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Is Kyle Wilber the Front Runner for OLB?

The Cowboys did not add any new talent to the linebacker group for the 2016 season. Free agency came and went without any fresh faces being signed. Though they drafted Jaylon Smith in the second round he is not expected to play this year. To the surprise of some, Dallas will trust in last year’s group to develop and improve. All of those players but one were still under contract; Andrew Gachkar, Anthony Hitchens, Mark Nzeocha, and Damien Wilson.

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Is Kyle Wilber the Front Runner for OLB?

The Cowboys did not add any new talent to the linebacker group for the 2016 season. Free agency came and went without any fresh faces being signed. Though they drafted Jaylon Smith in the second round he is not expected to play this year. To the surprise of some, Dallas will trust in last year's group to develop and improve.

Cowboys Headlines - Is Kyle Wilber the Front Runner for OLB? 1All of those players but one were still under contract; Andrew Gachkar, Anthony Hitchens, Mark Nzeocha, and Damien Wilson. Rather than just allow those four to compete, Dallas still elected to re-sign Kyle Wilber to a two-year deal. That decision certainly puts a spotlight on Wilber right now among his peers.

Granted, there's another way to spin the re-signing. Dallas may have seen Wilber simply as a trusted reserve who also offers some pass-rushing skill, which they certainly need. His contract only totaled $3.25 for two seasons, which is backup money. He may not have a leg up on anyone for the third starting job, or even be in consideration for it.

That said, there are several reasons to believe that Dallas could be eyeing Wilber for the job. Consider the following:

1. They Re-Signed Him Before the Draft

Dallas did not wait until after seeing how the draft or free agency unfolded before deciding to keep Wilber. Free agency opened on March 9th and Wilber was signed on March 11th. Dallas didn't even make him wait on the market and try to drive his value down, as they've done with some other veterans in the past. That decisiveness speaks to a certain value they place on the fifth-year veteran.

2. Slower Development

Though he's never emerged as a star, Wilber has remained useful despite having to adjust to the 4-3 scheme after being originally drafted to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He's had to learn how to play in coverage and the transition has likely slowed his development from what we tend to expect.

Dallas recognizes this and may feel that Wilber's best years are ahead. If he can build on the last four years and reach peak performance now, the Cowboys will be getting quality play at a major bargain.

Cowboys Headlines - Is Kyle Wilber the Front Runner for OLB? 2

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3. Not a Full-Time Starter

Though it's a starting position in the "base defense," the strongside linebacker gets limited snaps compared to middle and weakside guys. When the Cowboys move to their nickel, it's the strongside LB who leaves the field for that third cornerback to come on. Against passing teams, it's not uncommon for the nickel defense to be used more than the base scheme.

As the Cowboys look to manage their salary cap and keep their resources in the most important positions, perhaps a guy with Wilber's dependability is enough for them in that third LB role. He may not play more than 40% of the snaps in the season, so why not spend your draft picks and cap dollars elsewhere?

4. Pass Rushing Ability

With Orlando Scandrick returning and Byron Jones likely moving to safety, Dallas' confidence in their secondary will likely increase. This could allow for them to utilize more blitzing in the front seven which makes Wilber's strongest attribute even more valuable.

As was mentioned, Wilber started in the league as a 3-4 outside rusher. If the Cowboys don't ask their linebackers to drop back into coverage as much then Wilber could be used to attack the edges more than ever since moving to the 4-3. That versatility will only allow Rod Marinelli to be more creative.

5. The Prototype

If Marinelli sees his strongside linebackers according to the traditional 4-3 textbook, Wilber fits the mold better than the rest. Hitchens, Gachkar, and Wilson are all a little smaller and better suited for the middle and weakside roles. Nzeocha has size but is almost still a rookie after being injured most of last year.

Wilber is best suited to stand up against the run of any of the OLB candidates. He has also proven to have enough coverage skill to not be a major liability. While size isn't everything, it is a good tiebreaker when talent appears to be even.

~ ~ ~

Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys Re-Sign Linebacker Kyle WilberRight now, everything seems pretty even among Wilber and his fellow linebacker prospects. Sean Lee and Rolando McClain are the only guys with clear roles and starting jobs. We don't know how the Cowboys have these other players rated against each other and who they're favoring for certain roles at this point.

However, we do know that they thought enough of Wilber to re-sign him. We know that Wilber started as many games last year (nine) as any of the other candidates. Dallas may be most comfortable with Wilber based on his experience and production thus far.

For a position that isn't necessarily critical, just being comfortable is okay. You can live with that. Based on the new contract, Dallas seems okay living with Wilber for a couple more years.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Rico Gathers

Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.

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Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.

Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.

The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.

While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.

The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.

Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.



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Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started

Matthew Lenix

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Antwaun Woods is just getting started

Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.

The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.

All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.

Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.

How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.

When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.

Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.

There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.

The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.



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Cedrick Wilson: Cowboys WR Could Shine After a Year Off

Matthew Lenix

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Cedrick Wilson could shine after a year off

The departure of Cole Beasley to Buffalo via free agency in March left a hole at the slot receiver position in Dallas. The team signed veteran Randall Cobb about a week later, but only to a one year deal. Names like Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns along with Cobb are looked at as the replacement for Beasley but don't forget about Cedrick Wilson.

Selected in the sixth round in 2018, Wilson was coming off an impressive and highly productive two-year career at Boise State. Tallying 139 receptions for 2,640 yards and 18 touchdowns in just 26 games.

When OTA's began last season, the rookie was already turning heads with his route running, ability to create separation and athleticism, but unfortunately, disaster happened not long afterward. Wilson would suffer a shoulder injury that placed him on injured reserve for 2018, the same shoulder he had issues with in college. A not so fairy tale beginning to an NFL career.

Although his time on the field was short-lived last summer, he definitely caught the eye of wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

"Ced's a savvy, smart football player. He picks things up really well. He applies them to the field. In terms of technique, he's one of the best if you watch him. His stance and start is really good. He comes off the ball with low pad level. He's eating up ground and then has a nack to make a big play over the top on a big post," Lal said.

Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb make up a very formidable receiving core, and adding a healthy Wilson to that could work wonders. His experience on the outside and the slot gives offensive coordinator Kellen Moore plenty of options. Slot receivers are usually harder to bump off the line with the extra few yards of cushion they get, giving them more options route wise seeing as they can go inside or out a lot easier than outside receivers. That's where Wilson's supreme route running can come into play. Also, with his ability to separate on the outside and beat corners deep, you can play him opposite Amari Cooper and put Cobb in the slot with a combination of either Gallup, Austin or Hurns in a four-wide receiver set, the possibilities are endless.

A setback can be a blessing in disguise if approached in the right manner. Wilson hasn't let the year off derail his focus on what he's trying to do in Dallas.

"Coming back off the rehab was tough in general. But definitely a year of just seeing how everything goes, the speed is definitely slowing down. Just getting back in the playbook and learning from older guys of what I need to do and doing what the coaches expect of me," Wilson said.

The competition won't be easy for Wilson, though, as other young up and coming receivers are fighting for roster spots as well. UDFA's (Undrafted Free Agents) Jon'Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton will also be fighting for snaps during mini-camp, with the former already making waves during OTA's. Reggie Davis has also turned a few heads in the summer, a fellow UDFA himself trying to find a home after bouncing around the league between four different teams since 2017.

It's all about health for Cedrick Wilson at this point. Can his shoulder hold up enough to allow his skill set to make a contribution to the Cowboys in 2019? The talent is there, along with the praises of his position coach, now it'll be interesting to see if this potential diamond in the rough can shine under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium.



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