The Cowboys kicked off the 2018 regular season in rather disappointing fashion, falling to the Carolina Panthers in a sloppy offensvie performance on the road. The offense was never able to get going until it was too late, the defense played well for the most part, but struggled to contain Cam Newton, and the team opened up with a loss as a result.
Dallas saw a handful of rookies see action in the season opening contest against Carolina, including all four of the team’s first four selections of this past draft. While some struggled in game one, others showed that they could make an impact sooner than later.
Fifth-round quarterback Mike White did not suit up, nor did sixth-round linebacker Chris Covintgton. Let’s look at which first-year players saw the field in week one.
Leighton Vander Esch
The first pick of the Cowboys 2018 draft class only saw the field for 17 defensive snaps in week one, largely due to the fact that the Boise State product has been limited with a groin injury throughout the preseason. LVE still managed to wrap-up Carolina ball carriers on three different occasions, two of which were solo.
Rod Marinelli was able to get his first-round selection on the field alongside linebackers Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith on Sunday.
Here is a play with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch all on the field at the same time. pic.twitter.com/5oZCaczCMU— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 12, 2018
LVE mainly saw the field when Lee or Smith needed a breather, but perhaps we’ll see more sets with all three on the field together as the rookie continues to recover from his injury and learn more of the playbook. While Vander Esch is far from a finished product, his athleticism could help the second level of the defense.
Dallas was elated when they saw Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams fall into their laps with the 50th pick this past April. The Coppell, Texas, native and former Longhorn was once seen as a sure-fire round one prospect going into his junior campaign in Austin; however, injuries and inconsistencies dropped his stock enough for the Cowboys to swoop in and grab him in the middle of the second round.
Williams had an up and down preseason in August — showing his potential while also displaying that he is a rookie and has ways to go in certain areas. Sunday was our first chance, obviously, to see Williams in a game that matters. To make things more difficult, the Panthers have a front-seven that is loaded with talent along the defensive line in addition to their linebacker corps that features Luke Kuechly.
Williams did not have a great game, often giving up quarterback pressures and allowing his man get to Dak Prescott for a sack. While there needs to be improvement in his pass protection, it’s important to keep things in perspective: Williams was going up against 6-foot-3, 315-pound Kawann Short.
Kawann Short getting inside hands on Connor Williams and schooling past him. One of the more underrated pass rushers in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/xT5gQtiZfs— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) September 12, 2018
There are not many interior offensive lineman — especially one appearing in his first professional regular season game — that can stay in front of Short for a whole game. On the flip side, the NFC East possesses some beasts in the interior that Williams must be prepared for, such as the likes of Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Redskins rookie Daron Payne.
With Travis Frederick out for an unknown time, the Cowboys desperately needs their rookie left guard to step up. Dallas inked former second-rounder Xavier Su’a-Filo for insurance earlier this week.
Perhaps the rookie with the most excitement surrounding him has been third-round pick Michael Gallup. With the glaring need at wide receiver, Cowboys fans are hoping that the rookie out of Colorado State will provide a go-to target for Dak Prescott as soon as this season.
The hype only intensified after the two connected on a beautiful 30-yard dime for a touchdown in the team’s opening preseason exhibition versus the 49ers last month. Despite the hype, Gallup finished game one with one catch for nine yards while seeing less than 50% of the offensive snaps (29 of 64) in week one.
To be fair, though, Gallup was able to draw a pair of defensive penalties and Dak was far from accurate on Sunday, failing to lead an open Gallup for a potential big gain in the fourth quarter. There is still a lot of potential for Gallup to make a big impact this season.
Dorance Armstrong is one of many raw, physically gifted defensive ends on the Cowboys roster. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound end caused terror for Big 12 quarterbacks during his career for the Kansas Jayhawks, recording 15.5 sacks in three seasons.
The 2016 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year has turned some heads during his young career in Dallas; however, a deep position group limited Armstrong’s snap count in his first game to 19 snaps, where he recorded two tackles.
Despite the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory receiving a lot of hype along the edges of the defensive line, do not be surprised if this rookie sees more and more snaps as the season progresses.
Fellow fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz made the active roster as the team’s third tight end for his first professional game, though he only saw the field for two offensive snaps. Schultz struggled to adjust to the professional level during training camp, but with the question marks surrounding Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers for various reasons, the Stanford product may have a chance to show why he deserves more snaps.
After that offensive performance, there are bound to be some changes, right? Perhaps tight end could be one of those changes.
Which rookie impressed you the most in week one?