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Dallas Cowboys running back Mike Weber Jr. runs drills during the Cowboys rookie minicamp practices at The Star in Frisco, Texas on Friday, May 10, 2019.(Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer)

By Jon Machota , Staff Writer Contact Jon Machotaon Twitter:@jonmachota

FRISCO — Cowboys rookie running back Mike Weber left Saturday’s morning rookie minicamp practice with a knee injury. The seventh-round pick out of Ohio State attended the afternoon practice but did not participate.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Weber is expected to have an MRI.

The two days of rookie minicamp are considered to be more of an orientation. Players do not wear helmets or pads and the work on the field is non-contact.

The Cowboys selected Weber last month to compete for a backup role and help manage Ezekiel Elliott’s touches. Dallas also used a fourth-round pick on versatile back Tony Pollard. They view Weber as a more traditional back.

“I loved him on tape. I loved him when I went to Ohio State and watched him,” Cowboys running back coach Gary Brown said of Weber. “He can do all three downs. That’s the type of back we want to draft. We want three-down guys that can protect the ball and protect the quarterback and play well in the running game.”

The 5-10, 211-pound Weber was one of the Cowboys’ 30 pre-draft national visitors. During his three seasons at Ohio State, he rushed for 2,676 yards and 24 touchdowns. He battled through hamstring and foot injuries in college.

“When I first got to Ohio State, Zeke did a good job of helping me with the playbook and showing me the ropes,” Weber said Friday. “When I was hurt, he helped me out a lot. I think it’s the same thing over again. He can help me again.”

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Dallas Cowboys Will McClay: This late rounder jumped off the tape! – Steven Mullenax, The Landry Hat
Which late-round rookie stood out to Will McClay in the 2019 draft process?

Here’s what McClay told Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about Oregon defensive end Jalen Jelks, the team’s final selection (241st, seventh round) in the 2019 NFL Draft.

“[Jelks] just jumped off the tape. The length, the ability, the effort, the motor. You see it all on tape. He played a multitude of positions at Oregon so he never got to hone in on one. But he was competitive everywhere. He battled in there, even against the guards and was productive and disruptive.”

There is plenty to be excited about when it comes to Jelks. Possessing a tall but thin frame at 6-foot-5, 256 pounds, the rookie defensive end needs to add some bulk and strength to find success on the next level. But he possesses the raw traits, tenacity, and mobility that could land him a spot on the active roster in his first season. Especially with the questions surrounding the availability of both suspended pass rusher Randy Gregory and veteran Tyrone Crawford.

Three rookies who might just fight their way onto the Cowboys 53-man roster – Danny Phantom, Blogging the Boys
BTB’s own Danny Phantom gives three under-the-radar rookies who may push for a roster spot.

CB Chris Westry, Kentucky – undrafted

The Wildcats backup cornerback has been on our radar as he was one of the 65 players on our final big board as a potential late-round pick. His size and press ability just seems to fit perfect with what Kris Richard likes in his corners. At 6’4” and 33 3⁄4 “ arms, Westry presents an imposing wingspan, and when you combine that with his 4.3 speed, he can provide quite an obstacle to throw over.

What I’m excited about: He’s a wild card wildcat, but you have to love the traits. He might not amount to anything, but then again – he could be a mold of clay Richard can work with. Westry is smothering, and if he can work out some of his balance issues, he might be a nice depth guy for the future.

What I’m interested in seeing: Can he be more disciplined with his hands? Westry is a grabber and as nice as it is to see him all over the receiver throughout the route, but if he can’t control his hands, he’ll be a liability out there.

Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott not on board with reduced workload – Colton Pickard, NFL Spin Zone
There has been a ton of talk about reducing Ezekiel Elliott’s workload in 2019. Is that something he’s okay with?

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott isn’t too happy about the possibility of him being pulled off the field more often in 2019, something running backs coach Gary Brown mentioned last week. Elliott is an All-Pro running back, so it makes sense that he would want to stay on the field more often than not.

However, he is extremely valuable to the Cowboys and it looks like the coaching staff is going to try to protect their star running back. In the past couple of years, Elliott has been the reason the Cowboys offense has had success — and he knows that. Elliott touched the ball on over 35 percent of the Cowboys’ play in 2018, so his importance to the Cowboys offense is not understated.

Brown said last week that Elliott would eventually slow down if he continued to take on his current workload. Elliott didn’t like those comments, and in response at the Cowboys’ annual charity fundraiser on Wednesday, he said “I haven’t worn down yet”:

Cowboys safety Jeff Heath has a chip on his (healing) shoulder – Mike Fisher, 247Sports
Fisher’s latest on Jeff Heath, and the noise surrounding his name and job.

FRISCO – Jeff Heath is lining himself up to hit some golf balls at teammate Travis Frederick’s “Block Hunger’’ charity event at Top Golf when it occurs to me that just 20 minutes earlier the Dallas Cowboys safety told me he would not be hitting golf balls on this night.

”I’ve got a minor shoulder thing,’’ Heath told me, “so I’m going to be careful with it.’’

But here he is, swinging away, albeit “carefully.’’

”I was just working on my short game,’’ Heath later jokes to me. “No big swings.’’

Twenty-four hours later, Heath is part of the lineup for the Cowboys Home Run Derby to raise money via Reliant Energy for The Salvation Army. And here he is again, taking his swings — again maybe “carefully,’’ but swings nevertheless.

