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Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Needs at Defensive End

Tommy Simon

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Cowboys Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys DE needs

This blog is a continuation of my earlier three part series ranking the Cowboys’ needs. Over the next few weeks I will look at the various players who can fill key positions for the Boys; both free agents and those who will be in the draft. Of course, the Cowboys will fill some of their needs by resigning current players but these articles will take an external focus. To start this series, I will look at the Defensive End position.

Current State

The Cowboys will need to fill at least two DE positions. They will still have Lawrence and Gregory but they will lose Hardy and Mincey. While Lawrence came on down the stretch and looks like a legitimate starter, Gregory is not ready to start and for now needs to stay as a third down pass rush specialist. The Cowboys also have found a quality swing DE/DT in Irving. So the Boys will need one starter to replace Hardy and one run stopping DE who can set an edge to replace Mincey’s role. The good news is that Lawrence can play either side, so this gives the Cowboys maximum flexibility.

The DE is one of two positions with a need that scored a 36 in our grading formula (please see previous series for explanation). That means the Boys are likely to either try to get a starting caliber DE in free agency or early in the draft. With that in mind, let’s look at who is available to the Cowboys and how they would fit.

Before we look at individual players, let’s make some basic assumptions on who might fit the Boys mindset and scheme.

  • Needs to be younger than 30
  • For them to sign a free agent they will either need to be:
    • A star pass three down prototypical type DE
    • A starting quality left DE who can stop the run and provide 5 -7 sacks a year
    • A pass rushing specialist (Boys would then draft a left DE that can set an edge)
  • If starter cannot be found, then they will need to sign a run stopping DE who can be teamed with Gregory on one end.

Possible Splash Signings in Free Agency

Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants) – An all-around DE who can get pressure and defend the run. He is a freak athlete that is growing into his strength. He is still young and in his prime and would be a good fit to replace Hardy. He does have question marks about his hand, so he may be a reasonable priced option. A five year contract in the 10mm a year range might hit the mark. The Cowboy’s doctors would be the ones to determine if the Boys should pursue. The Giants could also put the tag on him.

He would step in and be the starting DE with Lawrence. This would allow the boys to go after a developmental DE in the mid-rounds of the draft.

Other Potential Free Agents of Interest

Olivier Vernon (Miami) – Olivier is 25 years old, in his prime and should continue to get better. His career high for sacks is 11.5, but he is probably a consistent 8 sack per year player. He is a starting quality DE that can be will draw around 7 million per year. While this is probably more than the Boys want to pay, he does provided a solid starting DE that can play the run and can help get pressure. If the Dolphins do not tag him, look for the Boys to make a run at him.

Robert Ayers (New York) – Also a good solid starter. He had his best year as a Giant with 9.5 sacks on the year, but his career average is lower than that, so expect 5-7 sacks per year. He can move inside to play the three technique on pass downs, so there is flexibility with him. At age 30, you probably would not want to do more than sign a three year contract. I expect the Giants to resign him, but if not, he would be a good, solid contributor. You will probably need to pay 5 to 6 million per year for at least a 3 years, with a club option for the fourth year.

Jason Jones (Detroit) – A good, solid starter. But at 29, he can only give you three or possibly four years. If the Boys go that route, I would expect it will take 5 million per year and three or four years to sign him. The Boys would try to back load the option year. While he would be a starting quality DE that can defend the run, he is only a 4-6 sack a year type of rusher. He is a good solid veteran DE that could be teamed with Gregory to hold down the left side DE spot.

Vinnie Curry (Eagles) – A good player that had a down year in 2015. (I don’t believe he ever fit Kelly’s scheme.) Curry could be a starter and could also play the three technique. He is one of my pet players. I think the Boys could get him at a reasonable price and he would be a versatile DE/Three with 6 to 8 sacks per year.

Malik Jackson (Denver) – A solid run stuffing DE with a power game, much like Mincey. He is really coming on as an impact player. In addition to being great against the run, he will get you 4 to 6 sacks a year as well. Plus he can slide in and play the three; which might actually be his best position, in fact. He would be a good addition to match with the pass rushing of Gregory. Price will most likely be in the 5 million per year range.

