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Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?

Sean Martin

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Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?

The Dallas Cowboys' defense is set to look entirely different than it did a year ago, with all of the buzz on Rod Marinelli's side of the ball being generated by young and exciting draft picks like Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, or Marquez White.

The Cowboys' rookie class of 2016 performed so well that the seemingly bold proposition of expecting all these new starters - especially in the secondary - to gel together instantly is warranted. Helping in these young player's transition will be some defensive centerpieces like Sean Lee and Byron Jones.

With LB Sean Lee being a finished product in terms of his development and sustainability, and Byron having also already taken great strides with his game at FS, the question of "who will actually be the Cowboys' most improved defender this season?" is a fascinating one.

My Pick: Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins

Maliek Collins, Redskins

DT Maliek Collins (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Interestingly enough, my decision for this spot came down to two players at the same position - with Maliek Collins beating out veteran and second-year Cowboy Cedric Thornton. Going with a true second-year player reinforces the youth movement for Dallas defensively, and Maliek Collins is set up for a monster season.

Collins emerged as a third round pick to become the Cowboys' starting three technique in 2016, effectively leaving the highly paid Tyrone Crawford without a position. This 3T spot is the focal point of Rod Marinelli's scheme, so finding a younger and more athletic starter there this past season was hardly a negative.

Tyrone Crawford ended up moving to LDE as Collins took hold of the 3T DT spot, a position that I now expect to be filled in 2017 by first-round pick Taco Charlton. This means that the penetrating and rangy athlete in Collins will have even more opportunities to flash playing alongside some rotation of Crawford, Thornton, FA addition Stephen Paea, and eventually David Irving.

All of these tackles should be terrific compliments to Collins, as they'll technically be lining up as the one technique next to Maliek - yet all have the ability to get into the backfield and make plays.

Collins logged more snaps than any of the Cowboys' defensive linemen last season, making up quickly for the time he lost during OTAs and training camp recovering from a broken foot. An injury that was once thought to likely limit Collins' rookie contributions, the Nebraska product translated his college game to the next level with ease.

Beating guards with quickness and power comes easy for Collins, who has taken full advantage of a healthy offseason so far by reportedly continuing to make plays in practice, even against the best guard in football Zack Martin.

When it comes to areas of improvement for Collins in 2017, I'd like to see Maliek transition into his counter moves faster to cleanly beat blockers and chase down plays. The down-the-line efforts from Collins certainly weren't a problem in his rookie campaign, but there were enough snaps where #96 was around the ball but getting stacked up or turned thanks to his initial get off being held inside.

Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017? 1

(Paul Spinelli via AP)

To even be talking about a very technical refinement like this for a second-year defensive linemen that will be entering his first training camp with the Cowboys is an amazing feat, especially considering Maliek Collins' draft status.

The Dallas Cowboys' pass rush may not improve vastly this season, but they certainly have no shortage of athletes at all four positions now, led by a natural and developing 3T DT in Maliek Collins.

Tell us what you think about "Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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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5 Comments
  • Dustin Harweger

    I’ve got to go with the g.o.a.t Jeff Heath. He should finally get his chance to start and fully show his ability. Even tho his snaps will be fewer than Maliek or even Byron (due to heaths ST snaps) I believe he will show he belongs and develop into a playmaker and star for this Defense. I can’t wait!

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      This is a really good pick actually, Dustin. Like you, I am fully expecting Heath to take a big step up and not only earn the snaps he deserves but make the most of them by helping this entire secondary make more plays on the ball. Going to be a lot of fun, thanks for reading!

      (If you’re interested, I wrote more on Heath as well right here: https://insidethestar.com/cowboys-properly-evaluate-jeff-heath-offseason/)

  • John Williams

    I agree with you Sean. Maliek will be the force we’ve been looking for in the middle since the witch to the 4-3.

    My honorable mention is Anthony Brown. His 2016 has me psyched for 2017.

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      I legitimately think Brown doesn’t have many areas that he needs to improve on, he’ll only need to repeat his 2016 performance to do his job. Which is why I went with Collins. Love the honorable mention though.

      • John Williams

        Yeah, I agree with Collins, but also think he showed a ton in the second half of 2016. He even has me interested in seeing him and Crawford line up next to each other on passing downs to get the best out of their best 3-techs.

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Cowboys en Español: ¿Dónde Tiene Que Mejorar Dallas?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Jaguars

El mejor juego de los Dallas Cowboys en 2018 vino la semana pasada, cuando recibieron a los Jacksonville Jaguars y los vencieron 40-7. Un resultado que tomó a todos por sorpresa demostró la mejor cara en el año de este equipo que apenas tiene un récord de 3-3.

