Training camp is in full swing, with six practices done and the preseason just a week away from starting for the Cowboys. Plenty of highlights have been seen and dissected, and quite a few players have emerged as early stars in Oxnard.
But what about the players who aren’t getting enough attention for their performances? These six players have been crushing it, but just haven’t found the spotlight yet.
RB Ronald Jones
Ronald Jones was already flying under the radar for many as training camp began, largely because of the anticipation for younger players like Malik Davis and Deuce Vaughn. Then, Mike McCarthy pointedly heaped praise on both of those players, as well as Rico Dowdle, but stopped short of mentioning Jones. A couple hours later, it was more bad news for Jones:
No mention of RB Ronald Jones this morning for a reason. He is not an option for the Cowboys to begin season. https://t.co/wJCQUaafF8— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) July 31, 2023
Jones has since opened up about the suspension, saying it was a heart medicine prescription he has been taking for years, and has already appealed the ruling. But it seems as if Jones will miss the first two weeks of the regular season, casting serious doubt on his roster status.
The irony is Jones has been having a good training camp so far. There has been plenty of attention paid to Davis and Vaughn, of course, but Jones hasn’t been bad by any stretch. Patrik Walker of DallasCowboys.com had this to say after Jones’ suspension:
Jones is off to a solid start on the field, but it remains to be seen how the Cowboys will approach the situation going forward — knowing they’ll need to fully evaluate those who will be allowed by the league to take the field in Week 1 against the New York Giants and in Week 2 against Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets.
At best, they’ll stick to their current plan and see if Jones can make a name for himself on the roster that will allow the team to overlook the two-game suspension on the two-time Super Bowl winner.
Between Jones’ solid start in camp, his veteran presence, and the nature of his suspension, it might be too presumptuous to believe he’s already out of a roster spot. That said, he’s still got work to do, but Jones is very much still alive in this competition.
WR Simi Fehoko
Simi Fehoko became the unfortunate target of fans’ ire on the very first day of training camp when he let a perfect pass from Dak Prescott bounce off his hands and fly into the clutches of rookie corner Eric Scott Jr. But since then, Fehoko has been having a really good camp.
He’s ultimately been overshadowed by CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks, both of whom are living up to their billing as top receivers. Meanwhile, Jalen Tolbert is turning heads with how much of a jump he’s making, but Fehoko - who is considered to be competing with Tolbert for the WR4 spot - has been keeping pace with the second-year pro regardless of who’s throwing him the ball.
Fehoko, who stands at 6’4” while boasting a 4.43 40-yard dash, offers a unique combination of size and speed. He’s been showing that off in camp, too, using his speed to get open on crossing routes and using his size to box out defenders on plays where he needs to be more physical at the catch point.
It was easy to get carried away on the first day, but the rumors of Fehoko’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. He’s right there with Tolbert in the competition for the top backup receiver spot.
OT Asim Richards
Asim Richards is probably the most commonly forgotten Cowboys draft pick this year, largely due to the fact that we know who the starting five will be (as long as Zack Martin returns) come Week 1. Richards, a fifth-round tackle out of North Carolina, is largely expected to be competing for a depth spot on this offensive line.
That said, Richards has looked very good in his limited exposure in camp so far. He has a wide frame and plays with a lot of strength, despite needing continued technical refinement. When Mike McCarthy was asked about Richards before practice on Thursday, he had this to say:
Yeah, I mean, I think he’s like all the other guys. He just, you know, we need to get our cleats in the ground, get our second step in the ground, you know, get our pads down. But I think the biggest thing you have to be impressed with is his position flex for a young guy. So, um, I like everything about him but he’s just like all of our linemen: we need the work.
Richards seems to have endeared himself to the coaching staff early on, especially as a movable piece around the offensive line. He’s unlikely to see the field (unless it’s blocking on field goals) as a rookie barring catastrophic injuries along the line, but Richards is having an impressive camp so far.
DT Osa Odighizuwa
Osa Odighizuwa was primed for a breakout season last year as a follow-up to his solid rookie season, but it didn’t quite happen. Not that Odighizuwa was bad, but he didn’t live up to the expectations many in Dallas had for him.
So far in camp, though, Odighizuwa is having one of the better performances on this defense. He’s understandably getting overshadowed by Micah Parsons, but Odighizuwa has made his presence felt on multiple occasions.
May have been an Osa Odighizuwa sack in a non-practice setting. Instead, it’s a KaVontae Turpin reception. pic.twitter.com/9vIDXisKVy— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) July 31, 2023
The Cowboys have so much juice coming off the edges of their defense right now that it’s easy to forget about the interior linemen, and even then so much of the focus is on veteran Johnathan Hankins and rookie Mazi Smith. But Odighizuwa is playing at a career best right now and disrupting plays left and right.
LB Malik Jefferson
Linebacker is the most uncertain position on the Cowboys defense right now, but much of the focus on who will be starting next to Leighton Vander Esch has centered around Damone Clark, Jabril Cox, and rookie DeMarvion Overshown.
Don’t forget about Malik Jefferson, though. Jefferson joined the team last summer and was having a strong camp before the Cowboys brought in veteran Anthony Barr, which ultimately pushed Jefferson to the practice squad. Now, Jefferson is having another solid start to camp:
Malik Jefferson filled the hole here pic.twitter.com/FiHQW6O5Hb— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) July 31, 2023
Jefferson is likely competing with Devin Harper and possibly Cox for one of the final roster spots at linebacker, so don’t go making him a dark horse starter just yet. Jefferson may not be the biggest name out there, but his strong start to camp is a good sign for the team’s depth at a spot where they’re still figuring out starters.
S Juanyeh Thomas
Juanyeh Thomas signed as an undrafted rookie last year out of Georgia Tech. It was a bit of a surprise that Thomas went undrafted, and the Cowboys scooped him up quick. He spent all season on the practice squad, but he had impressed the team with his performance on special teams during the preseason.
Cowboys second-year S Juanyeh Thomas saw some first-team work today, playing nickel with Israel Mukuamu (hamstring) out. Secondary also down S Donovan Wilson (calf) and CB Trevon Diggs (toe). Thomas impressed on special teams last preseason. One to watch. pic.twitter.com/1vAe9bJ4oZ— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) July 28, 2023
With injuries to two safeties on the first day of camp this year, Thomas has had a surge in first team reps and he hasn’t looked back. Thomas has consistently flashed, and he’s impressed the top boss:
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said when training camp concludes, second-year S Juanyeh Thomas could be reflected upon as the player who has made the greatest leap. Thomas stout on special teams. Dark horse for the 53. pic.twitter.com/BmmUTeb4Yd— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) July 29, 2023
Thomas is suddenly one of the better bets to make the tail end of the roster, and he’ll be getting ample opportunities to cement that status once preseason games commence. The Cowboys are loaded at safety right now, and Thomas’ strong start to camp makes them even deeper.