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OXNARD, Calif. — The dream of playing in the NFL with the added bonus of working for the same team as his dad is now reality for Deuce Vaughn.
The Cowboys’ running back was the feel-good story of the NFL draft when he was selected in the sixth round, bringing his father, Chris, the Cowboys’ Assistant Director of College Scouting, to tears.
Anyone with a child that aspires to play professionally reacted with some emotion watching the scene unfold in April when Deuce Vaughn was asked on his cellphone if he wanted to see his father at work every day.
And while Chris Vaughn is scouting, Deuce is earning a living playing football where on Saturday, in the Cowboys’ preseason opener against Jacksonville, he’ll get a chance to showcase his skills.
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During training camp practices, Vaughn is proving his size, 5-foot-5, isn’t an issue in pass protection or anywhere else.
He sets up well in his stance to handle an oncoming defender. He’s got the upper and lower body strength to withstand the contact. In a few practices, when an offensive lineman was getting pushed back, Vaughn was there helping with the block. He’s not afraid to mix it up.
In the run game, he’s proved elusive when cutting across defenders and once he gets the ball he lowers his body some, making it difficult to find him as he runs through a hole.
“You can see D-linemen are usually like this (straining their necks), they can’t find him,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s a cool element.”
Vaughn will get plenty of opportunities to show the Cowboys he’s a versatile player.
Not only will he see time on the offense but the preseason will see Vaughn as the primary punt and kick returner, something he hasn’t done since his freshman year at Kansas State where he fielded seven kickoffs.
“I guess the biggest thing is you can go and cut it loose,” Vaughn said. “Practice, your first two weeks of training camp you’re still trying to figure out how exactly to practice as a professional compared to college and just learning from the vets. But now football is football. You got 11 guys on the football field on your side of the ball, going against the other 11 guys. Cutting it loose. So I’m super excited for that. You can’t tell I’m super excited.”
The competitiveness of the NFL is pushing Vaughn into a spicy situation.
The Cowboys plan on using Pro Bowl returner KaVontae Turpin mainly on offense during the preseason. Dallas didn’t utilize Turpin’s own small stature, 5-7, and speed last season on offense. In training camp practices, Turpin has lined up in the backfield and in the slot running slants and being utilized on Jet Sweeps.
Vaughn and Turpin are being asked to showcase versatility, which makes for an interesting dynamic. Two small-in-stature players with excellent skills to make plays on offense and special teams.
“For myself, I feel like my versatility,” Vaughn said when asked what he does well. “Something I feel I did really well and I was able to do at Kansas State was catch the ball out of the backfield, running between tackles, outside the tackles and be split out. … Anything that I can bring to the table in that regard, whatever the coaches want to put on my plate, I’m going to take and I’m going to learn.”
If you believed Vaughn was this novelty act, you’d be disrespecting his value. McCarthy said Vaughn is “pro ready” for the physical pounding it takes to play in the NFL.
“I’ve been dealing with size my whole life,” Vaughn said.
And Vaughn isn’t the smallest running back to play for a Dallas pro team.
In 1952, Buddy Young, listed at 5-4 and 175 pounds, played for the Dallas Texans.
Young, similar to Vaughn, showed versatility that season as he scored a combined five touchdowns in the run and pass game. He also averaged 5.8 punt return and 28 kick return yards.
So don’t worry about whether Vaughn can handle the pounding or if his size is a problem, he’s in the NFL for a reason.
“He’s really shown excellent versatility on special teams through the offense,” McCarthy said. “I think we all smile when he does pass protect because you talk about the instincts and awareness and most importantly the footwork, to get yourself in position, he has that. Whether he developed it at K-State, I’ve been very impressed. He understands protections. He’s a very smart player. Right now we’re just rolling him in there.”
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