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Six downroster Cowboys showing up early in 2020 training camp

Training camp always leads to some players creating a buzz. Here are a few that are getting noticed at the Star.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA
Some receivers make this list, including Cedrick Wilson.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The pads have come on and the Dallas Cowboys are getting into the heart of training camp as they prepare for the 2020 season. One of the most entertaining things about camp each year is watching for players down the camp depth chart to emerge and try to stake a claim to a roster spot. They may not be high draft picks, or might be coming off lackluster performances in the past, but give us reason to hope that they will be a factor for the team this year. Sometimes it comes to naught, but at times, we get to see the start of something good.

It’s still early, which means the sample size is a bit small, but here are a few names that have generated a bit of excitement.

Cedrick Wilson

The top three wide receivers are set, of course, but you have to have depth. So far, Wilson has taken a pretty clear lead for the WR4 job.

Wilson also has the advantage of having been on the roster last year, but was only active for six games and recorded just five receptions. That still gave him a year working in practice with Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott, which is not insignificant. Now he is making a real move to get an increased role spelling the starters and maybe (we can only hope) on the field in some four wide sets.

Jon’Vea Johnson

He has been here before, having gotten some nice reviews last year during the offseason. But dropped passes in preseason and then injured reserve kept him off the roster. He is making a bit of a splash this year. The team should carry at least five wide receivers on the roster, so there is a job if he can prove himself.

It’s a good way to get attention, but he needs to have more than one or two standout plays. Consistency is going to be the key. Still, it is a start.

Ventell Bryant

It shouldn’t be too surprising to see three wide receivers make this list, because that position group traditionally has some of the most exciting stories and competitions in camp. With an offense that seems to be tilting more and more to the passing game, or at least that we hope is, that means there are going to be plenty of chances for the guys that catch the ball.

For Bryant, the important question might be whether Dallas will carry five or six WRs into the season. However, if they just carry five, it is not all bad news, because they will want a ready to plug in receiver on the practice squad. In either case, Bryant, like Johnson, gave the coaches something to consider. Of course, one player’s standout moment is not always good for the guy lined up across from him.

Like Johnson, Bryant needs to establish some consistency. There are plenty of other receivers looking to make a mark.

Francis Bernard

Every year, it seems, there is one UDFA that jumps out and builds a case to make the roster. This year it is Bernard, who is also part of a bigger positive trend - interceptions.

It’s great to see so many defensive backs getting picks, even in practice. It is a bit remarkable to see the team being led in interceptions by an undrafted free agent linebacker.

Bernard won’t be a surprise to some. Many pegged him as the UDFA with the best chance of making the roster. However, that was predicated on him being a strong special teams player for John Fassel. The performance he has turned in so far hints that he may be more than that. The Cowboys have a very strong linebacker group, and with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee, Bernard would strictly be seen as a backup. He just appears to be a much more capable backup than expected at this stage of camp.

Tony Pollard

OK, including him is perhaps cheating a bit. This is really more about the coaching and planning showing up. It’s a story that requires two tweet chapters to tell.

It’s required to read between the lines, but fortunately Helman did the lines in extra wide magic marker here. One of the frustrations last season was how first-year running back Pollard, who was easily the best member of his draft class for the team, was so underutilized. Many of us clamored for the team to put him on the field with Ezekiel Elliott and get creative, or at least get him out there a bit more than he was. But creativity declined the further the season progressed last year, as well as when the team went on the road or hosted a tough opponent. Or at least it seemed. We had another year of running Elliott into loaded boxes out of 12 personnel for two yards on the way to third and long for Dak Prescott and the receivers to overcome. Pollard was used sparingly as a relief man for Elliott. When he did get a chance, he was at times electric.

Now imagine all the things you can do with both of them on the field. Offensive deception and motion are always effective. They become even more so with multiple weapons. These necessarily cryptic tweets seem like one reporter’s way of letting us know it is really happening.

Trysten Hill

In a way, this was what this article was intended to get to. As you might be aware, the Cowboys just injury-waived Gerald McCoy, who was the presumptive starting 3-tech defensive tackle. That means that Hill, who was taken ahead of Pollard but demonstrated considerably less promise last year, is now the first option to take McCoy’s place. His primary competition is apparently rookie Neville Gallimore, with position flexible Tyrone Crawford likely serving as a backup all across the line.

He hasn’t had any big splash plays in practice that have been reported. But he has this endorsement from his head coach.

Of course, you hardly expect a head coach to address a player that is suddenly much more important to the team and say “Yeah, he sucks and we are toast.” However, so far Mike McCarthy has seemed a bit more forthcoming in his remarks about his roster than his predecessor. Also, he has yet to focus on how someone has been a very good player in the league for a long time, but I may be succumbing to a personal peeve. He may yet fool us, but so far, the statements he has made just seem more genuine. Confirmation bias may affect that perception, since he is in his own way as giddy about the starting wide receivers as we are. Still, this seems like a legitimate endorsement of Hill and the progress he has made.

And it may not just be the coaches looking on the bright side.

If he is able to win the starting role, that rather dismal 2019 draft group will suddenly look a lot better. And what was shaping up to be a much improved defense might stay on track.