On Monday, we took a trip down memory lane and discussed how the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys has evolved under the control of head coach Jason Garrett. After a youth movement that replaced aging players with young talent, the Cowboys offensive line had a five-year stretch where they finished in the top four in PFF rankings. But that streak ended last season as they were hit with injuries.
The team is primed to be better this season thanks to the return of Travis Frederick as well as third-round draft pick Connor McGovern. Players that started for Dallas are now pushed into reserve roles as the increase in talent has a trickle-down effect to the rest of the depth chart. Players like Joe Looney and Xavier Su’a-Filo are now fighting for bench spots and they even have some interesting UDFA prospects in Mitch Hyatt and Jake Campos who might surprise some people and steal one of the final roster spots.
While the added talent is great for the offensive line, it’s also great for other positions as well. The added protection provided by second- and third-string players will help some of the other bubble guys get a real shot at showing what they can do. Let’s examine.
If you believe that Dak Prescott is the single-most important player on this Cowboys team (and you should), then you’d have to profess that the reserve QB spot is one of the most important backup positions on the team. You don’t have to tell Cowboys fans how important having a viable backup quarterback is for success. Over the last 16 seasons, the team has been coached by Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips, and Jason Garrett. Each of them have had just one losing season in their coaching tenure with the team. Parcell’s losing season occurred when the team abruptly released Quincy Carter. He was replaced by Vinny Testaverde, who had more interceptions than touchdowns during the 2004 season. Both Phillip’s and Garrett’s losing season occurred when Tony Romo went down.
The Cowboys are entering dangerous waters without a viable backup. Right now, Cooper Rush and Mike White are competing for the backup spot. Neither of them played very well in preseason last year, and things aren’t looking that promising this season as neither of them performed very well during OTA’s and minicamp this season. It has some wondering if the Cowboys are playing with fire.
While this is definitely something to keep a close eye on, both these guys will benefit from a stronger offensive line blocking for them this year. Both looked extremely vulnerable last season, but they were under constant pressure. The Cowboys had all kinds of offensive linemen in different spots as they were trying to sort out that position group - many of which didn’t make the team. Rush looked night and day different from his rookie season and White has issues when he’s under duress. And make no mistake about it - that happened quite a bit last preseason.
Mike White has faced the third highest percentage of dropbacks under pressure this preseason.https://t.co/RCdwdjFgtj— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) August 23, 2018
The good news is when he did have a clean pocket, White performed well.
Mike White has the second highest yards per attempt from a clean pocket among rookie quarterbacks this preseason. #CowboysNationhttps://t.co/69mhmbQwOx— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) August 28, 2018
The better news is - the Cowboys offensive line is much stronger across the board this year. You won’t see the team desperately trying to force a way to keep Chaz Green on this roster by playing him inside. Instead, they have some really good pieces already in place. And hopefully, that opens the door for cleaner pockets for the Cowboys quarterbacks, because that makes a world of difference.
The Dallas Cowboys draft Western Kentucky QB Mike White, who posted the lowest interception rate from a clean pocket among draft-eligible QBs in 2017 pic.twitter.com/Mp4Z9qmEEG— PFF (@PFF) April 28, 2018
Quarterbacks are going to be under pressure, so it’s not as if the team can always place them in optimal conditions. But when these guys aren’t running with reliable blockers, it’s going to have an impact. And considering White was playing with some pretty scrub-a-delic blockers last year, it’s really hard to truly evaluate his performance. With better overall protection, expect a better showing from the Cowboys backup quarterbacks this time around.
Prediction: With too much talent elsewhere and roster spots being precious, I can’t see the Cowboys keeping three quarterbacks. By the end of training camp, they should have enough to distinguish between these two guys. White’s got the bigger arm and with better protection, he’ll show why the team was so excited to get him last year. Don’t be surprised if he jumps Rush at some point in preseason and earns snaps with higher-string players.
If the quarterback plays better, then subsequently, the benefits of good passing will trickle-down to those catching the ball. The Cowboys have a lot of different guys who might find their way onto the roster, so every play will matter. This is going to make things a lot more interesting come preseason and don’t be surprised if there’s a new flavor of the week after each game. There’s a lot of football to be played, but if you had to pick six receivers from this group, who would be your top six?
Prediction: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb are the obvious locks. As likable as Allen Hurns is as a person, it’s hard seeing him make the team because of his cost compared to others. Unless he has a great camp, Tavon Austin and Noah Brown get my votes. When it comes to the wild card guys, I’m sticking with my crush from last season, Cedrick Wilson. There’s just a lot of things he can add to this offense.