October 11, 2009, I was personally in attendance when virtually unknown Cowboys WR Miles Austin exploded all over the Kansas City Chiefs to the tune of 10 catches, 250 yards and 2 touchdowns including a 60 yard walk-off in overtime.
That game was a real introduction to the world for Austin. Cowboys fans had seen flashes along the way, but he had not until that game really put it all together. Austin didn’t cut a path to Canton or anything but had a nice run with the club that included a couple of 1,000+ yard seasons and two Pro Bowls.
A handful of Cowboys seem to be gathering the snacks and party favors for coming-out parties of their own.
Maliek Collins – DT (4th year)
A 2016 3rd round draft pick, Collins’ career got off on the wrong foot in a very literal sense. A broken foot during OTA’s robbed Collins of his first NFL training camp. Nonetheless, Collins put together a nice rookie season, flashing some of the quickness, and penetrating style of play that drew the teams interest during the 2016 draft.
Collins had a less than noteworthy 2017, then broke his foot once again in May of 2018.
In 2018 Collins just plain and simple looked like a guy who wasn’t quite right all season, adding a knee injury to his still impaired broken foot, and missing game action for the first time in his career.
Collins has finally looked healthy during the 2019 preseason. The suddenness has returned, and he is once again knifing into backfields creating havoc. Collins’ defensive linemates look like the best group in a great while and should keep teams from allocating too many extra resources to keep Collins from wrecking shop. Add to that that his main competition at the 3 technique spot (2019 2nd round pick Trysten Hill) has to this point looked like no threat to eat into his snaps, and Maliek Collins looks primed for a monster year.
La’el Collins – RT (5th year)
A left tackle as a collegian at LSU, Collins was asked to kick inside to guard as a rookie. By week 6, he had taken over at left guard for an injured Ron Leary and never looked back. Collins played well for a rookie learning a new position and was looking to build upon a solid initial campaign before breaking a toe in week 3 of 2016 and landing on injured reserve.
2017 brought yet another position change for La’el Collins, as he was asked to move to right tackle after the retirement of Doug Free. Collins suffered the expected growing pains and had his struggles in space vs. some of the games best pass rushers.
The Cowboys hired Paul Alexander to coach the offensive line in 2018. The entire unit seemed to take a step back under Alexander’s tutelage, which was drastically different from previous coach Frank Pollack. The hire was a disaster, and Alexander was fired midseason, and replaced by Marc Columbo, who’s style is much more similar to Pollack’s. Atop all of the confusion with technique and scheme, Collins limped around the majority of the season with nagging ankle and shoulder injuries.
Here we are at last in 2019. No more position changes, no more coaching changes, no injuries. Collins can finally settle in and hone his craft, and do so with the security of a brand new 5 year/$50M contract extension.
There is something to be said for a player just having his heart in the right place, and Collins just seems to be at peace. Upon signing his extension, Collins only wanted to talk about working hard, being grateful, and improving. He even declined a typical contract signing press conference wanting to stay focused on the season.
La’el Collins looks as if his best football may still be in front of him, and seeing him finally realize his full potential would be huge for the Cowboys offense.
Michael Gallup – WR (2nd year)
We saw it. We all did. The tantalizing narrowly missed deep connections between Michael Gallup and Dak Prescott in 2018. It was a snapshot of what can be. The hope for the Cowboys is that it was a prelude to what will be.
Some guys can just flat out get open. No eye-popping measurables. Some guys just know how to make space. That’s Michael Gallup. He’s not a particularly big guy, and dudes who run 4.51 in the 40 aren’t supposed to just live behind your secondary. Nonetheless, Michael Gallup is always getting open, and often deep. He has also improved greatly attacking the ball at the catch point and is a tenacious runner after the catch.
With Amari Cooper nursing an ailing foot, Gallup has in a way been operating as the prime target in the passing game throughout camp and the preseason. Subsequently, the rapport between Prescott and Gallup has galvanized, and soon Cooper will be back to shift favorable coverage and personnel Gallup’s way.
It would probably surprise no one in the Cowboys locker room, organization, or fanbase if Michael Gallup experienced the teams biggest individual uptick in production this season.