IRVING, Texas -- With training camp opening in Oxnard, California in a little more than a week, I’m going to take a look at the four players that I am going to keep a close eye on during practices.
Terrell McClain, Defensive Tackle
Bill Parcells use to speak of the scouts having “Pet Cats” on the squad. If that’s the case, put me down for Terrell McClain. Ever since I worked on his tape during the free agency period while he was with the Texans, I have taken a liking to this player. The way in which he carries himself on the field is perfect for how to play as a defensive tackle in this 4-3 scheme. My initial thoughts were that he would most likely just play as a one-technique, but from what I was able to observe in these OTA and minicamp practices, he surely has the flex to also play as the three-technique and do it well. McClain just might be too talented not to start on this defensive line.
Ryan Williams, Running Back
I had not done much work on Ryan Williams before he became available from the Arizona Cardinals, but from what I have seen so far, I can understand why the front office is willing to give him a chance to win a spot on this roster. When you watch him practice in person, you see a back that plays with a low center of gravity and doesn’t present tacklers with much of a hitting surface. He takes the ball, sees the hole and hits it with power. Where he is different from Joseph Randle is that if he does have to make a cut in the hole or avoid a tackler, he is able to make that cut quickly without much wasted motion. Where Williams is going to have to pick up his game offensively is as a pass blocker. The desire and effort are there but the final results are not always successful. If he can develop in that area, he will put himself in position to be the third running back behind DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar.
LaRon Byrd, Wide Receiver
The big question in camp will be if the front office will keep five receivers on the 53-man roster or choose to go with a sixth. If the numbers allow them to carry that extra one, it will come down to who can be the most productive on special teams. I believe that Byrd, Jamar Newsome, Tim Benford and L’Damian Washington will all get that opportunity to shine. From a scouting prospective, I have seen both Byrd and Washington actually work on teams during games, so that gives them an advantage in my eyes. What is interesting about Byrd is his physical size and how he is able to use it. He can play in all the return games as a blocker, because he is athletic enough to handle the movement but stout enough not to get pushed around. He can also cover kicks, taking on blockers at the point of attack, shedding and getting in on the tackle. Byrd also has the ability to play either in the slot or on the outside, working the middle of the field as a receiver with dependable hands. There were situations where he was used as a point of attack blocker on the edge in the running game with nice success. The plan for LaRon Byrd to make this squad is simple -- be the best at all the dirty jobs that receivers don’t always want to do.
Ryan Smith, Safety
In the crowded safety position on this defense, someone is going to have to step up and prove that they can play. As I look at this roster, I believe that this front office will carry five corners and five safeties on the 53-man roster. Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton are on my list now, but that last spot is up for grabs. I can’t rely on Matt Johnson health-wise, so that leaves Ahmad Dixon and Smith to do battle. Where Smith has the advantage in my eyes is his understanding of how to play in the scheme and where he fits. He plays with awareness and he has shown the ability to be able to line up and play coverage. Where these rookie defensive backs struggle the most is with that understanding of where they need to be and it affects the way they react and play. Smith appears to be further along than Dixon in this regard, but where Dixon can be a force is his ability to tackle. Dixon is a banger in every sense of the word, but with the way that understanding and coverage is such a priority at that safety position especially when it’s single high, middle of the field, Smith has the advantage for that last spot.