Skip to main content

Spagnola: Paying A High Price Going Young


FRISCO, Texas – You want the youngsters to play? As @Spags52 points out in his Friday column, they already have been.en one off the practice squad who had only been here three weeks, it was as if throwing up your hands and screaming …

What next?!

Was warned by someone in the organization, "Please don't ask that."

Meaning, more doom and gloom might be lurking right around the corner.

Shouldn't have done it, as it turns out.

Probably should have kept that thought to myself.

Since then, a typhoon of frustration seemingly has followed.

Andy Dalton landing on reserve/COVID-19 after already having lost Dak Prescott for the season.

The death of Markus Paul.

Losing starting offensive tackles Zack Martin and Cam Erving on the first possession of the Washington game on Thanksgiving Day after already having lost starters Tyron Smith and La'el Collins for the season and even backup Brandon Knight for a couple of weeks.

Then a Thursday night game against Baltimore moved to Monday night and then Tuesday night.

Losing second-year safety Donovan Wilson (groin) for the Baltimore game as well as Sunday's game at Cincinnati.

Losing starting cornerback Anthony Brown (ribs) for the Baltimore game, and appears at this time he's highly questionable to play Sunday against Cincinnati.

Then on top of that, now the other starting corner, Chidobe Awuzie, has been placed on reserve/COVID-19, seemingly for contact tracing.

That means three of the team's top four cornerbacks, including Trevon Diggs, currently on injured reserve (foot), are unlikely to play in this game. That then means joining Jourdan Lewis on the defense in Cincinnati will be the likes of Rashard Robinson and Deante Burton, both on the 53-man roster, and then the possibility of practice squaders Chris Westry and Savion Smith being moved up.

And remember, Robinson, beaten badly on the touchdown pass Tuesday night to Marquise Brown, had just been signed off the practice squad to the 53 on Dec. 7. The game was on the 8th.

"We have some young guys who are going to practice today," McCarthy said. "We'll see how Anthony goes through the week and Chido's situation hasn't been totally confirmed.

"But that's kind of the state we've been in, and this is an opportunity for some young guys to step up and take advantage of this chance they potentially will have on Sunday."

Boy, isn't that the truth, "young guys" getting an opportunity. That has been the story of the 2020 season for the Cowboys. You'd think this has been the Olympics, where they say, "Youth will be served."

For the Cowboys, a triple helping. In the secondary. On the offensive line. On the defensive line. You name it, this has been the land of opportunity.

That's why when Jerry or Stephen or Mike are asked, what with the Cowboys at 3-9 and all but mathematically eliminated from any chance to win the NFC East, should they start playing more of the young guys, it's like, seriously? Haven't you been watching this team this season? From the very start.

And yet again Jerry Jones was asked the same this morning on his radio segment with 105.3 The Fan.

"Normally I would say that as you get on into the season and your chances of getting in the playoffs are dim, then you would overtly want to play younger players," Jones said. "We don't have that choice. We're playing the players that can walk out there and play. There's really not many decisions about who's going on the football field because of our injury situation, and we're basically playing with all of the backups, and a lot of them that normally would be on our practice squad.

"And so we've got a bunch of them out there on the field."

A whole bunch. Look, let's consider "young guys" players in no more than their third seasons, meaning rookies and guys in either their second or third seasons in 2020.

Well, my count is 26, including "young guys" who have played this year but currently might be on injured reserve, practice squad not considered. Think about that. Like, half a roster.

And the majority not just played, but 16 of them either are starting or have started this year.

Let's take this Sunday against Cincinnati. On the offensive line, four of the five starters are in no more than their third season, and two of those might as well be rookies since guard Connor McGovern missed the entire 2019 season and Terence Steele is no more than an undrafted rookie. Brandon Knight is in his second and Connor Williams in just his third.

Starting wideout Michael Gallup is in his third season, as is starting tight end Dalton Schultz. CeeDee Lamb is a rookie. And prime rotation guy Tony Pollard is in just his second season and backup tight end Sean McKeon a rookie.

Then on defense. The starting defensive tackles will be Antwaun Woods, in his third season, and rookie Neville Gallimore. Starting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in his third year, but having missed nearly half of his second season.

And in the secondary, until Tuesday and for sure this Sunday, second-year safety Donovan Wilson had been starting the previous seven games. At corner, the rookie Diggs had started the first nine games of the season before suffering the broken bone in his foot. And if assuming neither Awuzie or Brown will play Sunday, three of the potential starters other than Robinson are no more than third-year guys.

Oh, and the punter, Hunter Niswander, is a raw rookie, too, with the all-important backup quarterback a third-year guy, Garrett Gilbert, who started his first and only NFL game back on Nov. 8 against Pittsburgh. And don't forget rookie, seventh-round draft choice Ben DiNucci also started a game at quarterback, too.

And go figure where guys like Aldon Smith, who hadn't played since 2015, and Randy Gregory, the third-year defensive end who hadn't played since 2018, fit into this young equation.

Plus, guys who have started games this year but currently are on IR, along with Diggs, would be rookie Tyler Biadasz and second-year defensive tackle Trysten Hill.

You want young? You got young, with the exception of this year's fourth-round draft choice Reggie Robinson and fifth-rounder Bradlee Anae.

"That's not good because usually you'd be making that balance, trying to bring along a young player, but you're also needing the experience you got with the veteran player," Jones said of so many inexperienced guys being forced into major roles this year. "And so that's what you're lining up against in this particular case, what you're lining up against Cincinnati with."

Now, the good part is these young guys are gaining experience at the expense of this season, and that's a high price. No one wants to go 3-9. No one wants to lose six of the past seven games like the Cowboys have, last winning on Nov. 22 over Minnesota. But you can see it. They are getting better.

And think about it, projecting to next year. Like, 11 of the youngin's very well could be starting next season.

"All this happens when players play," says Cowboys COO Stephen Jones of the improvement he's seen. "Steele's gotten better. I think Connor McGovern, he's gotten better. I think Gallimore, and as he continues to get reps, has gotten better.

"I'd certainly put Diggs in that category. He was getting better each week. Take Randy (Gregory) . . . you see him getting better each week. Knight's getting better. Biadasz was really coming on. We've got some young players, and we're going to need to be young (next year). We all know our cap situation. We all know the challenge we have with Dak. "

So maybe you better understand the root of these Cowboys problems this year. Yeah, I know, blame it on the coaches. Blame it on the effort. Blame it on the pandemic. Blame it on the quarterback(s), multiply plural since it's been four of 'em. Hell, blame it on the Bossa Nova.

But having your guys on the field is important.

"But still, this is football – this is FOOT-ball," Jerry Jones emphasized. "And football is attrition. Availability I would tell you is right there with ability, in terms of a player or in terms of a team's roster. A-vail-a-bility! And it always has been.

"Even when we had our best years, the availability and how that fell for us was a pretty dominant factor in how we played."

So this year, potentially an investment for the future.

Related Content