The Dallas Cowboys have announced their initial 53-man roster heading into the 2010 regular season, and as expected the roster cuts included some surprises. There was just too much potential and talent at the bottom part of the roster for the Cowboys to make any easy decisions and injuries at certain positions created a numbers crunch at others.
I don't believe for a second that this is the final 53-man roster and I know that the Cowboys were heavily interested in the rest of the cuts being announced around the NFL. What's going to be interesting is seeing which players might still be in jeopardy even after "making" the team if the Cowboys do indeed end up bringing in a released player to provide better depth at certain positions. It's also important to note that players that were cut (like Cletis Gordon) might be brought back at some point.
For a team headed into what is supposed to be a contending season, the key for the Cowboys was to put together the best roster they could from top to bottom. This philosophy created an interesting numbers game from position to position and necessitated some of the different decisions that were made yesterday. Across a two-part analysis, I'll do my best to determine just what the thinking was behind each one.
I don't think I can ever remember a time when the Cowboys entered the season with just three true cornerbacks on the roster. It's a very dangerous game to play, especially with the Cowboys relying heavily on the nickel package in Wade Phillips' defensive scheme. It seems that many feel the Cowboys will be searching for a cornerback to provide depth at the position, yet I believe it's important to include all of the defensive backs in this discussion.
In the end this decision came down to: are Barry Church and Danny McCray more valuable than Cletis Gordon? With the Cowboys, the answer was certainly a yes. Church, at this point, is a much better safety than McCray but both provide great potential on special teams; this ability far outweighed Gordon's ability to provide depth at the fourth cornerback position.
Gordon played nearly the entire game against Miami and looked, frankly, horrible while doing so. The playmaking corner everyone had raved about during camp disappeared, and was replaced by once that was burned constantly by the Texans and the Dolphins. While I'm sure the Cowboys were already leaning in a certain direction before the final preseason game, it's likely that Gordon lost his job with that poor performance.
The depth at cornerback will almost certainly come from Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, a safety-cornerback hybrid who has received playing time at the slot corner position throughout camp and the preseason. While I'm not a big fan of the Cowboys relying on Alan Ball's cover ability for depth as well, the team seems to be moving forward with the plan of playing multiple safeties each game at multiple positions in each defensive scheme.
I know that after the reports coming from camp about Gordon's playmaking, and his leaping one-handed interception earlier in the preseason, many felt that Gordon was a lock to make the team. After seeing how he performed against actual NFL-level talent in the final two preseason games, I began to wonder if all of the hype was a bit overplayed.
In the end, the ability of Church and McCray to actually contribute on gamedays outweighed Gordon's apparent ability to provide merely mediocre production in a purely depth role.
The defensive line.
I know that Junior Siavii seemingly came alive this preseason when he realized his roster position was in doubt but it was apparent that Josh Brent would make this team nearly three weeks ago. His overall potential far outweighs the ceiling that Siavii has already reached and I highly doubt a nose tackle like Brent would have made it through waivers. You had to be impressed with Brent's combination of speed and power and while he certainly had some issues in college, the Cowboys are raving about how smart a player he's already become.
Brent's ability to provide a pass rush from the inside will also give the Cowboys more versatility along the defensive line in passing situations and could allow them to move Jay Ratliff around a bit. It will be interesting to see how he's used once the season starts.
While some of the BTB faithful might not be surprised that the Cowboys kept Sean Lissemore, you have to wonder if his roster spot might be in trouble if the Cowboys do acquire a player that was cut by another team. Lissemore struggled with an injury during camp and the preseason and was largely unnoticeable; it wasn't until the Dolphins game that he finally started to showcase his abilities.
Lissemore is certainly intriguing and his versatility along the line is valuable. You have to wonder, however, just how much playing time he would get during a game and if he would even be active during games anyway.
Two fullbacks, two tight ends.
There's a fullback on this 53-man roster whose job is still in jeopardy and his name isn't Chris Gronkowski.
I was impressed with Gronkowski's ability to grasp a larger role in the offense after the Cowboys lost John Phillips for the season. Gronkowski showcased an ability to provide the big block up the middle, the speed and power to provide an option in short yardage runs and the hands to be a threat in the passing game. Is he the next Daryl Johnston? Definitely not, but he could provide the versatility from the position that Cowboys would love to use.
With the Cowboys going with just two tight ends initially, the team will be on the lookout for any options that arise after all final roster cuts are announced. If the Cowboys do decide to bring in an extra tight end, then it's Anderson who could be on his way out -- especially when you consider the court date that's just around the corner.
The Cowboys brought in three tight ends after Phillips' injury and none of them provided enough of a good impression to force their way onto the roster. Martin Rucker showed flashes, but he doesn't have the versatility to justify the Cowboys keeping him on the team, even for depth purposes.
In Part 2, we'll look at the more difficult decisions the Cowboys had to make: trading Patrick Crayton and keeping Sam Hurd as well trying to determine what exactly the Cowboys plan to do at nickel linebacker.