We are now well into training camp and have seen the Dallas Cowboys play in three preseason games. With two games remaining before the season opener in Washington, we're starting to get a feel for how the final 53-man roster will shape up.
Based on what I've seen, I've made a completely uneducated guess as to what I believe the Cowboys will be rolling with after final cuts are made. What I personally would do is a bit different than what I believe Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips will ultimately decide upon, but I've decided to just go with what I predict the Cowboys will do. They aren't really listening to me anyways.
The toughest part of this breakdown was deciding on how many safeties, cornerbacks and inside linebackers to go with. Before this weekend I was convinced the Cowboys would roll with five corners and five safeties, but based on the play Saturday and a few injuries I've changed my mind a bit.
After the jump, a complete rundown of what I believe the 53-man roster will look like heading into the first week of the season. I reserve the right to change my mind about any of these decisions as we get closer to final cuts.
There's some theories abounding that the Cowboys may opt to drop Stephen McGee during final cuts in order to pick up a spot at another position. The Cowboys went with two quarterbacks in 2008 and it worked fine (other than having to watch Rudy Carpenter for an entire half against the Giants) and Patrick Crayton could serve as the emergency quarterback if one is needed. Heaven forbid.
For now, I have McGee sticking around as it seems the Cowboys are willing to give him a bit more time.
Running Backs (3)
This is a no-brainer. The Cowboys have one of the best backfields in the NFL and all three work tremendously well together. On Saturday we saw what everyone loves about Choice, and we also witnessed why he's still the third-string running back.
Deon Anderson, Chris Gronkowski
I guess I could have put Gronkowski into the tight end spot, but essentially he's still playing the fullback position. He received a lot of reps on Saturday from various positions as the Cowboys moved him around in an attempt to fill the void left by John Phillips. He's still raw, but you see the potential that's there.
Tight Ends (2)
Unless Scott Sicko does something amazing in these final two games, then I have him headed to the practice squad (or grad school) and Gronkowski making the roster. DajLeon Farr did absolutely nothing of note on Saturday, and we've yet to see what Martin Rucker can do. For now, it's just Witten and Bennet at the TE position.
Wide Receivers (6)
I was very careful to pay close attention to Jesse Holley and Sam Hurd on Saturday. Hurd was running with the firsts on special teams and was a sure-handed target for Jon Kitna in the second half. While there's been some talk of Holley surpassing Hurd for that final WR spot, Hurd showed on Saturday why he's still much too valuable (even at his price) for the Cowboys to cut. I'm expecting Joe D. to have something to say about this choice.
Offensive Linemen (10)
I still need to go back and break down the individual performances of the offensive line but for the most part I was surprised by the performances of Brewster and Young. I don't recall any gross breakdowns by Costa either. It's goodbye to Pat McQuistan as the Cowboys hope to build some depth with some promising young linemen.
Defensive Linemen (4)
This was the easiest decision to make. Jason Hatcher finally showed he can make some plays while filling in for Spears and Stephen Bowen continues to have just an incredible preseason. Some are pushing for Bowen to start over Hatcher but for now it's tough to fix something that isn't broken.
Nose Tackles (2)
Junior Siavii has started to finally make some plays, most likely since he's feeling the pressure from Josh Brent. Yet Brent has the raw power and speed the Cowboys love at nose tackle, he's shown great playmaking ability and based on the fact alone he tracked down a running back 20 yards downfield should be enough to ensure he has a roster spot. Brent will be a tough player to sneak onto the practice squad and with the Cowboys believing they picked up a 7th round steal, it's a good guess he'll survive final cuts.
Inside Linebackers (4)
Leon Williams is the victim of the great play at safety. A roster spot had to be cut somewhere and I'm gambling this is where it will be. Leon Williams has shown a knack for making great plays (he had a sure interception negated by a thunderous hit by his own teammate) and for a split second you can see him making the active roster. Then you see #52 miss yet another open field tackle and you realize he's not likely to survive final cuts. Jason Williams is still a project but one the Cowboys have invested in and he's showing improvement game by game. Sean Lee's impressive performance in his first NFL game also showed that the Cowboys have finally found the nickel linebacker they've been looking for.
Outside Linebackers (4)
You wonder if Victor Butler and Brandon Williams would be starting, if it weren't for Ware and Spencer in front of them. By the end of the season this foursome could prove to be the most devastating group of pass rushers in the NFL, as both of the second year players have shown an incredible ability to meet at the quarterback and create all sorts of havoc in the backfield. The only regret I have is that we won't be seeing much of Butler and Williams as Ware and Spencer are likely to see the majority of snaps throughout the season. Not a bad problem to have.
Butler's flying strip sack of Jonathan Crompton on Saturday night was eerily familiar of what we've seen Ware do so many times over the years. Butler has the potential to become something truly special.
Steve Octavien, despite his performance on special teams last season, likely won't survive cuts this year.
Before Saturday, I would have had the Cowboys keeping five cornerbacks with Bryan McCann grabbing that final spot. Yet with the injuries at the safety position, and the uneven play of McCann and Jamar Wall, I have to think the Cowboys go with just four cornerbacks on the roster this season. Cletis Gordon is hopefully lighting a fire under Newman and Scandrick as he's showing just how big a difference a playmaking cornerback can have on a football game.
Danny McCray and Barry Church are just playing too good to keep off the roster and with Sensabaugh's injury you have to think that the Cowboys will roll with the abnormal number of six safeties this season.
Alan Ball can always fill in at cornerback if needed, and it appears that AOA is going to have a chance to fill that role as well. Church was impressive on Saturday filling in for Sensabaugh and showing great instincts against the run. McCray was outstanding on special teams once more, yet his gaffe on the long pass over the top by the Chargers shows he still has a lot of room for improvement.
Pat Watkins looks to be the odd man out here. Hamlin, Church and McCray are all capable of being playmakers on special teams and his injury during training camp has given these young players the opportunity they needed to prove themselves. The safety that Bill Parcells had so much hope for (initially) appears to be nearing his final days as a Cowboy.
I'd have liked to have seen a David Buehler kick on Saturday, just to erase those doubts that were lingering after his bad day at practice last Thursday. Still, for now it appears the Cowboys will be headed into the season with Buehler as the kicker, who at least has proven that his kickoffs are perhaps even better this year than last.
Oh yeah. Mat McBriar is awesome.