Earlier, Dave Halprin highlighted five players who have been surprises for their performance in the Dallas Cowboys training camp this year. But there have been other players who have had good camps. In particular, there were several who either had lackluster (or worse) performances last season, or who sat out with injury. All needed to step up to help the team or, in some cases, even make the roster this season. Here are six who made this list. (Note: Dave included Anthony Brown in his surprises, so I’m not double-dipping on him. But otherwise, he would be firmly in this group.)
One of the biggest and most gratifying stories so far has been the impact of new secondary coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard. And one of his notable moves so far was to switch Jones back to cornerback. Jones was not always highly successful as a safety, and seems to fit Richard’s mold for CBs perfectly. So far, it has all been good. Jones is frequently a standout in practices, and has not really had a bad session. The combination of Richard with some young, hungry, and talented DBs looks like it is going to pay huge dividends.
Although he is still dealing with some pain from his foot injury, Williams has been coming on strong lately. He is evidence that Richard was not the only big pickup for the coaching staff, as Sanjay Lal seems to be working his own magic with the receivers. Williams certainly thinks he is benefiting.
Twill on Sanjay Lal teaching him "stuff that I aint never had before. It’s a learning process. But its working in my favor that you have a guy that knows so much about football and so much detail about it that you can actually pay attention and see the results when you practice."— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) August 5, 2018
And it’s not just words, either.
This shook loose something ive been meaning to comment on... 83 has had a noticeable uptick in palms out catches this camp... ive actually only noticed 1 body catch tbh https://t.co/zJZre9LKuJ— Lando: A Training Camp Story (@McCoolBCB) August 5, 2018
Of course, the real test will come when Williams is in real games. He’s worked on using his hands in previous camps, only to revert to his old habits later. But this is an encouraging sign, especially for a team that has so much uncertainty at wide receiver.
The second year is usually when pass rushers take a big step up, so this is as much Charlton fitting the usual pattern as anything. Still, after all the criticism of him, going back to the beginning of the 2017 camp, it is reassuring to see him getting some positive reviews, like this:
Oh wow. Taco put La’el Collins in the matrix. pic.twitter.com/3HblO42Ux7— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) August 6, 2018
His roster spot is secure because he was a first-round pick. The team needs him to play like one, and so far, he is off to a good start.
Tapper has been snake-bit by injuries, with only two games where he was active in his first two seasons. He is healthy, and making plays. Now he has to stay on the field. But if he does, he still is in a fight with the very crowded defensive end room. However, if the team had to get down to 53 players today, Tapper would probably make the cut. And given the other names that would likely join him, the Cowboys’ pass rush could visit some . . . dare we say it . . . doom on opposing quarterbacks.
The most polarizing member of the team, Gathers has detractors and supporters who can get into a fight over him with almost no provocation at all. He also has perhaps the most to prove of anyone in camp. Still a player who is having to learn the game of football, much less the nuances of the tight end position, Gathers has to really stand out. And almost every day, he makes a catch that shows you why the Dallas staff thought he was worth a sixth-round pick. He still has a long way to go as a blocker - but there might just be a spot for a tight end who is an all but unstoppable receiver in the red zone. Many of us will still be somewhat surprised if he makes the roster. But the level of surprise clicks down a notch with every grab he makes.
After the dismal job he did a year ago, it would not have been a surprise if the team had released him. But they didn’t, and Green spent a lot of time working on his game in the offseason.
For the record... Chaz Green is spending the off season w/ @BigDuke50... if you follow Duke, (which you should) you know that if Chaz is willing to work, he WILL improve, and anyone the team brings in to challenge him for the swing OT job will have their work cut out for them.— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) March 19, 2018
And that has started to pay off. After some rough early days in camp (including having to leave practice for the hydration issues he always seems to be fighting), he has started to show up in a better way, winning some reps. It was thought that Cameron Fleming was going to walk in and just take Green’s spot on the roster, but that is not looking nearly so certain, as Fleming has not been as consistent as he should. There has been some discussion of whether Fleming is better at the RT spot, with Green maybe having an edge at LT. That could throw a curve at the staff, forcing them to keep nine O linemen.
But Green is putting up a real fight to be the swing tackle, something that seemed unimaginable just a few weeks ago. If he earns it, then some of us (raises hand) may have to eat a lot of crow.
There is a long way to go before the regular season, but these six vets have all come into camp and shown some distinct improvement. Starting Thursday, we will finally get to see at least some of them line up against another team, and we’ll find out just how real the improvements are.