Pressure bursts pipes.
Pressure turns coal into diamonds.
Both of these statements are equally true and both results will play out in 32 training camps this month. The results of being under pressure are clear, step up or step out! In order to figure out which Cowboys are under the most pressure, we need to first determine what is pressure in this context.
What is “under pressure” in a pro football training camp?
Here are several ways these Cowboys players can feel the pressure to perform.
- Making enough plays to at least make the practice squad of a team (current team or another team). These players are living within sight of the very end of their NFL dream sometimes before it even gets started. They have limited opportunities so every poor rep is amplified.
- Making the 53-man regular season roster of a team. This allows the player to move from just keeping their dream alive to actually fulfilling their NFL dreams.
- Make the game day 46-man roster. This provides the player a real chance to establish themselves and provide long term financial security. A player must have a defined role to be on the 46-man roster and a defined role means a chance to display their capabilities and grow their opportunities
- Become a starter/key contributor
- Become a superstar
Coaches are always under pressure. Over the next couple of weeks we will discuss each position group, what pressure the players are under and who we feel is under the most pressure. First up…specialists.
Kickers, punters and long-snappers are often over looked and viewed as interchangeable, replaceable parts. Cowboys nation knows that Dan Bailey and LP Ladouceur are any thing but that. Dan Bailey is, simply put, the most accurate kicker in NFL history. As for Ladouceur, after 12 NFL seasons, the next bad snap we see from him might be the first one. This kind of consistent excellence can be it’s own pressure but anyone desiring to be the best at what they do must embrace this in order to succeed.
Chris Jones has improved over the years as a punter. He is now viewed as better than replacement level and the team has not brought in any real challenge to his job in the past couple of training camps. That leaves us with special teams coverage ace and return specialist.
The Cowboys have some solid special teamers they like in Andrew Gachkar and Kyle Wilber. This past spring, the team showed who they believe in most by giving Safety Jeff Heath a 4-year contract to be the team’s coverage ace. Unless he has a catastrophic decline, the coverage ace is on pretty solid ground. The position, and in turn the player, with the most pressure among the Cowboys specialists is return specialist Lucky Whitehead.
Specialist under the most pressure
Lucky Whitehead follows a long line of UDFA that have made a real impact on the fortunes of the Cowboys over the past decade or so. He was so impressive with his quickness and speed in the 2015 training camp that he made the team over more highly touted competition. This was despite the coaches not being fully confident in his ability to protect the football. Whitehead is once again displaying these same traits this summer. He is the most explosive return option the Cowboys have that is not named Dez Bryant.
Where he may struggle is that reports are coming out of camp that he is not progressing enough as a receiver to take snaps away from anyone ahead of him. Jet sweeps are nice gimmick plays but if that is all a player shows he can handle, the pressure is high to take a coveted spot on the 46-man game-day roster. Whitehead’s pressure is also ratcheted up a notch by the new crop of UDFA WRs in this year’s camp. Andy Jones has been getting rave reviews for his performance. His size also fits the Cowboys prototype for their WR much better than Whitehead’s.
In the end, I believe that Lucky Whitehead meets the pressure and provides the 2016 Cowboys with an impact returner. He has put on muscle weight to help him navigate the rigors of a full season. Whitehead also benefits from a coaching staff that leans to familiarity (sometimes to a fault). He was able to earn this staff’s trust and by the end of the 2015 was showing the impact he could make on a game. I believe that Lucky will continue to turn the coal of being an UDFA into diamonds on the field this fall for the Cowboys