Andre Branch (Jacksonville) – Still young and in his prime. He can contribute and be a starter when called on. A 4-6 sack type of player. He is still learning and becoming better. Could be a reasonable priced option that would add depth and versatility.

Eugene Sims (Rams) – A career backup, Sims is looking for a starting position. He has the talent to be a solid contributor. He could matchup with Gregory to fill one of the DE positions. Not sure if the Boys would go in this direction, as he has a lot of risk. But, he would be a reasonable priced player who can add depth.

Derrick Shelby (Miami) – Not much of a pass rusher, but is stout against the run and can be teamed with Gregory to create a solid DE tandem on one side. He is reasonably priced with a talent level more of a contributor than not a starter, but he would be an affordable contributor.

 

2016 NFL Draft Prospects

The great news is that there are a lot of DEs in the draft that could make an impact the first year. I have 10 impact DEs in this year draft. So even if the Boys waited until the third round to draft a DE they could get a good player that could help immediately, These are my top DEs as I have ranked them. I look at their strengths, weaknesses, and provided overall comments. I believe these are the DEs that best match the Boys scheme.

Shaq Lawson

Strengths

  • A bigger DE who is both strong and physical at point of attack.
  • Sets edge very well
  • Plays assignment sound. Knows that his role is and does not get excited and forget.
  • Most well rounded of the DEs. Plays run and pass very well.
  • Never goes backwards. Always moving his man forward. Good leverage.
  • Strong hands (can shock with his punch and arm over)
  • A good mix of quickness and speed.
  • Good spin move. Has a variety of pass moves.
  • Can take on block, get separation, and continue to pursue.
  • Shows a change of pace to set rush up.
  • Is aware and has good instincts.
  • Impact player, comes up bug when he needs to
  • Always in the backfield
  • Can rush from inside, though did not do much of it at Clemson

Weaknesses

  • Can get off the ball slow at times. Last off the ball on a few plays
  • Doesn’t always finish the play if it is away from him.
  • Doesn’t always get his hands up when he cannot get to QB

Summary

  • Most well rounded DE in the draft
  • A mix size, power, quickness, and attitude
  • He is assignment sound and disciplined, but he is still instinctual and aware
  • I believe he is best suited for left DE in pros
  • He is my number one rated DE and a top 5 pick

 

Joey Bosa

Strengths

  • Quick first move
  • Really good motor. Always working to the ball
  • Strong and can play off blocks
  • Plays with leverage. Never goes backward
  • Fundamental sound, knows his assignment. Disciplined
  • Good at both point of the attack and at chasing down from the backside
  • Aware, good reactions to what is going on around him
  • Good motor
  • Good against run, can take on blocker and disengage to tackle
  • Good when on the move

Weaknesses

  • Can miss tackles in open field.
  • Sometimes a tick slow off the snap.
  • Can get stuck on blocks at times.
  • Does not make that many big plays in the games I saw.
  • Not a fluid edge rusher. Uses power and leverage.

Overall

  • Better rusher on the right.
  • Better inside and power rusher than edge rusher.
  • Can play both DE and three
  • Good quick moves at 3. Better pass rusher at 3. If he has size, might be his best position long term. His best position is probably 3/4 DE.
  • As DE he will be a solid DE who will play sound, disciplined football and will set the edge
  • Could fit Dallas as left DE and he could play some three on passing downs
  • Good solid player for long time, but not the game changer
  • Not sure you will get a 10 sack DE, but maybe 5 to 7 with good run support
  • Probably the safest defensive player in the draft.
  • I have him as the second best DE and a top 10 pick. I do not think he is a top 5

 

Deforest Buckner

Strengths

  • Quick off the snap. Maybe the quickest player off the snap (him or Georgia’s Floyd).
  • Really good athlete. Looks the part.
  • Good lateral movement
  • Strong, heavy hands
  • Will get push off the snap
  • Can play off blocks and make tackles
  • Can set the edge
  • Versatile, can play three and DE
  • Quick inside moves
  • Has length that bothers blockers and QBs

