There is a lot to watch for when the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in Oxnard. How is the playcalling going to go? Will the 12 formation be used as much as we think? Can Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli work their defensive magic again? Does Tony Romo look ready to silence the critics? What incredibly awkward thing will Jerry Jones say next?
All of it is totally fascinating for us. But for me, at least, some things are more fun than others. And my favorite part of training camp is watching the roster battles among the players who are on the edge. I love to follow the guys on the bubble.
I used to root for them, but due to an unfortunate incident involving the goatmouth (if you don't know about it, I'm sure it will come up in the comments), I now just watch with a totally impartial interest and no mentions whatsoever of things like cats or pets.
Obviously, the bubble players are a limited group of names. We can all name most of the players who have a lock on the roster, and can also go through the list of players headed for Oxnard and cross off several who will not be with the team come September. I wanted to take a look at the ones that I think are still in play this season for the final six to eight roster spots, and who will also be looked at to fill the practice squad. Here is my rundown, by position. The players I think are locks are in parentheses.
Quarterback: (Tony Romo, Kyle Orton) I am not sure there is one here, but I think Nick Stephens has at least a chance of making the practice squad. I did see one or two comments from minicamp where he had a flash or two. But his chance is very marginal here.
Running back: (DeMarco Murray, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar) Phillip Tanner, Kendial Lawrence, and Lawrence Vickers are the players fighting to stick. I think Tanner and Lawrence are going to be in a fierce battle, with Tanner trying to prove he is better than he performed last year. Lawrence is prime practice squad material if Tanner gets on the 53, which might influence how the coaches go here. Vickers is of course competing with the tight ends, and may have the most tenuous position of anyone on the bubble.
Tight end: (Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, Dante Rosario) I don't really think there is one here. I think the Cowboys are going with four, that the top four are pretty evident, and no one else will be needed.
Wide receiver: (Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Dwayne Harris, Terrance Williams) This is one place that there could be a lot of movement. And there are a bunch of names to watch, since there could be six wideouts on the final roster with a couple more making the PS. There are four bubble candidates, I believe, of which at least one will definitely make the team, and conceivable all could be with the Cowboys in some capacity: Cole Beasley, Tim Benford, Danny Coale and Jared Green. It is possible that one of the other names not certain to already have a roster spot could emerge, but based on my limited knowledge, gleaned mostly from following Twitter during OTAs and minicamp, I think those are the top four. Beasley has a leg up from having made the team last year, but he is also vulnerable as essentially the fifth man on the depth chart now. Benford has a year on the practice squad, which helps him. My reaction to Green may be based more on his lineage, but I did see some nice comments about him on the field. I would go into more detail about Coale, but there is a long and tragic history for us, replete with heartache and shattered dreams, that inhibits me. Better to say no more, and summon not the questing fingers of a cruel and capricious fate.
Offensive tackle: (Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell) Darrion Weems and Edawn Coughman should be competing for a PS spot, with Weems striking me as having the better chance. If the Cowboys go with four tackles, he might be the one to make the 53, but that is a long shot.
Center/Guard: (Travis Frederick, Phil Costa) And everyone else is in this hot mess with no guarantees. Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau both have to be considered on the bubble, with Ronald Leary looking very good for a spot on the roster. Based on the reviews, I am almost tempted to call him a lock. David Arkin, Kevin Kowalski, and Ryan Cook are all in the mix. Arkin has an ace in the hole in being PS eligible, and I would not be surprised to see the team try to stash him there as insurance.
Safety: (Barry Church, Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox) Will Allen, Jakar Hamilton, and Danny McCray are fighting for one or two slots behind the top three. McCray may be in trouble, but Hamilton could be stashed if the team still wants McCray's contributions on special teams.
Cornerback: (Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, B.W. Webb) I think Sterling Moore is the main guy here, and his fate mostly depends on the team going with four or five. Xavier Brewer has a small chance at the PS. Maybe.
Linebacker: (Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Alex Albright, DeVonte Holloman) I am not breaking this down between ILB and OLB, because I think some roles are still evolving. Caleb McSurdy, Brandon Magee and Taylor Reed are competing for one or two roster spots and the PS.
Defensive Line: (DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lissemore, Kyle Wilber, Ben Bass) That's eight, and that may be all that are carried. Nick Hayden is hoping they carry nine. Cameron Sheffield may be PS bound.
Specialists: (L.P. Ladouceur, Dan Bailey) I almost had Chris Jones as a lock, but I kept seeing things about how Spencer Benton could not only punt, but could boom kickoffs and also serve as a long-range field goal kicker. Might be a surprise fight here.
That is the way I see the bubble this year. If the name is not here, I am thinking "camp body". Of course, things can change when the pads come on, and some players may really emerge, or fade, when they actually line up against another team.