Dallas Cowboys: Early Rookie Progress Reports
Although the Dallas Cowboys' rookie class hasn't gotten in a ton of work since being drafted, it's never too soon to assess the players' early performances and potential roles. The 'Boys will be counting on at least a couple of their rookies—first-round offensive lineman Zack Martin and second-round defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence—to make an immediate impact in 2014.
With the loss of linebacker Sean Lee, you might be able to add fourth-round rookie Anthony Hitchens to that list, too. Hitchens isn't guaranteed to get a lot of snaps, but it's surely a lot more likely with Lee out of the equation. Meanwhile, fifth-round wide receiver Devin Street will compete for time in the slot.
Let's look at how the Cowboys' top rookies have progressed thus far in Big D.
OG/OT Zack Martin
Offensive lineman Zack Martin opened OTAs at right guard, according to Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas. His presence next to Doug Free on the right side meant that Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau split time at left guard. It's interesting that Dallas is trying Bernadeau out on the left side, but the competition should be good for Leary.
The big news surrounding Martin, though, is that he was involved in Lee's season-ending knee injury. Lee suffered the injury "just before colliding" with Martin, according to Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas. Martin told ESPN Dallas, "I don't really know what happened. Two guys playing hard, running to the ball. We'll see what happens. ... Hope for the best. He's obviously a great player, leader of the defense."
Martin has been scrutinized for playing too hard in what are supposed to be non-contact drills, although you can't really fault a rookie for playing hard during the first day of OTAs as he tries to make a name for himself.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Since coming to Dallas, Lawrence has been getting rave reviews. After the first day of rookie minicamp, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli spoke with Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News:
I think we got the right one. I think he's really smooth. He's got a great feel for a reaction to movement. That's what I look for, that's something you can't test, you got to see it. He's strong in here, pad level gets down, smooth, really, really good instincts, that's our job to build on it. He's going to be a big boy, a big man. The speed, the length, the movement, I just like this guy. He's tough. He's physical. I like that about him.
Lawrence opened up OTAs as a starting defensive end, with Tyrone Crawford, Nick Hayden and Terrell McClain as the fellow defensive linemen. He'll be counted on for big contributions in 2014.
LB Anthony Hitchens
When Lee went down with his knee injury, Hitchens' chances of providing meaningful contributions multiplied exponentially. Actually, he worked with the first team in OTAs, according to Blogging the Boys, albeit with veteran Justin Durant nursing an injury.
Chances are Hitchens won't begin the season as a starter, but he could still play a significant role. Lee has already been helping the youngster, according to The Dallas Morning News:
Lee was back at Valley Ranch on Wednesday going over defensive plays with rookie fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens, one of the candidates to fill-in for Lee. Just after the second organized team activity practice ended, Lee talked to Hitchens.
'He just helped me out a little bit on a couple of Cover Twos that we ran in practice,' said Hitchens, who took all of the first-team reps at middle linebacker Wednesday. 'It means a lot to me, being a young guy, that he's helping me out already. Whenever I have questions, I run right to him.'
Based on what Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com had said, Hitchens might be best as a run defender who initially comes off of the field on passing downs:
Another option if you want to keep Holloman on the outside is to use rookie Anthony Hitchens. I was told in Wednesday's OTA practice that he took several reps with the first defense to test where he was at mentally and was no worse for wear. There were good fits in the run game, playing with his hands and putting himself in position to make the tackle.
What you get from Hitchens is the physical side of the game more than the athlete. Where he is going to have to make the most improvement in his game will be in the coverage aspect of the position. In this scheme, if you struggle to know where you fit in your zone drops, there are going to be issues.
WR Devin Street
Fifth-round wide receiver Devin Street has reportedly already made an impact at OTAs, according to Broaddus:
The one receiver that jumped out at me when watching practice was Devin Street. There is a real smoothness to his game and you can see that with his ability to run routes. He was one of those kids during the drafting process that really stood out when it came to where he was willing to take his route and the ability to finish them.
Two of his better plays were routes that were run inside. One came on a slant against, Terrance Mitchell, who was in good position to make the play but Street was able to position himself in a way to snatch the ball. His other nice play was a drag across the middle on boot action to the right. It was a solid throw by Dustin Vaughan on the move for a nice gain. Street also lined up some snaps inside as the slot as well. It was a nice start to his morning.
It's interesting that Street is lining up in the slot; despite his size (6'3", 198 lbs), that's where he's most likely to make his impact as a rookie.