Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett builds depth with down-roster players


Dallas Cowboys cornerback Tyler Patmon is said to be making the Year 2 leap. He made headlines recently trading slaps with $70 million man Dez Bryant, but the buzz behind the headlines says Patmon is having one of the best camps of any cornerback on the roster.

Patmon’s development, and indeed his very presence, is a testament to this organization’s commitment to creating opportunities for down-roster players through competition. Patmon was a rookie last year, but he wasn’t drafted. He wasn’t even an undrafted rookie free agent. He was a camp body. A tryout player. Injury filler.

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That he made the 53-man roster is a nod to his work ethic and tenacity, but also to this coaching staff’s discipline in evaluating down-roster talent.

Even more important, and more rare, is the staff’s willingness to act on that assessment. Cornerback B.W. Webb, a fourth-round selection in 2013, was released a month into camp last year. It was a tryout player who took his spot on the roster.

Pedigree counts for something. Seeing past it is not easy. No one could blame the Cowboys last year for cutting Patmon and giving Webb another season to develop. That’s not how this coaching staff operates. Head Coach Jason Garrett talked about that process in a video available on the team site following Sunday’s Blue-White scrimmage:

"“One of the things that we’ve talked about a lot as a staff is to make sure these first two weeks we have great discipline as a staff giving these young guys opportunities to get reps in practice leading up to this first preseason game. It’s really been our philosophy all along, and it’s been our philosophy since I’ve been the head coach.”"

Patmon, who may play a critical role in the success of the 2015 secondary, is proof of that commitment. Players like Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent out of Southern Methodist in 2012, and Lance Dunbar, a 2012 UFA out of North Texas, are other examples.

Emerging as a possible candidate in this year’s camp is Gus Johnson, a running back out of Stephen F. Austin State University in the Southland Conference. Johnson went undrafted and the Cowboys signed him in late July after releasing oft-injured fan-base heart throb Ryan Williams.

At 5’10” and anywhere from 215 to 225 pounds depending on who you read, Johnson has the build of a classic punishing back. He’s getting some early traction in camp, according to a post from dallascowboys.com scout writer Brian Broaddus:

"“Gus Johnson is catching my eye… There are one or two snaps a practice where I am no longer looking down at my roster and wondering who that running back is. Johnson is looking more complete in the snaps he has received — whether that’s carrying the ball, receiving out of the backfield or understanding where he needs to be in the blitz pickup. Johnson has not looked out of place at all.”"

The running back position group reeks of opportunity. Johnson will continue to get snaps, and whether he sticks around or not will depend on what he does with those snaps, not on how he got his spot on the 90-man roster. Garrett has challenged his entire coaching staff to make sure of that:

"“You really build your football team by giving younger guys and backup players an opportunity early on to see where they are, to see them compete on as level a playing field as possible. So that continues… and that will certainly happen on Thursday night.”"

The Cowboys play their first preseason game Thursday at San Diego. Johnson and every other down-roster player will have an opportunity to show up on film. They know this coaching staff will notice. More important, they can trust these coaches will act based on what they see as opposed to pedigree.

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