With the Dallas Cowboys on their bye week, let’s assess how some of the 2023 rookie class has performed so far this NFL season and what their position group coaches have said about their additions to the team.
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Dallas Cowboys Defensive Rookies
DT Mazi Smith
Mazi Smith has been a draft-and-develop player for the Cowboys this season. He has taken 97 snaps so far, or around 25% of the defense’s total snap count.
Smith is the team’s 2023 first-round draft pick, something that defensive line coach Aden Durde says is something we all take for granted sometimes because of the pressure that comes with it.
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He said coming into the NFL has a lot of different aspects from college, such as the amount of playing time or how plays are communicated. Those things change in the NFL.
“I think as we’re going through this, Mazi’s growth and understanding of how to play the game at that level is growing. You can see week in, week out, he’s making marginal gains, and that’s what it’s about,” said Durde.
The assistant coach also added that Smith is in an excellent position to grow with the players he’s around and can learn from.
CB Eric Scott Jr.
With Trevon Diggs and C.J. Goodwin on injured reserve for the rest of the season, Eric Scott has added depth to a cornerback room that needs it.
Although the rookie has yet to start or be active for a game within the first six weeks of the season, Scott is another example of drafting and developing a player. And with Goodwin out for the year, Scott has an opportunity in practice to show his improvement to step into the shifts that will happen within the unit.
He can be activated if there is more need for depth on special teams, as that’s typically where players start to find their footing and learn more before jumping into their position group.
Cowboys’ Offensive Rookies
TE Luke Schoonmaker
Luke Schoonmaker has gelled in nicely with the tight end room since being drafted in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, Schoonmaker dealt with plantar fasciitis during training camp and was on the non-football injury list.
Cowboys’ tight ends coach Lunda Wells says the 25-year-old is improving to become even better.
“Since he’s been able to get back on the grass, he’s continually gotten better with some of the things that we’ve been emphasizing in the run game, playing with a little bit more play strength, and in the passing game just being more decisive. So we continue to work on that,” said Wells.
Schoonmaker has done his due diligence in the blocking element of his game, which is a significant role for the tight ends in Mike McCarthy’s West Coast offensive system.
Through Week 6, Schoonmaker has played 142 offensive snaps and 83 special-teams snaps. However, he has only had three recovering targets, one of which was his first touchdown catch that came in Week 2 against the Jets.
Schoonmaker the touchdown maker @LukeSchoonmaker
— NFL (@NFL) September 17, 2023
Wells acknowledged the lack of production in the passing game but said they hope to change that soon.
WR Jalen Brooks
Jalen Brooks is on the practice squad and can be a dual threat on offense and special teams.
Brooks has been elevated to the 53-man roster twice this season and can be elevated once more before needing to be permanently elevated for the remainder of the season, or he can be available to other teams for 24 hours, per the NFL rules for practice-squad members.
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Brooks was an early standout during training camp and has found his stride working in the gunner position within the special-teams unit. Cowboys’ wide receivers coach Robert Prince says he is taking the same approach Jalen Tolbert took last year, learning all the positions he can.
“He does an amazing job in meetings. Shoot, we might ask a question to the room, and he’s the first one to answer. I mean, even over some of the vets. So yeah, he’s been a great addition to the room,” said Prince.
FB Hunter Luepke
Hunter Luepke solidified his spot on the roster after the Cowboys’ final preseason game as an undrafted free agent.
The 23-year-old has taken 58 offensive snaps so far this season and has been a critical blocker, but he’s only had three carries for 13 yards and one touchdown.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 1, 2023
So, although the team will likely keep him as a blocking threat with the amount of talent in its stacked RB room, Luepke is a talent that can grow, and the offense can build special packages with.
Luepke’s physicality could also be one of the keys to solving the offense’s red-zone issues displayed in the season’s first six weeks.
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