Over the years the Dallas Cowboys have scoured the football world looking for talent to fill out their roster. We have become accustomed to seeing athletic standouts from interesting backgrounds in basically every training camp the Cowboys have held the past few seasons.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft after a productive career for small school football program IUP. Akwasi played cornerback and safety in college, but he was electrifying on special teams. This was the safety that I thought would finally change the position for the Cowboys, but it never materialized as I had hoped. The Jacksonville Jaguars picked him up after we released him last year, but the Cowboys have recently re-signed him in hopes of turning up the heat at the safety position.
In 2010 they signed track star Teddy Williams in hopes of developing his speed into a weapon on the football field. Williams had a promising training camp at cornerback but didn't make the 53-man roster and was released. The front office still had high hopes and signed him to the practice squad where he was moved to wide receiver. He played an important role on the scout team because his speed is similar to DeSean Jackson's.
This free agent rookie draft class is shaping up to be one of the most talented groups in recent memory. Every player signed brings a unique quality to the team. One player is making the transition from defensive end to inside linebacker. Does he have what it takes to make the roster?
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Whiteside generated some draft buzz after a very good career at Abilene Christian University. He played defensive end at just 6'2 and 260 pounds. In his four-year career Whiteside produced 135 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 57.5 tackles for loss, 7 forced fumbles and 6 blocked kicks. Even though he is playing against competition that isn't the best, Whiteside dominated whoever he faced. When looking at small school prospects, you want to see a prospect who took care of business on his level and Whiteside did that.
He comes from a good pedigree and has some relatives playing in the NFL. Cincinnati Bengals running back Bernard Scott and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Clyde Gates are his cousins. Whiteside hopes to make it in the NFL like the rest of his family has.
I had to do some homework on him before I could judge what we had in him. It was very difficult to find film that focused on Whiteside, but I did come across a video today on www.dcfanatic.com. Hat tip to DCFanatic because he does a fantastic job of uploading any Dallas Cowboys related material he can get his hands on.
Understand that this is a highlight video and anybody can look outstanding in one. Part of the problem with evaluating small school prospects is that usually their only footage comes in the highlight variety. Whiteside is an undersized defensive end, but he shows some good pass rushing ability in a lot of his sacks. The Cowboys plan on playing him at inside linebacker due to his lack of size. Whiteside will have an opportunity in training camp to win a job, but he will face some competition from Caleb McSurdy and Orie Lemon.
What I like about Whiteside is that he has pass rushing ability and decent athleticism. He may be one of those cases where he doesn't time well (4.88 40 yard dash, 33 inch vertical, 7.39 three-cone drill) but is a solid football player who can make plays. His versatility is something that can be utilized by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Whiteside was originally recruited to play linebacker for ACU.
"He didn't play a lot of defense in high school," Johns said. "But he was a really good athlete. He went to regionals in the shot put and hurdles. A unique combination. We knew he was going to be a big kid and took him hoping he could grow into a linebacker, but knowing if he didn't, he could probably be a tight end or fullback."
"We got him here, and it was obvious his calling was at defensive end as a pass rusher," Johns said. "He's one that slipped under the radar (for other teams). We were blessed to get him here."
It does make sense that the Cowboys are having him play inside linebacker because of his lack of size to play on the defensive line in the 3-4. If he did flame out at linebacker, I wouldn't mind keeping him on the practice squad for a year to beef him up and move him back to the defensive line. I have my doubts to whether he can ever be a productive linebacker in the NFL due to his lack of overall speed, but Whiteside has the passion and hunger that is generally associated with the RKG Jason Garrett looks for.
"It is my ultimate dream," Whiteside said of the NFL. "I can play whatever they need me to play. I can play defensive end. I can play linebacker. Just give me a chance. That's all I want. I will give 110 percent effort into each game to show that I can play at the next level."
If he is willing to put in the work, then I am willing to give this kid a chance. His head coach at ACU spoke very highly of him.
"He is an impact player who has been a real leader for our program," Thomsen said. "He is a guy who people can depend on, a guy who will show up every day and work hard to do the right things."
"He has some NFL tools. He has great change of direction and a good burst. To me, he is just a football player, and they will find a place in the NFL for football players."
In the highlight video above, you will notice that Whiteside has a talent for blocking kicks. Perhaps the best chance for him to make the roster is by utilizing his talents on special teams. Playing on the special teams unit is something that not every young football player is willing to do, but Whiteside clearly has the hunger to do whatever it takes to make it in the NFL. This is another project, but this is the type of project that could develop into a decent football player if he works hard and is given a chance.
Next time on Dallas Cowboys Projects: Andre Holmes