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Cowboys training camp players who may be more important than we realized

There are some unexpected names cropping up for the Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
It’s about a lot more than the play of the camp so far.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
Vasher shows off his length.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
Both Houston (3) and Garribay have been noticed, but for different reasons.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys OTA Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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