I decided to make my mock roster a little bit more interesting by splitting it up into offense and defense, including the practice squad candidates. (Click here to read the defense roster & special teams projections).
When you look at the what the Cowboys were doing in mini-camps, the thing that stands out besides the up tempo is the more power-on blocking scheme the Boys hope (along with the run/pass confusion of two quality tight end sets) improves their dismal running game.
If the Boys can just get the running game to an NFL average or slightly above average level as in 2009 and stay reasonably healthy on both sides of the ball, then there's no question in my mind we're playoff bound.
25 offensive players -- 4 PS players
2 QB Romo, Orton
PS QB currently on another roster
There's usually nothing to say here in most of the mock rosters I've seen, but I decided to throw in either the New York Jets Greg McElroy or the Philadelphia Eagles' G.J. Kinne for the role of our 3rd QB this September to make it interesting. First, because this team is looking for cap savings everywhere, especially from bottom of the roster guys like special teams ace Danny McCray who are on the hot seat, and also from drafting likely successors to Jason Witten and Miles Austin in 2013.
Kyle Orton's cap hit is not excessively large and he's been willing to restructure his contract to give the team some wiggle room. Nonetheless, it would be nice to find a guy in 2013 who might make us keep 3 QBs in 2014 and replace Orton behind Romo in 2015 -- or even in 2014, if we draft a QB.
Does Jason Garrett think that far ahead? I think he does -- and we know that Garrett really liked the former Southlake Carroll star Greg McElroy as a UDFA when he was coming out of Alabama in the 2011 draft and the Jets drafted him late. While McElroy looked terrible in his only start for the Jets last season, the team had already quit by that point anyway and the Jets' talent level at the skill positions has been suspect throughout Mark Sanchez's pro career.
Gilmer, Texas native Kinne lacks McElroy's pocket passer size but has a lively arm and is reportedly in the QB competition mix up in Philadelphia. Our sister site Bleeding Green Nation reports Kinne ran a 4.59 40 at his Tulsa pro day in 2010. But it's not like the Eagles can really keep 5 QBs (assuming Dennis Dixon stays on and draft pick Matt Barkley makes the team), can they?
Perhaps Philly is plotting to trade Nick Foles to Cleveland for a high pick in 2014, in which case we can forget about grabbing Kinne if Chip Kelly keeps 4 QBs. But I suspect McElroy is more likely to stick with the Jets who have virtually no depth at QB than G.J. Kinne is to survive the numbers crunch and Kelly's commitment to developing Barkley.
3 RB Murray, J. Randle (R-Okla. St), K. Lawrence (R-UDFA Missouri)
Joseph Randle's durability in college means the Cowboys can get by with just three backs -- and I think Lawrence beats out Dunbar with superior speed and playmaking ability. Others may argue Dunbar's experience and special teams ability wins out. Much will depend on how well Lawrence does returning kicks. I don't see anyone else at running back but camp bodies, and I wish there were another, bigger UDFA back in camp to replace Phillip Tanner.
4 TE Witten, G. Escobar (R-San Diego St), Hanna, A. Smith (signed to futures contract)
Andre Smith (no not the right tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals) seems to be the forgotten man in the mix at the TE/H-Back position, yet he's big, has better speed than the guys we brought into minicamp, and has been around Valley Ranch longer. (This projection assumes Vickers is cut when the Cowboys decide to go fullback-less Patriots style).
6 WR Bryant, Austin (slot in 3-wides), T. Williams (R-Baylor), Harris (slot/PR), J. Green (KR), Beasley
PS Benford (coming off arthroscopic surgery)
PUP Coale (coming off torn ACL, might not start full speed when training camp begins)
I'm 'cheating' a bit here by stashing Coale on PUP but if he's not full speed to start training camp the Cowboys may shut him down making him PUP eligible. I don't think the Cowboys want to give up on the potential of both Coale and Beasley but Coale has more upside because he's a special teams leader with good speed whereas Beasley throws up a lot when he returns kicks. I like Beasley but unless Dallas goes full Patriots on offense -- and Belicheck would definitely trade his receiving corps for ours -- Beasley just won't get enough looks to justify not playing special teams in 2014.
