The Cowboys’ rookie class this year was spent almost exclusively on defense in an attempt to rebuild a unit that was especially bad last year. Their few offensive rookies did very little considering how good the offensive starters are, but Thursday night’s season opener was our first good look at how these young defenders can handle the NFL.
As you might have predicted from facing the ageless Tom Brady, it didn’t go too well. But it also wasn’t a complete disaster. Here’s the full scoop on how each rookie did.
Micah Parsons, LB
As expected, Micah Parsons saw the most action out of all these rookies. Bearing the green dot on his helmet, Parsons was the quarterback of the defense. He also saw a broad role, splitting time between playing off the ball and on the line of scrimmage as a threat to blitz. Parsons was looking to build off of his impressive training camp and preseason performances with a breakout NFL debut.
It didn’t go quite as planned. Parsons frequently found himself out of position, especially when charged with pass coverage responsibilities.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Parsons finished third on the team with seven tackles and also recorded a pass breakup and quarterback hit. He seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on, and shined when he was able to come downfield as both a run stopper and pass rusher.
But the reality is that Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is a rising star in the coaching world and Brady is, well, Brady. Plenty of defenders are going to look bad against this offense, but it doesn’t necessarily mean those defenders are bad. That Parsons still managed to put up some good reps is encouraging, although he’ll need to build off of that in the coming weeks to justify the Cowboys’ spending such a high draft pick on him.
Kelvin Joseph, CB
Kelvin Joseph was placed on the injured reserve and won’t be eligible to return until Week 4, but he was definitely missed on Thursday night. Joseph didn’t necessarily do anything to earn a starting job in the preseason, but Anthony Brown was picked on relentlessly and struggled mightily.
It’s definitely not a given that Joseph will jump into the starting lineup when he returns, and Brown has at least two more games to redeem himself, but early returns had Cowboys fans wishing for an alternative to Brown.
Osa Odighizuwa, iDL
Osa Odighizuwa was forced into a starting role after Neville Gallimore’s injury, and his NFL debut was one in which he and the other interior defensive linemen needed to play at the top of their game in order to make Brady uncomfortable.
Considering Brady threw for nearly 400 yards and wasn’t sacked once, the pass rush didn’t quite get it done. However, there were flashes where the team - and Odighizuwa himself - popped a bit. For the night, Odighizuwa was credited with just one tackle and nothing else.
It was a relatively quiet night, but Odighizuwa was going up against an exceptional interior offensive line - the unit as a whole finished third in adjusted sack rate last year - and a quarterback with a deadly knack for getting the ball out quick. For his first start, it wasn’t a bad night. However, like Parsons, Odighizuwa will need to build on this going forward.
Chauncey Golston, EDGE
After spending most of the preseason on the PUP list, Chauncey Golston was activated right before final roster cuts. While he’s medically cleared, he’s not quite in football shape yet, and was therefore inactive for the season opener. With an extended period until their next game, perhaps Dallas will be able to get Golston some snaps soon.
Nahshon Wright, CB
There were certainly some people clamoring for Nahshon Wright - the incredibly tall cornerback that impressed during training camp and the preseason - to step in after Anthony Brown’s miserable first half, but it wasn’t to be.
Wright did get some action on special teams, as he will likely do for most of the season barring injuries ahead of him on the depth chart, but that was all for the rookie. However, if Brown isn’t able to rebound from Thursday night, Wright may get his number called sooner rather than later.
Jabril Cox, LB
Jabril Cox was another rookie defender who turned plenty of heads in preseason, but he’s just buried on the depth chart behind better players. As such, he’ll see most of his action on special teams, and that was the case Thursday night.
Josh Ball, OT
Josh Ball was placed on the injured reserve, so he’ll have to sit out for at least two more weeks. Fortunately he wasn’t missed on Thursday, as both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins played extremely well after missing practically all of last year.
Simi Fehoko, WR
Simi Fehoko was active for this game, but it was likely only because Noah Brown was activated from the COVID-19 reserve list just before the game. He saw a little action on special teams, but expect him to find his name on the inactive list in favor of Brown going forward.
Quinton Bohanna, iDL
Everybody’s favorite big man, Quinton Bohanna, made his debut alongside fellow rookies Micah Parsons and Osa Odighizuwa as the only real frequent contributors in the game. With his size and skill set, Bohanna is limited to early run downs playing nose tackle and 1-technique, but he did it well.
Like Odighizuwa, Bohanna was facing a very good offensive line but held his own. He wasn’t the game-wrecking force that Tampa Bay has in Vita Vea, but nobody expects that from a sixth-round rookie. Much like the other two rookies, Bohanna provided some good reps to build off of, but the progression going forward is going to be the key here.
Israel Mukuamu, S
Israel Mukuamu was inactive for this game, and that will likely be the case going forward. Dallas called up Darian Thompson from the practice squad because of his special teams value - although it’s worth noting the special teams played very poorly Thursday night - and that’s probably going to be the plan most weeks.
After switching from cornerback to safety, Mukuamu is destined for a de facto redshirt year unless injuries force him into action.
Matt Farniok, G
With Brandon Knight still on the COVID-19 reserve list, Matt Farniok entered the game as the primary depth on the interior of the offensive line since Connor McGovern was starting in Zack Martin’s place. Luckily, Farniok wasn’t tested too much, seeing some minimal action on special teams but nothing more.
It will be interesting to see if Farniok - admittedly the least noteworthy of the Cowboys’ draft picks this year - remains on the active roster once other guys, such as Knight and Josh Ball, return. But for now, he did his job, as minimal as it was.