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Dallas Cowboys Most Important Backups Entering Training Camp

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Most Important Backups Entering Training Camp
(Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

In less than two weeks, the Dallas Cowboys will be practicing in Oxnard, their final training camp tune up before the preseason and roster cuts. If last year is any indication, the Cowboys trim down to 53 players from 90 will be eventful as always. However, it was ultimately the depth of this final roster that failed the Cowboys in a 9-7 season falling short of the playoffs.

The loss of Ezekiel Elliott to suspension and Tyron Smith, Jonathan Cooper, and Sean Lee to injury was all too much for the Cowboys to overcome. Starting his career with a playoff appearance at 13-3, Quarterback Dak Prescott now enters a crucial third year, though he can only hope the team's free agent signings and rookies can help patch these holes.

Before the pads come on at training camp, here is a look at a few of the most important depth players the Cowboys have for 2018.

Offensive Tackle Cam Fleming

The Cowboys spent the 50th overall pick at this year's draft on their future Left Guard Connor Williams, making their signing of Cam Fleming more important. Should Williams grab hold of the starting spot left by Jonathan Cooper's departure, Fleming should serve as the Cowboys primary backup to Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

Joined only by Chaz Green and Kadeem Edwards on the depth chart at tackle, Fleming's experience should win out over the rest of the field. Also signing Guard Marcus Martin this offseason, it's clear the Cowboys want to avoid their offensive line breakdown from a year ago.

Cam Fleming needs to be in position to help the Cowboys do just that, unless Smith plays a full 16 games for the first time since 2015.

Tavon Austin, the Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Tavon Austin

Wide Receiver/Running Back Tavon Austin

Whatever role Tavon Austin finds in the Cowboys offense, this is a play maker the Cowboys will have to get the ball to in a variety of ways. Expected to partially take the load off of Ezekiel Elliott as a running back while also being targeted in the passing game, Austin could very well influence the team's roster decisions at both RB and WR.

Two uncertain positions when it comes to depth, Austin's presence could mean bad news for Running Backs Darius Jackson and Bo Scarbrough, or Wide Receivers Lance Lenoir, KD Cannon, and Noah Brown.

We're still a long way off from knowing if a decision like this will be the right one for the Cowboys, but with so much uncertainty on offense entering 2018, Tavon Austin's importance could grow by the day in Oxnard.

Linebacker Justin March-Lillard

Needing to address the linebacker position heavily this offseason, the Cowboys locked in on Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick and selected him at 19th overall. With the 193rd overall pick, the Cowboys also added Indiana Linebacker Chris Covington.

Expected starters Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Vander Esch will still need quality depth behind them to play to their strengths this season.

A healthy Lee is locked in as this team's starting WILL linebacker, but the Cowboys are expected to test both Vander Esch and Smith at the MIKE position.

"The loser of this battle" moving to SAM linebacker is not so simple, especially considering other athletic options the Cowboys have for this strong side role. Along with Damien Wilson, the Cowboys have also seen strides from Justin March-Lillard.

Capable of contributing on special teams and providing important snaps in Rod Marinelli's defense, March-Lillard should be a hard player for the Cowboys to leave off their final roster. If he survives to the final 53, expect him to also be active on game days in support of the Cowboys LBs.

Quarterback Cooper Rush

What exactly do the Cowboys have in second-year Quarterback Cooper Rush, an undrafted sensation out of Central Michigan? Showing the potential to be Dak Prescott's primary backup or an enticing trade piece to QB-needy teams as a rookie, Rush is now joined by a new rookie on the depth chart.

Drafting Mike White in the fifth round, the Cowboys have plenty of skill at quarterback this season. The scope of this list is not to cover how well the Cowboys are prepared to play without Prescott.

Playing with two quarterbacks or three on the roster will be a looming decision for the Cowboys though. Either Rush or White could prove they deserve the second and last QB spot, with Rush's progress from last year challenged by White's accuracy.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Of course, more Cowboys backups will emerge as ones to keep an eye on, once the Cowboys are back on the field. With several coaches and 'big name' players potentially needing this season to reach the playoffs for the Cowboys, a second straight season of depleted depth won't cut it.

Such is the nature of the Cowboys roster cuts, with the final 53 man roster set on September 1st.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Most Important Backups Entering Training Camp" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

WAS 20, DAL 17: Cowboys Make 1 Too Many Mistakes

Kevin Brady

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WAS 20, DAL 17: Cowboys Make 1 Too Many Mistakes

Late in the fourth quarter the Cowboys faced a critical third down, trailing by just 3 points. As they did all night long, the Washington Redskins brought pressure, but quarterback Dak Prescott stood in the pocket this time and delivered a strike to Cole Beasley for a huge first down.

Cowboys fans rejoiced thinking the team might be on their way to a game winning drive. Then, we all noticed the yellow flag on the ground.

Holding, offense number 52.

The very next play Dak Prescott took what was one of the worst sack fumbles you'll ever see in his own end zone, and the Redskins extended their lead to 10 points. As Prescott tends to do, the Cowboys battled back late and got themselves in a position to send the game to overtime if Brett Maher could nail a 47 yard field goal.

Snap infraction.

Snap infraction. Rather than Maher attempting a more make-able 47 yard field goal, he was backed up to 52 yards, where he would miss the game-tying field goal. All of this resulted in an absolutely heartbreaking loss for the now 3-4 Dallas Cowboys, 20-17.

For a Cowboys team that had a chance to take over first place in the NFC East with a win, today's performance is extremely disheartening.