Weaknesses

  • Not a natural edge rusher as DE, will need more pass rushing moves
  • Occasional will get push backed when playing inside
  • Needs to finish with attitude

Overall

  • Not a lot of weaknesses, but will not be an elite pass rush from the edge
  • Best suited for DE in 34 defense or a three technique in 43 defenses
  • For Cowboys, he Is versatile player who can split time playing some left DE, but would play more three technique
  • Mid-first round grade

 

Kevin Dodd

Strengths

  • Good prototypical size
  • Quick around edge or diving inside
  • Wee rounded, plays run and pass well
  • He has a quick first step
  • Very disciplined
  • Great awareness
  • Can set edge
  • Has a decent variety of pass moves
  • Great motor

Weaknesses

  • Is inconsistent getting off the ball at times
  • Not an elite athlete

Summary

  • Great size, strength, athleticism ratio
  • Three down player
  • Disciplined DE who can set an edge or provide a pass rush
  • Great motor
  • Smart player
  • Will play left DE in pros
  • Have him rated somewhere around the third or fourth best DE
  • Rated as a low first round pick (20 to 30)

 

Emmanuel Ogbah

Strengths

  • Quickness, suddenness
  • Good strength
  • Has above average hands. Can shock with punch
  • Has speed to get to edge.
  • Played some three in pass rush situations with some success
  • Disruptive when he shot inside on stunts
  • Would chase the ball
  • Gets his hands up to deflect the ball

Weaknesses

  • Is not as strong as some of the elite DEs
  • Needs more pass rushing moves. Needs to work on techniques.
  • Not as complete of a DE as other top DEs
  • Not a bad motor, but has some play he does not finish (run to the ball). Needs to finish all plays
  • Does not always set edge (Could be scheme, but gets caught inside too often)

Summary

  • To start his career, he will be a pass rushing specialist, not a complete DE
  • Is best suited for right DE
  • Great athlete, but needs higher motor and more strength
  • I grade him as low first rounder (20 to 30)

 

Jonathan Bullard

Strengths

  • Bigger DE who is strong and physical at point of attack
  • Quick of the snap
  • Goes forward, strong at point of attack
  • Relentless, comes at you every play
  • Can work off blocks to tackle
  • Can shift and slice inside
  • Good lateral skills

Weaknesses

  • Did not always play with awareness
  • Wanted to see more pressure
  • Needs to develop pass rush moves

Summary

  • Think his best positon may be the three
  • Undersized for DT, but has a frame and skills that fit the DT position
  • Strong, quick of the ball and plays with power
  • Rank him in the 20 to 30 range
  • Good pick up in the second round if he is available. Would bring energy and versatility.
  • I have him graded at the bottom of the first round (20 to 30)

 

Carl Nassib

Strengths

  • Good athlete
  • Disciplined, knows assignment,
  • Great awareness
  • Gets his hands up when can’t get to QB
  • Always around the ball
  • Has a few different pass rush moves
  • Above average with his hands
  • Can drop in coverage, better awareness than you would think
  • Strong enough to bull rush, quick enough to go around edge
  • Three down player
  • Can get off of blockers to make tackles

Weaknesses

  • Lost his balance at times
  • Needs to work on strength in offseason
  • Caught up inside on a couple plays, but most times he sets edge

Summary

  • Looks like prototypical left end
  • Three down player
  • A good athlete, but not elite
  • I rate him between early second
  • Top 5 DE and high second round pick (30 to 40)

 

Shilique Calhoun

Strengths

  • Good athlete
  • Disciplined, knows assignment
  • Great awareness
  • Has decent speed around edge
  • Gets his hands up to bat balls. Best of the DEs.
  • Has a few different pass moves
  • Above average with his hands

Weaknesses

  • Doesn’t get off blockers
  • Can be driven backwards at time
  • Average motor
  • Not over powering

Summary

  • Looks like prototypical right end
  • A disciplined player who will not make a bad mistake
  • Above average rusher, but just average against run
  • A good athlete, but not elite
  • I rate him between mid-second round (top 50)

 

Noah Spence

Strengths

  • Good athlete prototypical size
  • Quick around edge or diving inside
  • Gets good knee bend
  • He has a quick first step
  • Has a decent variety of pass moves
  • Good instincts

