After a long offseason, the Dallas Cowboys finally strapped on the pads and began to separate the contenders from pretenders.
With a week of training camp in the books, the point has been reached where early evaluations now hold applicable worth.
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As with every training camp, some players are rising while others are falling. The Cowboys have surprisingly seen their fair share of drastic movement so far.
Let’s dive right in and unveil the top three camp movers, both up and down.
1) DEMARCUS LAWRENCE
Demarcus Lawrence‘s physique and skillset has been absurdly redefined through the addition of 20+ pounds of muscle. Any concerns about his move to strong side defensive end can be tossed aside.
D-Law is hammering away in individual rush drills. Lawrence is just as quick as last year, but strength gains have added a devastating power aspect to his tool belt.
When the tackle quickly sets the edge, Lawrence blasts through his inside shoulder. When the blocker anchors down inside, Lawrence flies by the outside.
Now that his rush arsenal combines both brute force and speed, expect huge things from Lawrence in his second act.
2) BYRON JONES
The Cowboys first round pick has done nothing but impress since arriving in Dallas. Byron Jones continues to be fed multiple defensive assignments, and has handled himself like a veteran.
Jones is playing corner, safety, and dime safety during camp. The impressive thing is he’s playing all three well. Sure there are rookie inconsistencies on occasion, but the athleticism to handle a major role is very much present.
Look for Jones to start Week 1. He’s already a lock for the dime safety, but I’m also projecting him as the starting free safety in base defense. A big part is due to Jones’ solid play, the other factor will become clear later in the list.
3) ZACK MARTIN
It’s hard for a rookie Pro Bowler to elevate status drastically enough to make this type of list, but leaving Zack Martin off would be a disservice.
Martin has been a solid, consistent force on inside pass rush drills all camp. His technique, power, and versatility are an awesome sight to watch.
Even this early in his career, I’m already convinced he’s the most complete lineman (offense or defense) on the team. Even above fellow Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith and Greg Hardy. Martin is simply a beast.
1) J.J. WILCOX
After reading about excessive holding by J.J. Wilcox during camp, I decided to pay close attention to him during coverage drills on Tuesday.
In the single coverage drill, safeties were defending tight ends and linebackers faced off with running backs. Let’s just say the early criticism of Wilcox was disturbingly true.
To stay anywhere near his man, Wilcox was grabbing and wrapping his hands around receivers like a groping college kid at a foam party.
The one time he laid off illegal hand tactics, he was three yards behind Jason Witten allowing an easy touchdown. Jones will be the starting free safety sooner than later.
2) DEVIN STREET
He’s not fast off the ball, nor was he assumed to be. His solid route running was supposed to be the ticket to defender separation. Thus far it’s been ineffective.
Street continues to prove he’s only the fourth best receiver, and isn’t challenging the order. If he doesn’t step it up soon, some of his targets will head towards a faster rookie like Lucky Whitehead.
3) DOUG FREE
In all fairness to Doug Free, he’s just now returning to action after a long injury layoff. He’s also squaring off against a redefined beast in second year end Lawrence.
So far the longtime starting tackle is absorbing an unfriendly share of outright losses in pass rush drills. Much can be attributed to the impressive rise of Lawrence, yet Free will be counted on to neutralize high level opposing rushers.
It’s still early in camp, but Free needs to take back some ground if he wants to keep Darrion Weems filling in behind him.