SOURCE: Cowboys begin talks with Jaylon Smith, projected deal – Patrik Walker, 247Sports
Could the Cowboys be looking to lock up Jaylon Smith ahead of his 2020 RFA? A source close to the situation thinks so.

A source close to the situation tells me the Cowboys have begun talks with linebacker Jaylon Smithas well — one no one outside of the organization saw coming.

Smith is set to become a restricted free agent after 2019, meaning the Cowboys have the right to issue a tender that could be original round, second-round or first-round. Seeing as his original round is the second round — being the 34th-overall pick in 2016 — that leaves just two options, in reality. There is a difference between those two tenders from a financial aspect, and we’ll get into that momentarily. Logic dictates they’d put a first-round tender on him, though, considering he was a consensus top-5 talent before suffering a catastrophic knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl nearly five months ahead of the draft.

Smith was told by many he’d never play football again, but the Cowboys’ medical staff didn’t agree, and rolled the dice on him. Following a redshirt rookie season, which is why he’d be an RFA in 2020, Smith had a mix of growing pains and awe-inspiring plays in his 2017 return to the field and debut in the NFL.

Rank ‘Em: Where’s Beasley Among Opposing WRs? – Bryan Broaddus, DallasCowboys.com
Where does former Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley land on the receiver rankings the Cowboys will face in 2019?

Yes, the Cowboys still have 10 offseason practices to go through. But with the draft out of the way, we’ve seen most of the excitement until training camp finally starts in late July.

With that in mind, I’m thinking ahead to this year’s schedule. It’s way too early to know how the NFL pecking order will shake out, but we do know the Cowboys will be going against some great players this fall.

Over the next couple weeks, I want to preview the best of the Cowboys’ opposition at each position – starting today with receivers.

Cowboys News: Jason Witten Says Current Team Has ‘The Most Talent I’ve Seen’ – Adam Wells, Bleacher Report
Check out what starting TE Jason Witten had to say about the current state of the Dallas Cowboys roster!

Per Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Witten said the Cowboys roster has “the most talent I’ve seen” in his time with the organization.

Dallas certainly has enough talent to be among the best in the NFC in 2019. Its defense ranked sixth in the NFL with 20.3 points allowed per game and seventh with 329.3 yards allowed per game last season.

Quarterback Dak Prescott has had his ups and downs, but the 25-year-old completed 67.7 percent of his attempts in 2018 and has thrown at least 22 touchdown passes in each of his first three seasons.

The Cowboys also have Ezekiel Elliott, who has led the league in rushing yards twice in the past three seasons, and Amari Cooper, who notched 725 receiving yards and six touchdowns in nine games last year after he was acquired from the Oakland Raiders.

Christian Covington called “under-the-radar move to love” for the Cowboys this offseason – Dave Halprin, Blogging the Boys
This offseason has been a whirlwind for the Cowboys, that the signing of Christian Covington has flown under-the-radar. Don’t forget about the intriguing iDL.

When talking about the Cowboys defensive tackle position this offseason, most of the conversation is around Trysten Hill. The Cowboys chose Hill with their first pick of the 2019 draft (58th overall) to supplement the middle of the defensive line. Hill’s tabbed to play the 3-tech spot, and will be asked to use his athleticism and quick-twitch get-off to create havoc in the opposing backfield. That’s something the Cowboys need, especially now that David Irving will no longer be with the team.

But there’s another aspect to the middle of the defensive line, and that’s clogging the middle and stuffing the run. The Cowboys got worked toward the end of the season in that department, here’s how John Owning explained it:

Against the Colts and Rams last season, Cowboys defensive tackles were thoroughly dominated by opposing interior offensive linemen, enabling blockers to get to the second level quickly to inhibit the effectiveness of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Cowboys defensive tackles failed to hold their ground at the point of attack as they were easily displaced from their gaps, opening giant alleys for opposing ball carriers.

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There is something noticeably different about Cowboys QB Dak Prescott this off-season – Clarence Hill, Star-Telegram
Can the Cowboys franchise quarterback make a big leap in year four?

Heading into his fourth year, it is his place, his team, and his locker room more than ever.

And it has little to do with the fact that he and the Cowboys are in deep negotiations on a long-term contract extension that will pay him at least $30 million annually.

That’s simply a byproduct of the work, growth, leadership, and production that Prescott has put over the last three years since joining the team as a throw-in fourth-round pick in 2016 that has him feeling comfortable, relaxed and more emboldened than ever.

It is showing on the field as Prescott has been sharp, decisive and accurate during OTA practices, which he credits to a light coming on during last season’s run to the playoffs that has continued to shine in the offseason, almost like a Rubik’s cube opening up for him.

Dallas Cowboys: Undrafted rookie linebacker flashes early at OTAs – Steven Mullenax, The Landry Hat
It may not be Leighton Vander Esch, but this 2019 rookie sure is impressing early in OTA’s.

In this year’s draft, the Cowboys didn’t select a single linebacker with their eight total picks. Instead, the team brought in a trio of undrafted rookie free agents including Michigan State’s Andrew Dowell, Northwestern’s Nate Hall, and Nebraska’s Luke Gifford. The latter has been earmarked by DallasCowboys.com’s Bryan Broaddus as his kiss of death player to watch through OTAs.

Here’s what Broaddus had to say about the undrafted rookie linebacker’s play so far.

” … keep an eye on Luke Gifford – the linebacker out of Nebraska … there is something about his game that translates to this scheme … It appears the defensive staff is asking him to play more inside, which has allowed his instincts to shine. Gifford has some slippery traits to him. He has a feel for how to play through gaps and avoid blocks.”

Cowboys impressed with rookie who told team to ‘come get me’ – Patrik Walker, 247 Sports
More rookies impressing in OTA’s! This one in the secondary.

You can count head coach Jason Garrett in as a passenger on the [Michael] Jackson train.

”He certainly has all of the physical tools,” he said, via The Dallas Morning News. “He’s big, long, fast, physical — all the things we like in our guys. He’s best in press [coverage], and you’re talking about drafting a guy in the fifth round at a premium position with all the traits you’re looking for. Again, we liked him a lot.

”Strongly endorsed by the people in Miami on the kind of guy he is. All those things are very favorable.”

For his part, Jackson could not have been more vehement ahead of the draft regarding where he wanted to play. Whereas other prospects are keyed in on where they’re selected, for a variety of reasons, the former Miami standout had a unique take on it all. It’s likely this rare type of maturity that nudged the Cowboys’ over the line when considering who to select with the 158th-overall pick.

Next week will be a final check-in for Travis Frederick on his Guillain-Barré Syndrome – Dave Halprin, Blogging the Boys
Travis Frederick has made great strides to get back on the field, but there’s one more appointment to be 100% sure.

Travis Fredrick has, by all accounts, made great strides in his recovery from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The disease robbed the All-Pro center of his 2018 season, and threatened to do more than that but it was caught early giving Fredrick a much better chance at a full recovery. Next week, he’ll get what is described as a final check-in to determine if everything is good to go.

He has an appointment next week for a “sort of final check-in to make sure there’s no permanent damage there.” Doctors will put Frederick through a battery of tests to confirm he is good to go.

While he will have to wait until then to be sure, Frederick thinks he’s well on his way to recovery and will be ready for 2019.

“I’m just glad to be back and be able to write the next chapter in this story,” Frederick said Wednesday.

Spagnola: This Team Sure Is Picking Up Speed – Mickey Spagnola, DallasCowboys.com
The Cowboys have finally invested in some burners on both sides of the football.

We know about the linebackers, right – Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch can really run, and even at age 33 in two months Sean Lee is no slouch.

Same in the secondary with Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath and now adding corners Mike Jackson and Chris Westry and surprisingly quick for a safety Donovan Wilson.

But up front, where defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli values speed, man oh man. We know about the quickness of DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Dorance Armstrong and maybe Taco Charlton if he can stay healthy. But the Cowboys have added to that group Robert Quinn, Trysten Hill, Kerry Hyder, Jalen Jelks, Joe Jackson and depending on what the commissioner thinks, maybe even the indefinitely-suspended Randy Gregory if he returns.

An Ezekiel Elliott suspension feels unlikely, but his off-field mishaps continue to be problematic – Tim Colishaw, Sports Day
It’s hard not to agree with this…

It’s always dangerous to prowl around inside the head of Goodell in search of a future suspension or penalty. But with no arrest and about the most minimal violence one is likely to find in one of these incidents, Zeke didn’t do anything other than act like an entitled idiot.

That’s not a first for him or anything close to a first, frankly, but it’s also not grounds for suspension.

It does, as I said, represent a problem, however.

On the one hand, Elliott shows no recognition that his public behavior will be recorded and that he will be held accountable. That may not seem fair — most of us go through our lives without our worst moments being recorded on iPhones — but it’s the game modern athletes and celebrities are forced to play. It’s also not that hard of a game to play. When your cap hit is $7.9 million and you’re 24 years old, you ought to be able to figure it out, even though Zeke clearly hasn’t.

Cowboys’ Connor Williams Feeds Homeless in Dallas – NBC 5 Sports
Connor Williams is ready for year two, but first he’s taking care of some people in need off the field.

Cowboys’ offensive lineman Connor Williams fed the homeless in Dallas on Friday.

”Most of us are very fortunate, we don’t even realize that we know where our next meal is coming from and most of these people don’t,” Williams said.

He’s talking about the people at the Second Chance Cafe inside The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center. It’s a place where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served 365 days a year thanks to the facility’s partner agency — The Stewpot.

”When a celebrity like Connor Williams comes,” executive director Brenda Snitzer said. “It just really touches them because it makes it real that there are other people out in the community that want to come and give back and let them know that they care and hope they’ll get some help and get off the streets.”

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We are almost to the long quiet stretch between the end of the Dallas Cowboys minicamp and the opening of their training camp in Oxnard. For some diehard fans, camp is when football really starts. This year, we are all anxious to get a real look at the beginning of the Kellen Moore offense, but we may not get a really clear look at how it actually will go until the games start to count. The real function of camp is to get from 90 players down to the 53-man roster for the season. And this year, that looks to be a very exciting process for the Cowboys.

There are several factors that enter into it. The change at offensive coordinator is one, as is this being a contract year for head coach Jason Garrett. But the biggest and best thing is that, as far as just about anyone can tell after a couple of weeks of practices in helmets and shorts, this is one of the deepest 90-man groups for Dallas in a long time. There have been years in the past when the struggle was to find 53 legitimate NFL talents for the season. Now, the problem is going to be paring down the current group and hopefully not losing too many good players. Obviously, the latter is a much more preferable situation than the former.

This may even challenge some of the approaches the Cowboys usually take. In particular, it may force them to back off on their preference for retaining veterans and their own former draft picks over rookies, especially UDFAs. Even when you rule out those who will obviously have a roster spot if healthy, there seem to be a large number of spots where the team could turn to new, young candidates.

