The Cowboys 2018 NFL season kicked off last night — sort of, at least. It was our first taste of Cowboys football since January, so we were all tuned into to see what the new faces look like in the silver and blue, even in an exhibition.
Among the story lines that intrigued the most was the rookies — how would the first-year players perform in their first ‘game’ environment? Obviously, Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, and Michael Gallup entered the contest with expectations, but the likes of Charvarius Ward and Kameron Kelly had their first opportunity to showcase what they can do between the lines against an opponent wearing different uniforms than the ones that each have seen in practice.
Let’s take a look at how each rookie performed under the lights in the Bay Area.
Perhaps the rookie with the most hype surrounding him has been third-round rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup. With the uncertainty surrounding the pass catchers in this new-look offense, many have been hoping that the Colorado State product would step up and make his mark in action versus another team.
And boy, did he ever.
While he did not get the start, Gallup made his presence felt on the very first drive in a big, big way. The opening drive of the 2018 preseason for the Dallas Cowboys saw what this team does best — run the football. Ezekiel Elliott was out, but Rod Smith picked up some big yards to set the tone and Dak Prescott picked up a first down with his legs on 3rd-and-10. And then, this happened:
Dak reads the defense and throws an absolute dime thirty-yards down the sideline, and the rookie beat his man, Jimmie Ward, for six. Gallup followed it up by celebrating with his teammates and quarterback in the end zone.
And first TD celebration ✔️ pic.twitter.com/j62Ls3GSNU— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) August 10, 2018
Leighton Vander Esch
LVE began his career with the Cowboys with some mixed reactions on draft night — some believed it was a reach to take him at 19, while others were excited about his athleticism, potential, and upside.
Regardless of fan opinion, Dallas liked what they saw from Vander Esch in the draft process. The Idaho native had a huge season for Boise State a year ago, and the Cowboys are hopeful that he will excel next to Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. On Thursday, LVE was able to showcase a little bit of what he brings to the table.
Fellow rookie Dorance Armstrong got in the backfield, causing 49ers quarterback CJ Beathard to rush his throw and Vander Esch played excellent coverage, even nearly coming down with an interception.
A certain former Cowboys player liked what he saw from the first-rounder:
55 athletic.. very smart patient instinctive player..cowboys defense look strong— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) August 10, 2018
While LVE obviously has some things to work on, it was nice to see him showcase his quickness in his first NFL action. The first-rounder recorded four tackles on the night, good for second most on the team.
After winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and getting to the quarterback on ten occassions back in a breakout 2016 season for the Kansas Jayhawks, Dorance Armstrong Jr. was seen as a potential first-round pick; however, a scheme-change and a drop in production during his junior campaign resulted in the Houston native falling to the Cowboys’ laps in the fourth-round.
DannyPhantom’s pet cat has a ton of upside and is one to remember in the deep defensive ends group in Dallas. Against the Niners, Armstong, as mentioned above, recorded a quarterback hurry that would have resulted in a turnover had LVE landed in bounds.
Wow. Rookies doing work. Dorance Armstrong just collapsed the pocket, recovered and then pressured Beathard on the throw. And a hell of an effort from Leighton Vander Esch, even if it wasn't an INT.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 10, 2018
The 6-foot-3 end compares favorably to a defensive linemen that is already on the roster, who happens to be coming off of the best season that he has had as a professional.
Demarcus Lawrence vs Dorance Armstrong pic.twitter.com/5LAuOU6wS6— ✭ DCBlueStar ✭ (@DCBlueStar) April 29, 2018
I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
My boy Dorance Armstrong (74) is making his presence known. pic.twitter.com/KQcQni5ET4— ✭ DCBlueStar ✭ (@DCBlueStar) August 10, 2018
Really nice rush from Dorance Armstrong. Nice combination of bend, power and then most impressively awarensss of when to flatten his rush and get to the QB. pic.twitter.com/TJ3LJNy7iC— Bobby Cummings (@BCummings04) August 10, 2018
BTB’s RJ Ochoa came away very impressed with the ‘MVP of training camp’.
It’s not typical for seventh-round selections to get much — if any — hype; however, Bo Scarbrough was an exception. The former Alabama running back was selected in the final round this past April, and Cowboys fans immediately began daydreaming of defenses having to find a way to tackle the 6-foot-1, 236-pound Scarbrough after Zeke runs all over them.
