As the Cowboys are nearing the end of the regular season, thoughts are beginning to turn to what next season's roster could look like. A look at the individual snapcounts accumulated by the Cowboys against the Bengals could offer a glimpse of where some of the holes in that roster may be and where we can expect some fierce roster battles.
That Cowboys raised quite a few eyebrows on Sunday when they substituted Jermey Parnell for Doug Free after just a few snaps against the Bengals. And while it’s too early to say what, if any, significance that move has for either players' future with the Cowboys, it stands to reason that the coaches made a conscious decision at right tackle that may affect the Cowboys’ depth chart heading into the offseason - whenever that may be.
But while the battle for the right tackle spot may have been the most visible one yesterday, it wasn't the only roster battle taking place. Today, like we've done after many previous games, we’ll once again review the snapcounts from Sunday’s game and pay special attention to the potential roster battles that are going on right under our noses. And we'll get started with the offense:
|Cowboys' Offensive Snapcounts vs Bengals
Right tackle: Based on the snapcounts above, calling this a battle may be a bit early. Doug Free had 58 of the 72 offensive snaps, Jermey Parnell only had 15. Having said that, there's no denying that a starter was pulled for a younger and cheaper guy, and that’s a pretty clear message, or as Garrett said in today's press conference: "Both guys responded well to the opportunities they got."
3rd Wide receiver: For the first time all season, Dwayne Harris recorded more snaps than Kevin Ogletree in the same game, as Harris came in with 35 snaps to Ogletree's 13. When Ogletree was out against the Redskins with a concussion two weeks ago, Harris showed that he could shoulder a full load by taking 68 offensive snaps. It may be too early to declare a winner in this one, but it looks like Harris may have pulled ahead in this race. Notably absent yesterday: Cole Beasley
Any running back not named Murray: The Cowboys may well let Felix Jones take his talents elsewhere next season. Phillip Tanner has played a grand total of three offensive snaps since the Atlanta game in Week 9, and hasn't seen the field at all on offense over the last four games. Tanner could potentially get a chance to show what he's got in training camp next year, but don't count on it. And Dunbar doesn't appear to be a viable option either, at least judging by his snapcount - he's had two offensive snaps in the last two games.
It's possible that the Cowboys could enter the offseason with DeMarco Murray as the only viable player at running back, which would make running back a priority target in free agency and/or the draft.
Center: Cook took all the snaps at center once again, and with Costa now on IR, that's likely to remain the case until the end of the season. But next year should see Costa, Bernadeau, Kowalski and Cook compete for the starting spot. The more, the merrier.
On to the defense:
|Cowboys' Defensive Snapcounts vs Bengals
|Defensive Tackles||Defensive Ends||Outside Linebackers||Inside Linebackers||Cornerbacks||Safeties|
ILB: When a street free agent comes in and consistently gets more snaps at your position than you do, your days are likely numbered. Ernie Sims played 58 snaps, Dan Connor was only in on 24. With Carter and Lee back healthy next year, the third guy will be relegated to backup duty. The way things are going right now, that guy will be Sims, not Connor.
Defensive End: For a team that prides itself in its rotation along the defensive line, the picture above is downright scary. The injured Coleman may or may not return next season, there are big questions at nose tackle with Ratliff's health status, and despite a lot of early laurels, neither Crawford nor Lissemore have yet proven that they are the future on the D-line. Do not be surprised if the Cowboys go after a defensive lineman on the first day of the draft.
Safety: It's not fully clear - to me at least - how much of McCray's deficiencies as a pass defender are due to the shoddy ILB play in front of him. Fact is that Eric Frampton has upped his snap count to 25 from 17 last week, and prior to that Charlie Peprah had seen up to 38 defensive snaps before his injury. With Barry Church and Matt Johnson returning healthy next season, safety may turn out to be one of the most tightly contested positions on the roster. And that's a welcome change at the position.