Although it is a bit arbitrary, this also will count the first three draft picks taken as locks on the roster. The staff basically is not going to give up on any player taken in the fourth round or earlier unless something extraordinarily bad happens, either on the field or off. But from the fifth round on, there is always a chance the team will just move on, and it increases the later the player was picked.

There is also going to be churn at some point, and that will likely include a handful before camp even starts. Some of the names here will therefore see their chances nipped in the bud. And injuries are always a threat and could take some off the table, or open up more holes to fill. We don’t know who those might affect, so we have to work with the roster as it now stands.
So with those ground rules in place, here are the coming camp battles where veteran players will have to stave off a challenging rookie – and in some cases, we are talking more than one on each side of that equation. (This also is not going to get into situations where the battles are strictly between players who were on the roster last year, like at backup quarterback.)

Running back: Darius Jackson vs Mike Weber
This may be the most even competition going into camp as the two strive to be the third RB on the roster. There is a chance the team could go deep and carry both, but given the need for roster spots at other positions, it is hard to see the Cowboys carrying four running backs plus a fullback. Jackson failed to impress in his limited chances last year, but a strong showing in camp and preseason could move him back into the coaches’ good graces. He is also aided by the fact that Weber could probably make it through waivers to the practice squad, which means in a dead heat, Jackson might get the nod. Weber still has a great opportunity to make a convincing case for his retention. And they both should get plenty of snaps in preseason, because Ezekiel Elliott is going to be sitting on the sidelines for almost all of those reps, swathed in bubble wrap. Tony Pollard is envisioned to have a more expansive role, so while he may get some reps in a traditional RB function, most of those will probably go to Jackson and Weber.

Offensive tackle: Cameron Fleming and Jake Campos vs. Mitch Hyatt, Brandon Knight, and Derrick Puni
This is one of the fun ones to consider, because all of the rookies here are UDFAs. Some may consider Fleming one of the locks to make the roster, but while he would be very hard to beat out, the team is reportedly very high on Hyatt and Knight. Fleming is likely going to be allowed to go into free agency after this year, so the team might want to bet on the future by making sure they have Fleming’s replacement as swing tackle in place. They could try to get Hyatt or Knight, or both, to the PS, but that is where the quandary comes in. If they look good in preseason, an OT-hungry team may come poaching. The team also has some insurance in Connor Williams and Connor McGovern, with the drafting of the latter making the idea of using the former at tackle in an emergency more viable.

No offense, but Campos has little chance to make it out of camp. Puni is not talked about in the same way as the other two UDFAs, so his odds don’t look good, either.

Interior OL: Xavier S’ua Filo, Adam Redmond, and Cody Wichmann vs Larry Allen, Jr.
To be honest, all four of these players may not make it onto the 53-man roster, since Joe Looney and McGovern are not going anywhere, and the team may just not have enough roster spots to carry three backup IOL. But if there is a spot, it is hard not to root for the son of a true Cowboys legend to show that genetics matter.

Defensive end: Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Soto Shakir vs Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks
Shakir looks like the odd man out right off the bat, although you never can tell what will happen. That leaves an interesting battle, because all four of the players who are likely battling for two spots are draft picks. Charlton and Armstrong represent more draft capital (a lot in Charlton’s case, obviously), but the fact Jackson and Jelks were also worth a draft spot may make the idea of moving on from one of the vets a bit more palatable. Jelks in particular has gotten some good reviews in OTAs, for what that is worth. The team is seen by many as going heavy on DL this season, especially in light of how that unit looked worn down by the latter part of 2018, but it still seems all but impossible for all four of the main contenders to make the 53. And if Randy Gregory should get reinstated (an admittedly rather big if), someone likely gets bumped to open his slot up. We know DeMarcus Lawrence will probably sit out most or all of camp and preseason while he recuperates from surgery. Charlton is recovering from two procedures himself, and that means there is the opportunity to game the system take a cautious approach by putting him on PUP and possibly IR. That would certainly give Armstrong, Jackson, and Jelks a lot of opportunities to prove what they can do.
One interesting twist to all this is how free agent Kerry Hyder will be used. There is a school of thought that he might be better as an end than in the interior of the line, so that is something that could complicate things further.

In any case, look for some strong efforts by those playing in preseason to stake a claim.

Defensive tackle: Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder, and Daniel Ross vs Ricky Walker and Daniel Wise
First off, let me admit there is a bit of a disconnect somewhere, as all but Ross are listed on the DallasCowboys.com roster as defensive ends. But that gives a very unbalanced distribution on the 90-man roster of 11 DEs, four DTs, and Tyrone Crawford as a utility DL. Walker and Wise were both DTs in college, while Covington and Hyder were playing that position with their last teams. Hyder may belong with the DEs, as mentioned above, but there is reason to believe the rest are primarily competing for a spot in the interior of the line, with some flexibility to move outside at times.

In recent seasons, we have seen Dallas quite willing to cut ties with free agents, and Covington and Hyder were signed to contracts that have small dead money figures if they were released. This is another place where the competition should be fierce and meaningful throughout preseason.

Linebackers: Chris Covington vs Andrew Dowell, Luke Gifford, Nate Hall, and Justin Phillips
The Cowboys broke a bit with recent history by not drafting any linebackers – but they must see a need when they signed four as UDFAs. That need is on special teams. With only six who carried over from last season, they may want to add one for the 53 because linebackers are so heavily used on STs. That does not mean Covington is safe at all, but there is certainly going to be a lot of competition between the rookies. And since the team has no reason to risk the starters or proven backups, look for them to get many, many reps in both camp practices and preseason games.

