Have These Cowboy Rookies Earned Their Star?

Cowboy rookies must earn the star.

Cowboy rookies must earn the star.

In the past, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has talked about how the rookies must earn the star on their helmet. Evidently Garrett may have been an Eagle Scout or something, but in the spirit of that idea, I’m taking a look at how each rookie performed in mini camp and then rate how far along they are to earning their star.

I’m going to go in the order each player was drafted. As a player gets closer to defining his role on the team, I believe he gets closer to earning a star.

1. Travis Frederick-  1/2 STAR 

The top pick of the Cowboys was drafted to take over the center position but so far in camp his reviews have been mixed. As advertised, Frederick is intelligent and capable of making the blocking calls at the line. There will be no issues with him learning the offense or play book. But in scrimmages he has looked a little slow for the NFL level as at times players shoot past him.

I still think Frederick will start at center for Dallas but he has yet to pull away from Costa to take that spot. When the Cowboys begin preseason camp, Frederick will need to step up and take ownership of that center spot to get his full star.

2. Gavin Escobar-  3/4 STAR

Of all the rookies in mini camp, Escobar may have shined the most. I noticed in his college games that he not only caught passes he should catch but often caught many that he shouldn’t catch. During camp, Escobar displayed those same nice hands for the coaches. While Escobar has some developing to do in his blocking, I think Jason will find a way to incorporate him in the offense right away.

With his 6’6″ height and soft hands, it’s easy to picture Escobar becoming a favorite target of Romo’s especially in the redzone.  Escobar is well on his way to getting that star.

3.  Terrance Williams-   1/3 STAR

Williams had an impressive career as a WR at Baylor but the fact is he got off to a slow start in mini camp. Sloppy route running had to be addressed and he dropped passes as well. I pointed out after Williams was drafted, that he had a tendency to catch the ball near his body which can lead to drops.

Williams came on strong toward the end of workouts and showed that he can be coached. I still believe Williams will help the Cowboys this season but for now, he is far behind thrid WR Dewayne Harris. Williams will need to get off to a better start during preseason camp to get his star.

4. J.J. Wilcox-  2/3 STAR

Of all the rookies, I think Wilcox may have helped himself the most during mini camp. Wilcox comes in with little experience at safety but what he showed was he has a natural ability to get to the football. Those nose for the ball instincts are not easily taught and will be needed in the new Tampa 2 defense. Having a ball hawk type safety is a must and Wilcox is showing he can do that in this defense. I like his chances of contributing as a kickoff returner too.

While Wilcox still has an awful lot to learn, he is now in the conversation as a starting safety. I think he is well on his way to getting his star.

5. B.W. Webb-  1/2 STAR

One advantage Webb has over the current Cowboy DBs, is that he is a good fit in the zone type coverages that Dallas is moving to in Kiffin’s defense. Claiborne and Carr were brought into be more of a press cover for Ryan’s defense so Webb has looked good in camp so far in fact, impressing Kiffin a great deal. Webb is athletic and has moved well in mini camp but I think his poor tackling could be exposed when the tackling starts in preseason camp.

Webb is off to a good start but needs to find his role in the secondary when camp begins, in order to earn his star. I am impressed with his punt return skills which could be a way for him to contribute, as well.     

6. Joseph Randle-  0 STAR

As they say in the NFL, “can’t make the club in the tub”. Unfortunately a thumb injury has kept Randle from fully participating and that puts him way behind. While not expected to start at RB, he is expected to replace Felix Jones in the Cowboys offense and be in the rotation. His absence has opened the door for Dunbar, an undrafted rookie last season with blazing speed. Randle has running and catching skills that give the strong impression that he can contribute right away but currently, he is the third string RB at best. He must show the coaches something when camp begins.

Randle is one guy that really needs to literally hit the ground running in preseason camp in order to earn a star.

7. DeVonte Holloman-    1/2 STAR

Holloman has gotten noticed in mini camp as a LB with above average cover skills. And when the tackling begins in preseason camp, I think the coaches will like Holloman even more. At this early point, it’s not clear what Holloman’s role will be in the defense but I believe any defense can use a guy who can cover and is a sure open field tackler.

Holloman is off to a good start but will need to start carving out his spot in the defense to get his star. He is also very capable of contributing on special teams.


Top 5 Position Battles for The Dallas Cowboys

Rookie Travis Frederick has eyes on starting center spot.

Rookie Travis Frederick has eyes on starting center spot.

During OTAs, we got a preview of some of the position battles to keep an eye on when the Cowboys begin preseason camp. At that time, there will actually be full contact so that could change the outlook of things some.

