Competition is head coach Jason Garrett's favorite part of practice and with the organized practices set to begin, Garrett will get plenty of it. Every year we talk about breakout players and surprising contributors but usually it's this period of time that we begin to see who are the potential candidates to carry it over into training camp.
With the roster stacked to 90 players, it may be hard to differentiate and digest what we'll see, but I certainly have a few players in mind that are worth watching.
Greg Hardy, DE
Let's get the big elephant out of the room already. We've heard so much chatter this offseason from coaches and players alike discussing the intensity of "The Kraken." Well now it'll be time to see exactly what this man brings to the to the table in a practice setting. The Cowboys need a pass rusher and Hardy certainly fits the bill with his double-digit sack efforts. Currently Hardy is set to miss the first ten games but has an appeal scheduled for May 28th. With Harold Henderson set to arbitrate this case, we most likely will see this one head to the courts. In any case, when all is said and done, it's looking like Hardy will face anywhere from 2-6 games. All I know is that all eyes will be glued to the 280 lbs pass rusher as practices begin. From what we hear, Hardy has the right attitude and approach to this process. He even stated that his main goal is to make Jerry Jones happy, showing his Pro Bowl form will be a great start.
Byron Jones, CB
Ever since his name was called with the 27th selection in last month's draft, everyone wants to see if he can shed the workout-warrior label that some have prematurely given him. Jones is a freakish athlete but he certainly didn't disappoint in his rookie mini-camp performance. Now it's time to put him in one-on-one drills with veteran receivers and see how he fares. I've been told several times that what makes Jones so special is the lack of space he allows between himself and the receiver. The even more impressive part to his game is that he does that without creating unnecessary contact that will get him flagged. He also has all the intangibles of a intelligent playmaker. I want to see how he matches up against a Terrance Williams or Devin Street.
Devin Street, WR
Speaking of Devin Street, I'm really looking forward to seeing what one-year of NFL polish can do for the young man. Derek Dooley is supremely high on the player and believes he deserves more opportunity to shine. He will certainly get a lot of reps with Dez Bryant in contract-limbo. As I've said in my previous column, Street has a SPARQ score of 127.8 which when applied to this year's class would have had him as a Top 15 prospect at the position. He's got great hands and is Pitt's all-time leading receiver. There is a lot to like about him and from what I hear, he has bulked up a bit. Street looks to make a jump at being a more integral part of the offense and already has impressed coaches with his downfield blocking abilities. When the Cowboys lost Dwayne Harris, they lost a few tools in their Swiss Army knife, hopefully Street can help them recover a few.
Terrell McClain, DT
This guy has been mentioned a thousand times by Bryan Broaddus this offseason. It's always so subtle that I don't know if people pick up on his hints. Terrell McClain is my pick to win the starting one-technique job away from Nick Hayden. A good rotation between the two could fare well for the defense. McClain was slowed early last season with various injuries, but now that he's healthy, I would expect him to ramp it up in hopes to get more playing time. Broaddus talks about how much Marinelli would like to have a more athletic version of Nick Hayden, McClain can do that. He's also a little quicker than Hayden, which is a plus. Looking at their numbers from last year would seem to suggest that a steady rotation is better for both players:
|Player||Snaps||PFF Overall||Run Def.||Pass Def.||Sacks||Tackles|
McClain only played in half of the snaps that Hayden did, but McClain was beastly in both contests with the New York Giants. If McClain can get a leg-up in these practices, it would be a huge coup for their defensive line. There are talks about McClain's flexibility to play both the three and one. I'm all for flexibility but McClain has a real chance to start at the one.
Darren McFadden, RB
This is the one position that has the most people unsettled. When McFadden was brought in for only a $200,000 signing bonus, many thought he would just be a part of the solution. That may be the case but right now it seems as though the coaches and the front office have differing opinions. On one hand, the Jones' want to see if McFadden was just a product of a poor Oakland team. On the other, coaches want to see if Joseph Randle can step up and into the position. The Cowboys want to take the running-back-by-committee approach, but what if one of these guys is ready for the workload? McFadden is going to get every opportunity to be the lead back in this offense, I just hope that the confidence in him stems from his NFL abilities and not from what they saw at Arkansas many years ago. The running back battle will most likely be a long, contested match with many wrinkles thrown in.
DeMarcus Lawrence- There is a lot of whispers about his physical growth and menacing presence. You have to like what you hear.
Randy Gregory- He has a bit of weight to gain before he'll be as effective as needed. However, Gregory comes with some polished pass-rushing skills.
Lucky Whitehead, George Farmer, and Antwan Goodley- Dallas is looking for a returner. One of these guys might emerge, who is it going to be?
La'el Collins- He's got a nasty streak to him but he's going to have to earn his spot from Ronald Leary, who is equally nasty in his own right. It will certainly look nice seeing four first-round talents line up next to one another.