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Cowboys News: Best veteran in camp; best rookie in camp; best safety not in camp; more

Top 10 players from camp so far; Most impressive rookie; Why it’s time for Cowboys to get Earl Thomas

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

Top 10: Ranking Best Players From Camp So Far - Staff,
The staff at the mothership voted for their top ten players and neatly sorted them into a slideshow. Here are the results:

1. Byron Jones

2. DeMarcus Lawrence

3. Tyron Smith

4. Zack Martin

5. Chidobe Awuzie

6. Ezekiel Elliott

7. Cole Beasley

8. Tavon Austin

9. Dak Prescott

T10. Connor Williams, Michael Gallup

The most impressive rookie at Cowboys camp so far? - Staff, SportsDay
The Sportsday writers submit their votes for most impressive rookie in their latest roundtable. Here are two of the four takes.

David Moore: Third-round pick Michael Gallup has been the most impressive. He's at a position of need and is making plays. The receiver is smooth off the line and doesn't shy away from the physical aspect of the position.

First-round pick Leighton Vander Esch and second-round pick Connor Williams look good. Fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong has started to show up in recent days and seventh-round pick Bo Scarbrough has flashed in some practices.

Williams will start at left guard when the Cowboys open the season in Carolina. I don't envision Gallup being a Day One starter but he will be a key part of the rotation and could work his way into the starting lineup before the season is done. Vander Esch won't start as long as Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith are healthy but will see plenty of snaps.

Jon Machota: Michael Gallup, Leighton Vander Esch and Bo Scarbrough. Gallup has been very good four out of the five padded practices. There's no doubt he'll be in the receiver mix this season. He has some of the best size and catch radius of this group.

Vander Esch hasn't worked a lot with the first team but he has appeared comfortable when given the opportunity. He's been noticeable in pass coverage, particularly when it comes to breaking up throws to tight ends. Most of his reps have come at middle linebacker with the second team, but he has gotten some work at weakside as well.

Scarbrough has been working mostly with the third team, but his aggressive, physical running style has made for some of the better highlights at camp.

In regards to how many rookies will start, Connor Williams seems to be locked in at left guard. Vander Esch and Gallup would be the next two. Even if they don't technically start, there's a good chance both will get starter-type snaps during the season.

Supremely Confident DeMarcus Lawrence Ready to Put on a Sack Show - Jean-Jacques Taylor, NBCDFW
After a dominant 2017 season, Lawrence is looking to do even more in 2018.

At practice the other day, he lined up against each of the Cowboys’ offensive linemen during a pass-rushing drill — one right after another. That never happens.

But he wanted the challenge of competing against Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and La’El Collins. He won virtually every battle.

Cowboys training camp highlights: Deep D-line rises to the occasion - OCC, Blogging the Boys
What defensive lineman have impressed so far in camp? Here’s a quote from Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram.

Rookie defensive end Dorance Armstrong is quietly having a strong camp. Armstrong, a fourth-round pick from Kansas, took advantage of the absences of DeMarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton and Charles Tapper to get extra reps. He got put in the spotlight with a matchup against right tackle La’el Collins in the compete drill and built on his strong start to camp with a win in front of the team.

Guard Zack Martin handled defensive tackle Jihad Ward in the compete and defensive tackle Datone Jones got a push against center Travis Frederick. Jones won the first rep but coach Jason Garrett called a do-over and Frederick won the second time.

Scout’s Notebook: Lenoir Keeps Impressing - Bryan Broaddus,
Second-year wide receiver Lance Lenoir has been very impressive in the early portion of camp. Here’s what Broaddus has to say about the receiver:

Lance Lenoir continues to make a case for a spot on this roster. He is practicing well and the coaches are rewarding him with more snaps with the first team. Lenoir made a spectacular reception during the goal line period tracking a ball that ended up above his head and pulling it down behind Anthony Brown. As the ball was coming down, I thought Brown was going to be able to rip it out of Lenoir’s hands but he managed to get both feet down and cradle it into his body.

Cowboys training camp 2018: Five takeaways from a week in Oxnard - RJ Ochoa, Blogging the Boys
Our own RJ Ochoa is in Oxnard at Cowboys camp, here are some of the things he has taken away from his week at training camp:

Chidobe Awuzie is going to be a superstar

There’s a swagger that Chido emanates. It’s not empty swagger, but calculated swagger. Kris Richard called him a cerebral player, and Chido talked to me about where that comes from.