Cornerbacks: Jourdan Lewis, Treston DeCoud, C.J. Goodwin, and Donovan Olumba vs Mike Jackson and Chris Westry
Lewis is a bit of a hard call to be included, but he is the one CB that doesn’t exactly fit the Kris Richard model. However, he probably has a leg up on the rest. Jackson is also going to get every chance to prove himself. Westry is a bit of a freak at 6-4, but it will be interesting to see what Richard can do with him. The other returnees are on some very thin ice. Who makes the team will also be affected by how many CBs the Cowboys decide to carry. They could go four, five, or six depending on how many spots they need at the other defensive positions.

Safety: George Iloka, Kavon Frazier, Kyle Queiro, Jamiell Showers, and Darian Thompson vs Donovan Wilson
Again, it may be a bit pessimistic to include Iloka and Frazier in this group, but the team wants to upgrade here, despite only using a sixth-round pick on Wilson. They will be looking for the best options, no matter who it is. Numbers are important here, as the team could carry four or five into the season. Still Queiro, Showers, and Thompson all are at great risk of not making the team in any case, since the other three would be the expected names if the team carries five safeties.

Wide receiver: Tavon Austin, Noah Brown, Reggie Davis, Allen Hurns, Lance Lenoir, Devin Smith, and Cedrick Wilson vs Jalen Guyton and Jon’Vea Johnson
If this seems a bit out of order, it is for a reason. I saved what I see the as best for last, and the fight to make the roster at WR is going to be a no-holds-barred cage match. Austin, Hurns, and Wilson are coming back from injuries last season, although Austin did get back on the field at the end of the year. However, Austin also faces a challenge from Pollard, who may be able to do everything Austin was signed to do and maybe better. If you want a key attribute likely to come into play, it is speed. And that is why the two UDFA rookies are already generating some (possibly overstated) excitement. They can absolutely fly, and could become a factor in the Moore-run offense. Smith also has a lot of speed, and if he can finally overcome the injury bug that has plagued his career, he might break through.

That puts Brown at some risk, and Lenoir has not shown much in his all-around game so far. But route-running and chemistry with Dak Prescott also come into play, so there are many ways this battle could go. The team has at least two and possibly three or even four spots for this group to contend for. There may be more than one way for these contenders to fight their way onto the roster.

This is one take on the most interesting camp battles to watch – and as you can see, it covers all but the QB, TE, and specialists positions. Kicker may be one that could become interesting between now and the start of the season, as punter Kasey Redfern has been given some opportunities to kick field goals – and we all remember what happened to one Dan Bailey last year. The team still has plenty of time to bring another leg into camp as well.

It looks to be a very fascinating camp coming, although there are more names listed here that won’t make the 53 than will. Still, we will almost certainly see some of these young players supplant some veterans on the team.

Camp is coming, and the final battles will follow.

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One of the most repeated descriptions of the Dallas Cowboys roster this offseason is that they are a deep team. They have certainly loaded up at some positions. The staff is going to be faced with some hard decisions at the end of training camp. However, that depth is not evenly distributed. Forced to deal with a cap on how many players can be signed, no team can address all needs the same. The Cowboys have certainly made some specific allocations already.

That depth not only tells us where the camp battles will be, but also where the team is likely planning on going a bit short or long. It can also point out some places that there could be some churn even before the team reports to Oxnard.

But depth is about much more than numbers. It also is affected by the talent level and experience of players.

As we are about to wind up minicamp and go into the dead zone before training camp opens, here is how the team stands position-by-position.

Quarterback
Right off the bat. we get to a place where things are not very good – and it is a perennial. With only Mike White and Cooper Rush to back up Dak Prescott, the team is flirting with disaster.

However, so are most NFL teams. The situation in Philly a couple of seasons ago was definitely the exception, rather than the rule. In acknowledgment of the fact that many of you may have blocked the memories due to the trauma involved, I will remind you that the Eagles lost their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, who was having a superb year and had led the team to an 11-2 record. They were able to plug in Nick Foles, who only went on to be named MVP in the Super Bowl.

It is exceedingly rare to have two starting level QBs on an NFL roster. There are actually not 32 of them to go around. So teams have to either rely on an untried young player (like the Cowboys are) or carry a veteran who will hopefully help them stay competitive. As you may also have blocked from you mind, that is what Dallas tried and failed miserably to do in 2015.
Still, neither White nor Rush looked good last preseason. Actually, they really didn’t look all that competent. The Cowboys need to have one of them step up this summer. If Prescott would not be available for an extended stretch, the season is likely not going to go well. What they need is someone who can keep the wheels from falling all the way off for two or three games. Right now, that is not at all certain.

Running back
Like at quarterback, the running back situation is set at the top, but there is not anything assured behind Ezekiel Elliott. Tony Pollard looks promising. He is also obviously untried at the pro level. Behind him, Darius Jackson and Mike Weber are probably fighting for one backup job. The team may elect to try and keep Jackson, if he does well in camp, and stash Weber on the practice squad. There are plenty of backs out there, so the risk of him being poached would be low.

Jamize Olawale is the lone fullback, but no team carries two of those. Many don’t bother with it at all.