Imagine being exhausted from tackling Ezekiel Elliott and then looking up at Bo Scarbrough.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) April 28, 2018
While it is just the preseason, Scarbrough showed us some glimpses of what he can do in spurts — and the 49ers’ defense were victims to the former Bama back on this big run here and then again on the goal line when he found paydirt.
Jon Machota wrote this about Scarbrough following Thursday’s performance:
Scarbrough got a chance to run with the first-team during goal-line drills and looked just as good as he has with the backups. I’d be surprised if he didn’t makes the roster as the Cowboys’ No. 3 back behind Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. I believe he’ll be able to contribute immediately during the regular season if called upon.
Bo finished with 33 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and even hauled in two receptions for an average of 9.5 yards while looking like a potential solid no. 3 complimentary back on the roster behind Zeke and Rod Smith.
When Connor Williams, a projected first-round selection by practically everybody, fell to the 50th pick, Dallas and Cowboys fans were elated. The Coppell native has experience playing left tackle at the University of Texas, possesses the ability to slide in and play guard for the Cowboys, and features a 6-foot-5, 311-pound frame with tons of athleticism for a man that size.
Williams gave up a sack against the freakish defensive end that is DeForest Buckner that forced a third-and-long situation on the first drive of the game, but he otherwise looked solid throughout. No. 55 will be counted on to be an impact player in between All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
The fifth-round rookie has had ups-and-downs during training camp, which is to be expected for a signal-caller that was drafted on day three. It’s even more of a challenge to grow comfortable in the offense when behind franchise quarterback Dak Prescott and second-stringer Cooper Rush, who put on a show last August.
Dak did Dak things on the first drive and Rush overcame a slow start to have a solid performance by the time the game was done; White, however, struggled. Some of that has to do with his transition to his first game environment as a professional, while playing with backup offensive linemen and weapons probably did not make it easier, either.
White’s first stat-line of the preseason saw the Western Kentucky product complete six of his 11 passes for 63 yards, while also being sacked once.
The defensive backs
The Cowboys have a host of DBs battling for a few roster spots this preseason. Undrafted free agents Charvarius Ward and Kameron Kelly possess the size that defensive backs coach Kris Richard loves to use in his aggressive zone scheme.
Ward, a Middle Tennessee State product, is 6-foot-1 defensive back who has a strong training camp to this point. In fact, the BTB community voted him as the undrafted free agent most likely to make the 53-man squad come September. He finished with five tackles on the night, but that’s not always a great stat for a corner because you are usually tackling the guy who just caught the ball on you.
Kam Kelly, a DFW native, is 6-foot-2 and has the ability to play on the boundary as a corner or compete for snaps at safety. Kelly picked a pass off in the Blue/White scrimmage, showing the traits that made him a ball hawk (nine interpretations in three seasons) at San Diego State. He finished with three total tackles, two of which were solo.
5. Keep an eye on two UDFA DBs: Charvarius Ward and Kameron Kelly. Both have a chance to make the team's 53-man roster.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 6, 2018
Tyree Robinson played well on Thursday in limited action. The Oregon Ducks product is yet another sleeper defensive back that is hungry to make the team. Like Kelly, Robinson, who is 6-foot-4 and 201-pounds, made three total tackles against San Fran.
Overall, though, the reserve defensive backs collapsed towards the end of the game. They allowed the 49ers to score twice, including the game-winner in the final seconds. If they truly want to make their mark and get to the 53-man roster, they will need to close out games better than they did on Thursday night.
When Jason Witten announced his retirement to join the MNF booth, the Cowboys were put in a tricky situation. Rico Gathers’ future is uncertain, Geoff Swaim is not known as a threat as a pass catcher, and there is a lot unknown about 2017 UDFA Blake Jarwin.
With players such as the aforementioned Williams, Gallup, and Armstrong falling in the second, third, and fourth-round respectively, the Cowboys opted to be patient until the 137th pick to take a tight end, which was Dalton Schultz out of the Stanford Cardinal.
On Thursday, Schultz saw his first action on the team’s seventh drive of the game. The Utah native was targeted three times, catching one pass for six yards. Here’s hoping he is able to show more of what he can do over the next three weeks.
Which of these rookies caught your eye last night, BTB?