In today's NFL, you are only as good as the depth of your team. In years past, the Dallas Cowboys would often find themselves a tad too top-heavy. It's important to have some star power especially at the positions of quarterback, wide receiver, pass rusher and more. Yet, it's equally imperative to have quality players behind them that can come in and contribute in a pinch.
Over the past two seasons, Dallas realized they needed a makeover in the depth department. Through Will McClay, Tom Ciskowski and Stephen Jones; the Cowboys are finally in a position where their depth can really help them achieve new heights as a team. Let's examine some players to keep an eye on that can really serve a bigger purpose for Dallas this season.
Let's get the elephant out of the room first. The Cowboys have spent numerous resources on bringing in a multitude of linebackers this offseason. With the amount of wear and tear the position takes over the course of the season, it's easy to see why. Last season, the Cowboys suffered quite a few injuries to their linebacker corps and kept ticking, but it's not the ideal position to roll the dice again on. So, Dallas added a few guys but the ones that intrigue me most are as follows:
Jasper Brinkley, MLB
Brinkley was one of Minnesota's best defenders last season and started 11 games. PFF graded him very highly and he jumps off the page as a run defender with a +7.7. The Cowboys brought him in and paid him what can be considered starting money, with all the unpredictable behavior of Rolando McClain, Dallas wanted to protect themselves. Brinkley has plenty of experience and has taken all the reps at middle linebacker thus far in OTA's and minicamp. Knowing just how McClain seems to loathe practicing, you can expect that Brinkley will be taking a lot of snaps in training camp and preseason. He had 74 tackles and a forced fumble last year, it's nice to know that the Cowboys will have a solid backup option should McClain miss time.
Damien Wilson, WLB
Though he mainly played the Mike position in college, Wilson probably translates better as the Will in the Cowboys scheme. His run and hit ability is a great trait for this defense and his ability to bait quarterbacks is uncanny for a rookie. I've always been pretty high on him and even had him as my number one player on day three of the draft. He reminds me a lot of what the Cowboys saw in Anthony Hitchens the year before. He's just a solid contributor that will be able to find time on the field due to his maturity. He's obviously my pet cat and I see him carving out a nice role for himself especially on special teams.
We are certainly far removed from starting 18 different guys on the defensive line as was the case a few years ago. The Cowboys knew there was a problem and they addressed it head on. With such importance and emphasis put on a solid rotation, Rod Marinelli will have a far superior pass rush this season. The Cowboys tend to go long at the position and there are few guys that can contribute quickly.
Jeremy Mincey, DT/DE
Last year's sack leader will be the first guy off the bench once Greg Hardy is cleared from his suspension. There is nothing wrong with that because it's actually a preferred method of his. Mincey has such great versatility and the Cowboys would have been lost without him at the end of last season. He's the type of player built to show up in the playoffs. He's also got some good leadership qualities that spread throughout the locker room. Mincey also did well by PFF standards and was the 16th highest rated 4-3 end. He'll be an asset for the Cowboys once again and will finally get to rush from the inside, where he claims to be comfortable.
Ben Gardner, DE
I expect some good things out of Gardner after red-shirting his first season. He's definitely got a huge fan base here in the forums of BTB. He's the typical overachiever-type that Marinelli loves and is a tempo setter. He's a very tough competitor that has some burst and quickness to his game. It's easy to love his competitiveness and work ethics but he is a bit undersized. He may be best suited as a run-stuffing left end but his short arms can get him into some trouble. He certainly showed up ready to compete and is in the best shape of his life currently. All around good player than can really serve a role for the Cowboys this season.
There are guys such as Terrell McClain, Chris Whaley, Ryan Russell, and Jack Crawford who could become candidates, too. However, these two are the names that jump out most.
The secondary has taken a lot of heat over the past few years. We've seen the steady improvement of Orlando Scandrick but also the spotty play of others that can cancel it out. However, with the acquisition of first-round selection Byron Jones, it has opened the door for some depth in the area. It is yet to be determined if Jones will play as a corner or safety but the competition will determine everything. Here's a few guys that should catch some attention early in camp:
Tyler Patmon, CB
Every time this guy finds the field, he makes plays. There's something to say about guys like him and they typically get more chances to shine. Patmon is probably best served as a dime cornerback but he just has a knack for breaking up passes. You always want good, disruptive defenders and Patmon can certainly fit that description. He's a bit undersized but he's a fighter and that's what is needed on this defense. His diagnosis and anticipation are what set him a part, plus he's got some deceptive speed. In his second year, it will be interesting to see if he can show that he's ready for more duties.
Corey White, CB/S
White comes from New Orleans where they couldn't wait to discard him. He deserves a bit more credit than he's been given for his efforts in New Orleans. White can play safety and is pretty darn good as a slot corner. He's also got nice range, speed and size for the both positions. He takes really good angles to the ball and is an able tackler. He was on a pretty bad secondary in New Orleans where he switched positions on a weekly basis. Maybe a change of scenery will suit him well.
Morris Claiborne, CB
Yes, he's been a disappointment thus far when you look at his draft status. I prefer to take the scouts and coaches approach of "if he's done it once, he can do it again." Claiborne has been slowed by various injuries to both his body and ego. Yet, Morris has been working diligently to return from a pretty tricky patella tendon injury. He's got ball skills and the pedigree to do something good for the Cowboys. If he can return to become a solid contributor in 2015, it would be a huge coup for this team. When players bet on themselves, some good things can come of it. He's taken the right approach thus far and we all hope he finally makes something of an NFL career. Just think how huge it would be if Claiborne can show flashes of what got him to the dance? Claiborne will most likely be eased into training camp but I know he has high aspirations this year. Good things can come from a desperate individual. Hopefully, Claiborne will get his groove back.
These are just a few guys to keep an eye on during training camp. With the Cowboys new-found depth in certain positions, it should go a long way in helping them build off a successful 2014. In the next part of the series, we will focus on some offensive guys that could add more firepower.