As outsiders, we often look at the big picture of NFL training camps. We examine how a team like the Dallas Cowboys can get better, how its depth chart will shake out and where room for improvement remains.
For many players, though, there’s often a more singular focus: find a way to make the team.
Roster spots cannot be taken for granted—though exceptions exist when high draft selections and guaranteed contracts are involved. While teams enter camp with a maximum of 90 players, only 53 of those spots will remain on final cutdown day (August 30).
Here, we’ll highlight three Cowboys who must truly shine in the coming weeks to claim one of those 53 spots. We’ll examine both why there’s so much at stake and how they can potentially help Dallas if they do make the final roster.
High draft selections generally get multiple opportunities before a team will give up on them. This is largely why 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill is still on Dallas’ roster.
The UCF product has only appeared in 18 games through three seasons, due in part to injuries. He suffered a torn ACL in 2020 and opened the 2021 season on the physically unable to perform list.
Even when healthy, though, Hill has struggled to make an impact. He has just 27 tackles and a half a sack on his resume.
Dallas doesn’t have a ton of proven depth on its defensive interior, and the Cowboys ranked just 23rd in yards per rush allowed last season. They need Hill to be a reliable run-stopper this season. If he can’t be that, Dallas may finally decide to pull the plug. Other defensive tackles will become available as teams around the league cut down.
The good news is that Hill seems to be off to a solid start.
“I had a few people tell me that he’s flashed at times during the practices,” Nick Eatman of the team’s official website wrote.
Hill will have to continue impressing during camp if he’s going to earn any sort of prominent role. If he doesn’t, Dallas could be inclined to bring in someone else who can contribute this season.
Receiver Noah Brown has been with the Cowboys since 2017, and while he’s largely been a special teams contributor, he did play well with limited opportunities last season. Brown finished with 16 catches and 184 yards.
The competition at receiver will be one of the most heavily scrutinized in Cowboys camp. Dallas is looking to replace both Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson Jr. and may not have Michael Gallup early as he recovers from a torn ACL.
Working in Brown’s favor is the fact that he’s already well-versed in offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s system. Working against him is the fact that Dallas also added James Washington and rookie Jalen Tolbert in the offseason.
With Gallup, Washington, Tolbert and CeeDee Lamb on the roster, there will be a fight for the final couple of receiver spots. 2021 fifth-round pick Simi Fehoko could have an edge because of his draft status. 2021 undrafted free agent T.J. Vasher has flashed big-play potential during the offseason.
“He’s made some really big-time flash plays, splash plays,” coach Mike McCarthy said, per ESPN’s Todd Archer.
Knowing the offense might not be enough for Brown to last another season in Dallas. He can be an asset as a depth receiver. To do that, though, he’ll have to prove in camp that he not only has a solid foundation but also the sort of upside that Fehoko and Vasher can offer.
Running back Rico Dowdle entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2020. He carried seven times for 24 yards in his rookie season and landed on injured reserve with a hip injury last year.
The biggest obstacle for Dowdle this year is that Dallas brought in competition behind top backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The Cowboys signed Malik Davis and Aaron Shampklin as free agents following April’s draft.
Shampklin, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry with Harvard last year, is particularly intriguing as a potential No. 3 option.
Now, Dowdle will have to show that he’s both healthy and a better third option than the two newcomers. Working in Dowdle’s favor is the fact that he knows the offense already and could see backup Pollard taking some reps as a receiver.
According to Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Pollard spent time lining up in the slot during minicamp. If the Cowboys do plan to use him as a pass-catcher, they may be inclined to keep four running backs on the roster. Dowdle could also contribute as a regularly used ball-carrier.
Still, Dowdle’s recovery and the untapped potential of the incoming rookies—the Cowboys know what they have in Dowdle—are challenges that must be met. If the 24-year-old cannot prove that he’s at 100 percent and can offer Dallas a unique change-of-pace option, he’ll be a prime cut candidate in August.
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