With everything that’s happened in the world, it feels like it’s been two years since we saw the Dallas Cowboys take part in some football action. However, with the team arriving in Oxnard, Calif. on Tuesday, training camp is finally upon us.
The value of training camp is different for every player, but there’s no doubt that it is vital for players who find themselves on the bubble of Dallas’ 53-man roster. Those players need a strong camp and preseason to prove they’re valuable enough to secure one of those coveted 53 roster spots.
So without any further ado, let’s discuss a few Cowboys who will need to perform well at camp to make the Cowboys’ 53-man roster.
Trysten Hill, IDL
The additions of interior defensive linemen Brent Urban and Carlos Watkins through free agency along with Osa Odighizuwa, Quinton Bohanna and even Chauncey Golston (who is primarily at edge defender who can reduce down to the interior defensive line in passing situations) have put Trysten Hill’s roster spot in a precarious situation this year.
Hill, the Cowboys’ 2019 second-round pick, is going to need to earn the favor and trust of Dan Quinn and his coaching staff during camp. Luckily for Hill, he already has experience doing just that, as he earned a starting gig on Mike Nolan’s Cowboys defense last year after a strong camp. Unfortunately, this year is complicated by the fact that Hill is coming off a torn ACL that cut his 2020 season short and has prevented him from taking part in OTAs and minicamp.
Still, there’s no doubt that Hill has the raw talent to stand out at camp if his technique, effort and health are up to snuff. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 308 pounds with 33 3/8-inch arms, Hills has rare explosiveness and initial quickness for a man his size, which were the basis for many of his notable plays when healthy in 2020.
Still, if you are able to make it down to Oxnard for Cowboys camp, pay attention to how Hill reads and takes on blocks, as those skills have routinely caused him the most trouble through his first two seasons when healthy. If Hill can be more consistent and confident in his ability to properly read and take blocks, it will enable his physical traits to flourish and likely result in a spot on the 53-man roster; unfortunately, we just don’t know if that will be the case.
Noah Brown, WR
Noah Brown has carved himself out quite the niche on the Cowboys roster since making the team as a seventh-round rookie in 2020. While he’s become notorious for his blocking and special teams ability, Brown has actually developed into a promising possession receiver as well, showing great ball skills to go with improved route-running.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys are so dense with receiver talent that he’s going to need a strong camp to maintain his spot on the receiver depth chart and the team’s 53-man roster. By drafting Simi Fehoko in the fifth-round and signing Brennan Eagles, TJ Vasher, Osirus Mitchell and Brandon Smith in undrafted free agency, the Cowboys have brought in a lot of competition for Brown’s spot — and as someone who made the roster as a seventh-rounder, Brown knows all too well how one can come in and steal a veteran’s gig if the veteran isn’t performing up to par. And that’s not even taking into account roster holdovers such as Aaron Parker and Malik Turner, who have turned heads at times this offseason.
While it’s true that Brown has been progressing as a wideout year over year, his biggest advantage over the other receivers is his special teams ability, as Brown has proven to be one of the Cowboys’ most reliable special teamers each season.
Still, a problem will arise if Brown doesn’t prove to be meaningfully better than the receivers currently behind him on the roster. The Cowboys are up against the cap, so if they can save a few dollars by cutting Brown, who counts just under $1 million against the cap, and keeping Fehoko or one of the other cheaper receivers (if the team keeps six receivers).
A strong camp and preseason are the only ways Brown can secure his spot on the Cowboys roster.
Terence Steele, OT
It’s not often that a player who started 14 games one year is potentially on the chopping block the next, but that’s what happen when injuries for an unheralded undrafted rookie into the starting lineup.
While Terence Steele deserves praise for merely surviving in that scenario, it’s obvious that the Cowboys were unsatisfied with his performance even given the circumstances, as the team quickly signed Ty Nsekhe during free agency before drafting Josh Ball in the fourth round — both of which will make Steele’s chances of making the 53-man roster much more difficult.
In a vacuum, I would actually give Steele a decent opportunity of outperforming Ball during training camp. However, given the draft captial invested in Ball by the current coaching staff, it’s unlikely that the team would keep Steele over Ball, regardless. And I just don’t see a scenario where Steele is improved enough to best Nsekhe for the team’s swing (primary backup) tackle spot.
Therefore, it’s going to be important that Steele performs well enough during camp that the coaching staff is forced to go long and keep five offensive tackles, meaning they are going short at another position. And there is reason to believe this will happen. Steele really showed some improvement toward the end of the year in pass protection, as he allowed 2.5 pressures per game over the last six contests after allowing 3.6 pressures per game over the first nine games. In addition, Steele has made the wise choice to train with offensive line development specialist Duke Manyweather, who trains many of the top tackles in the NFL.
Darian Thompson, S
Peruse any number of Cowboys 53-man roster projections before camp and you’re likely to notice that veteran safety Darian Thompson is usually left off. But take it from someone who’s left Thompson off his 53-man roster projections each of the last two years only for him to then make the team, beware of doubting Thompson’s ability to make the roster this year.
While Thompson rarely blows you away when he takes the field, he’s done an outstanding job earning the trust of the two previous coaching staffs during camp. Last year, he performed so well during camp that the team felt comfortable cutting HaHa Clinton-Dix — who was signed in free agency just a couple months prior, had experience with new head coach Mike McCarthy and came in with a litany of starting experience in the NFL — before the regular season even began.
Thompson is smart, works hard and thrives on special teams, which undoubtedly gives him an advantage over some of the other safeties vying for a spot on the 53-man rosters. Sixth-round pick Israel Mukuamu and undrafted rookie Tyler Coyle will push Thompson for a spot on the roster, and while they’re younger and cheaper, don’t forget that Thompson has the experience and special advantages that could enable him to meaningfully standout from the two rookie safeties.
Therefore, don’t be surprised if Thompson puts together another strong camp and finds himself on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster once again in 2021.