State Of The Cowboys Roster: Positions To Watch For During Tonight's Game

Tim Benford and his fellow receivers will try to catch hold of a roster spot on Monday night.

After watching a week's worth of practices, I think we can safely eliminate about 30 of the guys in camp. That leaves roughly 60 of the 90 players who are legitimate contenders for the 53 roster spots. Knowing this can help us to watch the upcoming preseason games more intelligently, focusing on the players who actually have a chance at a roster spot, but also eliminating the roster locks. Let's assume about 40 players have now played themselves onto the roster. In preparing for Monday night's contest, the coaching staff have been mulling over players 40 to 60, so that they can get the deepest, most versatile roster - and, hopefully, one with tremendous upside.

Against the Raiders, therefore, they won't gameplan per se, but will instead focus on creating comparative competitive situations. At a position like receiver, for example, it will be most instructive to see the various candidates play against the same level of competition. Therefore, they will rotate receivers in early and often. Along these lines, they want to see how similar players, like Cole Beasley and Danny Coale, fare in comparable situations. So, we shouldn't be surprised to see Jason Garrett call the same play (for arguments sake, a three-wide formation with one of our guys in the slot) multiple times, so he can create as level a playing field as possible for the sake of accurate comparisons.

When watching the game, therefore, be cognizant of what is important to the coaches. Winning the game? Couldn't matter less. Evaluating players' execution? Of paramount import. The entire coaching strategy will be geared to this evaluation, so that they can determine which 53 players should wear the star on September 5.

So, who are the players likely to receive the most scrutiny? Make the jump to see Rabble's "state of the roster."

I'll go position by position. For each position, I'll list the number of players they are likely to include on the final roster; in many cases, there are more names than there are available spots. To help clarify which players are in, and which are on the bubble, I've placed roster locks are in bold and the rest are in plain text. The guys who pose the most interesting questions are in italics.

Quarterback (2): Tony Romo, Kyle Orton

Running Back (3): DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner, Jamize Olawale

Fullback (1-2): Lawrence Vickers, Olawale (?)

Wide Receiver (5-6): Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes, Raymond Radway, Tim Benford, Cole Beasley, Danny Coale,

Tight End (3): Jason Witten, John Phillips, James Hanna

Offensive line (9-10): Tyron Smith, Nate Livings, Phil Costa, Mackenzie Bernadeau, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, David Arkin, Ronald Leary, Derrick Dockery, Pat McQuistan, Kevin Kowalski

Defensive Line (6-7): Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff, Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lissemore, Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Josh Brent, Clifton Geathers, Rob Callaway, Ben Bass

Linebacker (9-10): DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Anthony Spencer, Dan Connor, Orie Lemon, Victor Butler, Kyle Wilber, Alex Albright, Adrian Hamilton

Defensive Back (9): Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church, Danny McCray, Matt Johnson, Mario Butler

Specialists: Dan Bailey (K); Chris Jones (P); L.P Ladouceur (LS); Charley Hughlett (LS)

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A few thoughts in response to this list:

Numbers game, part I: Including the specialists, there are 63 players on this list. Certainly,the organization can add other names as other teams cut guys, but I don't think anybody not on the list has a chance to make the roster (although several, such as QB Rudy Carpenter, have a shot at a practice squad spot). As it stands now, therefore, the Cowboys will have to trim ten names from this list. Most of these will come from two positions: wide receiver, where three or four of the players on this list will be cut, and defensive line, where the Turk will call from two to four names. Add in the fact that one long snapper will be cut, and you have as many as nine of the ten likely lads.

Numbers game, part II: A perfectly balanced roster has 25 offensive and defensive spots and three more for specialists. Often, however, teams will tilt this in the direction of roster strength. Given the strength and numbers in the front seven, I can envision a scenario wherein Dallas, by keeping two QBs and 5 WR, has only 24 offensive guys and retains 26 defensive players. This would allow then to go deep up front, with eight DL and 9 LB or 7 DL and 10 LB. Right now, I'd rather have Clifton Geathers or Ben Bass than Stephen McGee or Tim Benford.

What appears set: In terms of both "who" and "How many," several positions appear to be solidified. At quarterback, tight end, linebacker, and defensive back, its fairly obvious who is in and who is out. In addition, the numbers at running back appear to be set (the question seems to be who will be the third RB) and, even if they haven't yet played a single snap together, the starting offensive line is clear. Also, I think the specialists are set; I've included Hughlett only because he offers a cost reduction.

Roster hotspots: Other positions are much less determined. The remaining competitive hot spots are wide receiver, where seven players are fighting for thee or four spots, and defensive line, where six guys contend for two or three positions. At receiver, the question is whether any of the youngsters will step up; on the D-line, the coaches must determine whether they want to go with veterans or youth, or some kind of blend.

How many offensive linemen to keep?: On the O-line, the question will be how many to keep rather than who to keep. The starters are pretty well set, but the Cowboys have as many as five potential backups, all of whom play at about the same level. Given that the ninth or tenth offensive lineman on the roster is almost certainly less talented than, say, the eighth defensive lineman, the coaches will have to determine how many (or, more properly, how few) lineman they can get away with without sacrificing talent at other positions (like the front seven)

Its all about versatility: In my training camp reports, I've mentioned that we've seen the coaches play guys at unfamiliar positions, with the idea that they are developing versatility at the bottom of the roster. To wit: Alex Albright has players ILB, OLB and TE; Mario Butler has received snaps at CB as well as safety; we've seen Pat McQuistan at RT, OC and blocking TE; FB Jamize Olawale's role has been expanded to include third-down/ short yardage back (In a tweet on Sunday, KD pointed out that he boasts a "speed score" of 111.6, which is better than first rounders Doug Martin and David Wilson). I'm not sure all of these guys are roster locks (McQ and Olawale are right on the cusp), but a couple of things are clear: the coaches want to find a spot for them, and they want to fill roster spots 48-53 with versatile players.

Interesting cats: Speaking of Olawale, he's one of three guys on the above list whose names I put into italics, which I've reserved for fringe players who probably wouldn't qualify for a roster fashioned according to the standard numbers at each position (which don't typically include a second fullback or a sixth OLB). However, because there's something about each one that intrigues, they make tweaking those numbers worth considering. These guys fall into a couple of different categories: Olawale and Hamilton are luxuries, but they have flashed enough to merit long-term interest (and, in Hamilton's case, are unlikely to clear waivers). Kowalski, on the other hand, has shown us nothing in camp due to injury. But the promise he flashed in 2011 makes it hard to simply dismiss him from their future plans altogether.

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With these considerations in mind, I'm hoping to focus my attention during the game on the roster's problem spots. When the Cowboys have the ball, I'm going to concentrate on the wide receivers; when the defense takes the field, I'll dutifully mark the defensive line play. The optimal scenario, of course, is that the players determine this themselves, preferably by playing well.

Regardless of the score...

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