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Dallas Cowboys Position Groups to Watch During OTAs

John Williams

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Less Is More For Sean Lee And Cowboys' LBs?

With the Dallas Cowboys set to begin their Off-season Training Activities (OTAs), there are still some questions to answer about a team trying to improve on a 9-7 record from 2017. There has been a lot of noise this offseason from The Star related to the Cowboys transaction wire, but during the draft is where you saw your favorite team make the most dramatic improvement.

As we get ready for OTAs, let's look at the most intriguing position groups to watch during the preseason for the Dallas Cowboys.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

Defensive Backs

With the addition of Kris Richard and immediate move of Byron Jones to cornerback, this defensive backfield is the group of players I'm most excited to see this season. Richard brings an energy that is contagious. If you watched the draft via DallasCowboys.com's The Draft Show, you got to see the excitement Kris Richard brings to the room.

Everyone from Rod Marinelli to Byron Jones has raved about Richard as a coach and person, but the thing that's exciting to me is the style that Richard is bringing from his days in Seattle.

Bringing an aggressive and in-your-face style to the coverage unit, Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis are going to be unleashed on NFL wide receivers. Those three bring some fight and edge to their game that will leave Cowboys Nation thoroughly satisfied. 

No longer will we be screaming at our televisions because the corners are playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 5. 

The players on the team have heard the message from Rod Marinelli about creating turnovers. Now they have a passing game coordinator asking them to be aggressive even before the football is snapped. Not allowing wide receivers much room will allow the corners to make more plays on the football. 

I believe this is the year we see the Dallas Cowboys take a step forward in the interception department. The DB group may not have the skins on the wall that the "Legion of Boom" does, but they have the potential to be that good. 

Linebackers

This group brings a lot of intrigue with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch.

For two years we've been following along as Jaylon Smith has been recovering from the devastating knee injury he suffered in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. After an up and down 2017, where he still required the use of a brace for foot drop, Jaylon has been working out this offseason without the brace. Word is he's continuing to progress in the health of his knee and the feeling in his foot. 

Watch: Jaylon Smith working out without his brace.

All good things for the most optimistic NFL player ever. 

Getting another year of Sean Lee should have Cowboys fans optimistic as well, though we're never sure what we're gonna get from the former All-Pro. The only thing that has ever held Sean Lee back is his ability to stay on the field. Hopefully this year The General gets a little bit of injury good luck on his side.

The Dallas Cowboys were 2-1 before losing back to back games in which the offense scored 30 points against the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers. Had they split those two games, the team is probably 6-2 at the midway point. Even with a similar record in the second half, that puts them at 10-6 on the season and probably in the playoffs.

Sean Lee is a huge difference maker on this defense and they've potentially found some insurance if Lee isn't able to play 16 games in 2018 with their first round pick, Leighton Vander Esch. 

Vander Esch out of Boise State University, may not be the most physical player in this year's rookie class, but if you watch some of his work in college, the thing that's evident is the kid has a knack for coverage. 

You never know what a rookie is going to bring to the table until you see them with the pads on and in real games, but LVE certainly has the ability to be a difference maker. Coverage is as much about instincts and athletic ability as it is about technique and preparation, and Vander Esch has the instincts and athletic ability covered.

I'd bet that he and Jaylon rotate snaps at MLB with LVE being the second linebacker on passing downs next to Lee. We may see them line up in more 3-3-5 formations during passing situations. This is where they go with three defensive lineman, three linebackers, and five defensive backs. A formation like this allows them to mix up who the fourth rusher is and where they are coming from.

Lee, Smith, and Vander Esch all have proven rushing ability that could make for some fun packages deployed by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Now with better depth at each level of the defense, the personnel combinations are endless. However they deploy this trio is going to create problems for opposing defenses. 

Cowboys Land Small School WR In Latest PFF Mock Draft

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)

Wide Receivers

Coke Beasley, Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns are the only wide receivers with skins on the wall on the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver depth chart. Aside from Hurns' 1,000-yard season in 2016 and Beasley's Cowboys-leading 2016, the skins are pretty thin. 