Other Notes

  • DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't been getting the pass rush we hoped to see, but he continued to be an absolute menace against the run today. He ended the game with 7 tackles, 3 of them for loss.
  • Dak Prescott's inconsistencies as a quarterback, the inability of any non-Cole Beasley wide out to beat man coverage, and the regression of the offensive line continued to handcuff the offense today. Their play simply wasn't good enough for most of the game.
  • Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie put together another impressive game, and this defensive back group (mostly the cornerbacks) seems to improve week to week.
  • Sean Lee looked healthy today, and made a key third down stop in the fourth quarter, knocking Alex Smith out of bounds and giving the offense a final chance to win or tie.
  • Ezekiel Elliott and this run game failed the Cowboys today. Elliott had just 34 yards rushing on 15 attempts and the offensive line was dominated all night.
  • The Cowboys have their bye this week before hosting the 3-4 Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.



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Player News

Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases Ahead of Trade Deadline

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases

This week, Stephen Jones discussed the difficulties of making a trade, saying "it just seems like in the NFL trades are hard to make, to make it all come together for two teams".

The two teams that could be lining up to change that are of course Jones' Cowboys as well as John Gruden's Oakland Raiders. Yet another Raiders player has been in the headlines as a trade target, 24-year old Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

WR-needy Cowboys doing their due diligence on Raiders' WR Amari Cooper: https://t.co/pE2wmrzCXu

Playing at the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Cowboys will have yet another reshuffled lineup at wide receiver, playing without Tavon Austin. Their biggest offseason addition to this unit was Allen Hurns, and he's been underwhelming with just eight catches.

Thus the Cowboys are reportedly doing their "due diligence" on Cooper, sensing the need for a mid-season acquisition at WR for the right price. The Cowboys ability to potentially find that price in a deal advantageous to them, given how the Raiders handled the departure of Khalil Mack in a trade to this Chicago Bears, is what makes this story relevant.

A lot has been said about Cooper since his name emerged as the latest player potentially out of the Bay Area. Whether you believe he's still an impact receiver with the potential to regain his Pro Bowl form of 2015 and 2016 or one that "doesn't love football," as some have been inclined to say, the former fourth overall pick represents an investment into the WR position that the Cowboys have not made in some time.

In those Pro Bowl seasons, Cooper averaged over 77 catches a season while putting up over 1,000 yards in both. The Raiders have used this to justify their reported asking price of a first-round pick for Cooper, something the Cowboys are not alone in their reluctance to give.

With Cooper, the Raiders are holding onto their last bit of relevancy. A reeling 1-5 football team that needs to maximize their return on trading Cooper, the Colts and Redskins are also following in the Cowboys footsteps by preparing as much as they can on the player.

Cooper has caught 22 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown through six games this season.

For as desperate as the Raiders are to jump-start their organization, the Cowboys should be just as desperate to add a threat like Cooper to their passing attack. Unlike the Raiders, they're in the hunt for a division title, something much harder to put a price on when it comes to the Jones' finalizing any deal for Cooper in the coming days.

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, October 30th, at 3 PM Central Time. The Cowboys will be two days into their bye week, not in action again after Sunday until November 5th.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases Ahead of Trade Deadline" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

How Will Cowboys Handle Sean Lee’s Return?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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REPORT: Cowboys LB Sean Lee to Miss Games with Hamstring Injury

For the first time in what feels like forever, the Dallas Cowboys' defense is still dominant without Sean Lee on the field. For many years, Lee's injuries have shown us the worst of this defense but finally that's not the case. Thanks to Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys should feel just fine without #50 wearing pads on gameday.

As the Cowboys get ready to play the Washington Redskins on the road in their quest for a winning record, Sean Lee is expected to return to the field. He was a full participant on practice on both Thursday and Friday and should make his way back to the field today.

But how much will he play?

Usually, we would be talking about this defense being desperate for his help. He's been rushed back to the field on many occasions simply because the team's linebackers weren't doing enough without him. This year though, the narrative is different.

Even before he got injured in week 3 playing against the Seattle Seahawks, Lee had been struggling. Now granted, he wasn't looking bad, but we were watching him miss a few tackles here and there which simply isn't something you'd expect from a player such as himself.

The rookie out of Boise State has made a really good job justifying why the front office decided to invest a first round pick on him. So far, Leighton Vander Esch has accounted for 49 tackles, 40 of which have been solo. The kid can play, period. He's done nothing but get better and better by the week and the snaps he's gotten replacing Lee have helped him a ton.

With the veteran returning, what's in store for this linebacker rotation?

Honestly, with the bye week so close, I think this will depend a lot on how this game starts off. If it comes to a point in which the Cowboys are comfortably leading and have no concerns of losing the match, why not rest Lee as much as possible?

It's clear that the defense is far from desperate for having #50 back on the field and it's also clear that Lee is a player who could get injured at any given time.

Thanks to Smith's and Vander Esch's play, the Cowboys can afford to limit Lee's snaps versus the Redskins today. Rest him as much as possible and throw him on just a few plays out there. Lee has suffered injuries on both hamstrings, which is another reason to take it slow with his return.

If they're able to limit him today and then take advantage of the upcoming bye week it could pay Lee big dividends down the road. Dallas needs to realize they're in a very comfortable position regarding Sean Lee. They have the option to take things slow.

Not only that but once he's healthy, he doesn't have to be on the field every single snap. It might be hard getting used to watching Lee slowly become a "situational" player because he's so good to be only played on specific situations but that might be the way to make his availability improve.

It will be interesting to see how they handle the situation starting today as Lee is slated to play football against an NFC East rival.

Tell me what you think about "How Will Cowboys Handle Sean Lee’s Return?" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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