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Cowboys News: Standout Rookies And Veterans From Cowboys Three-Day Minicamp

Latest Cowboys headlines: Best offensive player from minicamp; best defensive player; best rookie; best veteran; best free-agent pickup; more.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

As Cowboys' offseason ends, Dez Bryant, Anthony Hitchens stand out - Todd Archer, ESPN
Must-read from Archer in which he summarizes his impressions from this year's OTAs and minicamp. Here's his take on Bryant and Hitchens, though there's much more in his article.

Best offensive player: Dez Bryant. He caught everything that came his way. He made the difficult catches. He made the easy catches. He looks ready to get back to the status he had after the 2014 season as one of the top receivers in the NFL. Injuries the last two seasons have robbed Bryant of playing time and effectiveness. A full offseason of work has put him in the right frame of mind going into the summer.

Best defensive player: Anthony Hitchens. There might not be a Cowboy who gets more undeserved grief than Hitchens. He had more than 100 tackles last year and many just assume Jaylon Smith will take the starting spot over. Smith might if he proves healthy but Hitchens was everywhere, especially during minicamp. He is a smart, instinctive player. A close second was another linebacker, Damien Wilson.

Scout’s Notebook: Minicamp Standouts - Bryan Broaddus, Dallas Cowboys
Broaddus offers his summary of minicamp. The three excerpts below focus on defensive spots, but Broaddus offers much more in his article, which is just as much a must-read as Archer's piece.

Best Defensive Rookie: I was impressed with what they were able to get out of Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis during these practices. If you asked me to select one over the other right now, I’d go with Awuzie and that’s no slam on Lewis. I liked the way that the coaching staff used him during these practices. He played outside, inside and even some dime linebacker without struggle. Depending on how things go with Jeff Heath at safety, we might see him take some more snaps there during training camp. As for Lewis, he has those rare feet and quickness to handle things inside. Would not be one bit surprised to see him, along with Anthony Brown, push Nolan Carroll for his starting spot as well.

Best Defensive Veteran: This was a tough call. I was impressed with three guys: Anthony Hitchens, Jeff Heath and Anthony Brown. I would include Sean Lee in this group, but the fact that he was practicing on and off, I took him out of the mix. I am going to go with Hitchens for the simple fact that he was all over the field during the majority of the snaps he played. Last season, I don’t believe he was ready to start at the “Mike” with Rolando McClain still in the picture. This year is a different story. He looks healthy, in shape and mentally sharp. Even if Jaylon Smith shows promise during camp, I don’t see Hitchens giving up that job easily.

Best Free Agent Pickup: If the season started this weekend, Damontre Moore would likely be your starter at right end. There were questions about his work ethic and attitude but he has come in and worked extremely hard to earn a spot on this roster. The majority of Moore’s work has come against Tyron Smith, which is never easy, but he’s been more than up to the challenge. He’s even accepted a role on the special teams and lined up as a standup linebacker/pass rusher.

Risers And Fallers Of The Cowboys Three-Day Minicamp - DannyPhantom, Blogging The Boys
Danny looks at the players whose stock has changed over the last three days. Among the risers are Anthony Brown and Maliek Collins

Anthony Brown: The Cowboys may have drafted three new rookie defensive backs, but it was the returning DBs that impressed in minicamp, starting with last year’s rookie gem, Anthony Brown. Every day, Brown was standing out. Whether he was covering Terrance Williams or even Dez Bryant, the second-year corner made play after play. He has been in great position and smothering Bryant as he contested passes.

Maliek Collins: It’s not common that a player gives All Pro guard Zack Martin fits, but that’s exactly what Collins is doing. The young defensive tackle has been able to use his power to knock Martin off balance. Of course, Martin is no slouch and will win his share of battles too when he gets a good punch in, stymieing Collins’ rush. This is a great sign to see these two go back and forth like this. Brace yourself Cowboys fans, this new 3-tech is going to make some big plays for the defense this year.

This rookie catches your eye - SportsDay Staff
Jon Machota answered questions about the team in a live chat on Friday. Here's one of the questions:

Question: Which rookie has impressed you the most so far from what you've seen at these practices?

Jon Machota: Chidobe Awuzie. He can play several positions and he appears to be at least solid at all of them. Obviously they weren't wearing pads when we saw them, but he catches your eye. His knowledge of the game is off the charts. I think he'll end up being one of their most valuable defenders, maybe even lead the team in interceptions.


