5 Dallas Cowboys Players Who Will Surprise During Training Camp
Expect to see some surprising efforts from a number of players at Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, California.
Dallas has the benefit of not only a new crop of players acquired this offseason but several players who saw little to no action a year ago. In other words, the Cowboys have close to two years' worth of young and unproven players to evaluate during the most important camp the franchise has run in many years.
Keep in mind that the following does not include veteran players like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware, all players who can deliver surprises but also players who are expected to do so on a weekly basis. Furthermore, veteran players likely won't see the amount of repetitions that those players mentioned here will see.
So, as Dallas prepares for the unexpected in July and August, let's look at some players who they should expect to get those results from.
Ronald Leary – G (Undrafted 2012)
No player was more important beyond the 2012 NFL draft than offensive guard Ronald Leary. Despite seeing little playing time as a rookie last year, Leary entered last year's camp as the first undrafted player to arrive in Dallas. Leary also brought in more money than any of his undrafted counterparts.
Leary saw extensive action in the trenches in last year's camp, as 2012 free-agent guard Mackenzy Bernadeau spent most of his time recovering from multiple surgeries undergone during the offseason. Nonetheless, he wasn't ready to be a starter on an offensive line that was inches above awful last season.
The honeymoon is over.
Leary will be begged to grab one of the two starting guard positions over a good number of candidates to start in front of Romo. Leary is young, powerful and should be ready to throw his hat into the mix as a potential starter.
The Cowboys learned a year ago that overpaying for other teams' veteran castoffs isn't the way to go, at least more often than not. Bernadeau continues to fight off injuries and surgeries, and fellow '12 free agent Nate Livings wasn't exactly a Pro Bowl-caliber player in his first season wearing the blue star.
The NFL is a young man's game, and right now is Leary's time to shine.
DeVonte Holloman – LB (2013 NFL Draft, Round 6)
DeVonte Holloman was a playmaker at South Carolina, period.
It's great to watch linebackers who find the ball at will.
It's even better to watch the ball find the linebacker as often as it has Holloman.
Holloman played behind defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, arguably the best defensive player in college football last year. During this time, you get the feeling that Holloman has picked up on the art of allowing mistakes to come to him.
Well, Dallas has a pass-rusher in Ware that Clowney hopes to emulate sooner than later. Holloman will be playing behind the top pass-rusher in the NFL next season, and he might emerge as the ''surprise'' starting outside linebacker in joining Lee and Bruce Carter.
In 1992, rookie Robert Jones was a similar kind of surprise for the Cowboys. As a rookie, he ended up the starting middle linebacker for the youngest team in the NFL that would eventually win Super Bowl XXVII.
No, Holloman isn't necessarily too young to start, although Ernie Sims and Justin Durant could make that a difficult task.
James Hanna – TE (2012 NFL Draft, Round 6)
The second-round selection of San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar in this year's NFL draft certainly raised some eyebrows, especially following last year's sixth-round selection of James Hanna from Oklahoma.
Granted, Escobar will likely end up being a valuable weapon in the Dallas passing attack, but I think it's possible that Hanna is a more valuable piece to the Dallas offense in 2013.
Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com offered a detailed look at Hanna in a column earlier this month, and I completely agree with his thinking when it comes to Hanna.
To start with, Hanna is already a better run-blocker than Escobar may ever be, and he also has a leg up in experience in Dallas' system. This is going to pay off when it comes to playing time this season, unlike a year ago.
Another factor to consider is last weekend's release of fullback Lawrence Vickers. A poor decision from a philosophical standpoint, we have to keep in mind that Hanna may operate in similar fashion from time to time.
Hanna will likely see reps at tight end and also at H-back, where his mobility and size might assist a running game that has just stunk for years under head coach Jason Garrett's novice control.
Yes, the addition of Escobar has pointed to a firm commitment to ''12'' personnel (two tight ends) in the Dallas offense, but don't be surprised if it actually takes three to make this offense better than it has been over the last several years.
J.J. Wilcox – S (2013 NFL Draft, Round 3)
With the release and subsequent retirement of Gerald Sensabaugh, it's been known for months now that Dallas will have a new free safety in 2013. Toss in the early injury suffered last year by strong safety Barry Church, and both safety positions are a bit of a question mark.
Church should be back with no lingering problems, but what's going on at free safety?
Will Allen and Matt Johnson will see significant time at this position—that's to be expected.
But a real surprise would be J.J. Wilcox outrunning everybody for the starting job. I think this is not only possible but likely.
Wilcox won't have much ground to cover in passing Johnson, a second-year veteran who didn't play at all last season due to injury. Now both of these youngsters enter defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's new system from an equal vantage point.
Wilcox is easily a better athlete than Johnson, and I think this could show up right away. If Wilcox is at any disadvantage at all, it's the fact he only played one season at safety while at Georgia Southern—this could very well hold him behind Johnson for a year or so.
Kiffin's new scheme won't be as diverse as the antiquated 3-4 alignments of the last eight seasons in Dallas. Further, free safeties will tend to play deeper in Kiffin's scheme, which should allow a player like Wilcox to flourish, given his athleticism.
It might be a surprise to see Wilcox earn the starting free safety job in 2013, but that's what this discussion is all about.
Terrance Williams - WR (2013 NFL Draft, Round 3)
Chosen just six spots ahead of Wilcox was wide receiver Terrance Williams out of Baylor. The 6'2'', 210-pound receiver chalked up a gorgeous resume while at Waco and did so without the services of former teammate Robert Griffin III, now under center in Washington, during his senior year in 2012.
Wide receiver might be the strongest position on the entire Dallas depth chart, and I expect Williams to be on the field more than any other pass-catcher not named Bryant or Miles Austin.
In fact, I believe that Williams is easily the third-best receiver right now and will likely replace Austin as early as 2014.
It's hard to say whether or not Williams will truly play a third receiver role given Austin's prowess in the slot. I think it's likely that Dallas utilizes the talents of Bryant and Williams wide while creating further problems with Austin closer to the football.
The truth is that Williams could have easily been selected in the first or second round of the 2013 NFL draft, and the Cowboys got a steal with this pick. Williams has the potential to not only make the receiving corps as strong as it can be but also shows long-term promise, potentially for the rest of this decade.
It's true that Williams has yet to do anything at the NFL level, but his history in college suggests that it doesn't matter who the quarterback is for him to be the focal point of an offense—Williams doesn't even have to play that significant of a role this season.
Williams is a playmaker from a respected conference and has shown that he'll perform against anybody. Expect to see him become the second-best wideout for the Cowboys sooner than later.