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Dallas Cowboys Position Groups to Watch During OTAs

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…

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

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?

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

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.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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