Even though there are more questions marks for the Dallas Cowboys than usual, we still came to the beginning of training camp with some opinions about certain players and situations. That happens every year. And every year we are quickly disabused of our preconceived notions. It has only been a week since things started out in Oxnard, and there are a handful of names suddenly being talked about far more than we could have guessed.
WR TJ Vasher
His name was on everybody’s tongue after the spectacular one-handed grab last week. That was far from all he did, as he had a consistent week catching the ball. Vasher is a tall receiver who can really sky to go after the ball, and he does seem to add fairly decent hands to the equation. Although not everyone overlooked him coming into camp, most were more intrigued by the bevy of first year UDFAs the team brought in.
Now Vasher is becoming one of the early stars of camp. That is good, because the team now has even more to worry about with the wide receivers. Fortunately, Vasher is not the only one showing the staff something.
WR Dennis Houston
The situation at WR was already a bit dicey before James Washington was carted off the field on Monday. Now a troubling situation is feeling a bit dire. We will have to see if Stephen Jones gets some of his powder wet or not to help this situation. The staff has to have a fallback plan ready in case that is not the course. It seems they have already chosen one.
It should be noted that Dennis Houston is getting some reps with the 1's with James Washington hurt right now.— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) August 1, 2022
That's the UDFA to watch this year on offense
While it was expected that one of this year’s new UDFAs would become something of a camp darling, Houston was not one of the more frequently mentioned names. His being the next guy up when Washington was taken off the field was not a random decision. Observers in Oxnard had brought him up as a player who was doing a lot of good things. Now as we wait to see whether the team does sign a free agent WR to add some experience, which it definitely should, Houston has a great opportunity to break through to the 53-man roster.
K Lirim Hajrullahu
There were many who had fully talked themselves into the idea that UDFA kicker Jonathan Garibay had basically been awarded the kicking job. Many welcomed the team bringing Hajrullahu back for another shot, but saw it as just a way to provide some competition in camp.
Well, as of right now, Hajrullahu is winning that competition, and it isn’t even particularly close.
Cowboys camp observations - Practice 5— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) August 1, 2022
Dak Prescott completed 17 of 23 passes in team and 7-on-7 drills. Those 17 completions went to 9 pass catchers.
Lirim Hajrullahu connected on 7-of-8 FG tries and his two "mojo" moments. Jonathan Garibay was 6-of-8 and 0-for-2 in "mojo."
For those who don’t know about the “mojo” thing, those are sudden situational reps that Mike McCarthy throws out more or less at random during practices. While nothing really simulates the pressure of a live game situation, this is at least some approximation. Excelling in those is exactly what coaches are looking for. Monday was the second time Hajrullahu showed up Garibay as he also was the best on Friday. There is still time for the rookie to catch up to the former CFL star, but it could run out a lot faster than any of us expected.
QB Will Grier
Cooper Rush held the QB2 job last season, and deserves credit for winning his lone start while Dak Prescott was out. Most thought he would have no problem hanging onto that job. However, reports out of camp have Grier making this a much more competitive situation.
Cooper Rush winning a game for the Cowboys in spot duty last year is an awfully big feather in his cap, and makes him hard to unseat as the Cowboys backup quarterback.— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) July 30, 2022
But Will Grier has done some nice things early on in this camp, that make him an intriguing guy to watch.
You know that head-turning Vasher catch pictured up top? It was thrown by Grier, and placed perfectly where only his receiver could get to it while giving Vasher room to stay inbounds for the TD.
We all hope we never see a backup having to start at QB this season. But if we do, we want the best option available. Given that the Cowboys are not at all interested in bringing in a veteran backup it is nice to see a battle developing here.
RB Rico Dowdle
Maybe I was sucked in by last year’s Hard Knocks, but I really expected JaQuan Hardy to be the guy who would fill the RB3 spot. Instead, Hardy was cut to open a roster spot, and now Dowdle is not only getting those reps, he is doing something with the opportunity.
The hope here is not only that Dowdle continues to shine, but that the staff treats him and not Tony Pollard as Ezekiel Elliott’s backup. Keep Pollard in the change-of-pace role and don’t subject him to early down carries when Elliott needs a break. If Dowdle can be productive every three or four series to let Elliott get a bit of rest it really helps the team.
WR KaVontae Turpin
It feels a bit like cheating to have him here, since no one had the slightest inkling that the Cowboys would sign him. But he has not only gotten the chance, he is already standing out. He was the player that cost Hardy his spot on the team. While the main idea behind adding him seems to be for the punt and kick return roles, to protect CeeDee Lamb and Pollard, the staff is also using him out of the slot and on jet sweeps. He looks good out there. With the attrition at wide receiver, he may be able to help out in a couple of ways. This could be one of the more intriguing finds by the scouting staff.
CB Nahshon Wright
The players listed so far have all been on offense, which reflects the larger uncertainty on that side of the ball. But one defensive player that is starting to make a bit of an unexpected splash is this second year corner.
Cowboys CB Nahshon Wright just intercepted the pass Will Grier intended for T.J. Vasher. Length on length crime.— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) August 1, 2022
This is not the only play Wright has made. He has also come close to a pick or has broken up passes other times. He seems to be matched up against Vasher a lot, which may be a hint as to a possible role. At 6-4, he could be the designated red zone defender when other teams have a tall, leaping receiver like Vasher. He is not much of a threat to overtake the starting corners or even Kelvin Joseph. But going deep at the position is a real possibility, especially if Wright continues to be hard to complete against.
Those are some of the names not expected to be discussed so intently. This is still the first quarter of the camp, so a lot can change. But it is far better to get off to a good start. We will be watching all these to see if they can maintain our interest.