Now, considering Terrance Williams' recent run in with the law, his status with the team could be in jeopardy depending on what the NFL decides to do. They could suspend him under the personal conduct policy which would allow Dallas some cap relief if they were to release him.

If he isn't suspended, he'll be with the team as it will cost the Dallas Cowboys money to cut him. Inside The Star Staff Writer Jess Haynie took a detailed look at Terrance Williams' contract status with the team.

With Michael Gallup's selection at pick 81 in this year's draft, the Dallas Cowboys have begun overhauling their wide receiver group. Gallup has a chance to assert himself early and carve out a role as soon as week one, especially if Williams is suspended and/or released. 

They don't have Jason Witten or Dez Bryant to lean on -- it's arguable if they could lean on them last year -- and will be deploying players who have a knack for getting open.  

Seeing how the coaching staff deploys the wide receivers during OTAs will give us a hint at what the week one starting lineup looks like.

This doesn't even begin to touch on the addition of Sanjay Lal, whose philosophy is for guys to get open if they want the ball. Imagine every wide receiver on the roster being able to get open with Cole Beasley's type of efficiency...

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There are still some questions to be answered, like tight end, the defensive tackle deployment, or -- for pure entertainment purposes -- the offensive line with second-round pick Connor Williams inserted in the lineup. There are several intriguing position groups to watch during the preseason, but these are the positions I'm most interested in following during OTAs and training camp.

What will you be watching for?



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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4 Comments
  • MavsFan

    Coke Bradley huh, already following the Michael Irvin path….? Lol

    • John Williams

      AHHHHHHHH Dang It.

  • Ethan Chazin

    Big fat cliche but NFL gams and championships are won with a QB and the lines/trenches. I’m excited to see Dak with Zeke and that O line with a hopefully improved left guard with depth at guard and swing tackle just in case. I’m NERVOUS about the interior of the D line, but excited to see if charlton can step up in year 2, gregory gets reinstated, irving with a full year and tank motivated to go to the bank with a 2nd contract. Also excited to see the Kansas kid dorance. Might be a huuuuge year for Dallas. or not…

    • John Williams

      Absolutely agree. I can’t wait to see Connor Williams line up between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.

Star Blog

Next Day Rant: NFL is Killing Football to Protect Quarterbacks

Jess Haynie

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Next Day Rant: NFL is Killing Football to Protect Quarterbacks
Shaban Athuman/The Dallas Morning News

Over just three weeks of the 2018 season, the NFL's new rule about hitting quarterbacks has stirred up as much controversy and angst as any amount of anthem kneeling ever did. Tyrone Crawford and the Dallas Cowboys can now add themselves to the list of perplexed victims of the league's misguided legislation.

On the Seattle Seahawks' first offensive series yesterday, Crawford made what in past years would have been a clean, textbook hit on Russell Wilson just as the ball was released. But out came the flag, claiming that Tyrone didn't make enough effort to avoid putting all his weight into the quarterback as he brought him down.

This flag came on a 3rd-down play with Seattle backed up on their own 12. Instead of punting, and likely giving Dallas excellent field position for their next series, the Seahawks got to continue the drive and eventually punt it from midfield.

That consequence may not sound like a big deal, but it robbed the Cowboys of their earned opportunity to get points on the board early. It changed the tone of the game early, and who knows what ripple effect that had the rest of the way.

The real issue here, though, is that that call can even be made. The NFL has finally taken QB protection too far, to the point that defensive players are left with no logical or physically possible way to do their jobs.

Next Day Rant: NFL is Killing Football to Protect Quarterbacks 1

Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews has become the poster boy for the NFL's new hit rule.

Before the Dallas game came on, I watched as the Packers' Clay Matthews got flagged yet again for the same type of call. It was the second time in as many games that Matthews has been given a foul for a clean hit.

