FRISCO, Texas – This guy likely flew under the radar in the Cowboys' 20-17 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
And the radar was heavy thanks to the heroics of Cooper Rush and Micah Parsons and Noah Brown and Brett Maher, of course, with the walk-off, game-winning 50-yard field goal.
His name is Donovan Wilson. Safety. In his fourth season, a sixth-round draft choice out of Texas A&M in 2019. In the previous three season he had played 34 games, started 13, injuries always seeming to get in his way. Especially last season when he was reduced to just nine games and three starts, eventually needing surgery after the season to repair a lingering groin issue the reason why.
Now, he started in this year's season opener against Tampa Bay, playing 51 of 62 snaps (83 percent), finishing with five tackles, a QB hit, a diving interception and a pass defensed. And man, did he have an impact in the Cowboys win at AT&T Stadium, with the defense holding Cincinnati to just 254 yards offense and quarterback Joe Burrow to 199 passing and sacking him six times.
Here is "Dono's" line: Team leading eight tackles, one tackle for loss, and playing 70 of the 70 defensive snaps, every darn one of them, his physical play making a huge impact in the game.
"Impact, I think you already said it, that's the answer," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy says of Wilson's effort. "He's an impact player. God, his temperament, it never comes down one notch. He plays at such a high level of intensity, his instinct, his awareness – he's had an incredible offseason. He's fully healthy.
"But, yeah, Dono is off to a great start these last two weeks."
I'll say, and good McCarthy mentioned his offseason. In the assessment of the coaching staff and strength and conditioning staff, Wilson had the very best offseason of them all. See, every year the Cowboys award their top-10 players who participated in the offseason work, usually five offensive and five defensive. Well, this year they went six offensive, four defensive, two special teamers and the MVP.
The offensive players were Dak Prescott, Dalton Schultz, Terence Steele, Zack Martin, Connor McGovern and Ezekiel Elliot. The defensive four were Osa Odighizuwa, Leighton Vander Esch, Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown, with the two special teamers, Luke Gifford and Tony Pollard.
But the so-called MVP? Donovan Wilson, who this year became the winner of McCarthy's-named "Golden Whistle," that came complete with a chain and a golden whistle charm attached.
Says strength and conditioning coordinator Harold Nash, "What Donovan did that was so special was Donovan dedicated his entire offseason to improving himself physically, and typically that Golden Whistle goes to a guy, he's coming off an injury and he goes above and beyond what he needs to do to get himself ready to participate in the offseason."
The 13 winners posed for a squad picture at training camp. Were given T-shirts to advertise their achievement and also up-close parking in the player-designated garage, saving them a whole bunch of steps each day.
And, as if right on cue, the accompanying specially cooked chef's meal served for the honorees at The Star's training table happened to take place here on Wednesday after practice, served in the middle of the big room on an elegantly designed table for all to see.
"He had his surgery (right after the season) and immediately got into his rehab," Nash said. "It was a team concept. What he did as an individual person was a team decision. And he understood that the improvement I make is what's best for the team."
And after these past two performances, including the Cowboys without safety Jayron Kearse this past game, a well-deserved, uh, "shot" out for sure.
- Juggling Roster: A couple of reasons likely why the Cowboys released undrafted rookie wide receiver Dennis Houston, who had played 39 snaps in the first two games. First, certainly appears Jalen Tolbert is ready to be active on game day and that Michael Gallup is inching closer to returning to the lineup, and depending on how the rest of the week goes, potentially Monday night at the Giants. This, too, the Cowboys knowing that they needed to somehow open up a 53-man roster spot for potentially one player to be signed off the practice squad since they will likely need three of those players available for Monday's game but only allowed two practice squad elevations, those two this past Sunday going to backup quarterback Will Grier and interior offensive lineman Alec Lindstrom. Because one way or another, with tight end Dalton Schultz nursing a sprained knee ligament (PCL), they likely will need another tight end active to go with rookies Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. The assumed practice squad candidate would be Sean McKeon. The Cowboys also worked out a half-dozen free agents after Wednesday's practice with a likely practice squad spot opening. Oh, and they're hoping the rookie free agent Houston clears waivers so he can be re-signed to the practice squad.
- No Hurry: Since the Cowboys next play Monday night, they don't have to announce any of their roster moves until 3 p.m. Monday if they so choose to wait. Still looks reasonable to expect injured players Jayron Kearse (knee), Connor McGovern (ankle) and, of course, Dak Prescott (hand) to miss the game against the Giants. Stay tuned on veteran offensive lineman Jason Peters, at 40 years young, still working himself into football ready condition.
- Attention Parsons: For sure the Giants will be quite aware of just where Micah Parsons is lining up, and they won't need a GPS to find No. 11. Says new Giants head coach Brian Daboll of the NFL's current sack leader (4), "He's a problem. He's a dynamic football player. … He has rare pass-rush ability. We're going to have a good plan for him. He's fun to watch when you're not getting ready to play him." Yet another reason why the Cowboys used the 2021 draft's 12th pick to select a "football player" with an undefined position.
- Oh-and-2: The Cowboys win on Sundays avoids going 0-2 for the first time since 2010 and just the second time since starting 0-2 in 2001. Time before that? Well, 0-2 to start the 1993 season with extenuating circumstances, no Emmitt Smith trying to negotiate a new contract. Before that, well, 0-8 in 1989. And the reason that caused such shockwaves in Cowboysland, you would have to go back to 1963 when the Cowboys had an oh-fer in the first four games.
- Little Bites: Former Cowboys in demand, and no surprise two of them were signed by their NFC East mates they play in the next two weeks, Washington, suddenly short on defensive tackles, claiming the released John Ridgeway, and the Giants bringing back linebacker Jaylon Smith, who played the final five games of last season with them after the Cowboys and Green Bay released Smith before that. … Saw someone point out an analytic service rating Smith high in his pass covering ability in those games … Seriously. … And, then there was Tampa Bay, with a slew of receiver injury problems, signing Cole Beasley, who had been released by Buffalo in the offseason after spending the past three seasons there. … Giant, and in more than one way, injury problem with defensive tackle Leonard Williams (6-5, 302) nursing a sprained knee (MCL), normally a 2-4 week recovery. … The Giants start a season 2-0 for the first time since 2016, rank 31st in pass offense, so you think the Cowboys might see a whole lot of Saquan Barkley, the NFL's leading rusher (236 yards, 6.1/carry) after two games?
And for the last word, we go to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, pointing out for the umpteenth time just why the Cowboys like to move Parsons around, instead of playing him solely at defensive end.
"We just try to find matchups to put people in different spots," he began. "What I do know if you're always in the same spot, there is a likelihood they know where to go to put someone for extra help.
"But if you do move that person around to inside, to outside, to 'backer, it can make it much more challenging."
And therein lies why the Cowboys do what they do, and when asked again if there was a template to keep Parsons at defensive end, Quinn took this shot: "On passes."