Weaknesses

  • Can lose balance at times
  • Does not have the strength of some of the higher rated DEs
  • Will chase play, then hesitate to finish
  • Can forget to set edge. Just interested in QB
  • Needs awareness of backside blockers

Summary

  • Quality rusher but not elite
  • Better rushing than playing against run
  • To start career, he will most likely be a pass rush specialist
  • Better on right side than on left side
  • Would be a good middle round pick up
  • I have him as a mid-second round pick (Top 50)

 

Bronson Kaufusi

Strengths

  • Good athlete, good balance
  • Great motor, always near ball
  • Tall, good size
  • Gets his hands up when can’t get to QB, causes issues
  • Better than average quickness
  • Can be disruptive on the move, slant, shifts, etc.
  • Has quickness to get edge at times
  • Competitive
  • Takes on block and fights to disengage.

Weaknesses

  • Better on the move than playing point of attack
  • Can be driven backwards,
  • Plays high at times and loses leverage
  • Does not have elite quickness
  • Needs to get stronger and have more punch

Summary

  • Looks like a right end
  • Good at playing shifts and slants
  • His height is a plus, uses it well
  • But can be driven back when running at him. Better when ball goes away from them
  • Good contributor with possible starter capability in a few years
  • Graded as low second round (top 60)

 

Shawn Oakman

Strengths

  • Uses arms to keep blockers away from him
  • Upper body strength
  • Good straight line speed. Can get around the edge.
  • Can get rush passer by getting push, around the edge and shooting to the inside
  • Plays with some attitude
  • Sees it and goes. A reaction type player
  • He has a quick first step
  • Can use his long arms to keep blockers at bay and set edge

Weaknesses

  • Better on the move than playing point of attack
  • His motor is inconsistent
  • Not always disciplined
  • Is inconsistent in getting off the ball quickly. He tends to be late setting up which causes issues getting off at the snap
  • Is susceptible to cut blocks due to his length
  • Can get washed sideways.
  • Not always aware of the backside cut off block. If a blocker can get him moving sideways, he struggles

Summary

  • He will play right DE.
  • Oakman is a risk/reward pick. As much upside as anyone, but he is a risk.
  • He is physically gifted as anyone in the draft, but his motor is not as good as others and he does have some weaknesses.
  • A better rusher than playing against the run. However, can use his hands and length to set an edge so can be a three down player eventually
  • Has better inside moves than you would think for someone with his length
  • Better going forward than sideways
  • Would be better chasing down plays if he ran harder
  • Would be a better pass rusher if he would get in his stance earlier
  • Expect him to put up solid combine scores in 40 and in the lefts. His shuttle score will not as good.
  • He is a little more inconsistent and has more risk, otherwise I would have him higher. His talent is a first or second rounder.
  • I project him as a low third rounder (top 70)

 

Overall Rank

  1. Shaq Lawson
  2. Joey Bosa
  3. Kevin Dodd
  4. Emmanuel Ogbah
  5. Carl Nassib
  6. Shilique Calhoun
  7. Noah Spence
  8. Bronson Kaufusi
  9. Shawn Oakman

Moved to DT

  1. Jonathan Bullard
  2. Deforest Buckner

 

Strategies for the Cowboys

Al lot of what the Boys do will be determined by free agency of course. If the Boys can go get someone like Pierre-Paul, Vernon, or even Ayers, then I do not expect them to make an early pick at DE. In this scenario, if they get an impact free agent and a DE falls to them with the fourth, I would expect that they would use this as leverage on teams that need a pass rush and trade down for more picks.

However, if they do not get one of the aforementioned free agents, I would expect that the Boys will try to sign a free agent DE who can contribute as a backup and then draft a DE with one of their first two picks. The good news is that DE is a deep position in this year’s draft and the Boys should be able to get an impact player in the second, and possibly even in the third.

If Nassib fell to them in the second, I would jump on it. Spence could be another impact player they could grab in the second. As for the first round, well if they can get Bosa or Lawson, I think they are two of the best players in this the draft, with a slight preference for Lawson. I feel he will be a better pro than Bosa, but I wouldn’t be unhappy with either.