Matthews' frustration after he saw that flag was clear. He looked disheartened, and part of me wondered if he might just walk right out of the stadium. In fact, I almost wanted him to pull a Vontae Davis just to help make the point to the league.

The NFL wants the best of both worlds. They want these players to go max effort when the rules allow and then pull it back in very specific, split-second situations. It's more than the human mind and body can do.

You can't ask these defenders to use everything they've got to get through a blocker, and then immediately rein it in once they get their hands on the quarterback.

You can't ask them to avoid going high on the QB, and then always know when the ball has been released. They don't have eyes in the top of their heads.

You can't ask them to come full force on a blitz or rush and then cool their jets within a second or less. Forget mind and body, even the basic laws of inertia don't work that way.

The NFL is asking for the impossible; a safe form of violence. That's like asking for non-toxic poison.

5 NFL Rule Changes That Need to Happen

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

I understand the league's current global dilemma. They are looking down the barrel of rising CTE awareness, lawsuits from former players, and the diminishing participation in youth football. They're trying to save the game from extinction, or at least from falling off the throne as America's modern pastime.

But this rule isn't about that. This is about trying to keep star quarterbacks healthy so that fan engagement and TV ratings don't go down when an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady gets injured.

The NFL is in the entertainment business, so I get their concern. Quarterbacks are the lead actors of the sport. You'd be disappointed if the next Mission Impossible movie was mostly Ving Rhames.

Protecting quarterbacks, given their vulnerability at times on the field, has its place. Some of the rules make sense, even if at times they lead to frustrating penalties.

But now they're messing with the core formula of football. If the Colonel got rid of one of his eleven herbs and spices, KFC chicken might not taste the same anymore. Coca-Cola might suddenly be worse than Pepsi (hard to imagine, I know) if they started changing the syrup.

The NFL isn't tweaking here. They're changing games and putting the burden on defensive players, in the heat of battle, to try to have machine-like precision.

Again, they're asking for the impossible.

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DT Tyrone Crawford

Tyrone Crawford is no Vontaze Burfict. He's not a loose cannon. He's one of the genuine good guys in the NFL, who does everything the right way on and off the field.

You can only imagine his frustration right now, or that of Clay Matthews and anyone else hit with one of these penalties. Imagine what some of these guys, who aren't a Crawford or Matthews, might do if that frustration boils over.

You could hear it even in the commentary yesterday. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck were clearly disgusted by the calls, both in the Cowboys-Seahawks game and what's been happening so far this year. This was FOX's premier broadcast team openly bashing the NFL in a nationally televised game.

And if you think the players and commentators are frustrated, imagine how that translates to fan response.

The league is trying to avoid losing viewers from quarterback injuries. In the process, they may lose a lot more by damaging the game we love.

Playing football is an accepted risk. Players get it. Fans get it.

The NFL has to get it, and soon, before this conversation takes over in a way that past controversies haven't. The anthem kneeling was an overblown, media-driven story that never hit the bottom line they way they wanted you to believe. None of it mattered once the ball was kicked off.

But now the game is being damaged. Football is becoming less fun; a game of rules and penalties rather than action and intensity.

If something doesn't change, the NFL's self-preservation efforts just might lead to its demise.



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Star Blog

Seahawks’ Tight End Will Dissly Flying Under the Radar

John Williams

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Seahawks' Tight End Will Dissly Flying Under the Radar

The Seattle Seahawks are in need of a big win this weekend to stay a game or two back of the NFC West leading Los Angeles Rams. The Dallas Cowboys hope to extend their one game winning streak to two, but to do that, they'll have to win certain matchups on both sides of the football. One player that the Dallas Cowboys will have to be aware of and contain is rookie Tight End Will Dissly.

With Doug Baldwin injured in week one and out week two, other players have had to step up in their lead wide receiver's absence.

Brandon Marshall and Tyler Lockett are the names that most everyone will recognize, but Dissly, is the name that Cowboys Nation should keep an eye on come Sunday.

