Spagnola: Prime Example Of Answering When Opportunity Comes Knocking

IRVING, Texas – Come follow along on the amazing journey of one Tyler Patmon, a relative football nobody a year or so ago turned big somebody this very day.

         Why, a year ago Patmon wore No. 35.

He squeezed into the crowded annex part with the rest of the rookies in the Cowboys locker room at AT&T Stadium during the preseason.

He was one of those desperate guys playing deep into the second half of the fourth of four NFL preseason games, fighting to keep his boyhood dream alive.

That, though, is what you'd expect of a guy undrafted out of Oklahoma State and unsigned as a rookie free agent, only getting his foot in The Ranch door on a rookie minicamp tryout basis.

Thursday, when the Dallas Cowboys mercifully closed out the preseason with that 21-14 victory over the Houston Texans – that's right, a preseason victory, ending a nine-game preseason losing streak, as if that really matters – Patmon was wearing No. 26.

His locker now is in the big room, albeit tucked into a corner, but big room nevertheless.

He was among the 33 Cowboys players who did not play in the game Thursday night, coach's decision. Nearly 12 months later, his job, along with nearly all of the rest not playing in the final preseason game traditionally reserved for the young and unproven, was secure as the team's slot cornerback on the first-team nickel defense.

This the NFL equivalent of going from the earth to the moon.

Talk about a giant step for Patmon's kind.

"To see that progress, to see where I came from, is just a blessing," says the 24-year-old Patmon from Round Rock, Texas, after taking a needless shower Thursday night since he didn't even work up a sweat in the game nor any longer having to sweat his spot on the Cowboys' final 53-man roster coming down at 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

His is secure.

So secure, next time Patmon takes a snap on defense he already knows the guy lining up across from him will be wearing either "13 or 80."

 Uh, that would be either Odell Beckham Jr., he of one-hand grab fame, or Victor Cruz, he of 27 catches – five for touchdowns – in six career games against the Cowboys.

That's right, Patmon's next defensive snap will be a high-profile one, especially now that Cowboys starting cornerback Orlando Scandrick has been lost for the season, tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee during the final week of training camp.

Like in the season opener.

Like sometime around 7:30 p.m., Sept. 13.

Sunday Night Football, the next act following Carrie Underwood ushering in the 2015 season on national television, with the help of several NFL players, including Dez Bryant, by singing "Waiting All Day For Sunday Night."

Before a live crowd approaching 100,000 people at AT&T Stadium.

Against the New York Football Giants.

Talk about playing "the big room," the stage never larger for a guy who last year at this time was fearful of the phone ringing on the Saturday after the final preseason game. Who had no idea from the end of April last year until the last Saturday in August (30th) if he would ever even play football again.

That tenuous, the accompanying pit occupying valuable stomach space you're likely never to forget.

"I just kind of take it day by day," Patmon said of this Tilt-A-Whirl ride. "Last year I knew I was good enough to play in this league. But coming from where I came from and the way I came into this league, it's all about opportunity, so I was blessed with an opportunity last year, and now I'm blessed with a big opportunity. So now I've got to make the most of it."[embeddedad0]

Patmon might not know this, but there was another guy who knew he could play in this league that the Cowboys consulted: Former Cowboys head coach, defensive coordinator and secondary coach over a split 18 years, Dave Campo. Get this, when the Cowboys were doing their homework on Patmon, they called Campo.

See, "Camps" was Patmon's defensive backs coach at Kansas in 2012 before the three-year starter who had graduated from KU transferred to Oklahoma State in 2013 for one final year of college ball.

"Very quick and tough," Campo remembers, giving the Cowboys his seal of approval as "my guy," Campo's expression of goodness.

Must have been an accurate assessment because when talking with Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson, he uses virtually those same words, "quickness" and just how "tough" he is. And this has little to do with standing up to Bryant that day in training camp. He's just gritty, but also has the wherewithal to be prepared, like last summer in that Miami preseason game reading that pass on an end-around pattern into the flat, streaking across the Cowboys defense into the Dolphins backfield to intercept Matt Moore's swing pass intended for Amon Binns at the Miami 9-yard line and racing in for a touchdown.

Plus, how's this for letting the Cowboys know he was there in that third preseason game? He led the team with six tackles, had two interceptions, two passes defensed and forced a fumble that the Cowboys recovered.

That right there is taking advantage of an opportunity.

Well, here is the next one. The Cowboys had Patmon working as the backup cornerback in the slot on the nickel defense to Scandrick. And when Scandrick went down on Aug. 25 in Oxnard, Calif., Patmon was the next guy up. Not starters on the outside Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne. Not first-round draft choice Byron Jones. Not even fourth-year veteran Corey White.

Patmon got the nod.

"Those slot players are unique players," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli says. "Everything is so much quickness playing inside there, and then the instincts are so important there, run, pass, blitz.

"I think it's his quickness, great quickness … and good instincts."

So this is where the Cowboys are in the secondary without Scandrick. Carr starts at left corner, Claiborne right. Patmon comes into the slot on the nickel. Jones backs up both outside corner spots, plays in the slot on the dime head up on the tight end and backs up at safety. White is the backup slot, one of the backup outside corners and a backup at safety, too.

When you're this into the game building your 53-man roster, it's a little late to start making major changes.

"We like our man, so he's got to hold up," Marinelli says, mentioning how White, who returned an interception for a touchdown Thursday night against the Texans, will be ready for nickel duty, too. "Go with what we've got, and now we've got to go do it."

More specifically, Patmon has to go do it, and it's not easy working in that slot there, and, as in that opener a week from Sunday, many times against the opponent's best or second best receivers. A tall chore.

But not to worry about Patmon backing down. He didn't a year ago when all he received with the Cowboys was a tryout. He didn't in those preseason games when opportunity knocked. He didn't when Bryant wanted to knock his brains out that day in practice.

And so far he hasn't shrunk from the weight of his newest responsibility, or in his mind, his opportunity.

"I definitely have my work cut out for me," Patmon admits, but promises, "I'll definitely come ready to play."

And for him, that is nothing new.

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