FRISCO, Texas -- There is some anticipation around the Dallas Cowboys with the club’s rookies making their first on-field appearance at The Star for a three-day minicamp, starting on Friday.
"From my perspective, this is three draft classes that we’ve stacked together that I think really holds the future bright for us,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Draft and develop is the bloodline/lifeline of how you want to build your football team inside and out."
What will coaches be looking for from rookies?
“When they come in, you want to start evaluating them in our building in our atmosphere, so that you get a feel for who they are now,” vice president of player personnel Will McClay said. “One of the things that we go through is we’re asking guys in a college environment about their college players and it’s all relevant to that experience. Now, this is a whole different thing, so seeing how they react to that kind of stuff and then getting out on the field, getting to see them move around, getting a better feel for what they have, what they’re going to add to us.”
It won’t be real football, of course. The minicamp won’t feature much more than an introduction to how the Cowboys operate under McCarthy and the systems on offense, defense and special teams.
But there are expectations for the draft picks, especially considering how the Cowboys approached free agency.
Here are McClay’s thoughts on the newest players.
Tyler Smith, OL, first round
On being a left-sided player at guard and tackle: “The benefits are the space is a little more confined and being able to use the physical skill set to play tackle and guard, and really in this day and age in this league, you have to have guys who can do multiple things. So him playing on the left side at guard and working some as tackle, your footwork’s the same, your hand use is the same ... That speeds up the learning curve for them when you bounce from inside to outside.”
Sam Williams, LB/DE, second round
Who does Williams reminds him of? “Kind of a combination of guys. I think you have the speed off the edge that you’ve seen some great pass-rushers have, and that’s unique. And then, really, the newness still to the position [Williams didn’t always play defensive end at Ole Miss] and the game is almost some DeMarcus Ware, when you switch positions, and then you have success, then you talk about the ceiling because of the lack of reps they’ve taken at the position, you think about the upside. There’s some (DeMarcus Lawrence) in him because he was able to produce pressure from a 4i alignment at different times in different ways that he was used.”
Jalen Tolbert, WR, third round
On Tolbert making the jump from South Alabama to the NFL: “We don’t see him as a small-school guy. A lot of people talked about is picking guys from the Senior Bowl. Well, you get an opportunity to see guys compete, and then you find out what they know about football. That’s a big concern from the smaller conferences, how big the playbook is.
"With Tolbert, we saw a big catch radius. You saw him play inside and out. Then we got to learn about his football IQ and what drives him, and Mike [McCarthy] has done a great job developing receivers in his tenure in Green Bay and here.”
Jake Ferguson, TE, fourth round
“With him, it’s the ability to compete in the pass game, but he has also got the ability to improve as a blocker. He’s got the temperament for it to get it done. And he’s been around football all of his life [with his grandfather, former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez].”
Matt Waletzko, OT, fifth round
On his tools: “There’s the 6-7 and there’s the 36-inch arms, but then there’s the work ethic and mentality to maximize all that stuff and the potential to play either side. We’ll find out when he gets here, but for his conference and what we saw at the Senior Bowl, he can play left and right and he’s smart. He’s driven to improve, and he’s got some nasty to him.”
DaRon Bland, CB, fifth round
On where he fits: “He wasn’t at the combine or the all-star games, but he has NFL traits. We think there’s a lot of physical upside to him. And he fits the profile of what we’re looking for. He’s tall, long and he can run. The athleticism he plays with being a track guy, he can do all the things you like to fit in our system.
Damone Clark, LB, fifth round
On the risk/reward of the pick, knowing he has a neck issue: “Everybody had the same information. You’re playing the guessing game and estimating. You know you like the player, and then you just want to get the right value for him, and the value we got him at, it came at the right time where he was. ... The prognosis was good kind of moving forward.”
John Ridgeway, DT, fifth round
On his size (6-foot-6, 320 pounds): “He’s different than what we’ve used before because you want to increase the size and length and the physicality of our team. The only way you do is with big, physical people. That’s what he is. You can’t get to third down unless you get it down on first and second down. He can help us potentially in that regard in getting to those passing situations.”
Devin Harper, LB, sixth round
“There’s a little bit of a late bloomer there, but again, there’s NFL traits you’re looking at. For our second-level players, you’ve got to be able to run and play in space, and he’s got those attributes. While he’s learning to play the NFL game, he’ll be a guy that you bet on to contribute on [special] teams.”