Ever since the first day of the 2015 off season, Dallas Cowboys fans everywhere have been calling for this team to address the defensive end position. The pass rush was severely lacking, Greg Hardy was gone, and nobody in the front office seemed to care that one of our Staff Writers was dangerously close to appearing on the depth chart at DE by the time the preseason rolled around.
Suddenly, Benson Mayowa was here to save the day. A restricted free agent, the Oakland Raiders did not match the Cowboys three-year deal offered to the young edge rusher, sending him off to Dallas to work with defensive-line guru Rod Marinelli.
After dealing with injuries through the preseason, Mayowa started and saw 45 defensive snaps against the New York Giants in week 1 - getting off to a good start by sacking
the most incompetent quarterback in the division not named Kirk Cousins Eli Manning once.
However, since then, Mayowa has failed to record a sack, seeing a drop in his playing time with just 35 and 28 snaps respectively against the Redskins and Bears. This dip in playing time is concerning for a number of reasons, mainly because Mayowa is just a few weeks in to a three-year deal with the team. While the signing might have been sparked by the large need that the team had at his position, the Cowboys clearly saw some long-term potential in Mayowa (he did have flashes in Oakland) that he has yet to display.
His failure to make a larger impact is also concerning because of the players behind him taking his snaps at RDE, mainly Jack Crawford, who hasn't fared much better playing well out of position as a weak side edge rusher.
I watched Benson Mayowa's tape against Ereck Flowers of the Giants - a struggling second-year left tackle - and Trent Williams, who is one of the best in the business for the Washington Redskins.
Its time for some "Reel Talk" on what I saw:
All Some Trades, Master of None
In starting with Mayowa's performance against the Redskins, it was clear why this team simply needed to take him off the field at times. While nobody not named DeMarcus Lawrence may have been able to generate pressure off the right side in this game, Mayowa was a liability in the running game.
On Matt Jones' touchdown run, Mayowa completely conceded the edge by getting off the ball unbalanced and falling to his knees. Sean Lee and Barry Church were unable to ever recover from Jones receiving a clear lane to the outside, as he stretched the play to the pylon for a score.
As a pass rusher, Mayowa also had issues with his balance, especially when trying to get wide around the edge and finish. This is a player that is forced to resort to getting wide and trying to use his strong legs to capture the edge, because he simply looks lost trying to set up blockers with any rush moves.
While Mayowa will turn in some positive plays thanks to his legs and power, he is just not strong enough or quick enough laterally to consistently make any impact.
Instead, Mayowa needs to focus on his bend as a RDE, as he was caught too many times bending into a good position before coming back upright and allowing his blocker to sit on him and disrupt the angle towards the quarterback. To me, this is Mayowa's most workable trait, but it is only going to be more difficult to refine considering how predictable of a player he is.
Mayowa will get his hands inside on blockers and show the ability to steer them and eventually rip his hands through to disengage, but #93's lack of knock back on first contact makes it hard for him to get home in time.
As you'll see in these pictures, even his sack against the New York Giants was a result of Eli Manning being forced to hold onto the ball and then slide in Mayowa's direction, after he did a nice job beating Flowers for the edge.
Right here, you would love to be able to see Mayowa set up his blocker with another move and use his long arms to get to Manning.
Instead, you see him get lucky to be put in a position to finish off this play, after essentially losing contain. When Manning slides to his left, Flowers could not contain the quick reaction from Mayowa, as he eventually freed himself for the hit from behind.
A Positive Outlook
All is not lost through three games for Benson Mayowa. As we know, Dallas' defense is built around throwing different looks at opposing offenses at the defensive end spot, relying on waves of pass rushers to get the job done.
The team's best pass rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence, will be back after this Sunday's game against the 49ers, which will help the entirety of the line.
Some are speculating that Lawrence will be called upon to kick over to the right side of the line, where he played his injury-shortened 2014 rookie season. If this is the case, Mayowa could find himself in a much more rotational role, where he can be much more effective.
Also factoring into the team's plans for the following two years under contract, Mayowa has a chance to be here as the Cowboys hopefully put some serious work into revamping the depth chart at defensive end entirely.
If this turns out to be the case, Mayowa can absolutely shine as a situational pass rusher, coming in with fresh legs to pressure quarterbacks with his speed.
The Dallas Cowboys are in San Francisco on Sunday with a chance to get to 3-1 on the season - an absolutely huge opportunity for a team that has help on the way at numerous positions.
One of those positions is at defensive end, where they must first rely on guys like Benson Mayowa to get the job done this week. We'll keep an eye on how much Mayowa gets onto the field against Chip Kelly and the 49ers' up tempo offense, and how much of an impact he can make when he lines up.
What are you hoping to see from Mayowa as the season goes on? Comment below to share your thoughts, or email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
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.
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.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT 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.
Cedrick Wilson: Cowboys WR 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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