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3 things from Cowboys camp to keep an eye on

Cowboys training camp is the time for experiments - and these are very intriguing.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
He does not look at all like a gimmick.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of things the Dallas Cowboys want to accomplish in training camp. Besides trying to keep everyone healthy, the main thing is evaluating the players in anticipation of the cut down to 53. That’s hardly the only one, however. Among other things, camp is also where the coaches can try some things to see if they work, or if they need to be shelved.

Through Thursday’s practice, there are three such experiments that stand out.


Deuce Vaughn is just not typical. He is not only below average in height, he looks downright tiny out there. In his college career, he created a lot of yards by just getting lost in the tangle of bigger bodies. Still, there was always the question of whether that would translate into the pros.

With the always necessary caveat that it is just practice, so far, it does indeed.

His camp so far has been full of highlight reps. While diminutive stature is hardly something that is an automatic advantage, he clearly brings the necessary strength and speed to be effective. With Ronald Jones suspended for the first two games, there should be more opportunities for him to show us what he can do in the early part of the regular season.

How does that work? Well, maybe physics and some things about human vision and perception might explain it. First, at only 176 pounds on the official weight chart (which may be generous) he can cut and turn much more quickly than a 300-pound lineman or a 250-pound linebacker. Vaughn brings excellent vision to the table to let him see where those lanes to exploit develop. Then his light size also allows for outstanding acceleration to hit the crease. That is not too hard to grasp.

The “getting lost” thing is a bit different. While there is a certain intuitive sense of how that works, there is some actual science to consider. First, NFL players are just like the rest of us. They become used to certain things, and develop automatic responses. Normally, they go up against running backs that are often a full half a foot taller than Vaughn’s 5’6”. The Cowboys’ other three backs, Tony Pollard, Malik Davis, and Rico Dowdle, are all 5’11 or 6’ tall. When they run the ball, they are all at about the same level in defenders’ vision.

Vaughn is below that expected sight line. It may take a split second longer to locate him on a run, but that can be all it takes to make a difference between success and failure. Then factor in that quickness and agility, and you have another problem in reacting and getting your hands on him. This is a legitimate advantage Vaughn can bring to the table, particularly if he fills the expected change-of-pace role. And remember, other teams have not been practicing against him. They are likely to have an even harder task tracking him down.

For those excited when the Cowboys drafted Vaughn, camp just increases the anticipation.

Smol part 2

Before Vaughn joined the roster, wide receiver/return specialist KaVontae Turpin was the shortest man on the team at 5’9”. He made the roster in 2022 for his return skills, but was an afterthought in the offense. As my podcast partner Roy White pointed out in the most recent episode of Ryled Up, almost the only times he touched the ball as a wide receiver was on jet sweeps - to the point it was predictable. For whatever reason, that was the only thing that Kellen Moore dialed up for him.

Well, as you may have heard, Moore is gone and Mike McCarthy now has the reins of the offense clearly in his grasp. So far, he has been using Turpin a lot as a receiver. His speed makes him a threat to get past the secondary and threaten them with a home run ball. But most of the passes thrown his way have been shorter, possession type plays.

And a lot of them seem to be low throws. This might be deliberate. Dak Prescott seems to be placing them there knowing that the short receiver can go down and scoop the ball up for a quick gain, and defenders have almost no chance of breaking it up. It’s another way to turn what is usually seen as a disadvantage into the opposite. And while not as pronounced, Turpin also has some of the same ability to get lost in the congestion and break free to provide an easy target. The Cowboys have plenty of more prototypical tall receivers, but this may be a case of finding something to exploit.

It is also interesting that new acquisition Brandin Cooks is also on the short side at 5’10”. He and Turpin seem to be the speed merchants of the receiving corps, and it would be fantastic if the latter had anything near the career of the former. They do seem to be made from similar molds.

Not smol

Let’s switch gears, both in terms of size and side of the line of scrimmage. During Thursday’s practice, this was seen at Oxnard.

For years, Dallas largely neglected the big, nose tackle type players for the defensive line. Now, after trading for Johnathan Hankins last season and using their first-round pick on Mazi Smith, they have three with former sixth-rounder Quenton Bohanna. This was an interesting package, and it worked. Maybe we can just chalk this up to Dan Quinn putting on his Dr. Frankenquinn lab coat and cooking fun stuff up in the laboratory.

Let me suggest that this is more than that. Twice a year, at least, the Cowboys have to face their most beloved opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles. That team, and especially its fans, like to crow about how unstoppable Jalen Hurts is on QB sneaks. It’s hard to say if the team can manage to keep all three of these big guys on the roster, but if they could, this might be exactly what Quinn sends out when the Eagles are in short-yardage situations and the sneak is anticipated.

But maybe they can keep this in the arsenal. Quinn has also put Smith at 3-tech next to Hankins, and that may become a frequent thing this year. And with the call up rules for the practice squad, they could also find a way to stash Bohanna there and use him for the meetings with Philadelphia.

All of these developments are interesting. We’ll need to see if they continue.

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