Dallas Cowboys Players Climbing the Depth Chart This Offseason
As the Dallas Cowboys go through Organized Team Activities (OTAs), fans are getting an early glimpse of what the Cowboys think about certain players. Every year, players who aren't believed to be much more then a camp body can turn into real contributors.
For rookies and free-agent signees, OTAs are the first opportunity to prove themselves with their new team. For some returning players, the practices represent an opportunity to show improvement from the prior year.
Even though it is still very early in the process, there still has been movement up and down the depth chart. It is very important, especially for the young players, to start off well in OTAs and the mandatory minicamp and carry that momentum through training camp to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.
The most important aspect of OTAs and minicamps are for players to learn the Cowboys playbook and schemes. If a player doesn't grasp the playbook now, then they likely won't last long when training camp starts.
An important attribute players must have to be effective is to play fast. And a player can't play fast without intimate knowledge of the scheme and playbook. He must know his keys and assignments to be able to react quickly enough to get the job done. A large majority of work, to get to the point where that player can play fast, is done in the offseason.
Without further ado, here are some players who are making the most of the offseason and moving up the depth chart.
Going into this offseason, Jakar Hamilton was an afterthought at safety. All the talk, centered around J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson and Jeff Heath, was about which one of them would win the free safety job opposite of Barry Church.
However, there have been reports, including from DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus, that Hamilton has been making some waves of late:
Jakar Hamilton has been running with the second defense and to his credit has been turning heads with his play. There have been several snaps where he has been in perfect position to knock balls down in coverage.
Hamilton was on the Cowboys' practice squad for much of last season before being thrown to the wolves against the Detroit Lions and receiver Calvin Johnson without much success.
It looks as though Hamilton has taken that game experience in stride while improving as a football player.
He is an interesting option at free safety because he had a great deal of experience at the position in college. He may be the best coverage safety on the roster at the moment, and that is something that will be intriguing to watch going forward.
Expect the Cowboys to utilize the single-high safety in both Cover 1 and Cover 3 more often this season. That will make Hamilton's ability to cover very valuable.
It will be interesting to see if Hamilton starts stealing some of Wilcox's snaps with the first-team defense in the upcoming mandatory minicamp.
If Hamilton continues to make strides throughout the summer, he could supplant Johnson and Wilcox as the front-runner for the free safety-starting gig.
Going into the rookie minicamp, Tyler Patmon was likely not on anyone's radar. He wasn't even given a contract prior to the minicamp; instead he was a player there on a tryout basis, much like Ben Bass was when he first came to the Cowboys.
However, once Patmon got on the field he earned high praise, specifically from Monte Kiffin. The Dallas Morning News' Rainer Sabin reported that Kiffin said:
I see this guy No. 20, this defensive back, I don’t even know the guy,” Kiffin said. “I want to see him out there. He reminds me of Ronde Barber. I don’t know that he’s Ronde Barber now. It’s exciting.
That is about as high of praise as you can get for being a tryout player. This led to the Cowboys quickly signing Patmon after the rookie minicamp.
Bryan Broaddus reported that Patmon has started to split snaps with B.W. Webb, which is surprising, considering that he was just signed. Patmon will likely be battling Webb and seventh-round pick Terrance Mitchell for the backup slot cornerback position.
If Patmon continues to make plays and get more comfortable with the scheme, don't be surprised if he is the next in the long line of undrafted free-agent success stories for the Cowboys.
Justin Durant's rise up the Cowboys' depth chart has less to do with the way he has been playing and more to do with injuries. With the injury to Sean Lee, Durant has been placed on the first-team defense at middle linebacker.
The injuries have been a blessing for Durant, especially considering the speculation that Durant may be released to create cap space at the beginning of the offseason.
Durant has the opportunity to keep his spot on the 53-man roster and earn the starting spot at middle linebacker. He is the most experienced linebacker on the Cowboys roster, certainly giving him a leg up on the competition.
Durant will likely compete with fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens and DeVonte Holloman during training camp for the starting middle linebacker position.
Durant will have to prove that he is better than the mediocre player he was last season. If not, he will likely be beaten out by one of the younger linebackers.
Davon Coleman may be the biggest get, out of all the undrafted free agent signees this offseason.
Coleman had 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his final year at Arizona State according to Sports-Reference.com. That is tremendous production for a defensive tackle, especially for an undrafted one.
Coleman could be a fit at either the 1- or 3-technique defensive tackle position. He has the strength of a 1-technique, but the pass-rushing ability of a 3-technique, which makes him very valuable.
The Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota reported that Coleman has already been taking snaps with the first-team defense. Even though Henry Melton, whose projected to start at of the one of the defensive tackle spots, has not been able to participate in OTAs, it is still a positive development for Coleman that he has been running with the first team.
Coleman should be a great candidate back up Melton at the 3-technique position, and he looks to have the ability to develop into a dominant defensive tackle in the future.
Coleman should be a good bet to make the team and be on the active roster on game days. Look for him to be a pleasant surprise during training camp and the preseason.
It seems like every season you hear about Ben Bass rising up the depth chart before getting derailed by injury.
According to Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News, Bass even drew praise last summer from then-Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who said:
Bass has it all...Bass is going to be the reason I’m playing on a different team next year. He’s coming on. He’s coming on. I just have to keep my job security, keep playing my butt off.
However, a dislocated shoulder ended Bass' season and caused him to go on injured reserve.
Coming into this offseason, Bass was often the forgotten man, an afterthought when fans and analysts discussed the Cowboys defensive line in 2014. However, Bass seems to be turning heads again.
Bryan Broaddus added, "We are once again in the part of the summer where Ben Bass has looked outstanding, not only along the defensive line but he has also drawn praise from Rich Bisaccia for his work in special teams drills."
Bass has the versatility to play either the 1-technique or 3-technique defensive tackle position and even strong-side defensive end for the Cowboys. He could end up being a vital part of the Cowboys' defensive-line rotation during the regular season.
Bass has already shown that he can be an offseason star; it is time to prove that can do it when the games count.
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