Dissly, drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of the University of Washington, came into the season with a reputation as a blocking back. Dane Brugler, of The Athletic, had Dissly ranked 98th overall and as the ninth ranked tight end in the draft. Just one spot behind Dallas Cowboys rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz.

Here is what Brugler had to say in his 2018 NFL Draft Guide.

"A one-year starter at Washington, Dissly spent his first two years at Washington on defense and his final two years on offense, lining up inline and wing in the Huskies’ offense. He was a blocker-first and receiver-second in college, which was a role he embraced with his hard-nosed toughness and competitive edge. Dissly uses his upper body power and base strength in unison to control the point of attack, displaying the core flexibility and length to keep defenders busy. While he flashed reliable hand/eye coordination and run power after the catch, he lacks the route-running experience or athletic deception to consistently uncover. Overall, Dissly is a project as a pass-catcher, but he will contribute early in his NFL career as an inline blocker and sixth offensive lineman."

Dane Brugler - Dane Brugler's 2018 NFL Draft Guide

To say that it comes as a surprise at Dissly's start to his rookie campaign would be a huge understatement. A Brugler notes, there was a chance he'd contribute early as a blocking specialist, but was thought to be a project in the passing game. He's been a big play threat in the first two games of the season, already taking the lead in Seattle Seahawks TE snap distribution at 65%.

Among tight ends, Dissly's is tied for 12th in the NFL in targets with 10, tied for 17th in receptions with six, fourth in the NFL in receiving yards, tied for first with 2 touchdown receptions, third in yards per reception at 24.5, third in yards after the catch with 90, is tied for fifth with five receptions for first downs, sixth in yards per route run, and hasn't dropped a pass this season. He's averaging five targets, three receptions, 73.5 yards, and a touchdown per game. He's been targeted twice out of the slot and has two receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown while playing 46% of his snaps from the slot.

When Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson has targeted his rookie tight end, he has a passer rating of 143.8.

He's been way more than they could have hoped.

Here's what SB Nation' Seattle Seahawks blog Field Gulls had to say about Will Dissly after the Seattle Seahawks week one loss to the Denver Broncos.

"Hot damn! Who saw that coming? Was that Will Dissly or a prime Jeremy Shockey? 3 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown for someone drafted primarily for his blocking abilities. Seattle has a new weapon on offense, and I doubt anyone saw that coming."

Mookie Alexander - Field Gulls, SB Nation 

It's likely that nobody, including the Denver Broncos or the Chicago Bears, saw Dissly's breakout coming this soon. Now with it on tape, the Dallas Cowboys will have their eye on Will Dissly.

Russell Wilson doesn't have a ton of established -- or still good -- wide receivers at his disposal, but Will Dissly looks like a fourth round steal for the Seahawks.

The Dallas Cowboys' linebackers will be tested on Sunday.

Four of Dissly's six receptions have come against linebackers, including a 34 yard reception (19 yards after the catch) against Chicago Bears' Linebacker Danny Trevathan and a 66 yard reception (52 YAC) against Denver Broncos Outside Linebacker Bradley Chubb.

The Dallas Cowboys seem fully capable of matching up with good receiving tight ends as Jaylon Smith showed on Sunday. Smith showed an ability to run with Odell Beckham Jr. in coverage on Sunday. No small task. We know that Sean Lee is good in coverage. Leighton Vander Esch's best trait coming out of Boise State is his coverage ability. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Dallas Cowboys matchup Xavier Woods and Anthony Brown with the athletic tight end when he's lined up in the slot.

How the Dallas Cowboys defense does in coverage against the rookie tight end could be a major key to the game. With names like Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett, and Rashad Penny to keep an eye on, someone like Will Dissly could be easily forgotten.

You're going to hear his name called on Sunday. Let's just hope it's more for what he did weeks one and two.



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Xavier Woods Among Cowboys with Something to Prove in Seattle

John Williams

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The Earl Thomas trade rumors have been relentless this offseason. We've heard about them. I've written about them, and for better or worse, they just won't stop. No doubt Dallas Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods has heard them as well.

