IRVING, Texas - While the rookie minicamp is typically one to showcase the first or second-round pick, this one lacks both.
But despite the absence to injured cornerback Morris Claiborne, who is out with a wrist injury that has him in a hard cast for the next two weeks, the Cowboys have plenty of other areas to evaluate this weekend, which includes five practices over a three-day period.
It's a learning curve for everyone and not just the bright-eyed draft picks, but also the 21 rookie free agents and the 15 workout players who are here on a tryout basis only. And then don't forget the four first-year players who were on the practice squad last year but are still eligible to compete in the minicamp.
All in all, head coach Jason Garrett said they've tried to put these new players in an ideal practice, one with a high tempo.
"We told them the whole thing was going to happen fast and the pedal was down," Garrett said. "I think they now understand what we mean by that. We installed a lot of plays on offense and defense.
"We had real football practices. Teams have different approaches when it comes to rookie minicamps. A lot of teams focus on running 40s or how high they jump. We feel like it's more important to play football and try and get them more acclimated to what we try to do with our offensive and defensive systems and how we play special teams, and as quickly as we can."
With Claiborne, the focus has shifted over the weekend. Here are a handful of players who have turned a few heads:
Tyrone Crawford – The highest-rated draft pick on the field, Crawford is trying to make the transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. He'll still play defensive end, but the position requirements are a bit different. So far, he looks like a guy that has about four practices under his belt. But defensive line coach Brian Baker said he sees "the non-stop motor" they saw in Crawford in college. Once he gets more acclimated to the system, we might see a more fluid player.
Matt Johnson – In college, Johnson was always around the ball when he starred at Eastern Washington. So far this weekend, that's where Johnson has been during these practices. He's got good awareness, seems to take good angles in pursuit and hasn't been beaten much in coverage or one-on-one drills. The Cowboys are counting on him to step in and contribute right away, possibly as a backup safety and solid special teams player. It's early, but the game doesn't look too big for him.
Danny Coale – He's had some good battles with Mario Butler, a first-year player who nearly made the 53-man roster a year ago and has been the best cornerback on the field with Claiborne out. Coale is a crisp route-runner with nice speed and quickness and he goes for every pass in his vicinity, coming up with most of them. A sure-handed player in college, Coale hasn't disappointed in that area. It'll be interesting to see how he fares against the likes of Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins at training camp.
Justin Taplin-Ross – Lining up alongside Johnson with the first-team defense, Taplin-Ross is listed as a cornerback but the Cowboys have lined him up at safety. He's got an interesting story, considering he was on the rookie free-agent list last year and went down to San Antonio in preparation for training camp. But he didn't pass his physical because of a torn ACL injury he sustained at his Utah Pro Day in March. Taplin-Ross ended up sitting out all of last year but now that he's healthy, the Cowboys are giving him a chance and he certainly looks the part. At 6-3, 212, Taplin-Ross has ideal size for a safety and he has cornerback-like speed to match.
Ron Leary – He's loosely considered the eighth draft pick because he seems to be the highest-rated rookie free agent. Jerry Jones jokingly called him his "pet cat" because he's admittedly been so high on him. Leary's chronic knee injury dropped his draft stock but landed him with the Cowboys, who seem convinced he has no real concern moving forward. A tackle in college at Memphis, Leary has moved to guard where he has been rather impressive with his feet, despite his 324-pound frame.