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2022 Cowboys rookie report: DaRon Bland’s biggest test yet

Plus, Tyler Smith is still at left tackle. Is that a good thing?

Dallas Cowboys v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

Well, the Cowboys did what fans have come to expect from them and snatched a loss from the jaws of victory in overtime against the Jaguars. There were plenty of things that went wrong for Dallas in this one, but they also continued to see some positive results from their rookie class.

OL Tyler Smith

Tyron Smith returned to the field this week, but he played exclusively at right tackle after the Cowboys lost Terence Steele for the year. That meant Tyler Smith remained at left tackle, with the veteran Smith rotating with Jason Peters on the right side.

The move was a bit of a vote of confidence in Smith, who was initially supposed to move back to left guard when his veteran namesake returned. It was not the best day for the rookie, though. Smith gave up a team-high five pressures and two of those resulted in sacks. Pass protection has been Smith’s weakness all year, and he struggled mightily against Jacksonville this week.

EDGE Sam Williams

Despite what you may have heard, the Cowboys’ pass rush had a stellar day against the Jaguars, generating their most single-game pressures since Week 5. Rookie Sam Williams was a major contributor, as his four pressures were second on the team.

That set a new career high for single-game pressures for Williams, who got very close to a sack several times. He also recorded a tackle in run support despite playing on just 24 defensive snaps. Williams has been a bright spot on a pass rush full of stars.

WR Jalen Tolbert

Jalen Tolbert was inactive for the second consecutive game. Between James Washington’s return from the injured reserve, the addition of T.Y. Hilton, and the remaining possibility of an Odell Beckham Jr. signing, it seems unlikely Tolbert will be active on game day again this season.

TE Jake Ferguson

Jake Ferguson did not play in this game after suffering a concussion last week.

OT Matt Waletzko

Matt Waletzko is on the injured reserve.

CB DaRon Bland

DaRon Bland has had his share of attention since taking over for the injured Jourdan Lewis, and he’s had varying degrees of success. But Bland perhaps had his biggest test yet against Jacksonville. Primarily tasked with guarding Christian Kirk, the Jaguars’ leading receiver, Bland ended up seeing a season high 12 targets on the day.

So how’d he do? Bland allowed completions on seven of those targets for a total of 62 yards, though it should be noted that nearly half of those yards came on one play. Against Kirk specifically, Bland gave up completions on three of seven targets and recorded both a pass breakup and interception.

Unfortunately, the Jaguars found other ways to move the ball through the air, but Bland largely succeeded in preventing Kirk from taking over the game like he has against other opponents.

LB Damone Clark

Damone Clark has been having a strong rookie campaign so far, mostly rotating with Anthony Barr since he got worked into the lineup. But when Leighton Vander Esch went down early, Clark and Barr became the top options at linebacker instead of alternating with each other.

The result wasn't always pretty, and the Cowboys run defense suffered because of it. Clark played on 52 defensive snaps, by far the most action he’s seen all year, and finished with the team lead in tackles with nine. That said, none of those were for a loss and the average depth of tackle on Clark’s tackles was 7.3, meaning that most of his tackles were coming well up the field.

That isn’t to say Clark played poorly - he didn’t miss a tackle all day, for instance - but it does highlight the impact of Vander Esch’s absence. Clark has been playing well for a rookie, but Sunday was a reminder that he’s not yet ready to supplant a veteran like Vander Esch.

LB Devin Harper

Devin Harper is on the injured reserve.

TE Peyton Hendershot

It’s unfortunate that Peyton Hendershot’s big touchdown catch will be mostly forgotten in the wake of an improbable and wholly frustrating loss, but maybe he can earn some appreciation here. With Ferguson out, Hendershot was pushed into TE2 duties, though he still only played on 17 offensive snaps. However, he cashed in big on his lone target, as Dak Prescott found him in the endzone to put the Cowboys up 14-0 early.

It was a well-run route from the rookie, who has put in more than his fair share of work this year as a run blocker, and Hendershot was aggressive at the catch point to ensure he didn’t drop a touchdown. The catch made him the first Cowboys rookie tight end since 2013 to record multiple touchdown receptions.

To further the point about Hendershot doing the dirty work, 11 of his 17 snaps Sunday were in run blocking and he once again did a serviceable job. Hendershot has been doing the thankless work all year, so it’s nice to see him get rewarded with touchdowns.

S Markquese Bell

Markquese Bell was active for the first time since Week 8 against the Bears. He tied for the team lead in special teams snaps with 27 and also played on six defensive snaps. Bell did not register a tackle on either phase of the game, but he was credited with one missed tackle on defense.

RB Malik Davis

Malik Davis filled in at his usual special teams role, playing on a healthy 21 special teams snaps.

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