Dez Bryant's Darrelle Revis wish will go unanswered - Todd Archer, ESPN
Archer puts a kibosh on the whole Revis thing.

Revis was a great player. He will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the best corner of his generation. But he turns 32 in July and his best days are behind him. The only way I see the Cowboys signing him would be if they are hit by injuries at the position this summer.

He's not a fit for how the Cowboys want to play. He doesn't have the scheme versatility anymore. ESPN's Bill Polian said this week Revis is "uniquely unqualified," for the Cowboys' scheme. He wasn't very good last year. And for those who want to see if he could or would play safety, he's never showed that type of ability before.

Dez Bryant believes in rookie CBs despite Darrelle Revis tweet - Charean Williams, ProFootballTalk
Bryant has publicly courted Darrelle Revis, but that doesn't mean he's lost faith in the team's rookie cornerbacks.

“Those guys, they’ve been competing strong,” Bryant said of the rookie corners, via the team website. “That’s what I love about them. Win, lose or draw [they compete]. Not just me, but the rest of these guys in this locker room, they’ll tell you we’ll take that. Before it’s all said and done, y’all are going to know those guys’ names in this league.”

“It’s a mindset of even though you’re a rookie, act like you’ve been here before,” Bryant said. “I feel like they’ve been doing an outstanding job of that.”

Cowboys star Dez Bryant now elder statesman for receivers - Shuyler Dixon, Associated Press
How time flies: Only Jason Witten, LP. Ladouceur, and Orlando Scandrick have been with the Cowboys longer than Dez Bryant.

"He's one of the most well-respected teammates," coach Jason Garrett said. "The guys just really, really gravitate toward him. And I think it goes to that, his love for the game, his love for this team, and how hard he works at it."

"I want to lead by example," Bryant said earlier in the offseason program that wrapped up Thursday. "I don't want to run my mouth."

"Guys around here want it to be contagious," Bryant said. "We've got a lot of great building blocks from last year. It's nothing to sit on. It's how can we move forward and get better? How can we take that next step?"

Now, there are a lot of teammates looking to Bryant for the answers.


Falcons and Pats have NFL's best offenses, but these four units could rise to the top - Jared Dubin, CBSSports.com
The Falcons and Patriots may have had the NFL's best offenses in 2016, but there are teams that are looking to get that recognition in 2017, and the Cowboys are one of them.

The Cowboys should again have one of the best running games in the league. Ezekiel Elliott is still the same monster he was as a rookie, and if the Cowboys mix in more zone-read plays for Prescott they can threaten even more of the field with their running game. Prescott also now has an entire offseason to work as the No. 1 QB, which means he should have even more chemistry with the top passing game weapons than he did last season, when he had to find it starting late in training camp.

The Cowboys gave him some new toys to play with in slot man Ryan Switzer, a Cole Beasley clone that should work as both his understudy and co-star in more four-wideout sets, as well as practice squad tight end Rico Gathers, a 6-foot-8 former basketball player that apparently tore up the first team defense working with Romo on the scout team last year.

Rejuvenated Cowboys defensive end looking for place to fit in - Kevin Casas, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Getting healthy was only the first hurdle for Tapper in his return to football. The second is learning a new position.

There’s the issue of moving from an interior presence in the Sooners’ scheme to a pass-rush-first mentality with the Cowboys.

“I was basically a nose guard at OU,” he said. “Now they want me beating the tackle off the ball.”

It’s a fundamental shift from where Tapper mostly plugged the middle of the field with size and strength and forced college offenses to the edge. Marinelli’s scheme is different because the focus is to get all defensive linemen upfield.

“I wasn’t prepared for it really,” Tapper said. “They wanted me running, and nothing can prepare you for that except being in that moment and getting in better condition coming into training camp.”

Tapper said he’s shed nearly 20 pounds and is down to around 11 percent body fat from 13 percent. The lighter frame is making him more agile in what Marinelli wants, he said.

9 NFL linebackers ready to break out in 2017 - Cameron Da Silva, FOX Sports
Can't have a list like this without including Jaylon Smith, of course.

There are still a lot of question marks when it comes to Smith’s recovery from a horrific knee injury, particularly whether he’ll have to wear a brace for his drop-foot condition. No one knows the answer to that right now, but we could get a better idea in training camp and the preseason when he’s doing on-field work more consistently.

If he is indeed healthy and at least 90 percent of what he was at Notre Dame, he’s going to be a stud for the Cowboys. He’ll be a three-down player, remaining on the field with Sean Lee in nickel packages.