Tight end
Looking at the numbers, it seems likely that the team is just going to carry three on the 53-man roster. This is also affected by the ascension of Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator. It is expected that he will prefer to use more wide receivers in his sets and fewer multiple TE packages. Jason Witten is of course one of the wiliest veterans in the league, and Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz are not bad backup options. This may well be the end of the Rico Gathers experiment. The team also has Codey McElroy. The fact many of you just went “Who?” says about all you need to know there.

Wide receiver
OK, now for some really good news. This is a loaded position, with a dozen currently on the roster. And most of them are just plain fast. One thing that came out in the OTAs is that the deep pass is getting a lot of work, and it has looked very good. Prescott is of course a part of that, but the guys have also been catching the ball well.

Although it is not outside the realm of possibility for the team to carry seven into the season, it is doubtful, given other needs. Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, and Michael Gallup are locks, which leaves us with a real dogfight for what will probably be three more slots. And, health permitting, none of the remaining names can be disregarded. Allen Hurns and Cedrick Wilson still have to show they are fully recovered, and Tavon Austin also had an injury. But look at the rest: Noah Brown, Lance Lenoir, Jon’Vea Johnson, Jalen Guyton, Devin Smith, and Reggie Davis. Some will undoubtedly falter in camp and preseason, but Johnson and Davis were turning heads in OTAs, and any of them can stake a claim with a strong showing, This is a loaded group with a good mix of experience and untried potential.

Offensive line
We are all hoping Travis Frederick is back to his old form, or at least close to it. And his superb ability to call protections is just as important as his physical condition. If Tyron Smith and Zack Martin can stay healthy, the core is in extremely good shape. Connor Williams is bigger and hopefully better, while La’el Collins seemed to be benefiting from the switch to Marc Colombo as line coach midway through the season.

But here, the depth may be the most valuable on the team. That doesn’t just apply to being able to keep winning if one of the starters is out, especially for just a few games. It is a major plus for preseason. Too often in the past, the backup QBs were not able to perform well because they were under constant pressure behind a poor bunch of backups in the preseason games, when the starters were cocooned in bubble wrap on the sidelines. But now, the team has Cameron Fleming, Joe Looney, and Xavier Su’a-Filo, all of whom started games last year, and who could probably win a starting job on one or more other NFL teams. Offensive line depth is not good across the league. Add in rookies Connor McGovern, Mitch Hyatt, and Brandon Knight, and the blocking should be markedly improved in preseason, which will aid immeasurably in evaluating White and Rush. Adam Redmond, Cody Wichmann, Jake Campos, Larry Allen, Jr,, and Derrick Puni are the third string, and most of them are not going to be around in September. Still, there is a reason the team has sixteen linemen. We may see one or two released before camp, but it may be a good idea to hang on to as many as possible to get through the preseason grind. Look for them to try and carry at least nine on the 53, with one or two stashed on the PS.

Defensive line
The Cowboys have a clear preference for building the roster from the inside out, and they have done the same thing on the defensive line of scrimmage. They also have sixteen on the roster now, and just as the will likely go heavy on the offensive line, look for them to have nine or ten defensive linemen on the season roster as well.

DeMarcus Lawrence is the crown jewel, but there is impressive talent to line up with him. Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins, and Antwuan Woods are the leaders to start. Tyrone Crawford is able to play all positions, depending on the situation. Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong are looking to prove they belong in the rotation. Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington are intriguing veteran additions. Trysten Hill, Joe Jackson, Jalen Jelks, Ricky Walker, and Daniel Wise were the rookies brought in to beef up the group. Soto Shakir (another “Who?”) looks to be the odd man out.

And there is still the possibility that Randy Gregory might be reinstated. Even without him, this is another deep and talented bunch.

Linebacker
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee (if he stays healthy) just might be the best starting trio in the league. Joe Thomas could win a starting job on some teams. Justin March-Lilliard is a good depth player, and Chris Covington has value as a special teams player. The Cowboys went heavy in the UDFA market to find some options to carry a seventh (which may be needed given how valuable they are on ST), signing Luke Gifford, Nate Hall, Justin Phillips, and Andrew Dowell. That may be more about protecting the starters in preseason, but they have the numbers now to do that. The preseason may see some substandard performance, but with that trio of starters, it is not a concern.

Cornerbacks
The top four look solid, with Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie as the starters, Anthony Brown the current slot, and Jourdan Lewis just doing too much for his failure to fit Kris Richards’ template to knock him out of contention. Mike Jackson will likely force them to carry at least five corners this year, and Chris Westry is really big, which has to have Richards intrigued. C.J. Goodwin, Treston Decoud, and Donovan Olumba will probably wind up carrying a lot of the load in preseason, although all face an uphill battle in breaking through.

Safeties
In a bit of a pattern that has emerged this year, the further you get from the line of scrimmage, the worse the depth is, and safety caps this off. Xavier Woods is certainly good, but Jeff Heath has too much of a tendency to be a boom or bust player on any given play. Kavon Frazier is a bit underrated and will almost certainly stick due to his ST value. George Iloka was brought in to provide some help. The team must have some faith in him since they waited until the sixth round to draft Donovan Wilson. The rest of the group consists of Kyle Queiro, Jameill Showers, and Darian Thompson. That could also lead to some spotty play in preseason, although Queiro shows flashes at times. But finding four or five solid performers here is crucial for the team, and it is still one of the most concerning spots for the Cowboys.

Specialists
L.P. Ladouceur is simply perfect so far in his career, and there is no sign he is going to fall off. Scott Drew is here just to give Ladouceur a rest – we think. (Never forget what happened with Dan Bailey.)

