Here we are on another Sunday without Dallas Cowboys football, which means we are closer to the Cowboys arriving in Oxnard for their 2018 training camp. Scheduled to do just that on July 24th, it's not too early to predict which players will emerge as favorites for both starting and backup jobs through camp.
Today, we're focusing on backup players -- or those with the potential to be backups. Every year, Cowboys Nation attaches themselves to long shot players that show out in both practice and preseason games.
When these players find themselves looking for a home outside of America's Team early in the fall, their "pet owners" can be rather devastated. Below, I've made my picks for not who I'm picking as my annual pet cats, but for two players that I can see Cowboys fans hyping up in just a few short weeks.
Offense: Running Back Bo Scarbrough
Take this one to your local sports book (and don't tell them I sent you). Ever since establishing the best offensive line in the league, the Cowboys have enjoyed a consistency in the running game strengthened by the depth of their backfield. Of course, not every running back can fully live out their dream of playing for the Cowboys each season, despite fan allegiance for the likes of Gus Johnson or Jahad Thomas.
This year, seventh round pick Bo Scarbrough feels destined for this role. Having already played inside AT&T Stadium as the latest featured back for Alabama, Scarbrough slid to the Cowboys final pick of the draft due to his limitations in the passing game and on special teams.
With Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Darius Jackson as capable pass catchers at RB, it will be the Cowboys special teams unit that Scarbrough must find a role in to earn a roster spot. Contributions on special teams may go under the radar through the preseason, compared to the bruising runs that Scarbrough is capable of, but a marriage of the two against live competition will give the Cowboys yet another weapon to add on offense.
Should the Cowboys have to move on from Scarbrough, they'll have the rest of the league looking back at their notes from this draft on if he can provide depth in the backfield.
Defense: Safety Tyree Robinson
If you'd like a member of the Cowboys coaching staff to share in the same excitement as we all do for training camp to begin, look no further than new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard.
Richard's presence with the Cowboys young secondary sets expectations for this unit sky-high, despite some concerns at safety.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier should all be locks to make this team at safety and compete for starter-level snaps. All three players will factor into the Cowboys plans on both defense and special teams.
When it comes to true play making ability at safety though, Oregon UDFA Tyree Robinson has the traits to stick with the Cowboys as an outsider to this secondary. With six interceptions over four seasons as a starter for the Ducks, Robinson is a rangy safety that's quick to diagnose plays in front of him.
It will take a near perfect training camp and preseason run for Robinson -- or any of these depth pieces at CB and S -- to make the Cowboys final 53-man roster. Let's face it though, preseason football can be boring at times, and Robinson could provide the spark for Rod Marinelli's defense to make things interesting at any point.
Enough plays with the ball in his hands or ball carrier on the ground because of him, and Robinson will gain traction as a player worth considering over other unproven options at safety.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys begin their preseason in California once again, lining up on August 8th against the San Francisco 49ers. These four quarters alone will be a dream for plenty of players that miss the cut with the Cowboys, although not all roster trimming moves are created equally.
As the intensity of these preseason games increases, and the Cowboys begin to resemble the team they'll field in Carolina to start the regular season, players that the fans have been cheering on for months will become an afterthought.
Such is life in the NFL, surely something even the most loyal of Cowboys fans realize, despite grooming their pet cats each year without fail -- or results for the most part.
Maliek Collins on the Verge of a Breakout Season
Maliek Collins has never lacked any ability on the field just the ability to stay on it. Foot and knee injuries have always seemed to get in the way when he's been on the brink of reaching his potential.
2019 is a contract year for Collins which means it's the most critical season of his young career. He hasn't wasted any time, though, showing what he's capable of when he doesn't have any physical limitations.
Maliek Collins beats Connor William's with a swim move in 2v2s https://t.co/prL9GsG1rY
In the first video above, Collins gets a great burst off the line of scrimmage while he simultaneously gets his hands on Connor Williams first. He controls and pushes him right into Dak Prescott's face, forcing a throw out of bounds. On the next video, he again explodes off the ball and uses a great swim move to beat Williams again in 2 on 2 drills.
