For those of you who may be new to BTB, welcome. For those who've been around much longer than me, I promise this will be a (not novel-length) FanPost of the position battles that begin as early as this week when rookies and injured players report on Wednesday.
We start, right after the jump, with the most scrutinized position battle on offense -- particularly now that Dez Bryant is going through legal troubles off the field -- the competition for the 3 to 4 roster spots behind Dez and Miles Austin.
The contenders, in my order of their likelihood of making the final cut (links to their Pro Day stats, where available):
3) Andre Holmes (whom I agree is probably a lock unless he disappears in preseason games) 6"5 nearly 220 pounds
Barring the signing of an uninspiring (Mike Simms-Walker/Mike Williams) or aged veteran who wore out their welcomes in Dallas and New York, Holmes is the top contender to step into the Laurent Robinson role of outside or X receiver while Miles Austin works the slot this season. I'm partial to Holmes because I've always wanted the Boys to have a really big target down in the red zone for toss sweeps or back shoulder passes from Romo -- and did I mention Holmes is from Chicagoland and has a very athletic family?
4) Danny Coale versus Cole Beasley -- AKA the Slot Guys - Coale apparently has the inside track despite the fact that he won't be ready for the start of training camp [UPDATE Coale has officially been placed on PUP during training camp, but that doesn't mean he's headed for the six week PUP when the regular season starts]. Remember this guy tore it up against slightly tougher ACC competition than Beasley faced at SMU in Conference USA. Coale can also serve as an emergency punter like he did at Virginia Tech.
However unexpected setbacks in his rehab from a broken foot during training camp combined with Beasley being too darn impressive in preseason could see Coale stashed on the six week PUP to open the season. However, I would caution Beasley/"Rudy" fans that he'd better be able to show off some moves and speed in the return game if he wants to make this team.
5) Dwayne Harris versus Salim Hakim/Tim Benford/Donovan Kemp/Kevin Ogletree - obviously this is where the wideout competition will be at its fiercest, particularly since the Cowboys seem unlikely to carry two receivers on the practice squad, and might consider stashing Raymond Radway there (or more likely on injured reserve) as he appears not fully recovered from a broken leg suffered in the final game of the preseason in 2011.
Unfortunately for the contenders there won't be too many snaps in preseason for any of this bunch to distinguish themselves
if Coale and Beasley both get an extended look. Hakim and Benford (whom Broaddus says the Cowboys had a sixth round grade on, similar to Harris in the 2011 draft) appear unlikely to make it except to the practice squad. Harris kinda disappeared after making a big splash in the preseason against the Broncos last year. But Bryan Broaddus says Harris has regained some of the speed he showed in college and that's why I give the veteran Pirate from Eastern Carolina the inside track for the fifth receiver slot, over Kevin Ogletree.
6) Sixth wide receiver spot versus keeping Lance Dunbar or another 4th running back -- see above. The only way this team could keep six wide receivers and four running backs is if one of the displaces special teams gunner/'cornerback' Teddy Williams. That implies someone who's fast who can also deliver a pop downfield. Hakim's YouTube highlight reel includes lotsa instant tackles as a special teams gunner which is how -- along with taking at least one preseason kick to the house -- I can see him forcing the Boys to carry six WRs instead of trying to clear him through waivers. An injury or showing unexpected return skills is the only way I see Donovan Kemp making the 53 or even the practice squad.
Who are the backups behind free agent starters Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau? And could we see Bernie stashed on the six-week Physically Unable to Perform list? Let's hope not. We'll be able to start surmising later this week based on his activity with the trainers how far along Bernie is in rehab from offseason hip surgery [UPDATE Bernie is officially starting camp on PUP]. Hopefully Bernadeau will be almost 100% by the time we face the New York Giants at the New Meadowlands on September 5th.
4th, 5th, 6th OG/OC Kowalski/Nagy/Arkin -- Kowalski has been touted to me by other commenters as a guy who has yet to hit his 'ceiling' at 6"4 300 pounds, with a frame to tack on a few more kilos, whereas keeping 2011 7th round pick Bill Nagy may require cutting ties (prematurely in my opinion) with 4th round pick David Arkin...unless the Boys cut Costa or roll with six interior linemen and go lighter at linebacker (3 ILB) or safety (4 FS/SS).
Much depends on whether the team signed Pat McQuistan to keep on the final 53 for the season. Perhaps the FO believes it can keep a backup rookie right tackle (Levi Adcock?) on the practice squad with Jeremy Parnell as the backup swing tackle like last season. If Arkin can snap the football and play center this preseason would be an ideal time to show off those skills and more "anchor strength" after a full offseason with conditioning coach Mike Woicik. Heck, even Harland Gunn from Miami Hurricane U might have an outside shot if he can play center.
