Deuce Vaughn, the Cowboys' 5-foot-6, 176-pound rookie running back, was the highlight of their opening preseason game. The sixth-round pick's 26-yard run behind the right guard showcased his vertical speed as well as his ability to truck opposing Jaguars defenders for additional yardage.
The roar of the AT&T Stadium crowd felt different when Vaughn was making something happen on Saturday. He totaled 62 scrimmage yards on 11 touches -- including a four-yard rushing touchdown --, and it feels like he'll be a regular part of the game plan during the upcoming regular season. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy didn't do anything to refute that sentiment on Tuesday.
"The way he played in the game looked the way he played at K-State," McCarthy said when asked about Vaughn's preseason performance. "I think it's like anything and every rookie goes through it: the first time they get out there, how fast do they play? Are they playing as fast as they can or are they playing as fast as they used to? That's part of crossing the threshold for first-year players. His talent speaks for itself, but the way he approaches everything is the same every day. He's a very level personality. That part of it, nothing is too big for him. He's very bright, very instinctive, very aware, knows who he is, and he knows how to use his skills. I thought he looked very comfortable out there."
Vaughn said his performance on Saturday confirmed to himself what he already knew: that he is a legitimate NFL player.
"That I belong," Vaughn said postgame on Saturday when asked what he learned with his performance. "I feel like that's the biggest thing for myself, is just coming in and proving people that believed in me right. And it doesn't stop now. I go back to work on Monday to get ready for the next preseason game."
Even though Vaughn's smaller stature was the primary reason the All-Big 12 running back fell to the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, McCarthy has been impressed by the way the rookie turns the table on defenders by making the most his leverage.
"He's been making plays out here [in Oxnard, California for training camp] that make you go whoa," McCarthy said. "The first thing I noticed standing behind the line is the first time we ran in a real team period in the padded work, defensive linemen can't find him. That's an asset and he knows it. His ability to accelerate through creases with his instincts and awareness ... he's not waiting for a crease to open, he's in the crease as it comes together. His run there to start the second half showed that."
"Whenever you get to that second level," Vaughn said Saturday, "I feel like that's where I excel."
He stood out behind backup offensive linemen in the second half of the Cowboys' first preseason game last weekend. Imagine what Vaughn can do in tandem with Pro Bowl starting running back Tony Pollard behind Dallas' starting front five that includes three Pro Bowl players -- left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin, and center Tyler Biadasz -- as well as young, upcoming linemen like left guard Tyler Smith and right tackle Terence Steele. The football world is under a month away from finding out.