Although the debut season for the rookie class of 2012 was less than auspicious, several members of this group now stand ready to make a bold mark on the Dallas Cowboys during the upcoming season. For the most part this group did not see the field during their rookie year, although some did see limited action toward the end of the season. This group of "redshirt rookies" are now set to prove their worth to the Cowboys faithful. Back with a vengeance, they are going to make a significant statement on the field. Two of them are already in the mix to be potential starters, two more will likely have key roles on defense.
Ron Leary: Undrafted free agent Ron Leary is the most likely to be in the starting lineup when the Giants and Cowboys square off on opening day. With returning starter Nate Livings missing all of the early offseason activities, Leary has been filling in with the first team. By all accounts, he has acquitted himself quite well. Reports from everyone covering the OTA's and minicamp indicate that Ron has picked up on the mental side of his job, which was the area he struggled with last season. He has been dealing with stunts and twists in a way that has not been seen often in Dallas over the past few years. That by itself upgrades the whole Dallas offensive outlook and unless something dramatic happens in Oxnard, Ron Leary has put himself in the drivers seat to be the left guard.
Matt Johnson: The other guy who might have a shot at taking away a starting slot is Matt Johnson, although his is a long shot to start on opening day. He came into the league with a lot of hype but, outside of a dozen snaps in preseason, the only action he saw was on the trainer's table. After finally seeing Matt get extended practice time, cornerback Brandon Carr told the Dallas Morning News "I finally saw what the hype was all about". Unlike Leary, Matt has spent OTA's working with the second team as the understudy to free agent acquisition Will Allen. Barring a performance like Barry Church gave a year ago, I suspect Johnson will remain with the twos for a little longer. By the end of the season, I expect he will be the starter. In the meantime you can expect he will have a significant part to play as he takes his place on the stage in Dallas.
Tyrone Crawford and Benn Bass: Two guys who will find themselves with key roles in the defensive line rotation are Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass. Crawford, a third round draft pick in 2012, struggled early and saw only limited action. During the voluntary activities this year, however, he has run extensively with the ones as Dallas has limited starter Anthony Spencer's work. According to published accounts, Crawford has been holding his own. Even Spencer, the man who Tyrone is striving to replace next season, has been singing his praises and mentoring the young man. Bass, obviously the 90th man on the preseason roster last year, has really come on. In fact he may be the guy from the class of 2012 who has improved the most in a year. He is not a threat to unseat veterans Jason Hatcher or Jay Ratliff this season, but he has proven himself at least a minor beast as well. During OTA's it seemed that every other tweet from Bryan Broaddus was about Ben Bass. He was getting to the QB, disrupting the run, and even forced an interception. Given the loss of Josh Brent and Robert Callaway, the time is right and Bass is seizing the opportunity.
Four guys who displayed little to nothing last year are making big splashes this summer. Although we will have to wait until camp to see the total effort, these four "redshirt rookies" are making a bold statement about their futures with the Cowboys. For them, hard work in the weight room and on the field, study in the film room, and the dedication Jason Garrett expects from his plays is beginning to pay off as they embark on a journey following The Way of the Rooster.