The devastating knee injury Sean Lee suffered has overshadowed just about anything else that has happened during the Dallas Cowboys OTAs. But there are several other players who have missed practice time, mostly because they are recovering from injury themselves. Quite a few of the players taking no or reduced snaps are ones that would normally be working with the first team. And every play they miss is an opportunity for someone else to make his case before the coaches as to why he should have a spot on the roster or a bigger role on the team.
Not everyone makes the most of these chances, but Bryan Broaddus at DallasCowboys.com listed some names that have stood out.
In my opinion, this has been an outstanding three weeks for
DeMarcus Lawrencein the opening stages of his development. With projected starter Jeremy Minceynursing an injury, Lawrence has taken full advantage of the situation getting valuable snaps against Tyron Smith.
This is excellent news. Dallas, of course, invested a lot to move up in the second round and draft Lawrence, so this is basically a way to improve the chances of getting a good return on the investment. Working against Smith can only help his development, the way Smith's own battles against DeMarcus Ware accelerated his maturation.
Although Mincey is the presumptive starter, I don't think anyone would be heartbroken if Lawrence should leapfrog him. It may not be as important with the plan for coming at the opposition in waves, but no matter who is going to be the designated starter, any improvement in Lawrence's ability is pure gold.
Matt Johnsonon the field, Jakar Hamiltonhas been running with the second defense and to his credit has been turning heads with his play. There have been several snaps where he has been in perfect position to knock balls down in coverage.
There is absolutely no real faith that the Great Unicorn of Valley Ranch, a.k.a. Johnson, will ever actually see a regular season NFL snap. Hope, perhaps, but we have been there before. Hamilton has a great chance to become a badly needed insurance policy in what is still a rather weak unit for the Cowboys. He did get experience in three games last season and could make a serious argument that he should be in more in 2014.
Nick Hayden, Ken Bishophas been getting plenty of work with the first defense. Matter of fact, Bishop has been working with Terrell McClaininside and both have done a quality job of handling things in the middle. McClain has been filling in for Henry Melton, who will be back for training camp.
At first glance, the news that three of the four defensive linemen seeing the most work with the first team are not the players that were anticipated to start could be alarming. But it is also a great chance to build the depth that was so nonexistent last season. The team really likes Hayden, but I still would not shed one tear if he was to be pushed down the depth chart by BIshop. McClain has gotten some of the best reviews for his work on the line. With Melton's injury status this could well be the most important backup spot the team has, at least on defense.
Brandon Weedenhas been more than efficient running the offense in the absence of Tony Romo. With Kyle Ortondeciding to sit these camps out, it has given Weeden even more snaps with the first offense which has allowed him to knock some rust off his game.
This, of course, is the most important backup job of all. With Romo's history of back problems, there is no telling when Weeden might be asked to step in (hopefully on a very temporary basis, of course). Frankly, I am not convinced that a motivated Weeden is not a better deal than a disgruntled Orton. It is difficult to say what Weeden is really capable of since he was involved in a bit of a train wreck with the Cleveland Browns, but every indication is that he is not only glad to be with the Cowboys but eager to take every advantage of the situation that he can. He is even on a two year deal, which might prevent the discontent that Orton apparently has with his three year contract, should Weeden blossom without the pressure he was under as a starter.
The Mike linebacker is still a big question, of course, but it is nice to know that so many other players are capitalizing on the chance they are getting while other players are working their way back into shape. The overall lack of depth at so many defensive positions underlay all the problems the team suffered through. The extra work for so many players slotted to be backups might pay some large dividends when they are needed to step up. That may be to fill in for an injured player, or it may be to become the starter at the end of training camp, but whichever way it goes, the team can only benefit from what these players are learning as they get some extra time now.