Today's NFL is changing. We continue to see an influx of more speed and more open-field within an offense. Coaching philosophies are becoming focused primarily on how speed and how an offense can beat a defense in the open-field. Speed is the key to success for an offense.
Sometimes, an offense needs a guy who can be a wild card, but also play a pivotal role in an offense. One guy I look at is Tavon Austin. While he isn't the No. 1 option, Austin has the ability to score six whenever he touches the football.
The Dallas Cowboys have lacked this component of their offense for the past few years. Dez Bryant is a true No. 1 receiver and a real good one at that, Jason Witten is a chains-mover and one of the most reliable players in football, and Cole Beasley is a guy who can cause matchup-nightmares. However, it's been a been awhile since the Cowboys have had a player like Lucky Whitehead on their roster.
Despite going undrafted out of FAU and standing at just 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Whitehead is a guy that can cause a defense fits. He's lightning-quick and when he gets the football in his hands, he may just be the most dangerous weapon the Cowboys have on their roster. With a guy like Whitehead, the Cowboys can be extremely creative. Let's take a look at some highlights from Whitehead over the course of the 2015 season.
Week 7 at New York Giants
The Cowboys know that Whitehead is at his best when he has the ball in open space. That said, the Cowboys do an excellent job at scheming up the play to make it seem like they're rushing the opposite way. Because the Cowboys' offensive line is so talented, defenses load the box to follow the line, only to get beaten by Whitehead around the outside. Here's the start of the play:
After Whitehead is given the football, look at the real estate he has to work with on the outside. From my count, there are currently seven members of the New York Giants already beaten in this screenshot alone. This play is what we know of as an "f-rip reverse". The point of the "f-rip" is to catch the defense off guard and get the ball to your playmaker with speed.
Another way they've utilized Whitehead is by making defenses honest. The next play was run about a quarter after Whitehead's first carry. Because Whitehead burned the defense on the first play, this fake reverse makes the linebackers hesitate. In the meantime, the offensive line is setting up for a screen:
This touchdown play was brought back due to a bogus offensive pass interference call on Devin Street. Nevertheless, because the defense follows out Whitehead's fake, it leaves a ton of room for Darren McFadden to work with.
The next play is one of my personal favorites from this list. Matt Cassel pitches the football off to McFadden. As McFadden and the offensive line go right, Whitehead comes back around for a pitch-reverse:
This play is extremely deceptive. Because of the over-pursue from the Giants' defensive end. It allows Cassel to go out and actually block a defensive back. Having athletic linemen like Tyron Smith and La'el Collins is obviously extremely helpful as well, as they have the ability to take out two, if not three men.
Week 9 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Cowboys continue to use deception with this play right here. By selling the fake left to McFadden, Whitehead runs behind the offensive line to get out in the flat. Cassel rolls out right and finds Whitehead, whose speed is simply too much for the Philadelphia Eagles' outside linebacker to stick with him.
Perhaps the best thing about this play is that it's an easy pass for a guy like Cassel to make. With Tony Romo back, we won't have to worry about confidence. But Cassel struggled with consistency all season, and a throw like this makes things easier on him.
Week 13 at Washington Redskins
I'd love to see the Cowboys expand their subpackages when utilizing Whitehead. Here's a play that they used against the Giants. Again, we see the "f-rip" reverse where Cassel turns and immediately gives the football to Whitehead. The Cowboys sell out the sweep left to McFadden and it makes the linebackers hesitate.
The Cowboys ran this play twice in this game and it worked both times. Here they ran it the opposite way behind Smith and Collins. As the Whitehead gets the football, Collins takes on that right defensive end, which frees up Smith to take on the right outside linebacker.
We see the blocks of Collins and Smith in the screenshot below. Also notice how Jason Witten pushes the defensive back outside, giving Whitehead a clear field of vision of the endzone to run through. Cole Beasley also pushes his man to the sideline, which further lengthens that gap between the sideline and the middle of the field.
Week 15 vs. New York Jets
It's no secret that the New York Jets have an aggressive defense. To counteract that, the Cowboys used the "pitch-reverse" on the first drive to get Whitehead in space. See No. 77 and No. 71, that's Smith and Collins literally creating a wall for whomever gets in their way.
Again, we see Cassel get downfield and throw a block. The open space spurns Whitehead for a 33-yard gain.
Because of his speed and home-run ability, the Cowboys have added a solid element in both their pass-catching and running game. Whitehead obviously isn't a guy who will catch 80 passes, but he's a player that teams need to gameplan for as well as one that an offense can deploy many wrinkles for.
In 2016, I'm excited to see how the Cowboys can continue to get Whitehead involved in their offense. His explosiveness alone tells me the Cowboys should be feeding him the ball at least six times a game. Whitehead is a real intriguing player. The common mantra is to get the ball in the hands of your playmakers. Whitehead has established himself on offense as just that this season.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
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.
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