Personally, I think that the drop off between Bosa and Lawson and the other DEs that they could get in the mid-first round isn’t that big. So if I were the Cowboys and I had the chance to get Bosa or Lawson with the 4th and I had DE is my highest need, I would still trade down, gain picks, and they would be able to grab a quality DE in the mid to late first, or even second. Look forward to seeing what they do.



Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO. Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country. Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews. For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

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Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star 1

When the Dallas Cowboys opened their world-class headquarters in Frisco, affectionately named The Star, the possibilities were endless for the franchise that embraces football being bigger than life in a state where that's certainly the case.

Not only have the Cowboys hosted more football than ever with AT&T Stadium serving as their home and the Ford Center at The Star being a shared practice space with local high schools, but they became the first team to host the NFL Draft from their stadium in April.

Just as the draft has become a spectacle for fans and media alike, the all-important Scouting Combine that leads up to the draft each year is a fully televised event now. Held in Indianapolis since 1987, the Cowboys will have to prove they're well prepared to handle the burden of a Scouting Combine while disrupting the continuity that Lucas Oil Stadium has provided.

The biggest advantage that Indianapolis has held through years of the Combine's development is their stadium's proximity to local hospitals. Any scout or draft analyst will tell you that the most important thing draft prospects go through during the Combine is their medical checks, something they can now do at The Star without setback.

Across the street from The Star is now the Baylor, Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research center, a brand new medical facility that spans 300,000 square feet. The Cowboys will even have their time to work out the kinks of potentially hosting the Combine, with Indianapolis still under contract to host the event through 2020.

The Combine also serves as a key point in the NFL offseason where executives and coaches from every team are together, often leading to trade talks that impact the following draft. Imagination can run wild with the Cowboys hosting the Combine on campus at The Star, and rival head coaches meeting in a Sushi Marquee, Cow Tipping Creamery, or Luxe Eyewear.

Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star

These are merely three of the hundreds of auxiliary features in place at The Star, ready to take the Combine to the next level, as Dallas already did with this year's NFL Draft.

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and Left Guard Connor Williams became the first players to be drafted in the stadium they'll call home. Within a few years, prospects fortunate enough to get the call from America's Team may feel an even deeper connection to the Cowboys, going through their job interview that is the Combine at the team's headquarters.

Jerry Jones has stated that The Star was never designed with the thought of hosting a Combine in mind, but this does not mean preparations will not take place for the Cowboys to be ready following two more years in Indianapolis.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Ezekiel Elliott, Bears
Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports

Every year, NFL Network releases a "Top 100" list of all the players in the league. What's special about this list is that the voters are actually fellow NFL players. We have tons of rankings from analysts and scouts all year long, so it's fun to see what the persons who actually put on shoulders and helmets week after week have to say about their peers.

However, that's precisely what makes it very controversial among fans. Year after year, we see players getting underrated and players getting ranked way ahead than they should.

Take Dak Prescott in 2017, for example. The young quarterback put on a show as a fourth-round rookie that no one could have expected from him. As impressive as he was, it's hard to defend him being ranked as the fourteenth best player in the NFL, which is how he was ranked in the NFL 100 last year.

This Monday, the 2018 Top 10 will be announced on NFL Network at 7 PM CT, but no Cowboys' name will be mentioned.

So, without getting frustrated about this year's results, let's take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys fared this time around.

What Does Zack Martin Have in Common With Larry Allen?

#71: RG Zack Martin

2017 Ranking: #58.

I'm pretty sure that Zack Martin doesn't even care about the NFL 100 list, especially after he became the highest-paid guard in NFL history just days ago. For the Cowboys, even with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the same offensive line, Zack Martin might be the best lineman on the roster. At the very least, there's an argument to be made.

It's not very surprising to see Martin all the way at #71. Offensive guard is a very overlooked position by many, so it does make a tiny bit of sense for him to be ranked where he is.

What is surprising though, is the fact that Pittsburgh Steeler David DeCastro is ranked at #44. Both players are great guards, but Martin is widely acknowledged as the best at his position. Maybe playoff success came into account?

