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Cowboys defensive tackle Trysten Hill’s role going forward

Is the third-year pro a lock to make the Cowboys roster?

NFL: OCT 11 Giants at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the Dallas Cowboys selected Trysten Hill in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the organization believed they had their stud defensive tackle they had craved for years. Hill had posted some eye-popping numbers in his final season at UCF, 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, and saw his draft stock skyrocket up to eventually being selected by Dallas with the 58th pick.

Since then, things have gone about as poorly as the Cowboys or Hill himself could have imagined. During his first NFL season, Hill posted a lackluster performance on and off the field. The defensive tackle racked up just five total tackles, one tackle for loss, and zero sacks in seven games. Hill posted a PFF defensive grade of 57.1, an extremely disappointing grade for a second-round pick.

As if his poor performance on the field wasn’t enough, things got worse for then 21-year-old off the field. In late October, Hill and recently released defensive tackle Antwaun Woods were sent home from practice after reportedly being late for a team meeting.

After an extremely disappointing rookie year, Hill had to prove his doubters wrong in 2020. For the first time in his career, he started to show some promise. He certainly wasn’t the game-breaking defensive tackle the Cowboys envisioned when they selected him in 2019, but he did show some flashes of the guy they believed he could be.

According to PFF, in the first four games of the season Hill played 63% of the defensive snaps and recorded 13 total tackles, one tackle for loss, and six QB pressures. Things were looking up for the former UCF star, but once again, things took an unfortunate turn. In the same game the Cowboys lost quarterback Dak Prescott for the season, Hill suffered a torn ACL. The defensive tackle’s season came to an end and we never got to see if he could continue his upward trajectory.

So, where do things stand with Hill now? Well, coming off an injury he’s going to have to be at his very best in training camp. The Cowboys brought in veteran Brent Urban in free agency, and drafted both Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna to help beef up their defensive line. Despite the recent release of Antwaun Woods, someone who would have been competing with Hill for a roster spot, the now third-year pro will need to do some work to secure a spot on the team.

Something Hill may have going in his favor is his fit in Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme. In a recent article, Adithya Prabakaran of FanSided’s Sports DFW page mentioned how Hill’s athleticism may play well in Quinn’s scheme.

As we look onward to the Dan Quinn era of the Dallas Cowboys defense, Hill is a scheme fit; well kind of? An under tackle carries great importance as a pass rusher but does so from a shade position compared to the fronts coach Marinelli used to run. The shade positions offer a bit of flexibility when running fire zone blitzes and adjusting to slide protections. As a run defender, the responsibilities are largely the same while playing with greater area in the front four.

The diversity that Quinn brings to his pass-rushing should make things more exciting for good athletes like Hill, first-round pick Micah Parsons, third-round pick Osa Odighizuwa, Randy Gregory, and Neville Gallimore to a degree. But for someone who didn’t have great production in college and hasn’t had much production since he’s been in the league, how much playtime does Hill receive?

Despite Hill being a seemingly good scheme fit, just how much playing time he will receive is a valid question. The Cowboys are a team that is built to win now. Quinn and this defensive staff have no ties to Hill. He was drafted under the old regime and was a pet cat of Rod Marinelli. If Hill does not produce on the field, Quinn and his fellow defensive coaches may see no reason for keeping him on the roster very long.

Trysten Hill sits near the top of the list of Cowboys players who need to show out in 2021. If he’s able to build upon what he showed at the beginning of 2020, he could be a big part of the defense. If not, there’s a chance he could be out the door before the season begins.