It's Sunday and there is NFL football happening. Welcome to Heaven.
While you still have to wait six days to watch God's favorite team (as Texas Stadium's hole in the roof so proclaimed) hit the gridiron, today is a tasty treat. Football season is here, but just because the Cowboys aren't playing doesn't mean that they're not on our minds.
The Cowboys have been working towards their Super Bowl LI goals out in Oxnard, and to get to that coveted game in Houston they'll have to make it through their 2016 schedule. Near the end of it, on Monday Night Football, the Cowboys will host the Detroit Lions in their first meeting since the epic 2014 Wild Card Playoff Game that Dallas won. Unfortunately for Detroit, they might not be fully equipped.
Third-year Tight End Eric Ebron suffered what was described as a "devastating" injury to his lower right leg on Saturday. While there are conflicting reports all over the great landscape of the internet, the Lions are concerned that this could be an injury to Ebron's ACL. The 2014 1st Rounder has been unimpressive in two seasons, catching only 72 passes for 785 yards and 6 touchdowns. Should he miss serious time this season then it would be highly doubtful for Detroit to pick up his fifth-year option next offseason.
Why is this important, RJ? This is Inside The Star. Not Pride Rock where Simba and all them lived.
Yesterday my fellow Staff Writer Jess Haynie pondered a few trade scenarios between the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, featuring Ron Leary as the prime piece for us. I connected some dots about Leary to Tennessee on Friday, but today we're talking about a different player - Gavin Escobar.
Why Escobar? Eric Ebron, of course. In the comments for this post on our Official Inside The Star Facebook Page, loyal Inside The Star reader Zach Moore floated this out as a hypothetical. So here we are!
The Ebron injury, should it be severe like the Lions initially feared, would completely wreck what is an already ravaged depth chart for Detroit at the Tight End position. Brandon Pettigrew tore his ACL late last season so he's still on the PUP list, and Tim Wright tore his in minicamp so he's done-zo for this season. If you're a Detroit Lions Tight End you need to guard your ACL with your life! It sounds like the Lions have a Gavin-Escobar-shaped hole.
The Cowboys have a precariously long line of depth at Tight End:
- Jason Witten, King of all Tight Ends.
- Gavin Escobar, invisible to the Cowboys Coaching Staff.
- James Hanna, who was re-signed this offseason.
- Geoff Swaim, the inspiration for the Swaim Train.
- Rico Gathers, who is literally learning how to play football at a high level.
It's no secret that Escobar is entering the final year of his rookie contract with the Cowboys. Gavin was taken in the 2nd Round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and is (by default) the most productive of the Cowboys recent 2nd Round woes. If they want to keep Swaim or Gathers around, it makes sense to move Escobar (who surprisingly didn't open up Training Camp on the PUP list himself).
Should the Cowboys call up Detroit and be willing to deal Escobar it would ideally be for a prime pass rusher. Escobar is a starting level Tight End in the NFL for teams who don't boast a Hall of Famer at the position, and the Lions have already suffered enough losses in terms of aerial weapons with the recent retirement of Calvin Johnson.
The Lions have their own Ezekiel in Ziggy Ansah, and of course he's off the table. The player the Cowboys should try to procure is Devin Taylor, who is currently expected to start opposite Ansah at Defensive End.
It's practically a Training Camp tradition for Cowboys-trading-away-one-of-their-Tight-Ends ideas to float around. They've never really lacked depth at the position and this is the time of year where people are in need. It remains to be seen if the Cowboys will finally prey on that, like a Lion would!
Cowboys Sign Ryan Yurachek; Fullback Role Changing in New Offense?
The Dallas Cowboys signed free agent Fullback Ryan Yurachek yesterday, who spent last year on the Oakland Raiders' practice squad. It could an easy to move to ignore, but Yurachek's game speaks to how the fullback position may be changing as a whole in the Cowboys offense under Kellen Moore.
To stay under the 90-man offseason roster limit, Dallas waived linebacker Justin Phillips.
The Cowboys signed fullback Ryan Yurachek, who spent last season in Oakland's practice squad and was released in May following knee surgery. To make room for Yurachek, linebacker Justin Phillips was waived. The Cowboys now have two fullbacks on the 90-man roster with Jamize...
Yurachek was a prolific pass-catcher as a tight end at Marshall. He had 10 touchdowns his senior year, which was one short of the NCAA Division I leaders for tight ends in 2017. Ryan was also named the team's offensive captain as a senior. Over his four years with The Herd, Yuracheck had 143 catches for 1,354 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Listed at just 6'1", Yurachek converted to fullback to attempt an NFL career. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers but was released later that month. The Raiders signed him and kept him on the practice squad through the 2018 season. Oakland released Ryan last month after his had to have his knee scoped.
It's Yuracheck's background as a TE, especially with those receiving numbers, which intrigues me. It makes me think, and hope, that the Cowboys are going to start looking for more creative ways to utilize their fullbacks.
Before he joined the Cowboys last year, Jamize Olawale had seasons in Oakland where he got around 30 touches. Last year, Olawale had zero carries and was targeted just four times for two catches in the passing game.
