I had been waiting until the completion of minicamps/OTAs to release my projected 53 man roster and practice squad, but I decided after the Sean Lee injury that Dallas could again go heavy with 27 players on D and only 23 on offense.
Here's who I have now making the cut:
Offense 23 (2 QB, 4 RB, 4 TE/FB, 5 WR, 8 OL) - All Rookies in Bold, Rookie Starters in Italics
2 QB Romo, Weeden
4 RB Murray, Williams#, Dunbar, Randle
4 TE/FB Witten, G. Escobar, Hanna, J. Copeland (R-UDFA LSU)
5 WR Bryant, T. Williams, D. Street (R5-Pittsburgh) (slot1), Harris, Beasley (slot2)
4 OT T. Smith, Free, Parnell (gameday swing OG/OT), Weems (OG/RT)
4 OL Leary, T. Frederick, Z. Martin (R1-Notre Dame), Bernadeau (G/C)
I really think this team needs a battering ram fullback for short yardage situations and the though of Copeland catching a swing pass and rumbling towards the end zone with only a DB or two trying to stop him makes me smile. I think Copeland can beat out Tyler Clutts provided he shows up in camp in shape not overweight.
James Hanna and Jeremy Parnell are perhaps the only two players on the roster whose experience and contracts make them attractive as trade bait, but I'm assuming we don't trade either one as Parnell is too good of insurance to give up for anything less than a 5th rounder at swing tackle position -- even if Parnell walks for right tackle starter money next year. The Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans seem like teams that could be interested in Parnell's services in the trade market, while the Patriots and Saints might both find uses for Hanna in their offenses. Whether Parnell or Hanna could be part of a trade that would package late round picks with a 2nd year or rookie linebacker for Dallas is also an interesting question.
John Wetzel who was signed to a futures contract off the Oakland Raiders cuts and Bloomsberg center/guard Brian Clarke is one of Bryan Broaddus' "dark horses" to make it as the eighth and final offensive lineman on the roster with 7 of these active on gamedays. I would give Clarke the edge as he has more versatility than Wetzel who looks like a right tackle or guard in the NFL. Clarke appears to be the only other potential backup center besides Bernadeau, though the newly signed Tyronne Green and Ronald Patrick could see some training camp snaps at center. Clarke also showed off impressive strength at his pro day -- enough to develop into a backup center next season.
Receivers -- Keeping Beasley Around Without Keeping Six on the 53
I don't see the team shaking up the receiver corps or carrying six there given their desire to see what Ryan Williams can do at tailback while keeping Randle and Dunbar in the mix. Scott Linehan is far more likely to carry 4 true running backs than Bill Callahan did in 2013 if Linehan's past coaching stops in Minnesota and Detroit are any indicator. Given Murray's injury history and Randle's nose for the goal line I think Randle sticks around for one more year pending the Cowboys finding a better back in next year's draft while re-signing Murray.
The backup QB job is Brandon Weeden's to lose at this point as Caleb Hanie seems unlikely to push him for it and Dustin Vaughn can be stashed on the practice squad to gain more NFL experience.
Defense 27 (10 DBs, 7 LBs, 10 DL) STG = Special Teams Gunners
5 S Church-SS/WLB, J.J. Wilcox-FS, Heath (STG), Johnson-FS2, A. Dixon (R7c-Baylor)
5 CB Carr, Claiborne, Scandrick (slot), T. Mitchell (R7e-Oregon), B.W. Webb (slot2)
7 LB Wilber-SAM, Holloman-MIKE, Carter-WILL
Durant-S2, A. Hitchens (R4-Iowa)-M2, W. Smith (R7b-Texas Tech)-W2, Lemon (ST)
5 DE Crawford (SDE), D. Lawrence (R2-Boise St), Selvie, Mincey, B. Gardner (R7a-Stanford) (SDE)
5 DT McClain#1t, Melton#3t, K. Bishop (7d-N. Illinois) 1t2, Bass (SDE), 3t2, D. Coleman (R-UDFA Arizona St) 1t/3t
Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP)
The Revamped Rushmen
Going with 27 on defense may seem excessive or based on grasping for depth given last year's injury parade. But I think it has more to do with the fact that our rushmen like Coleman or cornerback Terrance Mitchell are more likely to be claimed off our practice squad than our 3rd string offensive linemen. Ben Bass' versatility and ability to play SAM end beats out Amobi Okoye, who might start training camp on PUP with the undisclosed health issue that kept him from being signed when this team badly needed bodies at DT last season. Tyrone Crawford is listed here as the starting SAM DE until proven otherwise in training camp with George Selvie coming in on 2nd or 3rd downs when Crawford slides to 1. Rookie Ken Bishop beats out Nick Hayden for the run stuffing backup nose 1-tech DT spot with Coleman's ability to play both positions (in effect backing up Terrell McClain) and rookie contract working in his favor.
The odd man out in the secondary is Sterling Moore, whom the Cowboys coaches never seem high on or willing to move to nickle safety. Jakar Hamilton is probably PS bound for the second year if he's eligible after getting some regular season snaps last year.