#54: RB Ezekiel Elliott

2017 Ranking: 7.

Ezekiel Elliott stumbled quite a bit this year, which is completely understandable. First of all, the 2016 season was electric. The narrative of two rookies taking the league by storm and earning the #1 seed in the NFC was unique.

Things changed for the superstar running back in 2017, though. Elliott had to deal with tons of off-field drama while fighting a six-game suspension that ended up being upheld and Zeke had to miss some time.

This is undoubtedly what made Elliott, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL, fall all the way out of the top 50. Despite having had pretty good years, I can assure you that Kareem Hunt (ranked at 33) and Mark Ingram (43) are not even in the same tier as Zeke.

#39: LT Tyron Smith

2017 Ranking: 18.

I'm not going to lie, I'm not complaining about this one. Just like the rest of the offensive linemen, Tyron may be undervalued here. However, he is the best tackle on the list, so it's certainly tough to be mad about this.

Besides, don't forget Tyron didn't play the entire season after being out for three games. Not saying that makes him a worse player or anything, but it helps make sense of his spot on the list.

With former Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas enjoying retirement, it's easier to see Smith as the clear-cut best tackle in the NFL today. He's a beast. If he finds a way to play 16 games next season, I'm sure he will climb the rankings in 2019.

#34: DE DeMarcus Lawrence

2017 Ranking: Unranked. 

Last but not least is the Cowboys' breakout player of the year. Lawrence finally proved his worth getting to the opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times on the year. Not to mention, his game against the run was pretty remarkable and he helped take the defense to another level.

This was the first season in D-Law's career in which he remained completely healthy all along and it showed on the field. Thanks to his performance, the team handed him the franchise tag and hopefully he'll get a big, juicy contract once he continues dominating this year.

https://twitter.com/TankLawrence/status/1003853184782094336

Six defensive ends were ranked ahead of him, so we will have to wait and see if he keeps it up in 2018 after being named a second team All-Pro in 2017.

The Snub: C Travis Frederick

The one thing that is outrageous from this year's list is the absence of Travis Frederick. I understand there aren't any other centers on the list, but they should at least include the best at his position, right?

Frederick is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players on the Cowboys' roster and a player that through five years in the league, has been to the Pro Bowl four times. One of the NFL's finest, he definitely deserves to be on that list.

✭✭✭✭✭

But hey, as previously mentioned, this list is meant to be fun. It's cool to hear what the players (teammates and rivals) have to say about one another during this series. Instead of taking it as an official ranking or anything of the sort, it's better to see it as a fun piece of content by NFL Network.

Let me know what your thoughts on these rankings are on the comments section below or tweet me @PepoR99 to talk some football!

Tell me what you think about "How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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5 Winners from Dallas Cowboys OTAs and Minicamp

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Caras Nuevas, ¿Tenemos Cornerbacks?, Adiós Ware
James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have completed the offseason part of their practices and are now eyeing the start of training camp in Oxnard, California on July 26th. The offseason stuff doesn't necessarily show what a team thinks about a player near as much as training camp, so I won't look at any losers because these practices have varying personnel at times.

That being said, there certainly were some winners during the offseason.

1. Jaylon Smith, Linebacker

Every day removed from his injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl is another day closer to potentially seeing the All-American linebacker that would have been a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

With the knee injury, there's always been some doubt about Jaylon returning to that level of play, but as offseason practices wore on it was becoming clear that he's much healthier and much more mobile than he was in 2017.

Both of those things are strong signs in the right direction for the third year pro.

After sitting out his rookie season to rehab and then having some good moments and some really bad moments in 2017, it sounds like he's making progress to be a difference maker in 2018.

During OTAs and minicamp sessions that were open to the media, Jaylon was seen running with the first-team defense every time they took the field. Now, some of that is due to the Cowboys limiting the snaps of veteran All-Pro Sean Lee and rookie first round pick Leighton Vander Esch, who came up with a sprained ankle, but the fact that Smith's snaps weren't limited should only be seen as a good sign.

We still have a long way to go until the Dallas Cowboys strap it on for their week one matchup with the Carolina Panthers, but Jaylon Smith is on an excellent trajectory.

