IRVING, Texas - The Cowboys get back on the field Friday for the start of a two-day rookie minicamp that includes four practices.
Let's look at five different players I'll have my eyes on the most.
DeMarcus Lawrence – Whenever he rejoins the Cowboys after attending the birth of his first child, all eyes will be focused on DeMarcus Lawrence and each rep that he takes during practice. There will be overreaction that is positive and negative, but that comes with the evaluation. What the scouts will be focusing on for Lawrence is how he moves around during the practices.
Does he appear to be taking to the coaching that Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett are giving him? Is he trying to play with the technique they are asking him to play with? How does he bounce back if he has a poor play or does he react differently if he is on a run where he has several good plays in a row?
Without the pads on, it will be difficult to tell how physical of a player Lawrence can be, but what these scouts and coaches will be able to see, is his athletic ability and the mental side of his game. The physical side will come in due time but the goal of this coaching staff will get him to improve from drill to drill, practice to practice and that is all that we should be focused on.
Will Smith - There hasn't been much talk about this player post draft for the Cowboys but keep an eye on linebacker, Will Smith, who was selected in the 7th round. I didn't have the player on my radar early in the draft evaluation process but there is something there.
When you sit down and watch him play, he is a very slippery player in the way that he goes about his business. I was surprised for his nose for the ball and how he was able to finish tackles.
Like Lawrence, the physical side of the practices will not show up for him without the pads, but his ability to work through the cracks and gaps showing football awareness and his understanding of how to play coverage will allow him to be on plenty of plays this weekend where he is tagging off the ball carrier in position to make the tackle.
Dashaun Phillips - If you are looking for a cornerback that plays with movement skill, Tarleton State's Dashaun Phillips is that type of player. This weekend will be a great test for him, as he tries to matchup with the size at receiver in Devin Street, Chris Boyd and L'Damian Washington.
During his college career, Phillips has never had to face receivers of this size, speed and route running ability. On tape, you can see the ability of Phillips to cover whether he is play off in zone or in press man. There is some burst to his game and he is going to need every ounce of quickness but athletic ability as well to handle these receivers.
There are going to be some reps where these receivers will get the best of his but what I am looking for from these practices is how well he positions himself in the route and is he finding ways to deny the ball, when he gets the opportunity.
Jarrod Pughsley - I really didn't have high expectations when I turned on the tape of Akron, offensive tackle Jarrod Pughsley. The first game out of the blocks was against Michigan which is what you look for when you are trying to study a player from a university that traditionally is not known as a football power. [embedded_ad]
At 6-4, 308 with a 30 Wonderlic test score, the front office projects Pughsley to line up at guard. For the Zips, he was the starter at left tackle and what I observed snap after snap was a guy that played with power and a nice base. He didn't get knocked back and it was rare that he was in poor position when trying to finish his block.
There was a nice ease of movement to his game. He played with toughness and awareness. If he is able to duplicate what he was able to do against the likes of Michigan and Northern Illinois, you will hear much more about him as we get near those practices in Oxnard this July.
Ben Gardner - When I had the chance to visit with assistant player personnel director Will McClay before the draft, it was very clear that his direction was try and build this defensive front in the manor that they would be able to attack opponents in waves. When you look at the players that currently are on this roster along the defensive front, they all have the ability to play different spots.
One of the most interesting players that this front office added was defensive end, Ben Gardner from Stanford. What makes Gardner special is that he fits exactly what McClay was looking for in this wave defensive linemen. When you studied Stanford tape, Gardner played all over the place along the defensive line. I observed him play end along with the 1 and 3 techniques. For the Cowboys, he will most likely line up at the left defensive end because of his ability to handle the run at the point but he can give you a little off the edge as a pass rusher. He doesn't have the quickness of a Jared Allen, but he is the same type of relentless player which is a real plus when you are trying to put this defensive line together.