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Offseason | 2024

Juanyeh 'extremely explosive', high bar set for 2024


FRISCO, Texas — Anyone paying attention to how the Dallas Cowboys' roster is constructed knows it's one flooded with talented young players, and Juanyeh Thomas has made sure to not only stand out amongst them, but to also show that, when given the chance, he can be more than just a capable defensive player in this league.

As his 2023 film readily confesses, Thomas is a starter in the making.

Having spent the entirety of his rookie season in 2022 on the team's practice squad with the goal of developing for whenever, if ever his number was called, his hard work and humility paid off in spades when head coach Mike McCarthy and then defensive coordinator Dan Quinn looked to him in stretches as a Year 2 talent — on one of the best defenses in the league.

As he heads into Year 3, the expectations are much different than they were for him 12 months ago, however, but that's precisely what he's been working toward over the last two seasons:

More and higher expectations.

"I have a chance to really expand my role and touch up on things that I really didn't get right last year," said the former undrafted free agent in an exclusive interview with team reporter Nicole Hutchison. "So having an opportunity in my third year, it's really a chance to up my role and show what I can do in Year 3, for real."

McCarthy sees the trajectory of Thomas, and all that fuels it.

"I thought he made a big jump last year," he said of the 23-year-old who climbed from the ranks of the practice squad not so long ago to potentially being a full-time starter in 2024. "He's been dynamic on special teams and what you want, particularly this time of year, is to see young players in a different light. And Juanyeh just has so much personality. He's such a bright light.

"When he was given an opportunity at safety, he stepped up. Juanyeh is clearly a great example of a young player that's excelled with the opportunities he's been given. It'll be awesome to see him take another step."

Thomas logged only one start last season but played in 16 games, contributing on with his physical style of coverage and heavily on special teams as well — racking up 190 snaps on defense and 315 snaps (75%) for John "Bones" Fassel.

Being tutored by defensive backs coach (and now also assistant head coach) Al Harris has effectively shortened his learning curve at the NFL level and, for his part, Harris beamed when giving an assessment of Thomas' progression to this point.

"Yeh, man, he's an extremely, extremely explosive athlete," said Harris. "I think he's gonna do a really, really good job moving forward. HIgh hopes for [him]."

It goes without saying that a much more confident Thomas also carries those very same high hopes for himself as he prepares for this third Cowboys' training camp in a few weeks, understanding nothing will be given in a safeties room that also features the return of his good friend Markquese Bell to the position.

Bell, who was moved to linebacker full-time last season due to injuries at that position, carries a lot of versatility in his toolbag but, now more than ever, so does Thomas.

"I showed last year that I could play every spot," he said. "I played corner, I played nickel, I played safety, I played [line]backer. Just really showing the coaches and showing everybody my versatility to be able to play down, back and guard everybody."

For the first time in his young career, Thomas is getting a taste of what a regime change looks like in the NFL, with Quinn taking the mantle for the Washington Commanders and former Cowboys' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer returning to try and make the defense worthy of a Super Bowl.

But what exactly does that mean for Thomas, Bell and other veterans like Malik Hooker, Donovan Wilson, Sheldrick Redwine and Israel Mukuamu, or rookies like Julius Wood and Emany Johnson?

"I'm just curious to see, going into camp, where I'll be [placed] and how it'll play out with the new scheme," said Thomas. "It's gonna be a lot of opportunities for a lot of people, and I wanna be one of those guys, so I'm just curious to see."

One thing is for certain, and it's that the former Yellow Jacket isn't afraid to make his presence felt on the field in-between smiles.

After all, that's why he's drawing so much … buzz.

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