Training camp for the Dallas Cowboys has officially begun, and we’ll finally get to watch players in action. Over the next several weeks, certain players will start turning heads as they strut their stuff in camp. But which players will stand out the most? Today, we’ve broken that question into three categories: studs who will have a fantastic camp, players who will be buzzing, and lesser-known players who start making a little noise. We’ve also separated this out by offense and defense.
Offense: Amari Cooper
The Cowboys were caught empty-handed last year as they overestimated the skill they had at the wide receiver position. Just look at the Cowboys wide receivers who had the most targets last year in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. None of those guys are on the team now.
Eventually, the Cowboys figured out how bad things were and made a huge investment to acquire Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders. Dallas went 7-2 in their final nine games with Cooper on the roster.
This will be the first camp for “the Cowboys 2019 first-round draft pick”, who just so happens to already have three Pro Bowls trips. That’s a pretty impressive “rookie.” Cooper gives the offense something they didn’t have last season - a very talented route-running receiver. His professionalism and approach to the game will have the coaches raving about him. The connection he builds with Dak Prescott will continue to grow as these two work towards being one of the top QB/WR duo’s in the game.
Defense: Maliek Collins
The Cowboys spent their top draft resource on defensive tackle Trysten Hill and all eyes will be on the rookie this training camp. The team is hoping for big things from their second-round investment as Rod Marinelli absolutely adores him.
Hill with have his work cut out for him because the Cowboys already have a strong interior pass rusher in Maliek Collins. After years of dealing with some type of foot injury during camp, Collins is finally healthy. And when he’s healthy, he’s really effective. Not only that, but the veteran defensive tackle has a lot to play for as he’s in the final year of his rookie contract. Collins is quietly one of the team’s better defenders, and while his health has slowed him down at times, people shouldn’t brush him aside. He can be very disruptive when he’s not ailing.
Get your buzz on
Offense: Tony Pollard
Even before the news of an Ezekiel Elliott potential holdout, the craze for rookie running back Tony Pollard was off and running. The team drafted him in the fourth round back in April not to replace Zeke, but to complement him. With new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore calling the shots now, the addition of a dynamic pass-catching running back had many fans excited.
And that excitement level should only grow as he’ll take on more reps with Zeke a no-show. He’s not going to be the game-changing running back that Elliott is, but he’s very elusive. Don’t be surprise if he gets loose in the second level, and when that happens - look out!
Tony Pollard ranked 6th in his draft class in % not tackled on 1st contact at 41.8%— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) April 27, 2019
He’s a slippery sucker.
Defense: Xavier Woods
Whether it be free agency or the draft, the Cowboys balked at adding a big-name safety to their team this year. It’s left some fans a little empty inside as it’s really the only position the team doesn’t have a star, or at least someone who might emerge as one.
Or do they?
The team loves what they have in Xavier Woods. There’s no doubt he’s performed at a level that far outweighs his sixth-round draft price, but can he be more than that? Kris Richard seems to think so, and it’s not wise to disagree with the Cowboys de facto defensive coordinator. Richard is excited about Woods’ ability this season.
“This guy’s going to be our sideline to sideline guy. He’s got the speed, he’s got the mind, he’s got the toughness. He has the tools to do what we’re going to require out of our middle-of-the-field safety, out of any safety at any position that we have him.”
Last year, he had a similar excitement about Byron Jones and that worked out pretty well.
Offense: Brandon Knight
The Cowboys are deep at offensive line with a handful of savvy veterans to round out the second string. Having players like Cameron Fleming, Joe Looney, and Xavier Su’a-Filo as reserves help bring about a warm fuzzy feeling should the injury bug strike.
But the strength of this offensive line also includes some very appealing young guys who are fighting to make the team. Players like Mitch Hyatt and Jake Campos are undrafted free agents from this year and last year respectively. They both have some appealing traits that the coaching staff might be able to develop into a future swing tackle.
But one name that gets overlooked is undrafted free agent from Indiana, Brandon Knight. A combine snub, Knight is playing with a chip on his shoulder. He is one of those high effort guys that plays with a little nastiness, and the coaches love that. He plays with a lot of strength and is tough to move when he gets set. Will McClay spoke out about his demeanor.
“We sent out scouts out to get a second look, because he didn’t go to the Combine. You show up and the kid is pissed off that he didn’t go to the Combine, and that nature of who he is on the field shows up in his natural personality. So here’s a guy that can compete at guard and at tackle, and there’s not enough offensive linemen to go around for 32 teams and play good football if you lose one.”
While Hyatt is the UDFA lineman people are most talking about, don’t fall asleep on Knight.
Defense: Andrew Dowell
The Cowboys love speed and they have added more of it to their linebacker position in recent years. With Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith a dynamic tandem who can chase after ball carriers as well as handle coverage duties - the team continues to strengthen their defense. And one guy who might be able to add to that is Michigan State’s Andrew Dowell.
The undrafted rookie finished last year with 97 tackles, nine of which were for losses. He also had nine defended passes and 3.5 sacks. Speed kills.
Dowell has good instincts and attacks quickly. His coverage ability is something that could stand out in camp from the slew of UDFA linebackers trying to make the team. While his skills should at least land him a job on the practice squad, don’t be shocked if this safety/linebacker “tweener” lands himself on the 53-man roster.
Who do you got for each of these categories?