rest the team gets together at training camp.
He already has the advantage of knowing the defensive scheme, so he should look like the best player out of all of the participants this weekend at the Cowboys rookie minicamp.
1. Rico Gathers TE
It may not be all that surprising, but tight end Rico Gathers is the player I'm most looking forward to watching this weekend at the Cowboys rookie minicamp.
Gathers spent his rookie season on the Cowboys practice, but word is he quickly became Tony Romo's favorite target and together they gave the starting defense more than they could handle.
Gathers will have to prove he has developed to the point he is worthy of claiming a roster spot, but a year on the practice squad was probably invaluable. Like Charles Tapper, he has the advantage of a year in the Cowboys playbook and should look like a man among boys this weekend, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
With Jason Witten's career likely winding down, all eyes will be on Rico Gathers to see if he is the future starting TE for the Dallas Cowboys. This weekend could be an indication of what we can expect from Gathers in 2017 and for years to come.
Which players will you be focusing on at the Cowboys rookie minicamp?
Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?
Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.
Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli
El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.
Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.
Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.
Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.
En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.
Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan
Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.
Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.
A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.
Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.
Head Coach Jason Garrett
El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.
Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.
Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.
Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.
Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?
Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.
Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.
They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?
Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.
Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.
Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.
Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.
Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.
This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.
The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.
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