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2023 Cowboys rookie report: Brandon Aubrey is Cowboys’ secret weapon

Brandon Aubrey has far and away been the most impressive Dallas Cowboys rookie this season.

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys did what they needed to do: get a win and wash the bad taste of the 49ers loss out of their mouths. It was a fairly sloppy game, but the Cowboys made just enough plays at the end of the day to come out on top. Their rookie class, though, hardly made an impact. Let’s break it down.

iDL Mazi Smith

The Cowboys were surprisingly stout against the run in this one, limiting the Chargers to just 2.3 yards a carry and Austin Ekeler, who returned from an injury sustained in Week 1, to just 1.9 yards a carry. Mazi Smith contributed to that, even if he wasn’t the reason for it.

As has been the case all year, Smith mostly rotated with Johnathan Hankins, with the veteran run-stuffer receiving more run. Smith played on 25% of the defensive snaps, and while he didn’t record a tackle the rookie defensive lineman did show off a lot of his penetration skills at the point of attack. Smith was doing a lot of thankless work in redirecting runs elsewhere, which is exactly his job.

TE Luke Schoonmaker

You’d be forgiven if you thought Luke Schoonmaker wasn’t playing in this one, as it was very difficult to notice him. The rookie played on just 17 total offensive snaps, seeing nearly as much work (13 snaps) on special teams. Of those 17 snaps, 11 saw Schoonmaker blocking instead of going out to run a route.

There were many elements of the offensive gameplan in this game that invite scrutiny but the scarce utilization of the tight end position is certainly up there. The Chargers’ two-deep safety scheme has made for productive nights from tight ends like T.J. Hockenson, Chig Okonkwo, and even Durham Smythe, yet the Cowboys only drew up one target for Jake Ferguson and zero for Schoonmaker on his measly six routes run. This definitely feels like an area where Dallas left some meat on the bone, and Schoonmaker in general needs to get more involved.

LB DeMarvion Overshown

DeMarvion Overshown tore his ACL in the preseason and is on the injured reserve for the year.

EDGE Viliami Fehoko

Viliami Fehoko was inactive for this game.

OL Asim Richards

Asim Richards was inactive for this game.

CB Eric Scott Jr.

Eric Scott Jr. was inactive for this game.

RB Deuce Vaughn

Deuce Vaughn was inactive for the first time this season, as the Cowboys elevated Malik Davis from the practice squad instead. Vaughn had been struggling in games as of late, so it will be interesting to see if this remains the trend after the bye week.

WR Jalen Brooks

Jalen Brooks made his return to the active roster this week, mostly playing on special teams and making up 44% of snaps there. Brooks also saw the field on offense for a total of five snaps, with four of them seeing the rookie utilized as a blocker. He was not targeted in the lone route he ran, but it was still nice to see him for the first time since Week 2.

G T.J. Bass

For the first time all season, T.J. Bass did not see the field on offense. Part of that is because the offensive line remained healthy all game and it’s also because this was too close for the Cowboys to pull their starters. Bass spent his night blocking for all four of Brandon Aubrey’s kicks, and that was it for the rookie.

FB Hunter Luepke

Hunter Luepke saw eight snaps on offense, a pretty standard day for him, with all but one of those coming as a lead blocker; the lone exception saw him line up at tight end. Luepke did run four routes, but was not targeted.

Perhaps the most consequential play of the game for Luepke came when he was asked to push the tush of Dak Prescott on a fourth-and-short sneak play. The play went for no gain, and resulted in a turnover on downs. After the win, Prescott jokingly suggested that Luepke (and Rico Dowdle) need to push harder next time.

K Brandon Aubrey

Brandon Aubrey is off to an incredible start to his NFL career. He hit both extra points and made two field goals, one at the end of each half, to move his mark to a perfect 16/16 on field goals. Only two kickers (Cowboys legend Nick Folk, now with the Titans, and Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker) with more than 10 attempts on the year are still perfect this season.

Aubrey’s final kick was to give the Cowboys the lead and, ultimately, the win. He drilled the 39-yarder with ease, once again sending it right down the middle. A virtual unknown coming into training camp, Aubrey has rewarded the coaching staff’s trust and then some.

LB Tyrus Wheat

Tyrus Wheat was signed to the roster from the practice squad for this game due to the Cowboys’ injuries at the linebacker spot. Wheat mainly played on special teams, where he made a tackle but was also called for an illegal formation penalty. Not the best way to get some TV time, but it ultimately had little effect on the game for Wheat’s NFL debut.

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