5 Players to Watch: Cowboys @ L.A. Rams
The Cowboys take on the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday night at 8pm central. Many of the starters are being held out of the game as a precaution, and some of the top young players are still working their way back from injury. We’re not sure if LB Jaylon Smith (returning from knee injury) and WR Ryan Switzer (hamstring) will play on Saturday night even though they practiced this past week. With that in mind, here’s our list of “5 Players to Watch”:
#75 Offensive Lineman – Byron Bell
The native of Greenville, Texas is competing for the starting job at left guard, and this week he’s taken the practice reps with the starters. Bell is playing first-team because last week’s starter, Jonathan Cooper, is filling-in as the backup center because Joe Looney hurt his toe in the Hall of Fame Game.
Bell is a 7-year NFL veteran who has started 72 career games during his years with the Panthers and Titans. He mostly played tackle for those teams, but in his first summer with the Cowboys he’s played mostly guard. You may have heard about this coming into camp, but Bell has already cashed-in with the Cowboys. He received a $150,000 bonus this offseason for reaching a workout/weight clause in his contract. Originally listed at 340lbs, he weighed-in at 320 at the end of the offseason program, thus achieving his workout bonus. Now let’s see if he can cash-in on this opportunity to start at left guard in Saturday night’s game. The left guard spot on the offensive line is one of the few starting jobs that is wide-open right now.
#97 Defensive End – Taco Charlton
Yes, Taco was tops on the list for last week’s game. But let’s be honest, he did not have a strong NFL debut. In 16 plays, he did not record any stats, nor put consistent pressure on the quarterback. Let’s see how he plays Saturday night. When you’re the team’s 1st-round draft pick, the expectations are high. Garrett said that Taco needs to show “consistent intensity, down-to-down”. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said he needs to see more from Taco. Those comments from Garrett & Marinelli are challenges for Taco to show up and play better.
#99 Defensive End – Charles Tapper
Let’s stick to defensive ends for a second. Pass rush remains a really big need for the Cowboys, and Tapper has looked really quick getting around the edge to apply pressure to the quarterback. He didn’t play his rookie season after being diagnosed last September with a Pars Defect in his back, a fracture that had gone undetected since he was a child.
Now the 4th round pick from the 2016 Draft is ready to be an important part of the defensive line rotation. He missed some practices earlier in camp with hip/leg tightness, but he’s looked good when he’s played. The Cowboys have defensive linemen that will have to serve suspensions at the start of the regular season (David Irving, Damontre Moore), so they need Tapper to step up and contribute right away. He’ll earn more playing time with a consistently strong showing in preseason.
#81 Wide Receiver – Andy Jones
Brice Butler sprained his foot during Wednesday’s practice, so that means more game time for younger receivers like Andy Jones who spent his rookie season on the Cowboys practice squad. Jones was having a great camp last summer…until the first preseason game at the L.A. Coliseum when he dropped the first pass thrown his direction. He didn’t have the same spark after that drop. Now he returns to the Coliseum, so let’s see how he performs this time around. Frankly, it’s an uphill climb for Jones to crack the Cowboys’ 53-man roster at receiver, but the team likes him and has already kept him around for a year on the practice squad. He could stick around for another year (probably practice squad) with a strong preseason showing. He got off to a good start in last week’s Hall of Fame Game with 3 catches. Now he needs to build on that momentum, and the injury to Butler means he’ll get extra reps.
#35 Safety – Kavon Frazier
He is a backup safety and he’s already an important member of special teams coverage units. But during preseason he’s getting a significant amount of snaps on defense. Coach Garrett noted that Frazier, a second-year player, “has come back in year two with more confidence on defense” and “has grown up quick”. Garrett also said that Frazier has already “showed that he can be an impactful player on special teams”.
Frazier played 9 games last season as a rookie. In this coming season, hopefully he can step into the role of J.J. Wilcox as backup safety and special teams “thumper/big hitter”. Wilcox left the Cowboys this past offseason to sign with Tampa Bay in free agency. Frazier has a chance to carve his niche the same way Wilcox carved his niche with the Cowboys.