When Woods went down with his hamstring injury and as Earl Thomas continued his hold out, the clamor for Thomas grew louder and louder.

Per reports, it looks like Woods is set to make his 2018 debut. With a good game against the Seattle Seahawks, he can put a silence to the trade rumors.

I've been a proponent of making the deal for Earl Thomas all offseason. From the time he came running down the tunnel toward the Dallas Cowboys locker room, I've been all aboard the Earl Thomas hype train. Opportunities to add All-Pro players don't come along very often and if you're hoping to win football games in the short term, like the Dallas Cowboys are, you make the move.

My opinion isn't a knock on Xavier Woods, who was good as a rookie last year. He was especially good when asked to play in the slot early in the 2017 season. It has more to do with Woods still being a bit of an unknown and Thomas being a known quantity.

Xavier Woods has shown potential to be a really good safety in this league. In college, he played a lot of single high safety and played it very well. He has a knack for making plays on the football and can be a game changer for the Dallas Cowboys.

If the Dallas Cowboys can come away with a victory in Seattle, facing the player that the Dallas Cowboys have been linked to for months, and Woods has a good game in the process, then all of this will go away.

Heading into Sunday, Xavier Woods isn't the only player on the Dallas Cowboys roster who has something to prove.

Two Wide Receivers

The Cowboys added another wide receiver this week when they resigned free agent Brice Butler. I agree with Inside The Star Staff Writer Jess Haynie that adding Butler doesn't make a ton of sense, but it definitely adds question marks to the wide receiver room, in particular wide receivers Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns.

These two wide receivers were expected to be the starters on the outside and the primary targets, aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, and yet, they've failed to have much of an impact in either of the two games in the 2018 season.

Take a look at their stat lines.

  • Allen Hurns: 5 targets, 2 receptions, 29 yards, 0 touchdowns, on 55% of the team's offensive snaps.
  • Terrance Williams: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards, 0 touchdowns on 25% of the snaps.

Those two are tied for fifth in receptions through two weeks of the season. Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson has found himself as a favorite target of Quarterback Dak Prescott through the first two games and has seven receptions for 60 yards.

With now seven wide receivers on the roster, there are less snaps to go around and with the increase in playing time for Tavon Austin and Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams may have already found himself as the odd man out. Brice Butler complicates things further for Williams and may eat into Allen Hurns snap count as well.

Now it looks like Terrance Williams is facing a suspension. If the suspension comes down before Sunday, he's going to really have a hard time finding a role on this team when he comes back.

Brandon George on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/of11Xlb7wD via @sportsdaydfw

If he comes back. 

Defensive End Making a Comeback

Things started out really well for returning Defensive End Randy Gregory. During the preseason he flashed the tools that made him a highly coveted player before his failed drug test at the NFL Combine.

Unfortunately the start of his 2018 season was derailed due to a concussion early in the Carolina Panthers game forcing him to miss week two.

In his place, Taco Charlton emerged as an impact player on the right side of the defensive line. Charlton has played the most defensive snaps of any defensive end through the first two games of the season; DeMarcus Lawrence included. Taco went from a 73% snap share in week one to an 83% snap share in week two. It's obvious that he's earned his snaps and the coaching staff wants to get him on the field.

This doesn't even begin to mention the contributions by rookie fourth round pick Dorance Armstrong, who like Charlton, saw a 10% snap increase from week one to week two and played really well when in the game.

This is a bit of a problem for Randy Gregory. Yes, he flashed in the preseason and early in the Carolina game, but the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and Gregory hasn't done much of anything in the regular season, yet.

Coming into the Seahawks game, Gregory is going to have to earn back some of those snaps. By all accounts he has a chance to be an elite defensive end on the right side of the Dallas Cowboys defense, but he has to prove that he can stay on the field and effective when on it.

He needs to shine in week three.

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Who are your players with something to prove heading into the week three matchup with the Seattle Seahawks? Let us know in the comment section. 



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