The Final 53 + 8 - Defense & Special Teams

In my previous FanPost I looked at the Cowboys offense and came up with this depth chart) of 25 players (with the option of cutting Beasley to make it 24 and carrying 26 players on defense):

2 QB Romo, Orton PS G.J. Kinne (former Tulsa QB from Gilmer, Texas currently on PHI roster)
3 RB Murray, J. Randle, K. Lawrence (R-UDFA) (Dunbar)
4 TE/FB Witten, G. Escobar (R), Hanna, A. Smith (Vickers)
6 WR Bryant, Austin, T. Williams (R), Harris, J. Green Beasley
...(if 5 WR PS Benford PUP Coale, or both get PUP'd)
4 OT Smith, Parnell, Free (swing OT), Weems PS E. Coughman (from SEA)
6 OG/OC Leary, T. Frederick (R), Cook, Kowalski (G/C), Costa (2nd OC), Arkin (Livings, Bernadeau)

After looking at it again I'd say Ryan Cook could replace Bernie if he and fellow free agent guard Nate Livings have a date with the Turk this September. The guys with the line-throughs are IMO the players on the hottest of hot seats.

One thing is for certain -- if Leary is healthy, at least one of our 2012 stopgap veterans at OG/OC is likely to be gone when the new season opens. Leary has a strong chance to replace Nate Livings at left guard, if the glowing reports from Bryan Broaddus are accurate (Leary played some Left Tackle at Memphis). I suspect that Darrion Weems could be starting at right guard by the end of the 2013 season if Edwan Coughman comes on at the 4th tackle spot in training camp. Killer K has fewer physical limitations than Costa but there's no denying the team loves his work ethic.

We also know Jason Garrett has expressed some public concern about Bernadeau's three surgeries since coming on board last year, and a commenter has informed me that Bernie is likely to miss the veteran minicamps. That doesn't bode well for Bernie, especially if Weems or Coughman play very well during training camp and the Cowboys keep '5 tackles', one of which is really an extra guard. I'm not sure former Arkansas and Green Bay Packers OL Ray Dominguez makes the practice squad if Dallas keeps two young linebackers on the eight man team. Jared Green could also wind up on the PS if Beasley sticks as the 5th wideout and both Coale and Benford get PUP'd.

Ryan Cook was originally drafted as a right tackle so putting him at right guard would make some sense, despite the 30 year old's limitations in getting to the second level. The Leary/Frederick/Cook lineup inside would give us a lot of beef in the running game, plus Cook's versatility to play any OL position. Our backups would be more quick pull/ toss sweep guys (unless both Killer K and Arkin have added some weight to their 6"4 frames this offseason).

So...that leaves Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli's defense. I don't see so much suspense on that side of the ball, outside of how many safeties the Cowboys decide to keep and the fierce competition for the backup linebacker spots. Much also depends on whether Dallas goes with 24 or 25 on offense and consequently has 26 slots for defenders. For now my bold call is having Jakar Hamilton claim the final safety spot and give Will Allen the boot. I don't think Scandrick gets cut until 2014 as you can never have enough corners according to Kiffin:

5 S Church, Johnson, J.J. Wilcox (R backup KR), J. Hamilton (R-UDFA), McCray PS J. Heath (R-UDFA)

Hamilton beats out Will Allen, who's signed to a cheap one year deal, while McCray gets another year under new special teams coach Rich Bisaccia. Heath as a UDFA from Michigan's Saginaw Valley State U gets a look on special teams as the potential replacement for McCray in 2014.

5 CB Carr, Claiborne, Scandrick (slot), Moore (our veteran backup at FS), B.W. Webb (backup slot/PR)

I think the Cowboys would be less scared of parting with Allen because of Sterling Moore's ability to play free safety in the 4-3, as he did for the New England Patriots before we picked him up. Webb can return punts while Wilcox is the backup kick returner behind Kendial Lawrence and Webb backs up Dwayne Harris. By season's end Webb should be beating out Scandrick for playing time if everything goes according to plan.

6 LB S-Durant, M-Lee, W-Carter (starters)
S2-D. Holloman, M2-Sims, W2-B. Macgee (backups/special teamers)
PS LBs M3-T. Reed (R-UDFA SMU), W3-D. Lacey (R-UDFA W. Alabama) (8 LBs including PS in total)

PUP McSurdy (Achilles)

Not sure Holloman is ready to give another veteran signed for insurance purposes the boot, though I think by the end of 2013 Holloman will be pushing Durant for playing time or claim the starting job if Durant gets hurt. Holloman played strong safety in college before switching to linebacker and thus has some coverage ability, which is why the coaches tried him out at the backup Mike spot during the rookie minicamps.

Macgee didn't get high grades from Bryan Broaddus during the shorts Olympics of minicamps but watch for him at backup Will linebacker when the pads come on. Deon Lacey is very raw while "Tank" Reed seems likely to get caught in the numbers crunch and end up on the practice squad.

2012 7th round draft pick Caleb McSurdy starts training camp on PUP and gets stashed there or released, as converting to fullback is unfortunately no longer an option for him.

5 DE Spencer, Ware, SD2-Ike Igbinosun, WD2-Albright, WD3-Wilber (Hargrove)

Surprise! Big Iggy as we may start calling him around here beats out Ben Bass and the veteran Anthony Hargrove in training camp. Like Jason Hatcher Iggy is also capable of lining up at either DT or DE. The risk of trying to put Bass on the practice squad for one more year of course is that Rob Ryan has some tape of him down in New Orleans, where the Saints need more bodies at 3-4DE -- but I can't see the Boys going more than 5 at either DE or DT and both numbers are kinda high. I think they're justified though by the tempo of Marinelli's defense and need to keep the 'Rushmen' fresh like in the Cowboys D of the Nineties.

I only have Albright ranked ahead of Wilber because of his superior measurables in terms of short area quickness. However, Wilber compared favorably to some of the DEs taken in the mid-rounds of this draft and he did sack RG3 in college. At any rate the Cowboys need to see what they have in him this preseason when he'll finally see some healthy snaps. Wilber and Albright should make the preseason battle for backing up Ware interesting.

5 DT Ratliff-1, Hatcher-3 (starters), Crawford-1, Lissemore-3, Callaway-1 (Lissy and big Rob on running downs)
PS Bass, but most likely gets claimed by New Orleans and we grab another young DT prospect

I'm not sure about the 'technique' designations of our DT rotation. I'm also still confused about whether Crawford is now a DT or will see a lot of snaps at DE too. With Brian Price waived injured (and not placed on IR eligible to return in late season, where each team only has one slot) the primary competition to the top 5 now comes from Bass, Igbonosun and Hargrove.

Again, the above tally brings the defensive number to 26. If I have to choose between cutting Cole Beasley or Brandon Macgee, I think I'll go with the strong safety playing linebacker from Arizona State. Not that Macgee's $70,000 bonus is any guarantee he won't get cut, see Ronald Leary spending most of last season on the practice squad.

Special Teams - just tell me the Cowboys won't keep more than three fulltime special teamers this season.

K Bailey
P Jones (Chris Jones' only competitor is Clemson punter/kickoff specialist Spencer Benton)
LS Ladoceur (maybe next year Charlie Hughlett?)

What do you think BTBers? Would you roll with 24 offense and 26 defense to keep an extra young safety and more D-linemen in the rotation?

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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