That brings us to Bailey’s replacement, Brett Maher, who was not exactly a model of consistency last year. Punter Kasey Redfern has been handling some of the placekicking duties in the OTAs, but is he really competition there? The team may well elect to bring in another leg during camp to see if Maher is the way they want to go.

Chris Jones may face real competition from Redfern. After last year, we all should be ready for anything.

That is the whole list. If you stuck with it, you can see that there is outstanding depth at some positions, but others are not nearly as good. Injuries are sadly a part of life in training camp and preseason, so things can change in a hurry. Some of the groups can weather those better than others. We will find out just how well the team prepared in a few months.

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Which one of the rookies have impressed you so far? – JAMES JORDAN/CONVERSE, TX

Bryan: Jon’Vea Johnson. It’s easy to see when a wide receiver or a running back has a good day because you do see them finishing plays. At least through these early stages of practice he looks impressive catching the ball and playing on the move with it in his hands.

Rob: It’s so early, and these aren’t padded practices, but it’s obvious Tony Pollard has exceptional burst and quickness through the hole. I’ve seen a lot of outside observers compare him to Lance Dunbar, the former backup running back here, but he’s got a much larger frame than Dunbar or fellow rookie Mike Weber, who was a more traditional running back at Ohio State. Looking forward to seeing Pollard more as the summer progresses.

With almost all the positions filled on the offensive line, as well as backups, how do you see it playing out with Mitch Hyatt, Derrick Puni, Brandon Knight, Larry Allen Jr. and Jake Campos? With the depth it appears they have, there are not enough spots available for all this young talent on the team or practice squad. – JACK FANELLI / BLACKWOOD, NJ

Bryan: They’ve used Jake Campos as a starter at right tackle in place of La’el Collins early in this camp, so I’d say he has a leg up. Mitch Hyatt and Brandon Knight have been running with the second group, and I’d have to say that Knight has been better there at this point. If Larry Allen Jr. and Derrick Puni make the practice squad at the end of camp that would be a major accomplishment.
Rob: Man, Jason Garrett wouldn’t like to hear you claim that all the positions are set. I do see your point, though, and it’s no surprise teams have called the Cowboys about excess depth they’ve got at certain spots. (I’d imagine offensive line is one spot that’s been inquired about.) Practice squad probably looks like a more realistic destination for most rookies besides Connor McGovern, but let’s let it play out. Again, very early.

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Cheap Luke Gifford Jersey

Can an undrafted rookie out of Nebraska crack the Dallas Cowboys final-53 man roster at one of it’s most stacked positions?
In the recent past, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has been considered the overall best positional group on the entire team. And with three perennial Pro Bowlers on their depth chart, it’s easy to see why.

But very quickly, the Cowboys linebacker corps is starting to rival their offensive line. This upcoming season, Dallas is expected to field the most talented group of linebackers in the NFL. With a projected starting lineup that includes two-time Pro Bowler Sean Lee, former second-rounder Jaylon Smith and one of last year’s top rookies, Leighton Vander Esch, there simply is no other defense in the entire league that can match that talented trio.

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Beyond the star-studded starters, the Cowboys linebacker corps features some quality depth as well. Veteran Joe Thomas returns for another season in Dallas after impressing early last year. Justin March-Lillard is also back, but his impact has mainly been on special teams so far. Kyle Queiro is a converted safety that is a name to watch this summer. Finally, Chris Covington was a sixth-round selection last year whom the Cowboys certainly hope can take another step in his development this offseason.

In this year’s draft, the Cowboys didn’t select a single linebacker with their eight total picks. Instead, the team brought in a trio of undrafted rookie free agents including Michigan State’s Andrew Dowell, Northwestern’s Nate Hall, and Nebraska’s Luke Gifford. The latter has been earmarked by DallasCowboys.com’s Bryan Broaddus as his kiss of death player to watch through OTAs.

Here’s what Broaddus had to say about the undrafted rookie linebacker’s play so far.

” … keep an eye on Luke Gifford – the linebacker out of Nebraska … there is something about his game that translates to this scheme … It appears the defensive staff is asking him to play more inside, which has allowed his instincts to shine. Gifford has some slippery traits to him. He has a feel for how to play through gaps and avoid blocks.”
Hip injuries really impacted Gifford’s college career. But the former team captain has the intangibles, motor, and leadership qualities that the Cowboys covet. Gifford posted a solid senior season for the Cornhuskers, recording 62 stops, a team-high 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks according to NFL.com.

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NEXT: Top 10 Undrafted Free Agents in Dallas Cowboys History
In order to crack one of the most talented positional groups on the Dallas Cowboys roster, Luke Gifford will likely have to earn his bones as a special teams ace. But the fact Gifford is impressing this early into OTAs is a positive sign. But can the rookie continue to impress into training camp and the preseason? It’s worth watching.

 

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The Dallas Cowboys undrafted rookie wide receiver Jalen Guyton could be a difference maker on the offensive end and would bring explosiveness to the team.
Jalen Guyton, an undrafted wide receiver out of North Texas by way of Allen High School could be a bright spot for the Dallas Cowboys offense going forward. Guyton played his high school ball with the first overall pick in April’s draft, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. He put up video game numbers and during his junior and senior seasons in high school he grabbed a total of 124 passes for 2,798 yards, and 35 touchdowns.

