IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) – My top seven “look-sees’’ as the Dallas Cowboys open their rookie minicamp at Valley Ranch on Friday featuring an expected 46 prospects:
One: I’ve got to start with the top pick, and I’ve got to put behind me the unorthodox path Dallas took in landing him at No. 31 overall. I’ve already had some interaction with Travis Frederick, and he’s a fit in so many ways. He wants to shave his massive beard so he can eat Texas BBQ … But his girlfriend has grown attached to his facial hair and wants him to keep it. (Ah, true love.)
Now it’s time to see him interact on the field as he takes his first step toward winning the starting center job – and to winning over Cowboys fans. At Wisconsin, he was considered a bear in the weight room and a Big Nasty on the practice field, where legend has it he damaged the arms and wrists of teammates who lined up against him.
Dallas’ offensive line could use some “nasty.’’
Two: New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, 73, rolls into town with his 4-3 Tampa-2 defense – and with an enthusiasm that defies his age. He’s assisted by Rod Marinelli, a former Marine and a leader of men. This won’t just be about defensive style; this will be about personal style.
Three: The Cowboys selected Gavin Escobar in the second round – an odd choice to some, not because he plays a position already manned by Pro Bowler Jason Witten, but because the backup job at tight end seemed already filled by young James Hanna. Minutes after the drafting of Escobar, though, a Cowboys source told me about Dallas plans to “be more Patriots-like’’ on offense – more multiple and more reliant on two-tight end sets. Dallas believes Escobar was the best pass-catching tight end in the draft.
Oh, and a more obscure name: I’m told the Cowboys may not keep a fullback on the roster this year. At the same time, they will need a fourth tight end who can block. So I’ll keep an eye out for undrafted rookie free agent B.J. Stewart of Cumberland, who is 6-4, 265 and has a wrestling background.
Four: While veteran Sean Lee says politely that he’s fighting for a job, the truth is, a pair of kids named DeVonte Holloman and Brandon Magee really are trying to show they are big-league LBs, with positions, not just speed. Holloman is a recently converted safety who was drafted in the sixth round. Magee, athletic enough to be a Major League Baseball draftee, was liked by the Cowboys so much they gave him a $70,000 guarantee to sign here after he went undrafted.
They can run at this level; can they play at this level?
Five: Fifth-round running back Joseph Randle is already being heralded as being “DeMarco-like’’ – high praise of the same sort that’s even coming from DeMarco Murray himself.
“He’s definitely a quality running back from Oklahoma State – they’ve always been known for great running backs,” Murray said. “I’m excited to bring him in the family. Definitely, we’re going to get after it a little bit and help him out as much as we can.”
Randle has a thumb problem this weekend and will wear a cast over him. That might limit one of his strengths (his hands). But if he truly is DeMarco-like, the Cowboys might just have strength in numbers at the running back position.
Six: No less an authority than Troy Aikman has said Dallas should consider developing an heir to Tony Romo. Could a local QB prospect like Dalton Williams (from Coppell) or Nick Stephens (from Flower Mound) be that guy?
Seven: The easiest position to be the best player on the field in the situations we’ll see this weekend at Valley Ranch is wide receiver. Nobody is hitting them. They are running patterns against air. They are given every chance to earn “ooohs’’ and “aahs.’’
So along comes Baylor’s Terrance Williams, a Dallas native who caught 97 passes for an NCAA-leading 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior last season. The Cowboys believe they stole him in the third round. Williams’ challenge now is to develop quickly enough to steal snaps from incumbent third receiver Dwayne Harris … and maybe even someday challenge Miles Austin.
“From what I’ve seen, I think he’s a tremendous player,” Austin said of Williams. “He seems like a really nice humble guy on the interviews and everything like that. I’m going to try to teach him things and learn things from him. I’m sure he has things he’s done over there. But (we’ll) just try to bring as many of the guys along as we can.”
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