This past week has had a lot of days where it felt like the defense won. Awuzie has been right in the middle of that and it is really difficult to find anything that he isn’t doing well.

It’s Time for the Cowboys to Trade for Earl Thomas - Danny Heifetz, The Ringer
Dallas’s Super Bowl window is open, but it won’t remain so forever, Heifetz writes, and argues that getting one of the game’s best safeties to shore up the Dallas defense could be the key to unseating Philadelphia in the division.

Bryant and Jason Witten may be gone, but the core players at the center of Dallas’s 13-3 team—the road-grading offensive line, star running back Ezekiel Elliott, and defensive centerpiece Sean Lee—are all locked up into the 2020s. That contractual magic trick is possible because Dak Prescott is set for a $725,848 cap hit in 2018 and $815,849 in 2019 while playing the most important position for the most popular team in America’s most popular sport.

The team should push some more chips into the center of the table while Dak represents such a shockingly great value. When Prescott needs a new deal for 2020 (or if the Cowboys look elsewhere for a quarterback), a sharp market correction will give Dallas $20-ish million fewer each year to spend on their defense and receiving corps. Dallas can improve the margins of the roster more easily now than in 2020. No margin needs more improvement than the team’s 25th-ranked defense by DVOA.

A second-round pick could very well become a great player, but a team as talented as the Cowboys doesn’t have time to think more than two years down the line. A hypothetical second-rounder who will be a rookie in 2019 (and, uh, in college this year) is not going to contribute a fraction of what the best safety of the last decade can do—even at the tail end of his prime.

Looking faster, Jaylon Smith aims to add to role with Cowboys - Todd Archer, ESPN
The third-year linebacker is already looking better in training camp, the Cowboys will need him to be better in 2018 in order for the defense to be successful.

Through five padded practices this year, Smith has been one of the more consistent defensive performers.

With Smith moving more spontaneously this summer, the Cowboys are experimenting with him blitzing more, even if bringing pressure is not a major part of Marinelli’s scheme. With the addition of first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch, they are looking for position flexibility, and Smith has a natural feel for getting to the quarterback, according to Marinelli.

Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli reveals his plan for Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch - Staff, SportsDay
Marinelli provides some insight into how he plans to use his three top linebackers.

Q: How do you plan on utilizing your linebackers?

RM: “As we start in camp, our thing was... you got three guys to play two spots. And, where you can have some cross-training behind Sean Lee. But, we want to let these two young guys [Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch] compete for light linebacker. They’re both rangy and they’re both fast. And if you’ve got that, you can rotate and take some snaps off guys. Kind of like we do up front. If it affords -- if you don’t drop off. That’s the key. And we don’t think that will happen. Now you let your guys compete that way and you keep your strong-side ‘backers. We have a couple we like. Your nickel, your base. We’ll probably play more nickel than dime, because these guys can all run.”

The Jaylon Smith gamble paid off, Cowboys feel. Now they’re planning to unleash one of his best skills - Jon Machota, SportsDay
It's been a long ride for Smith, but it looks like he's finally fully back.

Smith has worked exclusively as Dallas' first-team middle linebacker in camp. The Cowboys used this year's first-round pick on Leighton Vander Esch, who also projects to be an NFL middle linebacker. Up to this point, though, Vander Esch has been working mostly with the second-team.

In several one-on-one and team drills at camp, Smith has had the task of defending star running back Ezekiel Elliott on passing plays. Smith has stayed stride-for-stride with the team's most talented offensive weapon in most of those situations.

Kris Richard, the Cowboys' new defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, sees Smith as an ideal blitzing linebacker. Having Smith rush the quarterback more frequently is a good indicator of Richard's influence on Dallas' defensive scheme.

The Cowboys hope that Lee, Smith and Vander Esch all stay healthy, but they know that's a tall task at such a violent position. Even though two linebackers are usually on the field in their defensive scheme, at least three starting-caliber players are needed at the position. The goal is to have a rotation that limits each players' snaps, keeping them fresh and reducing the chance of injury.

