SAN ANTONIO -- When the 2011 NFL Draft ended, the Cowboys were at a huge disadvantage in my view because they were not allowed to immediately sign college free agents.
With the NFL lockout in place, the draft was allowed to proceed and was the only way that teams were allowed to add players to their rosters. Being on the pro side of scouting when I was with the Cowboys, I was always impressed with the way that college scouting coordinator Chris Hall set the draft board in a way that the front office was able to go after draftable players as free agents once the draft was over.
In the process, players that still were on the board after the draft had ended were given priority over any other players still undrafted. By doing it this way, the front office was going after players that had grades that would have got them drafted if the Cowboys still had selections remaining.
On the Cowboys’ draft board there are two categories: players to draft and priority free agents. The Cowboys will only dip into the priority free agent pool when all the draftable players have been signed by the club or other teams.
The best example of how this process works is with quarterback Tony Romo. Romo was signed as a free agent after the draft but had a fifth-round grade on our draft board. It was a nice job of recruiting by Jerry Jones, Sean Payton and Jim Hess that helped get Romo to the Cowboys, but it all started because Romo was a draftable player and the club has a solid plan in place in the way they add players.
Despite the fact that the Cowboys had to wait for the lockout to end before they were able to add these free agents, it appears they have done a nice job of adding some players that might not be a part of the 53-man roster now, but will surely be considerations for practice squad spots.
The player creating the most buzz in camp is wide receiver Raymond Radway. Others that have caught the eyes of observers are running back Phillip Tanner, center Kevin Kowalski, cornerback Mario Butler and linebacker Alex Albright.
Radway is a nice-looking receiver height-wise, but doesn’t look like a guy that weighs 193 pounds. He is a smooth route runner and will catch the ball away from his body. He's had some drops as well, but overall looks comfortable catching the ball whether in traffic or in space.
Tanner has done a nice job with the opportunity given to him with the injuries to Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray. He is a square-built player that runs with nice vision and power. I like the way he sees the hole then gets through it keeping his pad level down. He'll catch the ball on screens and work his way up field. He has to work on his pass blocking but is more than willing on the effort.
Kowalski plays with effort but will need to get stronger. I've been impressed with the way he battles and stays on his feet.
Butler is another player that doesn’t look out of place. He's shown the ability to carry his man in his route with quickness and technique. Looking forward to seeing him play in the second half of these preseason games and on special teams. He came from a nice program at Georgia Tech, so he's not afraid of the big stage. He's trying to do what Bryan McCann did at this time last season -- make the team as an undrafted player.
Boston College’s Albright has done a nice job playing the run at the point of attack. He has shown the ability to play with leverage and extend his hands inside to control the blocker. Have not noticed Albright as much in the passing game, but when the ball has come his way, he has played the correct technique and been in the mix on the tackle.
The nice thing for these players is that there is still time to impress the coaches and front office. The first game of the preseason is Thursday night against the Broncos, and after that will be only three more chances.
In an NFL training camp, not only are you fighting for a job on your current team, but also showing other scouts around the league that if you are released you deserve a roster spot on their team. These players are off to a good start.