In his Thursday press conference, Jason Garret confirmed that Damien Wilson was now starting as the strong-side outside linebacker, or "Sam," in the Cowboys base defense.
Wilson, a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, was active in all 16 games last season but played a minimal role. His second season started with some difficulty due to an eye injury suffered from playing paintball.
Before that injury occurred, though, Wilson was already winning his head coach over.
"[Wilson] had a really good spring. He came back and did some really good things right at the outset of our offseason program."
Wilson's eye injury occurred between those practices and the start of the Cowboys training camp. Garrett said that the eye injury did cause Wilson to fall behind other linebackers in Oxnard, but then explained how he's been able to move back up the depth chart.
He's made a lot of strides from Year One to Year Two... He's got a lot of physical ability. He plays with the right kind of demeanor, the right kind of physicalness. You see him minimizing his mistakes more the more he plays. You see him making more plays.
With how much the Cowboys utilize their nickel package, which doesn't utilize the Sam linebacker, you can barely call Wilson a "starter." He will play far fewer snaps than Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens. However, the youngster's ascension over veterans Kyle Wilber, Andrew Gachkar, and Justin Durant is noteworthy.
The last memory of Damien Wilson from 2015 was a bad one. He blew a coverage assignment against the New Orleans Saints that allowed C.J. Spiller to score a game-winning touchdown in overtime. Wilson can be seen trailing Spiller all the way up the field.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees hits RB C.J. Spiller for a game-winning TD pass in OT, which happens to be Brees' 400th scoring pass of his career. Week 4 of the 2015 NFL season. Follow the Dallas Cowboys vs.
We barely saw Wilson again after that Week 4 loss. The rookie returned to a minimal bench role and remained there all season. He clearly has made some great improvement to be earning so much praise, and a starting role, in 2016.
If Damien Wilson can hold down that Sam spot and continue to develop it will be a major benefit to the Cowboys in years to come. Dallas will have stability at both outside linebackers positions, needing only find an answer in the middle. Anthony Hitchens is solid but not the kind of play-maker they want. We are still waiting to see if rookie Jaylon Smith will ever been healthy enough to play.
The Cowboys' 2015 draft class was defense focused; Wilson was one of five defenders taken in the first six picks. Byron Jones has delivered but injuries and other issues have held back Randy Gregory and Mark Nzeocha. Ryan Russell is no longer with the team.
Damien Wilson emerging a multi-year starter would be a fine outcome for a fourth-round pick. It would also helped improve the final grade on a draft class that is struggling overall.
Hopefully, Wilson will be hearing his head coach say many more nice things about him.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys aren't short on numbers at wide receiver on their current 90-man roster. Looking to replace Dez Bryant and reshape their offense, the Cowboys will have to find the right group of pass catchers for Dak Prescott at their upcoming training camp.
The odd men out from this group will likely be the ones that can't sustain a consistent level of play, doing so across multiple units if needed. All ten receivers will have their flashes, but with only four being true locks to make the team, new Cowboys Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal will be in on some tough decisions right away.
One such decision may be moving on from last year's seventh round pick Noah Brown out of Ohio State. Vouched for by former Buckeyes teammate Ezekiel Elliott thanks to his blocking ability on the outside, it may now be this strength in the run game and deficiency as a pass catcher that spells the end of Brown's run in Dallas.
Normally, a seventh round pick being on the roster bubble wouldn't be this noteworthy, but Brown clearly showed the potential to outplay this draft status as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games, Brown is a true X receiver, although not the dominant one the Cowboys are searching for.
Moving away from fielding a true number one receiver, the Cowboys did sign Allen Hurns to play this spot while prepared to spread the ball around to Williams, Beasley, and Gallup after that.
This leaves Thompson, Wilson, Cannon, Lenoir, McCay, Murdock, and Brown to prove their worth in other ways to make the roster. I've written plenty about the potential rookie Cedrick Wilson has, so I'll be expecting a strong showing from him to earn a role in the Cowboys offense.
Wilson's skill set could push a depth signing like Deonte Thompson off the team, although his ability to back up Cole Beasley/Tavon Austin on special teams is important. The same can be said about Lance Lenoir, who like Brown has the advantage over first year players given his trials through training camp and the preseason a year ago.
Long shots to make the team, Cannon, McCay, and Murdock fall just below this group -- and somewhere in the middle is Noah Brown.
Increasing his role on special teams as the season went on last year, Brown had fans throughout a coaching staff that is now drastically changed for 2018. From their shift to more speed on offense, to drafting of both Gallup and Wilson, calling Brown a fringe player on the Cowboys roster really sets up the fiery competition to come at wide receiver.
Should the Cowboys find a spot for Brown, one can only hope it means this new coaching staff has a clear plan for him to contribute on both offense and special teams outside of being a run blocker. A potential niche for Brown is his red zone ability, not afraid to put his body on the line for jump balls and fight through contact in his routes.
It won't be long until we sort out if this is enough to make the Cowboys as a wide receiver ahead of Quarterback Dak Prescott's third season.
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