That usage is consistent with how former Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan saw fullbacks throughout his tenure in Dallas. We had Keith Smith as a pure blocker, and before him it was Tyler Clutts. From 2014-2019, Cowboys fullbacks have had just 12 total receptions and even fewer rushing attempts.
I know the FB is a dying breed in the modern NFL, but that's also what we thought about run-first offenses for a while. The Cowboys, Seahawks, and some other teams have proven that so-called "old school" approaches still work, and in no small part because modern defenses are more focused on stopping the pass.
The biggest complaint about Linehan's system was its predictability. We're all hoping that new OC Kellen Moore will bring a more dynamic style, and a big part of that could be better utilizing players with versatile skills.
Even if Ryan Yurachek is just here as a camp body to take some work off of the veteran Olawale, his arrival could be a sign that the Cowboys are looking to get more out of their fullbacks in the receiving game. Even if they remain a low-volume part of the offense, as they should, anything that keeps opposing linebackers and safeties guessing is a positive.
2019 Dallas Cowboys the Best Roster of the Jason Garrett Era
It's still very early in the evaluative process for the Dallas Cowboys' coaches and scouts, but all things point to this being the best roster during Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach. The 2014 and 2016 teams had the best finishes of the Garrett era, but on paper, this 2019 roster looks like a team that can contend for a Super Bowl with few glaring weaknesses on offense or defense.
It may be a stretch to suggest that this team is better than the 2014 Cowboys that went 12-4 or 2016 team that went 13-3. Both of those teams were a couple of plays away from heading to the NFC Championship. However, those team had holes and weren't nearly as deep as this 2019 squad appears to be. Neither team fielded a defense as good as the players the Cowboys will put on the field in week one.
In 2014, the offense was one of the best in the NFL, scoring the fifth most points at 29.18 points per game. They were seventh in total yards. Tony Romo had the best season of his career while DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing. Dez Bryant was prime Dez Bryant catching 16 touchdowns and averaging 15 yards per reception. And Jason Witten was still a great player for the Cowboys averaging more than 10 yards per reception. In his most recent seasons of 2016 and 2017, Witten's seen that number dip below 10 yards per reception.
2014 was the first season we saw the combination of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin on the field together and it provided a glimpse of what an elite offensive line could look like. Doug Free at right tackle and Ronald Leary at left guard were no slouches either. Though they didn't get as much positive publicity as the rest of their offensive linemates, they were effective in their own right and were a big part of the reason why DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo were able to have the seasons they had.
At wide receiver, the Cowboys are better than they were in 2014 or 2016. In 2014, it was Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, and Devin Street. In 2016, the wide receiver group consisted of Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Lucky Whitehead, and Brice Butler. Heading into 2019, the Cowboys look to have one of the deeper wide receiver groups in the NFL featuring Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Three of the six wide receivers projected to make the roster have at least one 1,000 yard receiving season under their belt. Tavon Austin is as dynamic a player as you'll find if he can stay healthy and Michael Gallup and Noah Brown are young, but ascending players in the NFL.
In 2016, the NFL was taken over by the Dallas Cowboys rookies phenoms. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were the leaders on an offense that was led by Cole Beasley at wide receiver. Back in 2016, the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott led Dallas Cowboys finished fifth in the NFL in points and yardage. Though Dez Bryant was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in 2014, he was a shell of himself in 2016. Bryant dealt with injuries during the season and was missing during the Cowboys biggest regular season win at the Green Bay Packers. Neither group had the depth that the 2019 team takes to Oxnard.
As good as that offense was, the 2019 group is going to be better. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are going into their fourth year in the NFL and are better players now than when they were rookies. Not only are they better, but they have better skill position players than the 2016 team did, which should help take pressure off of Ezekiel Elliott and the running game and make it easier for Dak Prescott to find success.
With a fresh perspective from Kellen Moore and some fine tuning of Prescott's footwork, this offense should be just as good as the 2014 and 2016 offenses.
The offenses in 2014 and 2016 stole the show for the Dallas Cowboys. The defenses, on the other hand, got by without much in the way of talent.
In Rod Marinelli's first season as the defensive coordinator, the Cowboys largely got by with their bend don't break defense. They were a defense that was good enough and was largely carried by their offense throughout the season. 2016 wasn't much different.
The 2014 or 2016 Dallas Cowboys didn't have elite pass rushers like DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn bookending the defensive line. If you recall, Jeremy Mincey led the team with six sacks that season before DeMarcus Lawrence came on strong in the playoffs against Detroit and Green Bay. Henry Melton was second on the team with five sacks. In 2016, Benson Mayowa led the Dallas Cowboys with six sacks and second on the team was Maliek Collins with five sacks. For perspective, in 2018, Lawrence had 10.5 sacks and Randy Gregory had six sacks.
The 2019 Dallas Cowboys boast six players who've had at least five sacks in a season in Lawrence, Quinn, Gregory, Kerry Hyder, Tyrone Crawford, and Maliek Collins. The Cowboys go two-deep along the defensive line with legit pressure players at every position.
Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens were the leaders at the linebacker position for the Cowboys. McClain was excellent in the 13 games he played for Dallas. In 2016, Sean Lee had an outstanding season, which culminated in a First Team All-Pro selection and Anthony Hitchens was good. However, as a unit, neither 2014 or 2016 had as much talent as the 2019 Dallas Cowboys do at linebacker with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, and Joe Thomas. There isn't a better 4-3 linebacker group in the NFL than what the Dallas Cowboys are rolling out there in 2019.
At defensive back, the Cowboys were rolling out Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, and Sterling Moore as their starting nickel group. I'd easily take Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Xavier Woods, and Jeff Heath. Throw in Jourdan Lewis and the Cowboys probably have the best four-deep cornerback group in the NFL. Even if you aren't a big fan of Jeff Heath at strong safety, he's still a better option than J.J. Wilcox was in that 2014 season. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson provide significantly better depth than the 2014 or 2016 groups at defensive back.
Think about the roster as a whole. They have a perceived weakness at starting strong safety with Jeff Heath, but they were able to make the playoffs with Jeff Heath and the defense was one of the best in the NFL in 2018. The defense in 2019 should finish in the top five in scoring and yards against. They're going to be a disruptive group that constantly puts pressure on the quarterback and if they're able to create turnovers, they'll be the best unit in the NFL.
As much as we fight against it, this Dallas Cowboys roster heading into 2019, is the best they've had since 2011. The defense is definitely better going into 2019 than they were in 2014 or 2016 and the offense has a chance to be just as good as those two successful seasons.
On paper, they're a team ready to contend for a Super Bowl. After not making an NFC Championship game since 1996, the time has come for the Dallas Cowboys to turn all the hype into results. No matter how hard I try to manage expectations for the 2019 season, I can't help but think that this iteration of the Dallas Cowboys is on the verge of greatness.
Michael Gallup is Primed for Breakout Sophomore Season
Heading into the 2018 season the Dallas Cowboys had big questions at the wide receiver position with the departure of Dez Bryant. They elected not to go for the flashy names like Maryland's D.J. Moore or Alabama's Calvin Ridley, but instead took Colorado State Wide Receiver, Michael Gallup 81st overall.
Even without the hype of other bigger named receivers coming out of college, Gallup's resume was enough to impress Head Coach Jason Garrett. "There's a lot to like about him. He's big, he's athletic, he plays the game the right way. He's been a productive player for them, doing a lot of different kinds of things. We feel like he has real upside, too. A lot of qualities that you want in a young receiver, in a developmental receiver. But a lot of production, too. He had opportunities there and took advantage of them throughout his career," Garrett said.
Once the season started, however, it was apparent that it would take some time to build the chemistry and trust with Quarterback Dak Prescott. The lack of a true number one receiver wasn't doing the first talent any favors as he tried to figure out his role on the team. Gallup would be targeted just 15 times in the first 5 games, only registering 6 receptions. But fortunately for the newbie, help was on the way.
During the team's bye week in October, they acquired Amari Cooper from the Raiders in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, and it worked wonders for Gallup and his development. Weeks 11 through 14 saw him targetted 27 times. This was significant considering the Cowboys were in the midst of a 5-game winning streak after a 3-5 start. Prescott's trust and belief in Gallup were starting to come together as the team made a run at the NFC East crown and a playoff berth.
He would finish with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. Once the postseason rolled around Gallup had firmly established himself as the team's second option behind Amari Cooper.
Gallup would make his first playoff start in the divisional round against the Rams in Los Angeles. Although the Cowboys season wouldn't survive this contest, one of the positives was the play of the first year pass catcher. He finished with 6 receptions for 119 yards, and a tidal wave of momentum heading into 2019.
There's a major change coming to the Cowboys offensive philosophy this season, thanks to newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. The new puppet master of the offense has made it clear he's open to listening to suggestions from the players and staff on what they feel will take the offense into another orbit. "At the end of the day, work together with everyone. I think that includes the coaching staff, obviously coach Garrett and the rest of his staff. I think you also got to get some input from the players. It doesn't mean you have to go down those roads all the time, but I think it's important that when a player believes in something and they're pretty convinced on it, usually they find a way to make it work," Kellen Moore said.
With a season already under his belt with Prescott, and an open-minded first-year offensive coordinator willing to abandon the prehistoric ways of the Scott Linehan era, Gallup's development will only improve with each snap.
Unlike the beginning of his rookie season, Michael Gallup knows exactly what his role with the Cowboys is going forward. Amari Cooper is the main option, and with him drawing double teams regularly, the opportunities for Gallup to have a major impact in year two are endless. Not to mention, the added addition of Randall Cobb to the Cowboys passing game just made life even easier for him. Now teams not only have to roll coverage to Cooper, but the threat of Cobb in the slot creates a lot of one-on-ones on the outside for Gallup.
The size, speed, and athleticism are all there for this young man. Now, with a more innovative offensive scheme coming into play, and growing trust between himself and Dak Prescott, the 2019 season is shaping up to make Michael Gallup a household name.
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