2019 was a rough time for defensive tackle Trysten Hill. When the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the second round, it was widely panned. During the season, he saw very limited time on the field. He was only on the active roster for seven games. His lackluster performance was a major contributing factor in that year’s draft class being seen as very disappointing, with only Tony Pollard making any noticeable contributions, and that in a limited role.
Things didn’t get off to a good start for him this year, either. Right out of the gate in free agency, the Cowboys signed Gerald McCoy. This was widely interpreted as a vote of no confidence in Hill. Many questioned if Hill would even make the roster, given head coach Mike McCarthy stating he preferred to carry only four defensive tackles. Since Hill was often considered a bit of a project it was thought that he might spend this year on the practice squad to try and develop his skills.
Then Antwaun Woods stepped on McCoy’s foot in a routine drill. McCoy ruptured a quad tendon and had season-ending surgery, followed by his release on an injury clause in his contract. Suddenly, the team had to take another look at their plans for this year, including whether Hill could rise to the challenge and become the starter you hope to get with second-round picks.
As one who believed that the PS was his most likely path forward, I admit he is making me get out the saute pan for some crow ala stupid. The reviews since McCoy went down have been good, at times very good. He is impressing observers, including one of the most important in the organization.
Cowboys players who have impressed Jerry Jones in training camp:— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 14, 2019
If you wonder who might be more important, that would be McCarthy, who has already put his stamp firmly on this team. And he has also had favorable things to say.
Mike McCarthy on DT Trysten Hill: I really like what he’s done, since really the virtual meetings. He was always looking for extra work, asks a lot of questions, I’ve been very impressed. Only in pads one day, but I think he’s off to a good start in training camp.— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) August 18, 2020
There is still a long way to go in camp, and it is the games that will matter. But there is no doubt that Hill has been a very pleasant surprise, and seems well on his way to not only making the team, but latching onto the starting job.
So what happened?
That developmental aspect to his value may just have been spot on, just happening faster than many thought possible. Hill was a product of the highly-respected scouting department under Will McClay, and may just turn out to be another example of them knowing what they are doing. We also may have put too much of the credit for his selection on the past coaching staff - or just not given them enough credit.
Now, after a year of NFL practices and even with no offseason, Hill might finally be realizing the potential that led to his being drafted. That would certainly be a credit to that work ethic and effort McCarthy mentioned.
There is another factor that probably has some part in this. Jim Tomsula is the new defensive line coach, and he is considered to be excellent at his job. He hasn’t had much time to work directly with Hill, of course. That might just make his coaching even more impressive. There’s also the change from the Rod Marinelli style of defending the run on the way to the quarterback. That has been cited by members of the team as one clear difference for the line. It may be one more case of putting your players in a position to succeed, something that has good implications for more than just the defensive line. In general, the coaching has given every indication of taking a step up this training camp, and Tomsula looks to be a part of that, along with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Whatever the causes, Hill is now taking the first steps to making a lot of us eat our words. (They also saute well.) If he can continue on this trajectory, he will wind up being one of the most significant developments for the team. He may not be the player McCoy would have been. He could, however, really make the impact of that injury one that doesn’t hamper this team much at all. One thing is for certain, a lot more people are pulling for his success than last year.