As the team gets ready to fly to Oxnard on Thursday, some things are firming up for the Dallas Cowboys. One thing looks like a negative on the surface. Both DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones are expected to start camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. They will both count against the 90-man roster, but will not be allowed to participate in practices or preseason games while on the list. However, there is a silver lining for the team, and an even bigger one for some players down the depth chart.
While this will have some effect on preseason games, neither Lawrence or Jones was going to see many snaps in those. The Cowboys protect their starters too much. The real benefit will come in the practices. Backups will see more reps against starters on offense as well as just getting several more chances overall.
Snaps in August are a precious commodity for players who are fighting to make the 53-man roster. You can’t prove yourself while you are standing around waiting for a turn to do a drill or run a play. Now with the two starters likely sitting out at least until the team comes back to Frisco for the latter part of camp, their reps will be portioned out to others. Here are some of the names that will have the most to gain.
One of the best developments of the offseason was the addition of a lot of talent at this position. But outside of Lawrence and Robert Quinn, the rest of the slots are very fluid going into camp. The team should carry from four to six ends into the season, with five perhaps the most likely number. There are currently six players vying to fill out the room.
Taco Charlton has been a disappointment for his draft position so far. He needs as many good reps as he can get to claim a primary rotational position. He was already in line for a lot of preseason game work. Now, he will take more reps against Tyron Smith and La’el Collins.
Dorance Armstrong flashed some last year in camp, and now he can show more. He has some strong competition, and does not carry the protection that being a first-round pick gives Charlton. Armstrong has to really prove he belongs.
Kerry Hyder is probably Armstrong’s biggest challenger. He is a veteran who moves back to his more natural position after having been mis-used in the 3-4 scheme the Detroit Lions switched to last season. Those reps he will gain are valuable to him in re-acclimating to DE as well as showing just how valuable he is.
The two draftees, Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks, are fighting to break into the lineup. They have a tough path ahead with so many veterans to contend with. The Cowboys put a lot of weight on experience. The two JJs have to capitalize on every snap they get.
Shakir Soto is the forgotten man in the bunch. He is the longest shot of all, but camp is where those sometimes come out of nowhere and shock us all.
Where there are a lot of positions to fight for at DE, corner is a lot more limited. With Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown pretty well entrenched, and Jourdan Lewis a good bet to make it as well, there is most likely only one spot for the remaining five to fight over.
Michael Jackson is the one positioned the best as a fifth-round draft pick. While that does not make him a lock the way Dallas usually treats players taken earlier, the team is going to give him every chance to make the roster. Now he will have some chances to show what he can do against Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb. Some good plays in one-on-one situations as well as seven man and team repetitions could do just that.
Keep an eye on UDFA Chris Westry as well. While he may be fighting more for a chance at a practice squad job, or even to be claimed elsewhere, he also could prove he is better for the team than Jackson. If the team should elect to go long at CB, carrying six on the 53, his chances go way up.
That leaves the trio of Donovan Olumba, C.J. Goodwin, and Treston Decoud scrambling for a shot. You hate to even admit it, but camp injuries could open a door for one of them to get into the mix. We hope it doesn’t come to that, but it is a harsh part of reality.
We are going to get more data this year on all these player than we would have if Lawrence and Jones had been full participants from the start. That is good for us, and even better for the team. If you want a prediction from me, I’d say that Charlton is on the 53, with Armstrong and Hyder holding off the rookies. And I think Michael Jackson will earn his Star.