5 Players off to the Best Starts at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp

Christian Blood@@cowboysguruContributor IIIAugust 7, 2013

5 Players off to the Best Starts at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp

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    It's refreshing that some new and young faces are making an early impact at Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, Calif. This was expected to be the case, but now we're starting to get a better picture as to who exactly might be fitting Dallas' plans in 2013.

    Last weekend's Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio was the first real football seen since Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans last February. This year's matchup between Dallas and the Miami Dolphins wasn't nearly as good of a game to watch, but if you're a Dallas fan, it was arguably more meaningful.

    Cowboys starters like quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and linebacker Sean Lee, among others, saw little to no action. But that's not what the first exhibition game of 2013 was all about.

    Here's a look at five players and/or positions that stood out in the preseason opener as opposed to the sum of Dallas training camp to this point. These players might have something going with respect to earning a roster spot. A few names were expected by many, but a couple are somewhat surprising.

    Expect a few more names to draw attention during the second preseason affair in Oakland against the Raiders on Friday night.

    For now, the following players have drawn first blood for a roster spot amongst many newcomers and unproven players who are pushing for a gig in Dallas this year.


    All stats courtesy of ESPN

Doug Free, RT

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    Who thought that starting right tackle Doug Free, fresh off of a 50 percent pay cut this summer, would look as good as he did against the Dolphins, albeit in very limited action?

    No, Free isn't out of the woods just yet. His 2012 regular-season effort was quite lacking, especially where penalties are concerned. Let's remember, however, the Dolphins played better defensive linemen, like Cameron Wake and 2013 first-round draft choice Dion Jordan, than Dallas did.

    Former NFL scout and DallasCowboys.com contributor Bryan Broaddus offered the following assessment of Free following the Dolphins game:

    Despite only playing one series, I had a very positive view of both Doug Free and Tyron Smith at the starting tackle spot. Free drew Cameron Wake for his assignment in the matchup and I have to say that his technique getting into his blocks in the running game was solid, his sets in pass protection was on mark. Free showed punch with his hands but he also didn't play off balance or get out of whack with his body position.

    As I said, Free isn't a lock for the long-term future in Dallas, but he's off to a good start in terms of gaining the confidence of the franchise.

    More on the Dallas running game in Canton up next, but remember that keeping the ball on the ground makes all offensive linemen better.

Dallas Running Backs (Lance Dunbar, Phillip Tanner, Joseph Randle)

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    I couldn't pick just one so I decided to include them all—except starting running back DeMarco Murray, who didn't play, obviously.

    Second-year veteran Lance Dunbar set the tone on the ground right away. He carried on Dallas' first play from scrimmage and advanced four yards. His second carry came on the Cowboys' third play, a seven-yard gain. The very next play Dunbar went for 11 yards. The former North Texas star racked up a quick four carries for 22 yards and a 5.5-yard average in the first half.

    Third-year running back Phillip Tanner was even more impressive on several more carries than Dunbar had. Tanner went for 59 yards on 10 carries and scored Dallas' first touchdown of the preseason on a one-yard run.

    Tanner is remembered for losing his helmet during a preseason game in Arlington two years ago against the San Diego Chargers. That carry would have gone for a touchdown if not for the NFL rule that states a play dies when headgear comes off.

    Tanner lost his helmet again on Sunday, but he keeps proving he needs more carries in the NFL.

    Finally, 2013 fifth-round draft pick Joseph Randle would actually lead all Dallas rushers with 70 yards on 13 carries, as offensive coordinator Bill Callahan certainly showed he's more committed to the running game than his predecessor, head coach Jason Garrett.

Ronald Leary, OG

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    Offensive guard Ronald Leary was the first undrafted player signed by the Cowboys following the 2012 NFL draft. Though he saw limited action during the regular season, Leary saw extensive action during the preseason while 2012 free-agent acquisitions Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau battled through injuries prior to the regular season.

    As we fast-forward to the 2013 preseason, little has changed. Livings and Bernadeau are still trying to find their way onto the field, and Leary seems poised to grab one of the two starting guard positions.

    I just pointed out the success enjoyed by numerous Dallas running backs against Miami, but we all know that without solid blocking up front, no rushing attack will be effective. Hats off to Leary for helping to make that happen.

    Leary played extensively against the Dolphins as Dallas chalked up 170 yards on 34 carries—this was possibly the most encouraging statistic of the whole night. The Cowboys enjoyed very good success running to the left while relying on Leary and left tackle Tyron Smith to blow open holes.

    Guys like Livings and Bernadeau had better get their tails back on the field, because I think that starting left guard is Leary's job to lose—I don't care about how much money the aging veterans are making, either.

DeVonte Holloman, OLB

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    Dallas spent a sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft on South Carolina linebacker DeVonte Holloman. It took barely a quarter-and-a-half for the Cowboys to realize they might have made a nice selection here.

    To start with, Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier, while known for high-powered offenses in the college ranks, has actually developed an intimidating defensive culture at South Carolina. Next year's first overall draft selection could very well be defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

    Many were hoping Holloman was rather accustomed to playing behind pressure, a luxury he enjoyed at South Carolina. Linebackers have to be able to tackle for sure, but it's such a bonus when they're able to also anticipate mistakes in the passing game. Holloman did exactly that in the second quarter against Miami.

    As the video shows, Holloman reacts to a pass deflection off of the hands of Dolphins rookie wide receiver Chad Bumphis on a 3rd-and-long situation. Holloman intercepts the pass and takes it 75 yards for Dallas' second touchdown of the preseason.

    Yes, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wants turnovers, just like any other colleague of his in the NFL.

    Well, wanting them and actually getting them are two entirely different stories, and Kiffin got two big ones in the preseason opener.

    We don't want to make too much out of just one big play in an exhibition game against an opponent's scrubs, but keep your eyes on Holloman in the upcoming game against Oakland. If he turns up big again, then the Cowboys might gladly pave the way to make Holloman a rookie starter over aging veterans Ernie Sims and Justin Durant.

    Remember that Dallas already has Sean Lee and Bruce Carter slated to start as two of the Cowboys' three linebackers. What I'm suggesting is that Dallas could have the best linebacker corps in the NFL, period.


George Selvie, DE

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    Not two weeks ago, I offered the possibility that recent addition George Selvie, a journeyman defensive end heading into his fourth season, might make an impact with the Cowboys.

    In his first preseason game with Dallas, he certainly did.

    The included video clip is short but definitely sweet. That's called a classic bull rush.

    Selvie was easily the most dominant defensive lineman in the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game as he tallied two sacks and three tackles—he just missed a third sack when he dropped Dolphins quarterback Pat Devlin for a one-yard gain in the third quarter.

    Experience won't be something that Selvie lacks because he's been around the league since 2010. The chips might be falling into place for the former defender from South Florida.

    I get tired of saying that you can't have enough pass-rushing specialists in the NFL. This position is not like quarterback, where if you have a good one for the long term, you just pass on all others. Pressuring opposing quarterbacks is vital in football, at any level, and Selvie has shown he can do exactly that.

    But as 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and former Dallas head coach Bill Parcells used to say, ''Let's not put him in Canton yet, fellas.''

    But is it not ironic that Selvie played as well as he did in Canton, of all places?

    Selvie stands 6'4" and weighs 270-pounds, the ideal size for a classic 4-3 defensive end—I have to think Kiffin knew a whole lot about this guy due to his ties to the state of Florida.

    If there's one player I'll be zooming in on Friday night in Oakland, it's without a doubt Selvie.