Por más dominantes que se vieron en el emparrillado el domingo pasado, esa actuación no termina de reflejar lo que realmente son los Cowboys. Son un equipo con potencial en la ofensiva y con una defensiva bastante fuerte, pero ¿pueden ganar constantemente como lo hicieron contra Jaguars?

De entrada, la respuesta a esta pregunta parece ser no. Aún en esa victoria, se vieron problemas evidentes en la ofensiva. Para empezar, la falta de ejecución en la segunda mitad en series ofensivas que incluso llegaron a iniciar en territorio enemigo. De gol de campo en gol de campo se juntan puntos, sin duda, pero en partidos cerrados eso termina costando victorias. Hace falta que Dak Prescott y compañía puedan mover el balón una vez en rango de gol de campo y convertir esas oportunidades a touchdowns.

Otra preocupación que no podemos subestimar es que el juego aéreo sigue sin funcionar apropiadamente. Cole Beasley dominó con nueve atrapadas para 101 yardas y dos touchdowns, pero el resto de los receptores se fueron sin  más de una recepción por cabeza. El único jugador que logró más de una fue el TE Geoff Swaim, quien se llevo dos en todo el juego.

Si bien Beasley tuvo uno de los mejores juegos en su carrera, más receptores tienen que involucrarse para llevar la ofensiva al siguiente nivel. La buena noticia es que en esta ocasión se enfrentaron contra una de las mejores secundarias en la NFL. Los números son malos, pero tienen la oportunidad de demostrar mucho más contra otras defensivas.

Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que repartir más la bola y seguir buscando maneras creativas de utilizar a su RB Ezekiel Elliott. Pases pantallas en tercera y largo no es ser creativo. Lo vemos funcionar dos o tres veces al año pero mandan esta jugada semanalmente. En cuanto a Dak Prescott, hay mucho donde mejorar. Deberíamos estar viendo pases más arriesgados, al centro del campo y mucho mejor posicionados.

Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

Para la defensiva, las cosas se ven muy bien. Puede que veamos la mejor versión de esta unidad esta semana, cuando viajen a Washington. Maliek Collins, Sean Lee, David Irving, y Randy Gregory estarán jugando mucho más sanos y preparados. Este es un frente defensivo lleno de talento que intimidará constantemente a Alex Smith este domingo.

A pesar de que los Redskins no tienen una ofensiva muy explosiva, el área de oportunidad principal para la defensiva de Cowboys está en la profundidad defensiva. Tanto Jeff Heath como Xavier Woods han hecho un trabajo decente, pero tienen sus momentos en los que no logran asegurar una tackleada y permiten jugadas largas.

Hace unos meses no esperábamos que fuera la defensiva y no la ofensiva la que cargaría a este equipo a muchas victorias, pero ese ha sido el caso en las tres victorias de esta temporada. Y en las tres derrotas, la defensiva fue la que mantuvo a los Cowboys en el juego.

Sin duda alguna, lo que tiene que mejorar es la ofensiva. Los receptores tienen que desmarcarse, Prescott debe ser más preciso y tener una mejor conciencia en la bolsa de protección.

Pero sobre todo, es la inconsistencia del equipo. Esto se comienza a sentir como la temporada del año pasado, cuando los Cowboys se fueron 9-7 y nunca terminaron de establecerse como contendientes a los playoffs. Aún en una NFC East donde todos los equipos tienen récords similares y débiles, no pueden continuar perdiendo una semana y  ganando a la otra.

Ganarle a los Redskins sería la primera victoria de Dallas jugando de visita. También sería la primera vez en el año en la que tendrían victorias consecutivas. Por esto y muchas otras razones, incluyendo el potencial liderato de la división, este juego es de suma importancia.

Si ganan, podría ser el momento en el que los Cowboys terminen de darle la vuelta a la página y si pierden, podría ser un indicador de que esta temporada será igual que la del 2017.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: ¿Dónde Tiene Que Mejorar Dallas?" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL 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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Time to get FB Jamize Olawale More Involved Offensively?

Brian Martin

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Time to get FB Jamize Olawale More Involved Offensively?

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off arguably their best and most complete offensive performance of the season after playing the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, but there is still quite a bit of improvement that can be made. The need to get more playmakers involved is apparent, which is why I think it's time to utilize Fullback Jamize Olawale's unique skill set.

I know many of you will argue that getting Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup going is a higher priority, and you wouldn't be wrong, but Jamize Olawale's playmaking ability could be a huge asset for Quarterback Dak Prescott and the offense. I know it sounds a little strange, but hang in there with me for little bit.

As things stand right now, Olawale has only played 38 offensive snaps (10%) in 2018. That's the exact amount of offensive plays Wide Receiver Terrance Williams has played this year and he's missed the majority of the season. It's not exactly the kind of production I was expecting when the Cowboys decided to bring him aboard via trade with the Oakland Raiders earlier this offseason.

I don't know about you, but I was expecting Olawale to be more involved in the offensive game plan. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and isn't too shabby as a runner either. But, we haven't seen him utilized in either fashion this season and I think that's an injustice that needs to be corrected.

Now, I fully understand there are other offensive weapons ahead of him in the pecking order who need to see more targets, but I also really think he can make a difference maker, especially in the passing game. That is where his strengths lie, not as a lead blocking fullback.

Jamize Olawale

Dallas Cowboys FB Jamize Olawale

Olawale was a bit of a Swiss Army knife during his time with the Oakland Raiders. He played a little running back, fullback, tight end, and even a little slot receiver. I really thought the Cowboys would take advantage of his versatility in the passing game, but as of yet they have failed to do so.

I'd like to see the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan utilize Jamize Olawale's unique playmaking ability a little bit more on offense. I think they should try to utilize him like the San Francisco 49ers use their fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. He's much more involved and has played a total of 263 offensive snaps (63.68%) this year.

Juszczyk is a better lead blocking FB then Olawale, but that's not where he makes the most difference in the 49ers offense. He does it as a receiver and has already caught 17 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. That's some pretty solid production from a position that is being phased out in the NFL.

Now, just imagine the Cowboys offense getting similar production from Olawale and how that would help open up things for everybody else. It's not out of the realm of possibility because the 49ers offense and the Cowboys isn't all that dissimilar.

Unfortunately, I think Jamize Olawale is pretty much an afterthought in the Cowboys offense right now. It's truly unfortunate because I think he can be a difference maker if given the opportunity. And with a division foe like the Washington Redskins next on the schedule, what better time to unleash a new and unseen element of the offense?

Do you think Jamize Olawale needs to be more involved offensively?



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Cole Beasley Key to Cowboys Passing Game Productivity?

Brian Martin

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Jaguars 1

What most of us already knew was confirmed last Sunday afternoon against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wide Receiver Cole Beasley is the Dallas Cowboys best receiver and is the key to the passing game productivity. He is not only the most productive, but the most consistent.

Cole Beasley isn't the tallest or the fastest and definitely doesn't look like a prototypical NFL receiver, but he showed last week against the Jaguars why opposing defenses have to account for him on every single play. He torched Jacksonville's top-ranked passing defense for 101 yards on nine catches and added two touchdowns, and it's that production that could help open up the entire passing game for the Cowboys.

It's painfully obvious Cole Beasley has been Dak Prescott's favorite target in the passing game since he took over the starting duties in 2016. Once opposing defenses figured that out they started to make things extremely difficult by bracketing Beasley in coverage and the passing game hasn't been the same since. But, that could be changing if the Jaguars game was an indication of what we might see moving forward.

Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan did a much better job of moving Beasley around to create favorable matchups against the Jaguars. I think we will see much more of that moving forward, but that likely means opposing defenses will once again try to take away Prescott's favorite target. That actually could end up helping the Cowboys passing game though.

Dak Prescott, Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

If opposing defenses indeed try to contain Cole Beasley like they've done in the past, it should help provide more opportunities for Dallas' other pass catchers. Spreading the ball around to several different receivers would not only help Prescott and the passing game, but also open up the entire offense.

We haven't really seen much of Allen Hurns or Michael Gallup this season, but both are more than capable of being more productive if they are seeing single coverage more often. That's what's likely to happen if defenses bracket Beasley in coverage once again. Both WRs need to be more involved anyway and Beasley's recent spike in production could help do just that.

Now, if defenses decide to try and cover Beasley one-on-one like the Jaguars did quite a bit of last Sunday, the Cowboys would be wise to take advantage of that mismatch. He simply can't be covered by a single defensive back because of his precise route running ability. He is that good.

Regardless of how opposing defenses try to handle/contain Cole Beasley, he is without a doubt key to the Dallas Cowboys passing game productivity. Just the threat of him on the field changes a defenses approach, which is why he is Dallas' #1  WR in my book. He absolutely has to be more involved moving forward, even if it is as a decoy.

Do you think Cole Beasley is the key to the Cowboys passing game productivity?



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