Five players who will play a key role in getting the Cowboys back on track

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It’s been nearly two years since the team went through a two-game losing streak – the final two weeks of the 2015 season – but there have been bright spots over the first five games in 2017.

The offense looks to be gaining traction. The defense seems likely to get captain Sean leeback soon after the bye. And several young players could make a difference as they get more snaps deeper into the season.

Here are five players to watch when the Cowboys (2-3) resume their regular-schedule Oct. 22 at San Francisco:

Jourdan Lewis

Packers receiver Davante Adams just got past the rookie cornerback for the deciding touchdown catch last Sunday. But Lewis was outstanding in that game with seven tackles and three pass breakups, including a third-down deflection that forced a Packers punt with the Cowboys ahead 24-22 in the fourth quarter. Inactive for the season opener due to a hamstring injury, Lewis has gotten better each week. Veteran Nolan Carroll’s release  last Wednesday is a sign of faith in the Cowboys’ young defensive backs.

Ryan Switzer

The rookie’s muffed punt swung the momentum firmly in the Rams’ favor in the second quarter of the Cowboys’ home loss to L.A. The week before, Switzer’s 21-yard punt return deep into Cardinals territory helped the Cowboys drive for their first score of the game in a grind-it-out road win at Arizona. The rookie receiver doesn’t have a catch yet on offense, but offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has tried to get him involved with two carries out of the backfield. Switzer’s biggest impact is likely on special teams, and he has the instincts and quickness to help them flip field position in the games to come.

Maliek Collins

Collins plays three-technique defensive tackle, arguably the most critical position in Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme. Through five games, he is second on the team in sacks (2.5) and he ranked fourth in pressures (5) entering the Packers game, according to coaching film. The more disruptive Collins is, the better the defense will be. As a rookie last year, he got three of his five sacks in the final month of the season. Maybe David Irving’s ’s return can form a nice pass-rushing duo inside if Irving continues playing the nose tackle spot.

Brice Butler

Butler has carried a strong preseason into the regular season. Four of his eight catches have gone for at least 30 yards, including a 49-yarder on the opening touchdown drive against the Packers. Many teammates will tell you Butler is the fastest player on the team, and quarterback Dak Prescott clearly trusts him to make plays downfield using his 6-foot-3 frame. Butler might be earning more opportunities as the season goes on.

Chidobe Awuzie 

The second-round pick has battled hamstring tightness since training camp, and he exited the Packers game early due to the same issue. If he can stay healthy, the Cowboys have big, physical corner – or perhaps a safety with range. Before he left the game last Sunday, Awuzie lined up next toByron Jones at safety for a couple of snaps. Last year, the Cowboys created a safety rotation that included backup J.J. Wilcox (now with Pittsburgh) getting 20 or so snaps per game. Could there be a similar rotation as the season goes along? Playing Awuzie at safety might be a way to get all of their young defensive backs on the field in some fashion.

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