Here are the position battles that I think will be the ones to watch:

1. Center: Frederick and Costa

The Cowboys used their first pick of the draft on center Travis Frederick. While he can play guard, all indications are the Cowboys plan to use him at center but a healthy Costa may not hand it over without a battle. Last year Costa played little due to a back injury but he has looked competitive during OTAs while the rookie Frederick has looked slow.

The Cowboys rushing game needs help and it appears they will be moving to more of a zone blocking scheme which requires a mobile center. Cowboys analyst Bryan Broaddus has pointed out that Costa just moves better than Frederick. Prior to the draft, Frederick had a 40 time that was far less than stellar so they should have known he was not very mobile.

And on that note, ever get the feeling that GM Jerry Jones is disconnected to what Dallas is trying to do as a team on the field?  Well you should because once again that looks like the case.

Will Costa win the starting center position as Dallas runs the ball in preseason? Could Costa actually prove to be a better fit in this new run approach? Or will Frederick be played there in order for the front office to save face with their top pick? Can the heavy footed Frederick start at guard for the Cowboys? It’s going to be an intriguing battle to watch.

2. Strong Safety: Will Allen, Matt Johnson, and JJ Wilcox

Strong safety is an area where the Cowboys need a player to step up with the departure of Sensabaugh. It appears that free safety will be handled by a recovering Barry Church but the strong  safety position appears wide open after OTAs.

Will Allen is an experienced NFL journey man who Dallas picked up in the off season. He has already missed workouts with an injury. Allen would appear to be an adequate player to man the position but I believe Dallas has higher expectations for rookie JJ Wilcox and second year player Matt Johnson.

Last year Johnson missed the season with injuries and he appears ready to compete now however his missed time last season has Henderson, his position coach, describing Johnson as just like a rookie. Wilcox has displayed outstanding athletic ability and instincts during OTAs and while he isn’t very experienced, probably has the most upside potential.

I think it will be interesting to watch how quickly Wilcox develops in the preseason camp as he is capable of winning the spot. Another battle to watch and an important piece of the Cowboys’ new Kiffin led Tamp 2 defense.   

3. Strong Side LB: Justin Durant, DeVonte Holloman and Alex Albright

In the off season, Dallas added Lions LB Durant to compete for the LB spot. Going to a 4-3 defense, it’s a given that Lee will be in the middle with Carter on one side. But Albright and Durant will battle for the third spot.  Durant appears to be similar to Connor who Dallas let go, in that he is solid against the run but has weaknesses in pass coverage.  I don’t view Durant as a significant upgrade over Connor.   

Albright has been a good special teams player for Dallas and in preseason last year, looked very impressive as an inside LB in the 3-4 defense. I think Albright is going to fit in well in the new 4-3 defense as a LB.

Holloman is a rookie that Dallas drafted as a LB although at South Carolina, he often played strong safety. Holloman brings an ability to defend passes well and probably better than either Albright or Durant.

Could Holloman be a guy who comes in on passing situations (primarily 3rd down) to help with coverage? The battle between these three in preseason will be a good one to watch as well.   All three are capable of competing for playing time at that LB spot.

4. Guard: Macknezy Bernadeau and Ron Leary

I think Livings will start at one guard with Bernadeau representing a weak link in the Cowboys offensive line at guard. Expectations are that Leary, an undrafted guard last season, will compete with Bernadeau for playing time. Dallas failed to draft a guard (mistake in my view) but it’s possible that their top pick center Frederick, could end up at guard if Costa starts at center.

Will Leary turn out to be all that Jerry Jones (and only Jerry) thought he was? Will Frederick be forced to play guard after losing the starting center spot? Or does Bernadeau maintain the spot by default? It’s an area where Dallas needs to improve and will be worth watching.

5. Right Tackle: Doug Free and Parnell

Last season Doug Free way underwhelmed us with his play and began sharing time with tackle Parnell. Parnell played better than expected while Free’s play actually improved with this shared time arrangement. The Cowboys did bring Free back this year for less pay but will he man up and own the spot this season or is it time for Parnell to step up into a starting roll?

Right tackle is another position where I thought Dallas needed an upgrade either in free agency or the draft but that didn’t happen. So we are left to watch these two battle for the spot like a couple of rams butting heads over territory.

I suppose another alternating situation could be done again this season.    

My Take: There are other interesting battles to be watched in the preseason but these are the 5 that I think could provide the biggest impact and be the most interesting to watch play out.