We know who the stars are for the Dallas Cowboys. Training camp for the top players has nothing to do with them making the roster. Barring injury, there is not much drama for them. That is why it is more interesting to pay attention to the players who are not automatically assured of a particular spot on the depth chart. Given that Stephen Jones continues to slow roll free agency and count his cap dollars, this season those are almost all players who have been around the organization for at least a year. Everyone has their own list of who they like or dislike, but here are some to keep an eye on.
WR Noah Brown
Last season he was buried on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson. That made him all but invisible. This season Cooper and Wilson are gone and Gallup is expected to miss several weeks at the start of the season. The additions to the wide receiver group so far are third-round pick Jalen Tolbert, one of the few free agent signings in James Washington, and a passel of UDFAs. Given his experience with the team and the fact they have kept him around for two seasons after his rookie deal expired, there seems to be a plan for him to play a much bigger role this year. Jourdan Lewis, a former third-round pick, is the only other member of that rather dismal 2017 draft class. That says something good about a guy who didn’t get taken until the seventh round.
Projecting the thinking of the coaches and GM is, of course, pure speculation, but Brown may well be the WR2 to start the season. The team will want Tolbert to take that over and eventually he and Gallup are hoped to be the WR2 and WR3 in some order, but Brown could well be right behind Lamb until Tolbert earns a move up and Gallup heals. He is not even assured a spot all the way through the season with Washington, Simi Fehoko, T.J. Vasher, and all those UDFAs looking to challenge him. Early on, though, expect the team to put quite a load on his shoulders. If he carries it well, he could hang around all year.
G Connor McGovern
Last year was not a good one for him. The staff tried him as the starting left guard, but that experiment didn’t last long. Now, he is something of an insurance plan in case rookie Tyler Smith needs a bit more time to step into the starting job. During camp, it will be informative to see if he gets many reps with the first team or spends most of his time with the second string. That may be our best gauge of how the staff thinks Smith is developing. Maybe it is false optimism, but McGovern should show a nice bit of growth by the time the players assemble in Oxnard. His immediate future with the team will likely be as the backup guard. That is still a nice accomplishment, and one that is vital as the season grinds on.
C/G Matt Farniok
Farniok, a seventh-rounder, had played every position on the offensive line during his college career at Nebraska. Now the main role for him appears to be center, but that position flex makes him an excellent pairing with McGovern to provide the necessary IOL depth.
What is intriguing is the comments Jones made earlier this year about competition for starting center Tyler Biadasz. A lot of people are looking at UDFA Alec Lindstrom to be in that mix, but the year of experience Farniok has, even though his chances on the field were very limited, should help his case. Like with McGovern, it will tell us something about the plan for Farniok when we see which teams he spends his time on in camp and the preseason games.
RB JaQuan Hardy
The RB3 job is a wide open competition. What the team needs is someone who can fill in for Ezekiel Elliott so Tony Pollard can be used more creatively to capitalize on his skill set. Hardy is going to be in a real camp battle with Rico Dowdle. Dowdle was active most of the 2020 season, but missed last year due to injury. That may be just enough to give Hardy an edge. Preseason games will probably be where this battle gets won or lost.
DT Quinton Bohanna
He failed to do much his rookie season. The team drafted John Ridgeway as another option for a true nose tackle, the role Bohanna was also drafted to fill. Ridgeway was very good as a run-stuffer in college, but was a liability when the opponent threw the ball while he was on the field. This competition is going to hinge on which one of them shows growth in collapsing the pocket. At this point, it is a toss-up.
DT Trysten Hill
He has taken a lot of criticism for not living up to his second-round selection, the first one the team made in 2019 after trading their first-round spot for Amari Cooper. Injuries, illness, and a suspension all have hampered his development. This is really a make-or-break year for him as he looks to be competing with Carlos Watkins for the backup 3T job, although the team may also go deep there if neither Bohanna or Ridgeway prove to be satisfactory as a 1T. Hill has flashed at times. Unfortunately those were relatively rare. Now if he can stay healthy and keep from getting suspended, he has a chance to finally prove his worth. This is a contract year for him. That is plenty of motivation that should show on the field.
CB Nahshon Wright
He is a former third-round pick. Now his fate may rest on how deep the team goes in the secondary, and how the cornerback/safety mix plays out. Kelvin Joseph is going to start the season ahead of him after missing much of 2021 with a groin injury. He is reported to be ready to go for camp. We have to see how that plays out, as well as if anything comes from the off-field event where he was involved in a tragic shooting. Wright will probably have to be a real asset for special teams. He mostly shined there in 2021, with the exception of the bizarre sequence on a blocked punt where he caused the ball to go back to the opponent by touching it in the wrong place on the field. But he also scored a touchdown on another one. Watch how John Fassel is using him in camp and preseason, since that may make the difference.
S Israel Mukuamu
He is in a similar situation as Wright, where the allocation of roster spots may be crucial to him. Last year was a change for Dallas at safety with the strongest performance from that group we have seen in many seasons. Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker should give them a strong starting pair again this year. Donovan Wilson has become the third safety on the depth chart, but his performance was not what we had hoped last year. With Damontae Kazee now gone, there is an opportunity for Mukuamu to claim a spot, although special teams usage may also be crucial for him.
Cowboys fans are hoping for something to develop for this group of players, but odds are not all will see success in 2022. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out at the end of camp.