How Much Can The Dallas Cowboys Develop From Within?

Bill Nagy will be coming back from his injury. How big a role can he and other players already on the roster fill for the Cowboys 2012?

While most of our attention is focused on free agents the Dallas Cowboys might sign, both from their own roster and the rest of the NFL, and which draft prospects they might get, there is a third component to the question of how the team improves for 2012 and that is the younger, developing players already on the roster. A lot of these names are purely untried candidates like Orie Lemon and Justin Taplin-Ross. Those are total unknowns that range from possible help to long shots. But there are several other names that have seen some time on the field or at least as part of the 53-man roster last year. These are players that the coaches have some knowledge of, and who will need to be part of the overall solution. The team can only afford so many free agents and will only have eight draft choices (with the expected supplemental pick and assuming no trades).

So these are young, and in many cases largely untried, players. Some have played significant roles already, while others have been very limited. But all were on the field or the sidelines for the Cowboys at least for part of the season. Who will be there next year, and how much can they be expected to help?


Related: Cowboys Offseason Plan: What To Do, And When To Do It

I like assigning probabilities to things. Here is my list of these players already on the roster, and what I see is the chance each one will be a part of the solution, and how they may fit, for next season.

Opinions for you to take issue with after the jump.

Since there are so many unknowns when we are trying to guess what the coaches may see in players, I am going to just stick with high, medium, and low here. A medium ranking is meant to be right around 50/50. A low ranking as a backup means they are not likely to be on the 2012 roster in my estimation.

I also am going to consider some of the players for both starter and backup jobs, while some will only be looked at in one of the roles. I'm listing them in alphabetical order here, mainly so I hopefully won't leave someone out. I am also not considering special teams value, but just looking at the possible value each might have as a starter or backup on offense or defense, since I am not a huge fan of burning any roster space for someone who is only a special teams warrior.

Alex Albright I don't see him as part of the mix for starting if the team has to replace Anthony Spencer, but he could be a useful backup. However, I am starting to think the team is likely to keep Spencer, based on the latest reports discussing that situation. If they do, Albright's future will largely rest on what the team does in the draft. I would think the team would be looking for OLB/DE talent. And if Spencer does move on, the team is likely to seek free agent help. The end result: Albright will be fighting for a roster spot, and could likely not make it to September.

Probability of being a backup: Low

David Arkin A fourth round, small school project. That makes many cringe. But the team seems to have had a plan to develop hm for a year from the start. The great unanswered questions are what did the team actually see from him in practice last year, and how much can he develop in the offseason? I'm making a guess here, but I think they are pleased with what they have, and he has a role, but will need another season to get to his full potential.

Probability of being a starter: Low

Probability of being a backup: High

Josh Brent I think the team has some expectations from Brent in the nose tackle mix to get the optimum usage out of Jay Ratliff. The body of work is a bit light, but the reviews seem favorable. I think he will step it up, and might even be used as a starter if the team does try to move Rat around more, or go to more of a 4-3 look at times.

Probability of being a starter: Medium

Probability of being a backup: High

Victor Butler We know he is pretty much a lock as a backup, but the question is whether he could become the starter if Anthony Spencer does leave. The read on him seems to be that he is the reverse of Anthony, a very good pass rusher, but not so hot at defending the run and sealing the edge. I don't think he is a good answer here, and the team would look elsewhere if Spencer is gone.

Probability of being a starter: Low

Bruce Carter The team is not quite all in on Carter to become the replacement for Keith Brooking and/or Bradie James. But awfully close.

Probability of being a starter: Very High, or trouble will ensue

Barry Church The team desperately needs better safety play. Yet Church did not see much action, leading me to wonder if he is bumping that ceiling. I just have my doubts about him because of that, but he has a fair chance to hang on in a backup role because the pickings are so slim out there.

Probability of being a starer: Low

Probability of being a backup: Medium

Phil Costa He was probably thrown to the wolves at the beginning of the season, but his performance was improving towards the end. He is not likely the answer at center, but I think he has room to grow. I do think the team will likely seek another answer at starting center, but he is likely a good backup, both at center and guard.

One note: I am looking at the interior offensive line a little differently, because this is the only position group where I am considering 2011 starters. It is just that it seems obvious that there needs to be some major reshuffling in the interior of the line, so Costa and the injured Bill Nagy both are going to be discussed here, since they were thrust into the starting jobs when perhaps they should not have been.

Probability of being a starter: Low

Probability of being a backup: High

Dwayne Harris He looked really good in that one preseason game. Then he just kinda faded away. I think the team is going to keep Laurent Robinson (based on the latest comments from Jason Garrett) and I think the numbers game is going to work against him with the other young wideouts the team has to work with (Raymond Radway, Andre Holmes).

Probability of being a backup: Low

Clifton Geathers Another real question mark. Some seem to have high hopes for him, but if the team gets some more defensive line help in the draft or elsewhere, he may be expendable. I just see him sort of on the bubble, but would love to be surprised.

Probability of being a backup: Medium at best

Kevin Kowalski A bit of a pet cat of mine, I will admit. He did a credible job when called on, and I think he has more ceiling to reach as a center. Just a hunch, but I think he may make some big strides in the offseason and surprise us.

Probability of being a starter: Low

Probability of being a backup: High

Sean Lissemore I think this is his year, plain and simple.

Probability of being a starter: High

Danny McCray Again, the safety position is so weak. I think McCray has more upside than Church, but it is kind of close. Otherwise, the arguments are the same.

Probability of being a starter: Low

Probability of being a backup: Medium

Stephen McGee Ah, another one of the Cowboys so many love to hate. Despite that, the coaching staff seems to like him very much. Perhaps Jason Garrett sees something of himself in Stephen.

Probability of being a backup: High

Bill Nagy Prior to his injury he was not exactly burning the world up, but he was not totally lost, either. The one thing that sticks in my mind is his reputation for bringing a bit of nastiness to the field. In a sense, I look at him and Arkin as a package deal. One of them is probably going to become the starter at one of the guard spots this year. I had Arkin rated as a low for starter, but that is just because I see Nagy ahead of him. I would say the chances expressed as a percentage are 50% Nagy being a starer at one guard slot, 25% Arkin beating him out, and 25% the team having to find another solution, if that makes sense. (My dream scenario is one of them starting and the other backing up, with David DeCastro on the other side of center, a free agent between them, and Costa and Kowalski the other two backups in the middle.)

Probability of being a starter: Medium

Probability of being a backup: High

Jermey Parnell A very raw player, he could be one of the most important backups for the team as a tackle, just because they really need to use free agency and draft choices elsewhere. The team seems pleased with his development. He just has a long way to go.

Probability of being a backup: High

Phillip Tanner A kind of marginal name to include here, because he is pretty much seen as a lock for that third RB spot. But he did not see much time thanks to the injury, so I am mentioning him (and thanks to Archie for the reminder on him).

Probability of being a backup: High

Okay. Now that I have gone through the players I considered candidates for this little exercise, what does it mean? The ones I have a high rating on as either a starter or backup are the ones I think can make a significant contribution to the team, and who should definitely have a roster spot in the fall. There are a couple, like Lissemore and either Arkin or Nagy, who I would strongly hope would take a starting role this fall and provide some upgrade over what the team had last year. I was mostly trying to get a feel for whether some of the issues for the Cowboys might have an internal solution, since there are limited opportunities for bringing in new talent. There are many other names on the roster, but they are more vague hopes than anything else.

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