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Intriguing Cowboys practice matchups to watch in the 2022 offseason

The Cowboys will be practicing against each other for a while.

NFL: JUN 02 Dallas Cowboys OTA Offseason Workouts Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys rookie offensive lineman Tyler Smith began working at left tackle during Thursday’s OTAs, something the Cowboys plan on doing throughout his first offseason of practices. Even with Tyron Smith available, the rookie Smith produced one of the day’s highlights when he stopped Micah Parsons in his tracks on a rep at tackle.

Smith’s strong hands and imposing size will give him a chance to make many splash plays in practice settings, with the next part of his game being the every down consistency at left guard. His matchup with Parsons inspired this list of other positional battles the Cowboys could see play out this summer.

WR CeeDee Lamb vs. CB Trevon Diggs

The Cowboys offense benefited from working against Dan Quinn’s cohesive defense in practices all year in 2021, but still faces challenges to improve this year with key players missing. CeeDee Lamb faces a lot of pressure as the team’s new top receiver, and in some ways the same is true of cornerback Trevon Diggs. He’ll be looking to repeat his breakout 2021 season.

Between Lamb and Diggs, the Cowboys have two alpha type players who never back down from competition. Lamb may be relying on Kellen Moore’s scheme to find creative ways to separate from Diggs, but he also knows the Cowboys top corner can take risks in single coverage. This should allow for some practice highlights of Lamb creating separation, as well as Diggs getting the best of both Lamb and Dak Prescott by intercepting passes.

Where other practice matchups will be designed to evaluate who actually makes the final roster, this one is a heavyweight fight between two guaranteed starters.

DT John Ridgeway vs. C Tyler Biadasz

The center position became a spot the Cowboys passed on upgrading because they hope they have an ascending player in Tyler Biadasz. Biadasz’s shortcomings as a blocker in space and that plays stiff in the lower body are potential areas that rookie defensive tackle John Ridgeway can take advantage of. The Cowboys have better than usual depth with interior pass rushers, but not as much in the run-stuffing department, giving Ridgeway a chance to see the field as a fifth-round pick.

Mike McCarthy called Ridgeway an “anchor” on the defensive line, noting the down-the-line play style that jumped off the tape at Arkansas. If he can win matchups consistently against Biadasz and create penetration, Ridgeway may force his way into the regular rotation at the position.

There’s sure to be rookie growing pains for the Cowboys newest DT, but the same can still be said about Biadasz, who will also have his hands full with Osa Odighizuwa, Carlos Watkins, Neville Gallimore, and Quinton Bohanna in practice.

LB Jabril Cox vs. TE Dalton Schultz

The Cowboys are very hopeful that Jabril Cox can grab hold of the starting linebacker position alongside Micah Parsons, while also re-signing veteran Leighton Vander Esch for insurance. Vander Esch has reportedly gotten off to a strong start in coverage drills, but this is where Cox can excel, lining up as wide as a boundary corner on tape at LSU.

The Cowboys have options to deal with tight ends in the passing game, with Jayron Kearse lining up in the box, Vander Esch, and Cox. When working against their own offense though, Dalton Schultz presents a unique challenge to the defense. His chemistry with Prescott helps the QB-TE duo stay one step ahead, but this is where the speed of Cox could shine.

Schultz also has room to improve as a blocker, no matter who lines up against him across the line. If this includes Parsons coming off the edge, Cox will be asked to cover a lot of ground, as well as show what he can do in run support.

DE DeMarcus Lawrence vs. RT Terence Steele

Veteran pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence is eager to produce more sacks again, restructuring his deal in the offseason after notching just three in seven games. In first-team reps, Lawrence will be going against a player that needs all the fierce competition he can get in Terence Steele. The Cowboys coaching staff was impressed enough by Steele’s rapid development that La’el Collins became a cap casualty, signing with the Bengals in free agency.

The Cowboys have a lot of questions to answer in how they’ve chosen to retool their offensive line, and trusting Steele as a full time starter is one of them. This is a matchup that Dallas probably wouldn’t mind seeing a dead heat in, with Steele getting the best of Lawrence being a great sign for the offense, while Lawrence flashing against Steele would excite Quinn’s defense.

Lawrence doesn’t move around much from the left end position, but Steele could also see work against Parsons, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and rookie Sam Williams.

SAF Markquese Bell vs. RBs Ezekiel Elliott/Tony Pollard

UDFA Markquese Bell out of Florida A&M has the early lead to be this year’s fan favorite player to sneak onto the roster. The Cowboys are no strangers to stashing players they see with long-term potential, and this could be the case with Bell as the team still has Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Donovan Wilson to take snaps this season.

Bell is the type of hybrid safety that’s done well in Quinn’s scheme, capable of playing the linebacker role that converted safety Keanu Neal occupied last season. Whether he lines up close to the line or in deep coverage, Bell can lock onto his target and deliver punishing hits. Making big plays against the Cowboys top two running backs, either meeting them in the hole or picking them up in pass coverage, would be a great way for Bell to get noticed.

The Cowboys have used Pollard all over the field to start OTAs, drawing much more attention than just Bell could keep up with, but come training camp with pads on there will be opportunities for Bell to show what he does best.

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