5 Players to Watch: Cowboys @ 49ers

by | Aug 9, 2018 | Articles, The League, The Team

Here’s our list of “5 Players to Watch” that are making good impressions through the first two weeks of 2018 Dallas Cowboys Training Camp in Oxnard and can really improve their chances of making the 53-man roster (or maybe the practice squad) through a strong showing against the 49ers on tonight.

You probably have not heard of most of these players, and that’s the point of this story. We’re trying to point out some young, unheralded guys that have made good impressions on coaches, scouts, and teammates early in camp.

James D. Smith via AP

01.

WR LANCE LENOIR #14

He’s a 1st-year player from Western Illinois who spent 15 of 16 games on the Cowboys’ practice squad last season. He got promoted to the 53-man roster for the final regular season game at Philly and played only five snaps on special teams. But Lenoir has been in this Cowboys’ offense for a full year, so he has an advantage on the newcomers who are still learning the system. This past week in practice, Lenoir took advantage of the fact that veterans Deonte Thompson (Achilles) and Allen Hurns (groin) missed some practice time; that gave Lenoir more practice reps with the first-teamers. Lenoir also can return punts, and he will get lots of chances in preseason to show that he can be a contributor on special teams.

Lenoir has a steep climb to make the 53-man roster. NFL teams usually keep 5 wide receivers for the regular season. Even if the Cowboys elect to keep 6 receivers, Lenoir still has these guys in front of him: Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, rookie 3rd round pick Michael Gallup, and Deonte Thompson.

One thing Lenoir has going in his favor: the coaches really like him. Head coach Jason Garrett said during the walk-off following Monday’s practice: “You love to coach a guy like Lance Lenoir”. A couple of scouts told me they can’t wait for him to get a chance to shine in preseason action. Let’s see what happens!

James D. Smith via AP

02.

DE DORANCE ARMSTRONG #74

This pass rushing defensive end from The University of Kansas is not big (6-3, 259). But, boy, he is quick off the ball. There have been several times in pass rush drills that he uses his speed to get around the offensive tackle. The Cowboys drafted him in the 4th round to add depth to the defensive line rotation. Even though he’s not as physically imposing as the other bigger defensive linemen, we can all see why he was a unanimous All-Big 12 big last year at Kansas.

My prediction is that his name gets called a lot during the preseason games because he is going to give opposing offensive tackles fits. He has had a very good camp so far; now let’s see him do it in games.

03.

DT ANTWAUN WOODS #64

This unheralded first-year player is very likely the starter at nose tackle on Thursday night. That’s because the #1 starter, Maliek Collins, is unable to practice or play following surgery on a broken foot.

James D. Smith via AP

Woods has worked his way rapidly up the depth chart past Jihad Ward and took first-team snaps in Sunday’s Blue-White Scrimmage. That was really cool because Woods went to high school in Woodland Hills, California which is 30 minutes south on Hwy 101 from Oxnard. He had family and friends watching him play.

You will easily spot Woods during the game Thursday. He’s the guy in the middle of the line that is shaped like a fire hydrant. He’s shorter than all the other big guys (6’ 1”) but weighs 315 lbs. He’s like a human speed bump in the middle of the defensive line…don’t let anything quickly roll past you, keep stuff plugged-up and slowed down. That’s the job of the nose tackle. I talked to Antwaun over the weekend about the nose tackle being the “dirty job with no glory”. He agreed that’s his job, and he loves it. He doesn’t want glory. He won’t get glory playing that position, but he could earn himself a job and a spot on the 53-man roster if he performs as well in preseason games as he does in practice. Woods was with the Tennessee Titans at their camp last summer. This is not his first rodeo at camp or preseason. He knows what is on the line. His wife is from the Bay Area, so she and their two kids and lots more family will be the stands to cheer him on at Levi’s Stadium.

James D. Smith via AP

04.

TE RICO GATHERS #80

This tight end can make the impressive catches because the former college basketball player at Baylor has a size advantage over opponents. In the passing game, he’s a physical mismatch. Gathers made some big catches last summer in preseason action, but suffered a concussion during one of the final practices of training camp and spend last season on the injured list.

Gathers is going to make some more spectacular catches this summer. The bigger question is his blocking and picking up blocking assignments. The coaches have to trust that he can identify and block the correct defenders. Tight end is more than catching; it’s also blocking. If he properly executes his assignments in these preseason games, he’ll continue to earn more playing time. He would be a great red zone threat for the Cowboys during the season, but he’s got to earn the roster spot in these preseason games.

James D. Smith via AP

05.

CB CHARVARIUS WARD #40

Okay, one reason he makes this list is because his interesting first name really sticks in your head. Charvarius sounds like a character from Game of Thrones. Anyway, this young defensive back has made some big pass breakups and takeaways the past few days of camp. He’s an undrafted rookie free agent from Middle Tennessee State who really seems to respond to the aggressive, physical style of play that new DBs coach Kris Richard continually preaches.

Ward has an uphill climb at cornerback because there’s a young core group of guys in front of him on the depth chart: Chido Awuzie, Byron Jones, Jourdan Lewis, and Anthony Brown. But Ward has gotten noticed in camp, so let’s see if he can make a big play in preseason action; let’s also see how big a contributor he can be on special team in kickoff and punt coverage.

Note: Tonight’s Cowboys-49ers preseason opener kicks off at 9pm central.