Anyone with a Clear, Eye, View can see that.

2. Anthony Brown, Cornerback

One of the bigger surprises during the offseason practices so far has to be Anthony Brown, and not Jourdan Lewis, running with the first team nickel defense.

Jourdan Lewis proved he was a really good corner in his rookie year, both in the slot and on the outside, while Anthony Brown struggled at times. Knowing that new Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard prefers his corners to be tall, long, and strong has led to some speculation that Lewis may not be a fit in Richard's scheme.

That's certainly a possibility. The more realistic possibility is that Brown, with more seniority, was getting the opportunities first as is often the case with Jason Garrett coached teams during the offseason.

While Brown is a pretty good slot cornerback in his own right, this might only be temporary.

Understanding Cowboys Remaining Offseason "To-Do List"

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

3. Michael Gallup, Wide Receiver

As I read reports from OTAs and minicamp practices, one thing that stood out is that Michael Gallup was winning and winning a lot.

When asked in a mailbag who had been building the best rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott, Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com had this to say:

"Bryan: That’s a great question. The guys that come to mind for this [sic] me are Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin. Those guys have found ways to generate space and have been reliable catching the ball when it’s thrown in their direction."

Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com

Just a few days earlier Broaddus stated that Cole Beasley and Gallup were the only ones getting open with any consistency.

Now, it's still early and it's padless practice, but that's an encouraging sign for the third round pick out of Colorado State.

Typically it takes a year for wide receivers to adjust to the NFL game, especially with how much press coverage is played by NFL defensive backs. One of the byproducts of Kris Richard's existence as the defensive backs coach is that they're playing more press coverage. He's teaching his DB's to be more aggressive and more physical at the line of scrimmage.

For Gallup and the rest of the wide receiver group, that can only help them as they get ready to face opposing defenses. One way to disrupt timing-based routes or an offense that relies on separation and yards after the catch is to disrupt the receiver at the snap. Every practice, these guys are working to beat the press.

As a rookie wide receiver, this can only benefit Gallup -- in particular -- as that will be a big transition from college where defenses are playing off the line of scrimmage against the countless number of spread offenses that exist.

The fact that he's already winning reps during practices against some pretty good corners is a great sign for the Dallas Cowboys.

He may not be a starter in this offense right away, but I doubt it takes long before he's cemented himself in three and four wide receiver personnel groupings.

4. Chaz Green, Guard

I'm sure you aren't a fan of seeing Chaz Green's name anywhere near a "winners" list. As bad as the Atlanta Falcons game was for him, we can't ignore the fact that Green got a lot of first team repetitions during OTAs and minicamp while Zack Martin negotiated his contract extension.

Either that means the Dallas Cowboys haven't given up on their third round pick from 2015 or they're trying to get as many practice snaps out of him as possible to be able to make a clearer decision regarding his future with the team.

Getting to play with the ones is encouraging, but he still has a lot to prove during training camp to keep a spot on the roster. Green's going to get a long leash as a former premium draft pick. We'll see if he takes advantage of it.

5. Jihad Ward, Defensive Tackle

Maliek Collins hurt his foot -- again -- and David Irving was dealing with off the field stuff -- again -- leaving Jihad Ward with a lot of opportunities to play against the first team offensive line as the three-technique defensive tackle.

On June 4th, I asked Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com who his biggest surprises on offense and defense were during OTAs:

Bryan Broaddus on Twitter

Cedrick Wilson and Jihad Ward https://t.co/kgcgJkTj3U

If Broaddus is encouraged by Ward's progress, I am too.

He's going to have a lot of opportunity to get a strangle hold on the 3T defensive tackle spot with Maliek Collins not set to be back until late in training camp, and David Irving suspended the first four games of the 2018 season.

The Dallas Cowboys liked Ward coming out of college and had him just behind Maliek Collins on their 2016 NFL Draft Big Board.

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There's still a lot of practice reps that have yet to take place, but the Dallas Cowboys have gotten some encouraging contributions from these players. As we look to training camp, who will you be watching to see if the stand-out and can make the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster?



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