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Cowboys training camp risers and fallers: The Jaylon Smith era begins

Training camp has begun, but which players are standing out the most? In the first installment of many, we take a look at who’s hot and who’s not from the first two days of training camp.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp has arrived. The Dallas Cowboys are playing football out in the sunshine and it’s such an exquisite site. Leave it to our own R.J. Ochoa to articulate it so beautifully.

What a crazy camp so far. There has been more stuff happening outside the playing field that on it. We’ve seen a player get shown the door stemming from an incident that turned out to not actually have happened. We got some positive news about a court case that will see a player returning to football soon. And then there’s a player who’s been here, and will remain here even longer after receiving a contract extension.

But aside from all that, the best news is that the Cowboys are on the field doing football stuff again. As we keep a close eye on the happenings of camp, we’ll examine the stock growth or decline of certain players as they make some noise. Here are the risers and fallers from the first two days of camp.

Jaylon Smith

You better get used to the top story of training camp being the Cowboys linebacker enigma that is Jaylon Smith. Whether it’s good or bad, you’ll get a good dose of 54. And so far, so good as the young LB was quick out of the gate, turning heads and generating a lot of buzz.

Nothing about his movement would indicate that his explosiveness is being restricted.

From one dice roll draft pick to another...

Jourdan Lewis

The Cowboys took a gamble when they selected the Michigan corner in the third round of this year’s draft. He was still available because of his pending domestic violence case that had been scheduled for late July. Well, the case is over now and the jury has reached a verdict:

This is great news for Cowboys fans who will get to see Lewis in action soon as he’ll return to Oxnard on Wednesday. It is still unclear how the NFL will react to this ordeal, but certainly the outcome is promising so far.

DeMarcus Lawrence

The big question for Tank was how healthy was he going to be and would any of his back issues have a lingering effect? It’s early, but things are looking good so far.

Sean Lee

Jaylon Smith wasn’t the only linebacker garnering attention. It was really business as usual for the Cowboys All Pro linebacker, Sean Lee, but you can’t overstate just what he means to the organization of the defense. He was barking out instructions for his defensive teammates as he was sniffing out offensive sets.

Bryan Broaddus had this to say about him:

There is nothing better than to watch Sean Lee communicate with his defensive teammates. Pre-snap, he was verbally identifying each offensive set while Dak Prescott and Travis Frederick were trying to counter his adjustments. For a walkthrough practice, there was some serious back and forth between all involved in order to get their guys in position to execute the play. It had a regular-season game feel to it.

The linebacker group currently looks as follows:

WILL: Sean Lee (starter), Kyle Wilber (backup)

MIKE: Anthony Hitchens (starter), Jaylon Smith (backup)

SAM: Damien Wilson (starter), Mark Nzeocha (backup)

Expect a lot of shuffling around here, but you have to like the team’s depth at this position, especially when Justin Durant gets in the mix.

La’el Collins

The Cowboys have seen enough from Collins to sign him to a two-year extension. This is great news for a player that got shafted a couple years ago. After being questioned for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Collins would watch helplessly as teams avoided him in the draft. Despite being completely innocent of any wrongdoing, the damage was done and it cost him millions of dollars.

As it turns out, fate intervened and he was able to take his talents to Texas and join the Great Wall. And now, he’s finally getting paid.

More than anything, this is a great sign that the team sees something good in him. With three other offensive linemen (once Zack Martin gets his new contract) taking up quite a bit of cap space, the front office still didn’t hesitate to hand out some more cash for another quality player. This kind of money isn’t just given to a player that “might” be the answer at right tackle. The team must feel confident about his ability.

Chaz Green

Left Guard Watch: The battle between Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper should be a back and forth affair early, but Green is healthy right now so he’s got the slight nod. As Bryan Broaddus explains, he’s fitting in with the first team just fine.

I didn't see anything that was a cause for concern assignment-wise from Chaz Green working with the first unit at left guard. His pickups were clean, assignments sound and technique was where it needed to be. He and Tyron Smith appeared to work well together sorting out a moving defensive front with a blitz from the secondary consisting of Jeff Heath and Orlando Scandrick. Green has a shot to win this job over Jonathan Cooper if he can just maintain his health this training camp. That's really the only question mark.

James Hanna

The Cowboys veteran tight end is one of the players that have been given the “limited” label, however he was back in action after missing last year with a knee injury. Hanna showed no lingering effects of his injury and was moving around well. Ezekiel Elliott ran for over 1,600 yards last season, but can you imagine what having a healthy Hanna around could do for him?

Xavier Woods

The Cowboys draft smart players, but they’re still rookies. It’s always a great sign to see a young kid make mental adjustments so early.

Keith Smith

If you don’t have Keith Smith on your 53-man roster predictions, you might want to give it another go. He was raw last season as he just transitioned from the linebacker position, but now he’s a fullback that knows what he’s doing. He’s tough, aggressive, and is showing good early signs of a nice year-two improvement.

Stephen Paea

A lot of people have the new free agent Stephen Paea penciled ahead of Cedric Thornton as the team’s starting 1-tech defensive tackle. While Thornton is currently the starter, keep an eye on Paea. His first step is every bit as advertised and he’s going to give Thornton a run for his money for the early down DT.

Byron Bell

The Cowboys signed Bell to give the team some depth along the offensive line after Doug Free retired. However, his contract was constructed in a way that offered an incentive if he dropped some weight. There were three check points, each worth a $150,000 bonus if he reached a certain weight.

He made his first bonus at the start of mini camp and just recently reached his goal for the start of training camp. He’s collected $300k of a possible $450k, with the last weigh in being the start of the regular season.

All the attention is on Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper when it comes to the position battle in the trenches, but Bell continues to show he wants to be a part of this team by meeting his goals. He’s currently playing the backup right guard position behind Martin.

Benson Mayowa

Last year’s reigning sack leader for the Cowboys did not practice on Tuesday. He is experiencing soreness in his knee and will be limited. So if you had Mayowa as your choice for winning the RDE spot, he’s got his work cut out for him. Competition is fierce so any missed time opens the door for others to move in.

The starting defensive line has looked like this over the last two days:

Lucky Whitehead

You can’t slide any further down the depth that than off the roster completely. After news circulated about Whitehead being involved in a shoplifted incident last month, the Cowboys front office had enough. Coach Garrett gave a quick explanation about the decision.

To make matters worse, it looks like this most recent incident was just a case of mistaken identity.

For Whitehead, it really wasn’t a matter of if he was going to be cut, but rather - when? The writing has been on the wall every since the addition of Ryan Switzer, but now all doubt about Whitehead’s place on the team has been removed. While this may seem like a stroke of bad luck for him, it could be a blessing in disguise as he’ll have a lot more time to work himself in with a new team.

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