Training camp is when the established veterans hone their skills, but the most exciting part is always watching new players trying to earn their way onto the roster. For the Dallas Cowboys, there are already two names that have been generating a lot of buzz. If you read either the early take on Saturday’s camp action, or the extended report (and shame if you haven’t devoured both already), you will be able to name them: Sixth-round pick Anthony Brown and UDFA Andy Jones.
Brown is in an excellent spot to claim a job this year. He comes in as a draft pick, albeit a late one, but teams don’t like to admit they made a mistake on those. More importantly, he is a cornerback. The Cowboys look to be in excellent shape this year with the starters. Orlando Scandrick is back and looking at least as good as he was before missing 2015 to injury. Morris Claiborne has gotten nothing but high praise for his work so far, especially in frequent battles with star receiver Dez Bryant. And even Brandon Carr has looked much more like the player the team hoped to get when they paid so much to sign him as a free agent. But the backup positions are wide open. Deji Olatoye is the only other returning corner who would appear to be ahead of Brown on the depth chart - and with the way the rookie has been balling so far, that may no longer be true.
Cornerback is a position that is subject to violent collisions and awkward landings. Good depth is vital to make it through the sixteen game schedule. Brown has shown he is able to go up against the best the Cowboys can offer, and has already notched an interception against Tony Romo. With the crying need for more takeaways, that is not going to be overlooked. And Carr and Claiborne are both set to enter free agency after this season. Brown could become a starter next season if he continues to show the ability that has been in evidence this year. That gives him long-term value to go with his immediate impact as a backup. Not a bad combination to bring to the table when you are trying to make the team.
Jones is in a much tougher position as a wide receiver. The current depth chart would have Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Lucky Whitehead, and Brice Butler all ahead of him. And it is going to be difficult for the Cowboys to find room for a sixth wide receiver. Devin Street is also trying to earn a spot. Unlike Brown, Jones is probably going to have to wrest a spot away from one of the veterans. And as a UDFA, he does not have the advantages from having had a draft pick invested in him in winning a place on the 53-man roster.
But he is on a very good course to do just that. He has exhibited excellent hands so far in camp to go with a strong ability to get himself open. Look at the way he goes up and attacks the ball at his highest point here.
That is the kind of catch that makes offensive coaches drool. While Jones seems to lack really outstanding speed, he more than makes up for it with his other qualities. Whitehead, or even Butler may be at risk if the team decides it needs to find a place for Jones. And with the video evidence that he is accumulating, it would be very risky to try and get him through waivers to sign to the practice squad.
It is still early. A lot can happen, and there are likely to be other rookies and free agents who will make a splash in camp and preseason games, but right now, these two are drawing a lot of attention, in the best way. If they can maintain their trajectories to the end of camp, there is a good chance that both can earn that Star on their helmets.