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Scout's Notebook: Xavier Woods' Big Night; Other Defensive Standouts

LOS ANGELES – Here are my 12 biggest impressions from my perch in the radio booth at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the Cowboys finished up their second preseason contest:

  • The coaching staff has to be pleased with the way that Xavier Woods played. Woods received an extensive look early in the contest and held up well throughout. I had some questions about his ability to play as a down safety in the box, but he showed me that any concerns that I had were unnecessary. Woods is a highly intelligent player -- but more importantly, he showed a physical side as well with some big hits.
  • Better game from Taco Charlton. He played on the Rams' side of the ball, which was different than what I saw last week against the Cardinals. He was more active and by playing that way, it put him in better position to make plays -- which he was able to do. His technique wasn't poor and his conditioning looked improved. Keep an eye out for him playing some nickel tackle, working with DeMarcus Lawrence in the future to create some pressure on opponents.
  • If you ask me which undrafted free agent has the best chance to make the squad right now, Lewis Neal would be my guy. He doesn't have the ideal height, but he makes the most of his traits in the way he plays. The Rams inside three had a difficult time handling him. Early in the game, it appeared that each time the Rams snapped the ball he was in their backfield. Neal has a nice feel for how to shoot the gap and play with that leverage to finish the play.
  • If Mark Nzeocha can stay healthy, he can help this defense in a couple of different spots. I like his power at middle linebacker, which could also translate into some snaps on the strong side. He is such a good athlete, but he is also so physical. He was also able to make a couple of nice tackles in space while in pass coverage, which was a positive sign as well.
  • Kavon Frazier is never going to be a good cover man and he was exposed some during this game. Where Frazier is going to be effective is when he can play near the line, find the ball and finish the play. In a perfect situation, Frazier could be a player like Jeff Heath was when he first came into the league -- be really good on special teams and develop with work and opportunity.
  • Better game from Lenny Jones at defensive end. I have to be critical here, but he wasn't very good last week and he was able to turn that around. He did a better job of winning those one-on-one battles on the edge, which were a struggle for him against the Cardinals. He was able to use his hands more and that in turn kept the blockers off his body, which he wasn't able to do before.
  • We're starting to see a more flexible player in Rico Gathers. There still is some work that needs to be done, but he has made some good improvements. His touchdown catch over Folarin Orimolade was a well-executed route and outstanding finish. Where I was impressed with his ability to get his body turned around as he was tracking the ball. This time last season, there was no way that he would have been able to come up with a play such as the one he made.
  • Noah Brown was able to get the best of Andy Jones in this contest, but I am still not carrying a sixth receiver at this point. The front office might not agree with me, but there are some other positions that I would be more interested in keeping for 2018 -- like Cooper Rush. If you carry that sixth receiver, he is likely to be an inactive player each week -- which would be the same as a third quarterback. Rush makes more sense to me if I am going to stash a player for the future.
  • I will look at the film Sunday morning, but I don't believe they're any closer to figuring out the left guard spot. It was Byron Bell's turn to work with the first unit, and from my seat in the radio both, I saw some of the same issues such as balance and over-extension -- which have been his biggest problems. Jonathan Cooper played center and guard in this game, but like Bell, he had his struggles. The answer in my view will be to play Chaz Green at the spot and see if he can hold up health-wise, but the club might need him at left tackle while Tyron Smith rests his back.
  • That's back-to-back games for Damontre' Moore where he has played well. He had two quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss. It appears that he is buying into Rod Marinelli's system of getting up the field and chasing the ball. As a veteran player it would be easy for him to coast, especially in those situations where he has to play late in games. He has found a niche of playing on both the left and right sides along with being a standup rusher in nickel situations. I really liked the decision to sign him at the time and he's yet to disappoint me with his desire to get better. It is a shame that he will miss those first two games because the way that he is playing, they could use him.
  • I believe that we will see Ryan Switzer returning kicks and punts next week against the Colts. It was a poor job by Lance Lenoir and Uzoma Nwachukwu the entire night. Lenoir's decision to field that first Rams' punt after a nice defensive stop and then subsequently fumble was a huge play in the game. It gave the Rams the ball on 33-yard line, which they were able to cash in for a touchdown. Switzer needs to be the guy going forward in order to get him ready for the season.
  • I never take for granted that I get to call these preseason games with Brad Sham and Kristi Scales. Every year, I feel like a rookie trying to make the team during training camp. To be honest, it's an emotional experience to say the least. For those of you that listened to our broadcast -- thank you. For those of you that didn't, please check us out next week as DeMarcus Ware joins us in the booth, which should be a lot of fun.


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