The most impactful linebacker at Dallas Cowboys training camp is not named Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch or Sean Lee.
His name is Francis Bernard, and he’s terrorizing the Dallas offense.
An undrafted rookie linebacker out of Utah, Bernard has notched a team-high two interceptions through four practices, including a pick-six of first-string quarterback Dak Prescott.
On Monday, as in-house reporter David Helman detailed, Bernard made an excellent read on a shallow Prescott pass and took it to the house.
Cowboys ran a bunch formation drill today, where 3 WRs would go against 3 defenders, simulating how to cover guys coming out of a bunch. Dak looked for Ventell Bryant on a curl & Bernard read it the whole way. pick-6.
On Tuesday, more of the same — this time against fourth-string QB Clayton Thorson in 11-on-11 drills.
when Clayton Thorson had his chance to guide the 2-minute drill, he completely missed Bernard in coverage and threw an INT right to him to kill the drive. Bernard was pumped, to put it mildly.
Although new coordinator Mike Nolan is still installing his system, he’s placed an overarching emphasis on creating turnovers. And it’s worked. By Helman’s count, the unit has totaled six INTS (Bernard, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Donovan Wilson, Xavier Woods) and a forced fumble.
Such playmaking isn’t limited to the secondary, either. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence dominated the starting offense during Tuesday’s practice with “at least two would-be sacks” on Prescott, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer.
“When we’re moving, we’re being active, not being statues, it’s going to be real hard for (QBs),” Awuzie said Sunday, via The Athletic. “They’re going to have to diagnose while the play’s going. I think that’s going to produce sacks and turnovers.”
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Background on Bernard
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound defender began his collegiate career at BYU, arriving as a running back before changing hats as a sophomore. He allegedly violated the university’s honor code prior to his junior campaign and transferred to Utah as a result.
Bernard finished his brief Cougars tenure with 47 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three INTs, two sacks, and a forced fumble. He spent a year away from football before being granted permission to play for the Utes in 2019.
He was an instant hit — literally — tallying 85 total tackles (7.5 TFL), two INTs and a pick-six across 14 games. His effort resulted in first-team All-PAC-12 honors.
Bernard’s NFL scouting profile, via The Draft Network’s Joe Marino, projected an upside developmental ‘backer at the next level.
PROS: Fairly quick processor against the run and in zone coverage. Fast to flow with a quick trigger and no wasted movement. Key and diagnoses rapidly, often resulting in him getting ahead of blocks. Top notch pursuit effort. Physical tackler with good hitting power and contact balance. Natural ability to cue the backfield and work into throwing lanes. Experienced in multiple coverage techniques. Does well to play with good leverage.
CONS: Not a consistent finisher and he misses too many tackles. Modest range, lateral mobility and change of direction skills. Tight hips are restrictive for man coverage and deeper zone drops. Needs to take more consistent angles to set him up for more success tackling. Modest length and he doesn’t often finish outside his frame. Take on and disengage technique needs to improve in terms of hand usage. Messy background.
Bernard was among several UDFAs signed by the Cowboys following the 2020 Draft, a widely-hailed group that included a handful of draftable prospects.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL