Every year at about this time across 32 NFL training camps, a surreal phenomenon occurs: late round draft picks and players who were not considered good enough to be drafted are suddenly elevated to the status of potential future NFL stars, and if not that, at least potential starters. And that's cool. After all, rooting for the underdog is as American as apple pie or the fourth of July.
The Cowboys have quite a good history with their undrafted players, and not just with the stars like Tony Romo or Miles Austin. Of the 64 players on the 53-man roster at some point last season, 24 were not drafted, including eight rookie undrafted free agents who made the team at some point last year (Church, Costa, Gronkowski, Holley, McCann, McCray, Miller, Sendejo).
In Dallas, the Cowboys fan base has anointed small school prospect and fourth-round pick David Arkin as the savior of the offensive line. Undrafted free agents Orie Lemon and Alex Albright will apparently give the Cowboys unrivaled depth at linebacker. Lyle Leong and Raymond Radway are being touted as the next Miles Austins. Kicker Kai Forbath has not made a single kick, yet many consider him to be the favorite to land the kicking spot on the team. And the list goes on and on.
But to make the team, each one of these players will have to displace a veteran. After the break we look at some of the more established names who might be on the roster bubble.
Jon Kitna: Making the playoffs this year is going to be hard for the Cowboys, any way you look at it. If Tony Romo goes down for any length of time, the team is not making the playoffs, so they might as well go with McGee as the backup. Kitna's arm is not getting better with age, and he already had a great deal of trouble throwing outside the numbers and 11+ yards down the field. Why prolong a decision that's bound to happen soon anyway?
Igor Olshansky: The Cowboys just released a depth chart that has Igor at number one at the left defensive end spot, which probably means that Igor is not getting cut anytime soon. And perhaps Ryan's defense calls for a lot of rotation at defensive end, but how many defensive ends will the Cowboys keep on their roster? They just signed three free agents and have two young DEs in Sean Lissemore and Clifton Geathers who've been doing very well in camp. It's highly unlikely the Cowboys will cut Olshansky, but would they decline a trade offer?
Tashard Choice: At the end of the day, Tashard Choice just doesn't fit the template for the type of running back Jason Garrett is looking for. What Garrett wants is a versatile back. In addition to running the football, a back in Garrett's system needs to be productive as a receiver, a good blocker and must excel at picking up blitzes. Tashard Choice is a very good runner, but Felix Jones, DeMarco Murray and even Lonyae Miller are the more versatile backs. The question is, does Choice have any trade value?
Jesse Holley: If Jesse Holley makes the team, it will be via the intervention of Joe DeCamillis who wants him back for his special teams. Reports so far from Holley out of camp do not appear to warrant a roster spot as a receiver. Note to Leong and Radbury: if you want to make the team, you'll need to beat out Holley on special teams.
Brandon Williams: While Alex Albright is making all sorts of noise as a pass rusher in camp, there's hardly a whisper about Williams so far. Also, it cannot bode well that Alex Daniels, who joined the team as a fullback and was then moved to DE, has now been moved to OLB.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: Reports out of camp have been very mixed on AOA. Some observers see progress while others see nothing. No one will argue that AOA had a tough time so far, missing most of last year's preparation due to a shoulder injury, then getting hurt in the season and missing valuable time due to the lockout, which is particularly hard for the Division II prospect who still has to get used to the speed of the game. There is no questioning his athleticism, but the question becomes whether AOA was brought in because somebody fell in love with his athleticism on tape, just as it had happened with Jason Williams before.