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2022 Cowboys rookie report: Tyler Smith impressed in his NFL debut despite loss

There weren’t many positives on Sunday, but the rookie was one of them

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys’ season got off to about as horrible a start as anyone could’ve imagined, with the Buccaneers beating them 19-3 and Dak Prescott suffering an injury that will keep him out for several weeks.

That said, we got our first look at this rookie class. And with all eyes on Tyler Smith, their top pick in this most recent draft, the rookie gave Cowboys fans something to feel good about. So at least there’s that. Let’s get into it.

OL Tyler Smith

Tyler Smith made his NFL debut, but at left tackle instead of left guard, as originally intended for him. After plenty of consternation over how the rookie would perform, he ended with a very solid opening performance. Smith wasn’t perfect, but he turned plenty of heads.

Smith did get called for one penalty and allowed a free rusher to sack the quarterback on a play where it seemed the rookie didn’t know who he was supposed to block. But those were seemingly the only mistakes Smith made all night, looking otherwise comfortable at left tackle facing off against a very talented Buccaneers pass rush.

Smith played well enough to assuage any concerns about him staying out there at tackle, but it will be interesting to see if Dallas moves him back to guard soon between the ramp up of Jason Peters and, now, the injury of Connor McGovern. Either way, the Cowboys have to be feeling good about their top rookie so far.

EDGE Sam Williams

There were rumors that Sam Williams might be inactive for this game, which would have made sense given how many edge players Dallas has and how little impact they were likely to have against Tom Brady’s quick release.

Williams ended up being active in the game, but he saw very little action. His six snaps on defense were the second lowest of any Cowboy defender. Williams did log 11 special teams snaps, including rushing the punter on several punt block attempts. Hopefully Williams’ usage will expand as the season goes on.

WR Jalen Tolbert

It had been rumored earlier in the week, but it was still a surprise to see Jalen Tolbert made inactive in favor of undrafted rookie Dennis Houston. Tolbert, a third-round pick, had an uneven preseason but still figured to be a big part of this offense. That wasn’t the case, and it’ll be interesting to watch how this unfolds in the coming weeks.

TE Jake Ferguson

Jake Ferguson had an impressive preseason, so much so that he grasped control of the TE2 spot on a team that was preparing for an increase in two tight end sets. It was surprising, then, to see Ferguson have such a quiet game.

Ferguson only played on 11 snaps against Tampa Bay, which was the fourth lowest figure for an offensive player on the night. He had zero targets as well, raising questions about how Dallas really sees him right now.

OT Matt Waletzko

Matt Waletzko may have been preparing on the sideline in case he needed to fill in as an emergency guard once Matt Farniok took the field, but that was never the case. All in all, Waletzko saw just one snap all game and it came as a blocker for Brett Maher’s lone field goal.

CB DaRon Bland

The impressive rookie corner predictably didn’t see the field on defense, but he did play a big part on special teams. He logged 12 special teams snaps and was right there with Tarell Basham on the running into the kicker penalty that very nearly resulted in a blocked punt. That’s likely to be the case for Bland going forward, unless this secondary suffers any injuries.

LB Damone Clark

Damone Clark is on the non-football injured reserve list and did not play.

iDL John Ridgeway

John Ridgeway was considered to be one of the final players to make the roster this preseason, so it wasn’t necessarily a surprise to see him inactive for this one.

LB Devin Harper

When Devin Harper was drafted, his value on special teams was highlighted right away. That proved true on Sunday, with Harper logging 17 special teams snaps; that tied him for third-most special teams snaps on the night.

WR Dennis Houston

With the decision to make Tolbert inactive for this game, Dennis Houston saw plenty of opportunities. He was in on 39 offensive snaps, over half of the available snaps on Sunday. The undrafted rookie receiver was targeted five times but he caught just two of those passes for a total of 16 yards.

Houston was part of a receiving corps that severely underwhelmed, struggling to get open all game and making life that much harder for Prescott. It didn’t help that the quarterback was having a poor performance himself, but Houston needed to be better after the coaching staff made such a public show of confidence in him.

TE Peyton Hendershot

Peyton Hendershot played well enough in the preseason to earn a roster spot as an undrafted rookie, but that didn’t translate to much work on Sunday night. His two snaps on offense tied KaVontae Turpin for lowest on the team, though Hendershot did get 17 snaps on special teams.

S Markquese Bell

In a mildly surprising move, Markquese Bell was inactive for this game. He drew rave reviews in training camp and seemingly was being groomed for the safety/linebacker hybrid role Jayron Kearse currently holds. Bell joined Israel Mukuamu on the inactive list, leaving Dallas thin at safety for the game.

Kearse, who was already questionable heading into the game, left on crutches Sunday night. It remains to be seen what his status will be going forward, but Bell could potentially figure into things as early as next week.

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