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DeMarcus Lawrence sees rookie Sam Williams as early contributor to defensive line

The Cowboys are trying a platoon approach without Randy Gregory at defensive end.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys drafted with their immediate needs in mind this April, looking for prospects that were ready to help replace what their 12-5 team lost in free agency. Just two training camp practices in, they have a clear plan for first-round pick Tyler Smith to work at left guard and tackle, and third-round wide receiver Jalen Tolbert is constantly working on his connection with Dak Prescott.

This has quickly made second-round pick Sam Williams something of an outlier, even though he’s caught the eye of veteran DeMarcus Lawrence before the pads have even come on in Oxnard. Lawrence’s experience is more important than ever this season, as Dan Quinn looks to work in new faces but keep the Cowboys defense as a team strength. Lawrence has helped multiple defensive ends find their best form in Dallas by setting up one-on-one matchups, and doing so for a player he said “doesn’t realize” the pass rush tools he has could yield immediate results for Williams.

Williams has been preparing for the work he’s getting at training camp since his Ole Miss pro day, with Quinn in attendance to take special interest in the prospect that compared himself to Micah Parsons.

Parsons has, as expected, been a big part of the Cowboys pass rush so far in camp as well, further crowding the depth chart for Williams to earn his snaps. Even with the versatility to rush off the edge or inside, Williams faces a long list of players with at least slightly more experience than him. Dorance Armstrong is projected to be the closest thing the Cowboys have to replacing Randy Gregory, while Osa Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore have taken strides to be more consistent at defensive tackle.

The Cowboys also have good position flex in players like Chauncey Golston and free agent acquisition Dante Fowler.

With the Cowboys secondary getting their hands on the ball in team drills so far, the defense is firmly ahead of the offense with the advantage of unpadded practice. Sam Williams’ strength and hand play along the line make him a top candidate to continue playing well when these padded practices get more intense, and carry that momentum well into the preseason.

Training camp is generally a time to be optimistic about a roster, and so far the Cowboys appear to have their top three draft picks in the best position to contribute early in their rookie campaigns. Smith and Tolbert have the benefit of playing positions where the Cowboys clearly needed new starters, but it seems like Sam Williams is ready to compete in the trenches to earn playing time alongside Lawrence and the Cowboys first-team defense.