The one 'surprise' I have is keeping 7 linebackers and the Cowboys bringing back a familiar face in Orie Lemon who hasn't shined but has played decently enough to keep a spot on special teams. I looked at Brandon Magee as a possibility to bring back after last year's training camp but Magee never really impressed last year. This offseason he's buried so far on the Cleveland Browns depth chart after the Browns acquired more inside linebackers in free agency and the draft that he's reportedly trying out with minor league baseball.
At any rate a young linebacker from another team's stacked roster could get picked up, per Bryan Broaddus' column today. Broaddus believes that former South Carolina safety DeVonte Holloman is the best man for the Cowboys MIKE LB job with Iowa rookie Anthony Hitchens as his back up. I doubt the Cowboys roll with three rookie linebackers on the roster this year in total after saying goodbye to Cameron Lawrence who was terrible in coverage last season. Texas Tech Will/Mike linebacker Will Smith should have plenty of opportunities on teams and late in preseason games to impress the coaches. If or when Anthony Spencer returns from PUP in mid-season the 7th linebacker who's likely to be Lemon gets cut.
The only change I see on special teams is at long snapper with L.P. Ladoceur's long discussed retirement. Ahmad Dixon and Jeff Heath are your bookend gunners on kickoffs and punts. I think Heath will be a special teams captain but the team will try to start Matt Johnson over him should we roll with Barry Church as the Will linebacker in nickel situations while Wilcox and Johnson complete our version of the New York Giants 3-safety looks from Big Blue's last Super Bowl run.
Changing Up the Defensive Looks
Given the inexperience at linebacker and his success in the first Eagles game last year I definitely think using Church closer to the line of scrimmage 'in the box' makes too much sense not to try. It creates a slight wrinkle in the otherwise vanilla coverages opposing QBs have seen with the Tampa 2 or Cover 3. The only question is in which looks will we roll with 3 safeties or just two with Wilcox single high and a third corner on the field in Scandrick or Claiborne. UPDATE: It appeared based on Bryan Broaddus tweets of Saturday, May 31 that the Cowboys were experimenting with Bruce Carter at the SAM rather than WILL linebacker spot. If this is so kudos to the coaches for trying something different that would enable Carter to shine as an outside pass rusher with fewer coverage responsibilities to break down -- eg just let him run and go hit people. Such experimentation also suggests the Cowboys would prefer to keep Holloman outside and let him take over as the Will next season if Carter signs with another (likely the 3-4 Saints or Falcons cough cough) team.
Bottom of the Roster Receivers -- Competing for Slots Somewhere Else
LaRon Byrd a raw 24-year-old receiver the Cowboys signed after he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals has intriguing size/speed that may see him getting claimed off waivers as a special teamer come September. The Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers all appear likely to be scanning the list of WRs after final cuts Labor Day weekend and Byrd or Vanderbilt rookie Chris Boyd could land with one of those teams. Boyd would appear to be the better prospect than Byrd despite being a step or two slower as other BTBers have pointed out his outshining Vandy teammate Jordan Matthews in the red zone. Boyd also had a pre-draft visit with the Atlanta Falcons and several other teams that would be willing to take a second look on their practice squads so I doubt he sticks around.
1 K Bailey
1 P Jones
1 LS C. Kreiter (R-UDFA Iowa)
Prospects for the Future -- Skill Positons and Tampa 2 DBs
The practice squad is led off by Dustin Vaughn, Ben Malena and L'Damian Washington as a rookie trifecta of QB/RB/WR. Baylor tight end Jordan Navejar completes the rookie set at the offensive skill positions, as Navejar develops strength as a blocker while maintaining his smooth route running. I really like LDW's speed and long term potential but unless he shines in preseason I doubt he'll force the Cowboys to keep six wide receivers, especially since LDW has a very thin frame that allows CBs to jam him at the line and forces him to rely more on quickness. LDW has a very compelling life story and speed to burn for a 6"4 man so I think he sticks on the PS. Brian Clarke at center and John Wetzel at tackle complete the offensive prospects on the PS.
The training camp/preseason battles between former Oklahoma State Cowboy Patmon, Tarleton State's Dashaun Phillips and 2nd year corner B.W Webb should be interesting. Phillips has quick feet, long arms for his size and nine inch hands ideal for picking off throws. If Phillips' play is consistent with his D2 college tape he will probably will gain ground on Tyler Patmon in training camp. In addition to Phillips, Patmon is also competing for a PS spot with the more experienced Jakar Hamilton and that may send him to another NFL team's PS
or back to his family's insurance business after final cuts.
Practice Squad - 6 Offense, 2 Defense
1 QB D. Vaughn (R-UDFA W. TAMU)
1 RB B. Malena (R-UDFA Texas A&M)
1 WR L. Washington (R-UDFA Missouri)
1 TE J. Navjar (R-UDFA Baylor)
1 OC/OG B. Clarke (R-UDFA Bloomsberg)
1 OT J. Wetzel (FA OAK)
1 CB D. Phillips (R-UDFA Tarleton St)
1 S Hamilton
Claimed Off Cowboys PS
WR Byrd* (CLE)
Chris Whaley completes the list of Cowboys (hopefully) stashed on injured reserve along with Sean Lee.
DT C. Whaley 3t (R-UDFA Texas) (ACL)
LB Lee (ACL)