His dominance hasn't been limited to training camp practice, however, as evident in his performance this past Saturday in albeit a short amount of action.
These next two plays stand out for me specifically. In the first, he uses a very physical spin move that knocks the left guard off balance and puts him right in the quarterback's face. In a league that focuses on quarterbacks getting the ball out quickly, the sooner you can provide pressure from the interior the harder it is for a quarterback to stay in the pocket and throw effectively. In the next play, he utilizes a swim move after a quick jump off the line and is right in the face of the runner as he and Jaylon Smith combine for a TFL (tackle for loss).
Beautiful TFL for Maliek Collins. Swims inside the LG on the zone concept to get penetration. Quickly flattens, latches onto Henderson's jersey and drags him to the ground. Outstanding grip strength #Cowboys. https://t.co/6ZnpKSVsRv
Collins performing at a high level in 2019 doesn't just benefit him but also rookie Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill. While he's still acquiring the tools needed for the pro level under the guidance of Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli he can watch and learn from Collins as he'll be right behind him as the team's backup 3-technique defensive tackle. Hill is probably still a year away from being a big contributor with Collins looking so refreshed and healthy so this is a great time to gain all the knowledge he can from a veteran. If that learning process comes along quickly, the Cowboys will have a very solid one-two punch alongside Antwaun Woods, the starter at the 1-technique.
Health, at least so far, seems to be on the side of Maliek Collins heading into the 2019 season, which is all he's ever lacked. Motivated by the opportunity to maximize his dollars for 2020, and a rookie being drafted at the same position, I look for Collins to not only have a breakout year but one that could garner a pro bowl nod, or at least be heavy in the conversation, which would mean great things for the Cowboys defensive front.
Cowboys Nation Mailbag: What about Taco Charlton and Ezekiel Elliott?
The 2019 regular season is now less than three weeks away and now is the time when we start getting down to the nitty-gritty. The "dress rehearsal" game is coming this Saturday as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Houston Texans and a lot of the 53-man roster will likely be decided after that game.
As we inch closer to the regular season, the contract status for the Dallas Cowboys' newest version of the triplets and the construction of the 53-man roster will have even greater emphasis in the news.
Thanks for your questions this week. Let's did into this week's Cowboys Nation Mailbag.
How long until all of cowboys twitter completely turns on Zeke? Like immediately after pollards first long td run or????
— E.D.I.T.H. (@cashfeen) August 19, 2019
I guess it depends on what segment of Cowboys Twitter you're talking about.
Contract situations and hold outs always create some tension within the fanbase. They expect players to show up for work as they do. You hear people talk about Elliott fulfilling the agreement of his contract. But what people don't understand is that rookie contracts and the rookie salary scale was negotiated by players already in the league to avoid rookies making Sam Bradford type money. The veterans and to some extent the owners didn't like the idea that rookies could hold out of training camp to negotiate their first contract.
So, when Ezekiel Elliott was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was locked into a contract length (including a team option for a fifth season) and a salary and bonus for the length of that contract.
The other thing to consider is that Elliott is doing exactly what the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do. Though the Dallas Cowboys can fine him, Elliott is permitted by the CBA to seek a contract extension after the third season of his rookie contract, just like you saw Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints do earlier this summer.
I get that fans are frustrated by the idea of a player "not honoring his contract," but in the NFL, that's the way football goes. The owners don't always honor the contracts they've agreed to, cutting a player with guaranteed money left on his deal because his play might have dropped off or simply because he doesn't warrant the cap hit.
But as Mike Leslie of WFAA recently pointed out on Twitter, our jobs aren't like NFL jobs.
There are a lot of folks that understand that there is a business side to all of this. The players, the coaches, and a large segment of Cowboys Nation all understand where Ezekiel Elliott is coming from. Even the "running backs don't matter" truthers aren't throwing Ezekiel Elliott under the bus for holding out for a new contract.