UDFA Ronald Leary is not listed as being in the thick of the competition above, as I have him almost a lock to make the team. That means he could take Arkin or Nagy's spot (or force the team to cut both and try to stash one of them on the PS and bump Adcock or another player off the PS).
(Note: Unless you're totally new to BTB's comment threads, you're probably painfully aware the coaches like Costa more than BTB does after last year's bad snaps and early season manhandling by mammoth Patriots defensive linemen...)
3rd RB Phillip Tanner versus Lance Dunbar, and 4th RB Lance Dunbar versus a sixth wide receiver. Tanner is viewed as more of a between the tackles guy whereas Dunbar is viewed as a smaller, shiftier back for the NFL. Yet he's also been one of North Texas most productive rushers of all time -- at the same school that cranked out Patrick Cobbs and other work horse runners. If Tanner shows us the same flashes as he did last preseason, Dunbar's best chance to avoid waivers and the practice squad may be to take a punt to the house in an exhibition game.
3rd TE James Hanna -- a fast 6th round pick from Oklahoma who slid to the next to last round with not so great hands -- versus some guy not yet on the roster (and possibly on the San Diego Chargers roster). Nuff said.
Rudy Carpenter versus keeping only two QBs and/or keeping a developmental guy like G.J. Kinne on the practice squad only. Nuff said. We'll get a long look at Rudy in the late 2nd and 3rd quarters of the preseason with plenty of opportunities playing alongside Beasley, Coale or Holmes to outshine Stephen McGee.
Now that Gerald Sensabaugh's knee scope appears to be no big deal...
2nd S Brodney Pool versus his $2
million cap hit 1.2 million cap hit [h/t I Am Ironman1] and third year UDFA strong safety/dime linebacker Barry Church. I agree with the commenters who suggest 4th round pick Matt Johnson is likely a lock to make this team and the Boys will be loathe to part with their best special teamer Danny McRay. 2010 4th round pick Akwasi Onsuh-Ansah and former Baltimore practice squad safety Manu Silva and VaTech alumni E.J. Whitley all appear to be on the outside looking for a practice squad spot. Since AOA is ineligible, that means the competition boils down to Silva versus Whitley, mostly bringing it on special teams this preseason. That likely means they're competing with Teddy Williams and Salim Hakim for the kickoff/punt gunner slot opposite McRay.
One guy I left out of the first draft of this screed was Justin Taplin-Ross, mainly out of ignorance. According to this post by CotySaxman, 'JTR' has off the charts physical ability at 6"3 215 to match up with the faster tight ends in the league. But he also has a very thin collegiate highlight reel at Utah compared to Matt Johnson's at Eastern Washington or other more polished prospects.
This is really one competition, since Alex Albright as a tweener is likely fighting rookie inside thumper Caleb McSurdy and the other UDFA ILBs on the roster for a job. 3rd OLB Victor Butler apparently has the inside track with his impressive snaps last season and seasoning in Rob Ryan's defense.
That leaves the competition for 4th OLB between 4th round pick and likely lock Kyle Wilber, Prairie View A&M small school sack machine Adrian Hamilton, and Alex Albright versus keeping a 4th inside linebacker like Caleb McSurdy (survey says: he's practice squad bound), Orie Lemon or Isaiah Greenhouse. (Like McSurdy, Greenhouse appears willing to play backup fullback in a pinch if he makes the 53 -- don't forget about how much Jason Garrett values positional versatility).
As good as Dan Bailey was last year he only faces serious competition if he comes down with a bad case of Nick Folk - itis. I don't see that happening.
Mat McBriar versus his drop foot - hopefully it's no contest, since if he's healed he easily beats out last year's punter Chris Jones! [UPDATE: Say it ain't so -- McBriar has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, making the competition between Chris Jones and Delbert Alvarado].
L.P. LaDouceur has held off the competition this long , I don't see him going anywhere just so the team can get cheap and try to shave $400,000 off the salary cap.
Phew! All of that in just over
1,500 1,600 words! Enjoy the start of training camp! Be sure to check out Tom Ryle's in-depth descriptions of the training camp battles by position!
Which player is most likely to flash their skills in the return game during the preseason?
Salim Hakim (44 votes)
Cole Beasley (33 votes)
Danny Coale (11 votes)
Teddy Williams (4 votes)
Lance Dunbar (40 votes)
Isaac Madison (1 vote)
Lionel Smith (0 votes)
Morris Claiborne -- what is he doing returning kicks in preseason? (9 votes)
Dwayne Harris (25 votes)
Tim Benford -- who knew he was that fast? (6 votes)
Donovan Kemp -- he's underrated (4 votes)
177 total votes