Guyton had promise out of high school and attended Notre Dame University his freshman year. But he ended up finding himself back in Texas at Trinity Valley Community College (TVCC) due to a suspension. At TVCC, Guyton averaged 21 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns that season. After a year at the JUCO level, he decided to go to North Texas and join the Mean Green.

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At UNT, the Mason Fine to Guyton connection was nearly unstoppable they connected for 103 catches with 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns over his final two seasons. Guyton also averaged over 15 yards per reception and showed the ability to be a big time playmaker.

His junior year at North Texas, Guyton was named the Newcomer of the Year and he showed promise with his crisp route running and breakaway speed. Even though he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, Guyton made the most of it at his pro day where he ran a 4.35 40-yard dash. Out of the entire Combine and pro days, Guyton is the only player in the entire pre-draft process to run a sub-4.4 40 yard dash and sub-7 3-cone at 200 pounds or more.

What Guyton brings to the Cowboys …
Guyton brings another home run threat to the Cowboys and could find himself on the outside as well as in the slot. He is a raw wide receiver and is more of a developmental player in my opinion but can learn from veteran receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb.

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Jalen Guyton seems to be a shoo-in as a practice squad player this season. But if he has an impressive training camp and preseason we might be seeing the Texas native in a Dallas uniform on Sundays.

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FRISCO, Texas – As we wrap up this final week of OTAs, I filled up another notebook with observations from the practice fields.

Here’s some thoughts on what the Cowboys worked through on Wednesday afternoon:

Talk about having the ability to put a bad play behind you. Amari Cooper had an uncharacteristic drop of a perfectly thrown Dak Prescott slant. How’d he bounce back? With an unreal, one-handed reception over the top of Jourdan Lewis, who was in perfect position. Cooper, tracking the ball the entire time, felt that it was going to be a little short and slowed up. Lewis was late getting his left hand up to defend the play, which allowed the ball to cradle right into Cooper’s left arm. Somehow Cooper managed to hang onto it as Lewis hung his head in disgust.
It’s not often that young guys get the chance to work with the first units, but Reggie Davis took advantage of his shot. Davis was thrown into the mix with Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb and executed a “go” route with Donovan Olumba hanging all over him. Prescott was outstanding, holding Darian Thompson in the middle of the field and giving Davis the space he needed for the reception. Olumba tried to play with his off-hand, but he didn’t catch enough of the ball to knock it away from Davis. It was a perfect throw by Prescott and a tremendous finish by Davis.
I haven’t written much about Jameill Showers and his comeback from his knee surgery last season, but he made a heck of a play on Dalton Schultz in coverage. Schultz was lined up wide right and went vertical at the snap, with Showers following him one-on-one. Showers was running step-for-step with Schultz, never looking back for the ball. At the same moment that Schultz put his hands up, so did Showers — knocking the ball away. This is a make-or-break season for Showers, who doesn’t have any practice squad eligibility left with the club.

I noticed a nice use of Chris Westry as a safety on a fourth down attempt just outside the red zone. Westry lined up in the deep half just off the goal line. When the ball was snapped, he took three steps back and waited. Devin Smith went on the out-and-up to try and get behind him, but Westry read the route the entire way. When Cooper Rush attempted to throw the ball to Smith, Westry was in perfect position to high point it and knock it down.
Speaking of “Hail Mary” plays, Jon’Vea Johnson almost pulled in a pass from Mike White that appeared to bounce through a sea of hands. There were seven defenders in the end zone when White let the ball fly. Donovan Olumba was first to touch the ball, but instead of knocking it to the ground, it glanced off his hands toward Johnson, who was standing in the back of the end zone. Johnson did his best to grab the deflection but he just couldn’t quite adjust to it.
Give Donovan Wilson some credit for paying attention during the individual portion of practice. Every day, Kris Richard has the defensive backs working on punching the ball loose from the receiver and then making the recovery. Fast forward to team period, where Jon’Vea Johnson caught a deep curl and was heading up the field as Wilson came to meet him. In one quick motion, Wilson punched the ball out of Johnson’s arm and managed to get on top of it for the turnover. It’s the result of a simple drill that turned into a big play.
Tony Pollard continues to impress folks with his quickness carrying the ball. I also noticed another trait Pollard displays and that’s his vision. Pollard took a handoff from Mike White and was dead to rights with Chris Covington and Nate Hall sitting in the hole, unblocked. Instead of just finishing out the play and getting tackled, Pollard put his right foot in the ground and exploded around the left end. Hall tried to chase him down, while Covington got caught in the trash. What looked like a sure negative run turned into a seven-yard gain.
With no Joe Looney or Connor McGovern at practice, that meant Adam Redmond had to take the entire practice at center for both the first and second offensive lines. Redmond was able to hold his own with the high volume of snaps and appeared no worse for wear. He looked just as solid passing off stunts to Xavier Su’a-Filo and Cody Wichmann as he did to Zack Martin and Connor Williams. It was a good day overall for Redmond with the work load.

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Cheap Mitch Hyatt Jersey

Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player’s hopes of making it into the NFL. We’ve seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?

Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.

While he measures with good size at 6’5″ and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he’s overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.

For the Cowboys, it’s a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.

Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie’s own lips, he didn’t have a hard decision to make.

“’I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,’” Hyatt said. “’I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.’”

Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.

The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La’el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn’t planning to pay La’l the significant money he should demand.

If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas’ options for that role.

Even if the Cowboys don’t keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.

Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren’t typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who’s worth taking a chance on.

If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.