As I've said before, don't get mad at Ezekiel Elliott or even the Dallas Cowboys for the current state of his contract negotiations. Get mad at the Los Angeles Rams for setting a precedent that Ezekiel Elliott is attempting to take advantage of.
Ezekiel Elliott is only doing what's permitted by the CBA. Though the negotiations continue to drag on, there's still three weeks left till the start of the regular season, which is plenty of time to get a deal done.
Until this holdout lasts until the regular season, you shouldn't worry.
Actually John, I do have a question. I haven't reviewed film from Saturday yet (that's my Tuesday deal each week of the season), but your take on Taco? I thought he had maybe his best preseason game in some time. Enough to secure a spot?
— Marlon C Taylor (@MarlonCTaylor) August 19, 2019
Taco Charlton has done some nice things in the preseason thus far. He's been able to create pressure, and by Bobby Belt's splash metric, Taco Charlton is leading the team.
Cowboys leaders in disruptions (sack, TFL, QB hit, INT, PD, FF) through two preseason games:
1. Taco Charlton - 4
2. Donovan Olumba - 3
t3. Ricky Walker - 2
t3. Kerry Hyder - 2
t3. Trysten Hill - 2
t3. Joe Jackson - 2
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) August 19, 2019
Obviously, this isn't the only way to evaluate talent, but it does give an indication that Taco Charlton has been good this preseason. I've long believed that Taco was going to make the 53-man roster for the sheer fact that he was a first-round draft pick. That may not be a good enough reason for some, but he's a player that the Dallas Cowboys won't give up on lightly. He's doing enough at this point in the preseason to warrant another year.
Cutting Taco Charlton in 2019 actually costs you money. It would cost the Dallas Cowboys roughly $3.5 million in 2019, but they could save $1.3 million in 2020. It's not likely that the Cowboys will pick up his fifth-year rookie option, which would be for 2021. Financially, the only move that would make sense is a trade, which would cost the Dallas Cowboys only $1.3 million in dead money.
While I think Taco Charlton is a player that is destined for the 53-man roster, with reports that DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are about to be activated from the physically unable to perform (P.U.P) list, it may come down to a numbers game at defensive end.
Players like Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Kerry Hyder, and even Jalen Jelks may have something to say about Taco Charlton's spot on the 53-man roster, but I believe they give him another year to prove he's worth retaining.
PFF Ranks Dak Prescott As Tier 3, 17th Overall Quarterback
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the subject of constant debate around the football world. Now that it's getting time to pay him, those debates are even hotter.
As I discussed last week, Prescott has been much better than he's often given credit for, though the narrative continues to be that he is carried by his offensive line and rushing attack.
Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 starting quarterbacks heading into the 2019 season, placing them both in tiers, and in traditional order as well. Prescott clocked in at 17th overall on their list, listed as a tier 3 NFL starting quarterback.
"Tier 3: Volatile or conservative quarterbacks whose production will rely even more heavily on supporting cast and play calling. Tier 3 quarterbacks can post top-10 production in any given year in the right situation."
The other quarterbacks listed in Prescott's tier include Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton, all ranked in front of him. Prescott is ahead of a couple of tier 3 passers as well, though, including Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr.
"Even with his added rushing ability, Prescott has settled in as a mid-tier quarterback whose production is more dependent on his supporting cast, and this will be a big year to see if he can get back to his rookie levels of efficiency."
Personally, I'd rank Prescott ahead of a decent number of those tier 3 quarterbacks, such as Stafford and Cousins. Overall, though, it's tough to have too big an issue with their assessment of Prescott and the Cowboys offense. He has been somewhat up-and-down during his time as the Cowboys starter, and saw a big spike in his play when given Amari Cooper as a weapon in the passing game a year ago.
While the entire fanbase is hopeful that he will improve on his mechanics and decision making under new leadership on offense, we can't bank on that happening just yet.
Still, Dak Prescott has looked excellent this preseason, and should be poised for a career year in 2019. I think there's a good chance he finds himself closer to Wentz and Watson on these types of rankings than Carr and Stafford by this time next season.
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