The surprise of training camp at receiver is Darrell Green's kid number 85 who finally makes us think we're watching what Kevin Ogletree was supposed to be in the utility receiver/return man role. I had resisted carrying six receivers again as opposed to keeping more offensive linemen and only 24 on offense. But Green's performance combined with the surgeries/rehab for Coale and Benford made me go with six.
Naturally more injuries could adjust this projection, both this list includes guys with upside who've shown something not players with great measurables like Carlton Mitchell who've never shown much even in preseason.
4 OT Smith, Parnell, Free (swing OT), Weems (OG/RT)
PS Edwan Coughman (from Seattle)
This is where things get interesting.
I think if it's a dead heat in training camp Parnell gets the nod simply for having more physical upside and nastiness, especially in the run game. Free will likely stick around for one more season simply for lack of depth at the position after taking a pay cut, and seek a job somewhere else in 2014 (San Diego?) after the Boys draft a tackle for depth in the mid-rounds. But why would they draft a tackle if the coaches like the development of Darrion Weems and keep the versatile Coughman on their practice squad? Simple. Weems was a standout run blocker at Oregon who has the size to play guard in the pros, but may lack the quick(est) feet to play right tackle.
With a drafted tackle on the horizon in 2014, moving Weems inside seems like a strong possibility, especially if Ronald Leary seizes the starting left guard job and gives Nate Livings the boot. Garrett and Bill Callahan may decide that another college tackle playing guard is the solution in 2014 when Mackenzy Bernadeau gets cut (see below). Nate Livings not having his contract restructuring submitted is a bad sign, as is Bryan Broaddus saying that Livings may have played even more poorly than the late season version of Bernadeau. (Who cares what PFF says!)
6 Leary (LG), Frederick (OC), Bernadeau (RG), Kowalski (G/C), Costa (2nd OC), Arkin (inactive/back to OT?)
PS Ray Dominguez (from Green Bay) or D.J. Hall (from Jacksonville)
Phil Costa is back and healthy for training camp but probably can't hold up against bull rushers at guard (where conversely, Travis Frederick might struggle in space against the quickest interior rushmen). What to do? Keep him as a back up and dress 7 OL for game days, I guess.
Kevin Kowalski showed flashes of being able to start at both guard or center in 2011 but missed the entire 2012 season with injuries. If he returns to 2011 form I think he easily beats out Ryan Cook in training camp due to superior ability to get to the second level and youth. If Kowalski doesn't step forward then Arkin or Costa may push him off this roster or back to the practice squad, if he's eligible (don't know how many games Kowalski was active for in 2011 but almost none in 2012).
2011 draft pick David Arkin according to Bryan Broaddus has fallen behind 2012 UDFA Ronald Leary in the competition to grab a starting guard spot. Dallas doesn't want to give up on Arkin though because he's very athletic and the team may have an opening at the 4th tackle spot once Free gets cut and/or Weems gets moved inside. Many BTBers have inquired in the comments about why Arkin has been listed as a tackle on some depth charts.
If Arkin hasn't been active for enough games to nullify his PS eligibility, I suppose it's possible Dallas risks exposing him to waivers. But after seeing an injured Bill Nagy get snatched up by the Lions who might use him as their gameday swing guard/center this year, I don't think Dallas will take that chance again. I think they carry 6 interior guys and give Bernie (who still has more versatility and mobility than Nate Livings) one more chance to start or get replaced by mid-season (likely with Weems!).
Despite Bernie's three surgeries since signing with the team last offseason he still may have upside. BTBer Dr. P cites The Dallas Morning News which reports that Bernie is taking karate classes with Livings, Tyron Smith and Jeremy Parnell this offseason. That's a positive side regarding his range of motion -- perhaps the latest surgery wasn't as serious as the previous two operations. Glass half full here!
I have no idea about Ray Dominguez other than that he played at Arkansas and was in camp with the Packers last season -- and that he's huge. Perhaps Palestine, Texas native D.J. Hall can beat him out for the final PS o-line spot.
The bottom line: Dallas replaces three out of five starters from last season's opening day o-line. That combined with better coaching from Callahan's o-line assistant Frank Pollack, plus the young tight ends exploiting mismatches = better rushing, more play action, less pressure on Romo, and more 'hello win column' in 2013.