Not to mention, he could be a specialized pass rusher and blitzer for coordinator Rod Marinelli, which is something Jerry Jones alluded to this offseason.


Giants will wear white Color Rush jerseys vs. Cowboys in Week 14 - James Kratch, NJ.com
The Giants will be wearing white at home for the first time since 2000.

The Giants plan to wear their all-white Color Rush uniforms and throwback 'GIANTS' logo helmet for their Week 14 home game against the Cowboys in December, according to a person with knowledge of the decision. That means Dallas will not be wearing its iconic white tops, but will instead wear navy jerseys.

It's not clear if the Cowboys' uniforms will be a Color Rush look, or their usual, but rarely-worn, navy jerseys.


Greg Robinson’s Failure With the Rams Is Part of a Much Larger Trend - Danny Kelly, The Ringer
This is not specifically about the Cowboys, but is interesting nevertheless, given that the Cowboys have had great success drafting offensive linemen where others have failed spectacularly. In this piece, Kelly looks at why the Rams shipped the no. 2 pick in 2014 draft off to Detroit, and why struggles like Robinson's are becoming increasingly common for offensive linemen as the college and pro games continue to diverge.

[Greg Robinson] was essentially playing a different game at Auburn. The Tigers’ offense was a spread-out, space-based option system, a modern derivative of the Wing-T, and it required completely different things of Robinson than what the Rams’ old-school, I-formation-style scheme would. Robinson, like many college linemen transitioning to the NFL of late, had little experience with the types of blocks he needed to be able to execute at the next level. In former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz’s informative piece on SB Nation breaking down the difficulties of transitioning to the professional game, he notes that “Robinson played in [a college offense] that barely resembled anything that exists in the NFL. I could hardly find any clips to make comparisons [for what he’s done with the Rams].”

The lack of overlap in technique from the college game to the pros is becoming an increasingly common issue for scouts and evaluators, making a position that’s traditionally been considered a relatively safe bet much trickier to hit on in the draft. “Sometimes you go through 80 plays [on a college tape] and only eight of them are truly gradable, where they’re at the point of contact and they’re actually doing something you’re going to ask them to do,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said at the combine in February.

This means that when evaluating college offensive linemen — at least the ones that don’t play for Stanford, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and a few other college programs still holding on to pro-style systems — teams are left looking at traits instead of game tape. Is this guy strong? Can he move? Can he jump? They’re looking for amazing athletes with prototypical size and a salty temperament who can one day learn to do what’s necessary at the next level. Teams call it projection, but with offensive linemen in particular, that “projection” feels more and more like a euphemism for “guessing.”

Note that Tyron Smith (USC), Travis Fredrick (Wisconsin), and Zach Martin (Notre Dame) all come from pro-style college offenses.

Why Tanking Will Be a Nightmare for the NFL – Kevin Clark, The Ringer
The NFL denies such a thing even exists, teams like to pretend they "play to win the game," but tanking has arrived in the NFL, and it's throwing a spanner in the works of the carefully constructed myth of the NFL's competitive balance.

In 2017, tanking in the NFL is very real. Even if players are still trying their best on every play, front offices have worked around it by making sure those players aren’t good enough to win games — no matter how much effort they’re giving. The Browns did it last year, the Bucs did it in 2014, and the Jets are doing things that look and smell like a tank, including the tankiest move of all: denying a tank. They shed Eric Decker and David Harris, two players who would have harmed a tank by being talented.

The existential worry here is not about bad football; you’re going to get that with the Jets whether it’s intentional or not. No, it’s about the structure of the league and what happens if more teams start to realize that a higher draft pick is worth some minor short-term pain: four wins and the no. 1 pick is worth a lot more than six victories and something outside the top 10. More smart teams in the NFL is a good thing, but if tanking is here to stay — and it’s looking ever more likely that it is — the trend could have a devastating impact on the league’s 16-game schedule and four-team divisional structure.

The Browns have been under .500 every year since 2007. In that span, the AFC North has dominated the conference’s playoff spots, averaging two per year since Cleveland started its especially bad run. Maybe that’s because the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals are awesome, but the Browns’ consistent role as an easy win certainly has played a part. If a team in your division is tanking, you get an automatic leg up on the rest of the competition in a league where playoff space is at a premium.

If, for instance, the Jets tanked this year, and the Bills, starting up their new post-Ryan-brother regime and wanting a clean slate, did as well, the Dolphins, with four easy wins, could be nearly halfway to a wild-card spot without even playing a competitive game.