How Byron Jones’ importance to Cowboys defense this season compares to Jaylon Smith’s - Tim Cowlishaw, SportsDay
Byron Jones has impressed so far in camp, here’s how his importance to the defense compares to Jaylon Smith’s.

Question: Which is more important to the DAL defense this year -- Jaylon Smith becomes a top starter at LB, Byron Jones becomes a top guy at CB?

Cowlishaw: Good question. Both carry significance. I will say Jones becoming a top cornerback but only for one reason. If Smith does not, the team has Vander Esch and Sean Lee to play major roles at linebacker. And you really just need two standout linebackers in the era of the nickel defense. But if Jones doesn’t deliver as a solid corner, then it’s back to Jourdan Lewis out wide and I don’t think that’s something the team wants to do with his lack of size. Both developments could really help this defense upgrade, however.

Inside Tyron Smith’s Quest To Stay Healthy - David Helman,
Tyron Smith has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys offense in recent years, he must stay healthy if the Cowboys want to compete in 2018.

Smith’s play hasn’t left a lot of room for questions over the years, except for the all-important category of injuries. After all, 2017 marked the second-straight season in which the 27-year-old has missed time.

And it was last season’s absences that were so catastrophic, as the Cowboys’ offensive line basically fell apart during the month of November, when Smith was either unavailable or severely limited for four games.

“It was frustrating. It’s hard to maintain something like that, and you never how it’s going to go,” he said. “The only thing you can do is listen to the trainers and try to follow the treatment.”

By the time the Cowboys concluded their 9-7 season, Smith was dealing with problems in his back, groin, knee and shoulder. It’s no wonder that, shortly after the season ended, Smith was back in his home state of California, working on his recovery.

4 players who must adjust to new schemes during the NFL preseason - Geoff Moser,
Jihad Ward make this list.

Acquired from Oakland in a trade for slot receiver Ryan Switzer, Jihad Ward is now under the tutelage of defensive line mastermind Rod Marinelli, and he'll have to learn a one-gap, upfield scheme fast.

Ward lacks elite athleticism and technique, but he has ideal size and length (6-foot-5, 295 pounds) for the three-technique spot. He should benefit from both Marinelli’s coaching, and from playing alongside Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.

The Cowboys are known for using twists and stunts to create pass-rushing mismatches against guards and tackles. Plenty of lunch-pail defensive linemen have emerged in Dallas during Marinelli's tenure, and Ward could be next.

2018 NFL training camp: Early winners and losers across league - Gregg Rosenthal,
Rosenthal doesn't believe the Tavon Austin hype.

The sight of Austin lining up outside often with Dallas' first-team offense was an early surprise in camp. So was the word from teammate Cole Beasley that Austin is already stepping into a vocal leadership role among the Cowboys' wideouts. The talk in OTAs of transitioning Austin to more of a running back role sounds like smoke in retrospect. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is testing a lot of formations, with Austin and Beasley as tag-team partners in many of them.

"There could be three plays in a row where Tavon lines up in three different positions," Linehan told me at Cowboys practice last week. "I think [Austin and Beasley] add very effective matchup potential together with us. It's proven. Not just like he's done it in college. We've seen him do it in the pros."

We didn't see it much last year when Sean McVay was Austin's coach, but the Cowboys are just the latest staff to believe in July that they can unlock Austin's potential. The track record says this hope is fool's gold.

Tavon Austin hasn’t “touched the backfield” for the Cowboys – Josh Alper, ProFootballTalk
No running back duties for Austin, just as Scott Linehan said back in May. Except “Tavin Austin is doing exactly what Cowboys said he would” isn’t nearly the headline this one is.

Austin, who was a wide receiver at West Virginia and with the Rams, has lined up in the slot and as an outside receiver during camp while backfield work has been reserved for other players.

“All the things you see me doing out here is pretty much what I’ll be doing,” Austin said, via the Dallas Morning News. “I ain’t touched the backfield yet, but hopefully, eventually if they need me back there, I’ll be back there too.”

The unsettled nature of the Cowboys receiving corps has been discussed often this offseason and Ezekiel Elliott‘s presence means there isn’t the same uncertainty at running back, which may play a role in how the team ultimately decides to deploy Austin this season.

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