The Dallas Cowboys played their first preseason game this weekend. There wasn’t a lot to see in terms of starters playing, but we did get a heavy dose of the reserves. Before the game, we identified 32 bubble boys to keep an eye on, so now it’s time to check in with each position group and see which players helped their case and gave themselves a better shot to make the team. Yesterday, we examined the offensive bubble guys fighting to make the team. Today, we’ll look at the defense.
First off, everyone who played defensive end on Saturday performed well. Dorance Armstrong looks more and more like a legit contributor. He had a nice tackle for a loss when he sniffed out a draw play. Taco Charlton played well. He was constantly in the backfield and was causing all sorts of fits for 49ers left tackle Jamell Garcia-Williams, who kept getting called for holding. As good as these “starters” performed, the bench guys were equally impressive.
Stock up: Joe Jackson, Jalen Jelks, Kerry Hyder
Joe Jackson is making this roster. He’s making plays on a consistent basis. Sure, the 49ers backups aren’t any type of benchmark to judge from, but Jackson has been showing up regularly all throughout camp. Whether he’s got a definite role on this team right away or not, the team must protect him by keeping him on the roster.
Jalen Jelks has been the “other” pass rusher that was drafted thanks to how well Jackson is playing, but give the kid some credit - he was disruptive as well. The Cowboys are loaded with quality players along the defensive line.
They may not be HotBoyz yet, but rookies Joe Jackson, Jalen Jelks, and under-the-radar Ricky Walker were en fuego Saturday night. Can you split a sack three ways? pic.twitter.com/PamsqTgjl1— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 11, 2019
And Kerry Hyder had a couple nice pressures, including the one that resulted in Luke Gifford’s interception. Any other year it would be easy to say he’s in great shape to make this squad, but with so many great selections, this one’s going to be tight.
All eyes were on the second-round rookie Trysten Hill. There were times when he got some pressure and other times he appeared to get washed away. It wasn’t that great of a debut from the UCF under tackle, but it doesn’t matter. He’s a lock to make the team.
Stock up: Ricky Walker
One guy who’s not a lock to make the team who should still be on your radar is Ricky Walker. Listed as a defensive end, the team played him inside, and boy did he impress. The undrafted free agent from Virginia Tech had a great first game. He was constantly disruptive in the trenches and did a great job fighting off double teams. He’s going to get a lot of praise when they review the tape.
The motor on Ricky Walker was on full display against the 49ers. Keep an eye on him as a potential sleeper to crack the 53. pic.twitter.com/3wG6cfgspU— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 11, 2019
Stock up: Luke Gifford and Justin Phillips
Probably the most unsettling thing from this game for me is the fact that Luke Gifford got hurt, which is a weird thing to say since he’s a undrafted free agent linebacker on the bubble. Based on what we’re hearing in camp combined with what little playing time he got on Saturday, Gifford looked like he had a chance to carve out a role on this defense. He’s instinctive and he’s athletic. It was exciting watching him run around on the field.
Gifford sprained his ankle and it’s unclear how much time he’ll miss. What does this mean for him in terms of his spot on the team? It’s tough to say, but it would be hard to imagine the team leaving him off the roster, unless this is expected to linger longer than we hope where an IR designation could be placed on him.
Justin Phillips isn’t a name we’ve heard a lot of. In fact, he has already been released once and then brought back when his fellow UDFA teammate Andrew Dowell got hurt. He was solid, recording four tackles. It wasn’t anything like Gifford, but just remember his name since he’ll be seeing additional snaps now.
Stock down: Justin March-Lillard
The veteran linebacker made all the wrong decisions when diagnosing the plays on Saturday. He bit on play-action that would’ve resulted in a big gain if the receiver didn’t blatantly drop the ball. He also got washed away on a big run play when he locked up with a blocker instead of playing the ball.
Some have JML as lock, but I wouldn’t be so quick to turn that card in just yet. The Cowboys defense did a great job shutting the 49ers down, but the success they did have usually involved a bad play from March-Lillard. Even last year’s redshirt linebacker Chris Covington played better than JML as he was at least making some plays.
Even without Byron Jones on the field, the Cowboys starting corners are the real deal. This group is going to be fun to watch. The question though is - how good is the depth. Donovan Olumba did okay. He got beat once, but then had a nice tipped passed. C.J. Goodwin didn’t do much to garner attention, except for getting called for a holding penalty.
Stock down: Mike Jackson
The fifth-round corner from Miami is having a good camp, but he would like to forget about Saturday’s game. Granted, his two biggest miscues came against rookie Deebo Samuel, who many draft guru’s recognize as a pretty darn good receiver. Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on him just yet. Nonetheless, he grabbed Samuel enough to get the flag thrown, and he didn’t get his head turned around on a deep completion.
Behind Jourdan Lewis, it’s still anyone’s game as to who rounds out the depth at corner, and despite this performance, Jackson is still sitting in pretty good shape.
Stock up: Donovan Wilson
Overall, fans were pretty pleased with the selection of Texas A&M safety Donovan Wilson in the sixth round. He’s a hard hitting safety that can play the run, but he’s also got some skills in coverage. Wilson has made some plays in camp, but he’s been relatively quiet lately. That all changed on Saturday when he came away with an interception, so let the hype continue.
There isn’t a lot of competition at the safety position. George Iloka hasn’t done a whole lot in camp, but he had a couple solid tackles in the game. If Wilson continues to play well, you have to like his chances to make the team.
Nobody is holding their breath for Showers to make the team, but it’s still nostalgic that he’s hanging around. This should be the year it all ends as he’s not doing anything to help his chances. The only time we heard name called was when he got called for a holding penalty on a kickoff return that backed the Cowboys to their own 10-yard line.