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Cowboys news: Dak Prescott confident team heading in right direction

News and notes from around The Star.

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NFL: JAN 16 NFC Wild Card - 49ers at Cowboys Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dak Prescott: We definitely haven’t taken a step back - Charean Williams, Pro Football Talk

Dak Prescott is excited to see what the young players around him can do.

On paper, it appears the Cowboys aren’t as good as the 2021 version that won the NFC East.

Then again, this time last year, no one knew Micah Parsons was going to be Micah Parsons. So maybe their draft picks and their unheralded free agent signings are as good or better than the players they are replacing. Time will tell.

But quarterback Dak Prescott isn’t conceding anything. He believes in the players the Cowboys have in the locker room.

“We know what we have in this locker room and we know what we can be,” Prescott said, via Jon Machota of TheAthletic.com. “Talent is one thing, but if you don’t fulfill it, it doesn’t really mean anything. So just from the names and stuff like that, we got young players that just haven’t had a chance to make a name for themselves. I’m excited for those guys to be able to do that and for them to prove people wrong.

“I know what this team has and the men that they have and the coaches and the leadership. We definitely didn’t take a step back. We’re going to continue to get better and that’s what this offseason is about, and that’s what moving forward is.”

Cowboys’ Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2022 NFL Season - Kristopher Knox, Bleacher Report

These three positions were also the Cowboys biggest needs in this year’s draft.

Edge-Rusher

With Gregory leaving for the Denver Broncos in free agency, Dallas will likely look to complement Lawrence and Parsons with a committee of edge-rushers. Someone will have to be the top complement, though, and the Cowboys have several intriguing options.

Among them are free-agent addition Dante Fowler Jr., 2021 breakthrough defender Dorance Armstrong and rookie second-round pick Sam Williams. Armstrong tallied five sacks and 22 quarterback pressures in 2021.

Williams projects as an athletic multi-positional rusher in the mold of Parsons—though not nearly as polished.

“His pass-rushing repertoire is clearly limited right now,” Derrik Klassen of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. “Williams would be best as a heavy outside linebacker on a defense that likes to move its pieces around up front often to give him chances to win inside.”

The Cowboys have a solid pass-rushing tandem in Lawrence and Parsons, and the team logged 41 sacks in 2021. However, there’s room for improvement, and replacing Gregory is a must.

Dallas will be aided greatly by establishing depth and finding the right pass-rushing rotation in camp.

Don’t Forget About S Israel Mukuamu in 2022 Roster Talk - Jess Haynie, Inside The Star

The Cowboys have a strong veteran presence at safety, but will need their young talent for depth as well.

In case you’ve forgotten, Mukuamu was actually one of the Cowboys’ standout defensive backs last August. He registered the only interception of the preseason, tied for the team lead in pass deflections, and was third in tackles.

There’s still plenty of raw to work out of Israel’s game. Guys with his size don’t fall to Day 3 without reason and Mukuamu needed a lot of technical improvement to avoid coverage breakdowns and penalties in the NFL.

If he has elevated his game then Mukuamu should be very competitive for a roster spot in 2022. Damontae Kazee is gone and Donovan Wilson, now 27 years old, needs to be exceptional this summer to motivate Dallas to keep him around.

A new challenger in the safety mix is rookie Markquese Bell. He’s building a following early in his Cowboys career as one of the most-hyped UDFAs and with some play-making during the recent practices.

Jalen Tolbert’s athletic ceiling (thanks to baseball career) brings intrigue to Cowboys - Lauren Barash, The Landry Hat

Jalen Tolbert has high expectations as a rookie, but is still fairly new to football.

ESPN’s Todd Archer explains that Tolbert was “more of a baseball player” growing up in Mobile, Alabama. The Alabama native spent most of his childhood playing baseball. He even had a pre-draft workout with the Texas Rangers in Atlanta in 2017. He and one of his baseball teammates and best friends (who now happens to be an outfielder for the Rangers Triple A-affiliate Round Rock Express), Bubba Thompson, would always compete with each other to be the best at whatever they did.

That didn’t include football until later in life. Thompson, a first-round pick by the Rangers in 2017, and Tolbert attended McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile. During high school they spent their hours as friends taking swings in the batting cage, doing sand workouts, running routes, and more. In his junior year, Tolbert caught 14 passes for 135 yards.

The next year, with his baseball buddy as his quarterback, Tolbert caught 37 passes for 696 yards and nine touchdowns. Thompson and Tolbert helped lead their team to Alabama’s State 7A championship. From there, Tolbert knew it would be football for him.

Cowboys rookie Jalen Tolbert didn’t even start football until his sophomore year of college, proving his potential is incredibly high

To get his bearings in football, Tolbert said he studied some of the best in the game. In addition to hard work at South Alabama, he also spent his free time watching highlights of guys like Julio Jones, Davante Adams, and new teammate CeeDee Lamb on YouTube. But his multi-sport past and success at many things certainly make him a more versatile athlete.

‘Eat a couple cows’: Rookie DT John Ridgeway to beef up after heat, speed of early practices - Todd Brock, The Cowboys Wire

Even playing his college football at Arkansas, John Ridgeway is adjusting to NFL practices in the Texas summer heat.

Mother Nature wasted no time in welcoming the Illinois native to his new North Texas home, blasting Frisco with temperatures that neared 90 degrees on the very first day of rookie work.

And while Ridgeway likely experienced a few southern scorchers during his time at Arkansas, the conditions proved to be a whole different animal when combined with the torrid pace of an NFL practice.

“I’d definitely say the speed,” Ridgeway answered when he was asked recently about the biggest adjustment from college, “because the NFL is go, go, go, go. In college, you can take a couple of plays and catch your breath. But you’re going against All-Pros everyday. So you can’t take any reps off at all.”

By Day Two, head coach Mike McCarthy and the staff elected to dial things down slightly, thanks in part to the mercury having climbed even higher.

The massive player nicknamed “The Vanilla Gorilla,” who stands 6-foot-6-inches and weighed in at 328 with the Razorbacks, admitted that the Dallas heat and humidity- not to mention battling with enormous rookie offensive lineman Tyler Smith- had already affected him physically.

Dallas Cowboys Rookie Tyler Smith Compares to Legend Larry Allen, Claims Jerry Jones - Mike Fisher, CowboysSI.com

Smith will be wearing the Hall of Famer’s jersey number, but even Jerry admits the first-round pick has a long way to go to reach this status.

Dallas Cowboys rookie offensive lineman Tyler Smith grew up in DFW, so he’s not ignorant to the legend of Larry Allen, the Hall of Fame blocker who some of us think might be the best guard to ever play in the NFL.

Indeed, some of us think he might be the best player who ever played in the NFL.

“I’m a younger guy, so Larry Allen is before my time, but I caught on (to how good Allen was),” the first-round choice tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It means a lot to be able to wear that and carry on that legacy.”

How capable might Smith be to do just that? In one Cowboys tradition, he has essentially been anointed due to his jersey assignment - he’ll wear No. 73, as did Allen. (Dallas of course does the same with Nos. 88 and 94, passing down greatness.) And in another Cowboys tradition, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will speak out positively about outrageous comparisons.

In this case, Jones is a bit more careful than usual, as he said it is specifically Smith’s physical strength that reminds him of Allen.

“Not as a player, I’m not saying that,” Jones said of comparing Smith to Allen. “But he is strong. We are pleased.”

He is strong. The Cowboys - who are about to elevate him to the starting left guard job - should be pleased. But the 6-5, 320-pound Smith’s strength does not really compare to Allen’s, simply because so few humans’ strength can.

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