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Sean’s Scout: RB Depth On Display, Collins’ Improvements, Concerns at LB

The Dallas Cowboys’ 24-20 win over the Oakland Raiders in their 2017 preseason dress rehearsal left us with plenty to digest – including a potentially season ending injury to MIKE linebacker Anthony Hitchens. As expected, the Raiders were a fantastic test for the Cowboys across the board. Dallas’ starters remained in the game to some capacity through the first half, until Cooper Rush came in for most of the second half at QB and allowed us to continue evaluating this offense at a high level.

Here are my biggest takeaway’s on both sides of the ball in another edition of Sean’s Scout.

Sean's Scout: RB Depth On Display, Collins' Improvements, Concerns at LB 1

  • La’el Collins keeps finding his way into my notes for the right reasons, and it is because he’s done nothing but improve with every rep he gets at RT. Going up against one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Khalil Mack, Collins’ ability to flash his athleticism and steer Mack around the pocket multiple times showed off his mental sharpness at the position as well. It is well-known that Dak Prescott struggled as a rookie at sensing pressure off of that left edge as a rookie. With Doug Free as the starter at RT, his struggle was always allowing his rusher to flatten the corner and power right towards Prescott in the pocket. Collins’ play with his hands was also improved, as he did not overextend on many blocks. He will be just fine in protecting Dak Prescott this season and allowing him to step up in the pocket when needed.

 

  • Speaking of Dak Prescott, before he gets put in bubble wrap this week against the Houston Texans, his ability to throw the ball with confidence and elite accuracy down the middle of the field continues to be a thing of beauty. On Jason Witten’s touchdown, Prescott easily executed a play fake that opened up a throwing lane over the middle for Witten. Being so close to the goal line, the window was still tight with a DB breaking across on Witten. Prescott’s accuracy caused the DB to be flat on the play, giving him no chance as #82 simply had to catch it in stride and score. Even more impressively is that Prescott missed some shot plays down the sidelines earlier in that drive, but was able to recover and wear down the middle of the field to keep the offense moving. I’m not sure there’s a team in the league right now that feels good enough about their depth in the secondary if asked to defend Dallas’ spread looks on offense.

 

  • The Cowboys were 25th in the league last year at yards after the catch, and I expect this number to dramatically increase in 2017. So much of Prescott’s early success as a rookie was due to a simplified offense that allowed him to verify every throw with his eyes before he made it. With his pocket presence and movement ability improving by the day, Prescott is hitting his targets in stride all over the field. Brice Butler – who’s already been a fan favorite pick for the “breakout player” award – could benefit the most from this, along with of course Cole Beasley, a leaner Dez Bryant, and eventually Ryan Switzer.

 

  • Damontre Moore’s two game suspension to start this season is unfortunate, but I am hopeful that by week three he can help ease the loss of David Irving through the following week and continue to play well after that. Rod Marinelli has used him as a jack of all trades, reminding me of Irving in his ability to be disruptive inside and out. Moore may not have the same length, but his first step off the ball is probably unrivaled with these Dallas pass rushers right now. Moore has dominated this preseason with his ability to finish, turning this explosive ability into some bend and power on the edge – forcing a fumble in this game with a sack tightening off the corner.

 

  • Lewis Neal has been just about everything the Cowboys should have expected with their seventh round pick DT Joey Ivie out of Florida. Both may be long shots to make this team, but to this point the UDFA in Neal has outperformed Ivie at the 3T spot with his ability to play with his hands and read blocks. I’ve been critical of both of these areas in Ivie’s game, as he was a penetrating player relying on speed on tape in college. Neal has comparable speed, paired with the physical traits to shoot gaps and rally to the ball down the line.

 

  • It is hard to undermine just how valuable Damien Wilson has been this preseason, and his regular season value may have just increased dramatically with Anthony Hitchens injured last night. I’m not sure if Wilson is this team’s every-down MIKE LB, but he was out there nearly all night against the Raiders all over the field. Wilson has been one of the few constants at the LB position for the Cowboys through training camp and the preseason so far, as he’s excelled in a scheme that fits his ability to play in space at the correct depth and run hard to the football. Doing this at SAM is even more impressive, as Wilson still possesses the strength to hold the edge at this strong side position. Should he miss time due to a suspension the start the season the Cowboys are going to be in some serious trouble at linebacker.

 

  • This was likely the only chance we’ll get this preseason to evaluate the depth the Cowboys have at running back from Ezekiel Elliott all the way down. Elliott received six carries and looked just fine, slashing through even the smallest of holes in the offensive front while continuing to run with speed and power. You have to continue to be pleased with what the stable of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, and Ronnie Hillman are doing, but there is simply not a back on this team that can provide what Elliott does out of the backfield. Alfred Morris has run hard as always, but leaves a lot to be desired in reading his blocks quickly, sticking his foot in the ground, and banging up the field with any balance. Morris typically picks the right hole, but it takes an extra beat compared to Elliott – which leaves him stumbling across the line of scrimmage too many times. As a pass catcher, it was actually Ronnie Hillman that looked like the shiftiest back on this team aside from Zeke, but with limited reps this preseason he faces an uphill battle making the 53 man roster. Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal of his six game suspension to start the season is set for Tuesday.

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Just one more preseason game remains for the Cowboys to evaluate this roster and cut it down to the 53 players that will host the Giants on September 10th. Getting young players, particularly this 2017 draft class, back onto the field during practice this week would be encouraging as most starters will likely sit out the entire game on Thursday night.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Depth On Display, Collins’ Improvements, Concerns at LB” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

What do you think?

Sean Martin

Written by Sean Martin

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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