We've got a few good camp battles going for starting positions, Colombo and Fabini at RT; possibly Davis vs. Watkins at FS, and to a lesser extent Gurode vs. Johnson at C, although it looks like Gurode has wrapped that one up. We've got the faux QB battle of Bledsoe vs. Romo, which isn't a battle at all, and we've got JJ vs. MB3, but that one is mainly about the amount of playing time that each will get.
But one battle is the best of them all, and its taking place not at the top of the depth chart, but down at the bottom. Who will end up making the 53-man roster at WR? This one is very interesting because each candidate has good and bad points and Parcells is still undecided, meaning the last two preseason games become that battlefield for the candidates to settle the question.
Let's set up the parameters. First, I'm taking it as a given that Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn will be the starters (yes, I'm assuming Owens' hammy will heal enough for him to be there on opening day). I've already given this duo the nickname "TNT" (for Terrell and Terry) because together they form the most explosive duo in the NFL at WR. I'm also assuming that Patrick Crayton's ankle will heal enough for him to return as the #3 guy.
After that is where the fun begins. Sam Hurd, Jamaica Rector, Terrance Copper (who should have a t-shirt made up saying "It's COPPER, not COOPER" for announcers), Skyler Green and Miles Autsin round out the field of hopefuls. J.R. Tolver, LaShaun Ward and newly signed Damarius Bilbo (even though he's my homeboy from Georgia Tech) realistically are fighting just for a spot on the practice squad.
One element that makes this almost impossible to predict is whether Parcells will carry five or six receivers on the 53-man roster. So in the spirit of completeness, I will examine both scenarios.
In either the 5 or 6-man scenario, I'm putting Sam Hurd in the #4 slot. I admit to developing a rooting interest in this kid because of my time at training camp. From the first week I thought he had something special and started writing about it, so I felt like part of his "discovery". But putting aside my personal feelings, the facts back up the #4 spot. With the injuries to the WR's, Hurd has been used by Parcells on the 1st team in both preseason games. Even in camp, before Crayton got hurt, Parcells had elevated Hurd to the 1st team over Crayton on occasion. In the preseason games, Hurd has not disappointed, catching 7 balls for roughly 70 yards and a TD, those are good numbers for the limited playing time the 1st team gets. The downside of Hurd is the flaw in his catching style that Parcells has mentioned, though he's working to correct that. His real issue is special teams, where the Cowboys are trying to work him in but Parcells has said he's lost so far, even blocking his own teammate, Nate Jones, on one play instead of the opposition. With a little time, he probably can improve his play on those units and the production he's given in his natural position should be plenty of ammunition to break in as the #4.
After Hurd, it gets a lot trickier. Skyler Green was drafted in the 4th-round for one purpose, to spark the return game on punts. This is an area that has always fascinated the Tuna, in practice he pays close attention when they run the punt drills, going so far as to personally tutor the players on technique. Parcells isn't afraid to keep a guy on the squad for the sole purpose of being a punt returner, although he will ask them to help on other special teams. Think Zuriel Smith a couple of years ago. So far, Green has been given the chore of returning every punt in the preseason and a few kickoff returns, but he's yet to dazzle; his performance can be described as mediocre to weak. Still, Parcells wants him to succeed and will probably give him a chance to succeed through this year, so I'm penciling him as the #5 WR who's really a special teams specialist.
So if the Tuna sets the demarcation line at five, Hurd and Green complete the WR roster. But I'm leaning toward him keeping six WR's, leaving one more spot to fill. The battle is joined by Rector, Copper and Austin. Let me dismiss Austin now. Yes, he did catch the long TD against the Saints, but in reality that was nothing special. The real success of that play was the pump-fake by Romo which the inexperienced Saints CB bit on, leaving Austin with nothing to do but catch the ball and run down the sideline. In the first weeks of camp Austin wasn't doing much, although reports were that in the 3rd week he was making a charge. Too little, too late in my mind, leaving him as a practice squad candidate.
That brings us to the two real candidates for the 6th and final spot; Jamaica Rector and Terrance Copper. Comparing the two in practice at camp and in the preseason games, Rector is the more skilled receiver. He has quickness over Copper and he has shown the ability to make the tough catches. If Parcells is looking for a true receiver in the 6th spot then Rector has the edge. In Terrance Copper, Parcells has a player that he knows and he knows what he's going to get. A consistent performer on special teams over the last few years, Copper has a ceiling on what he can do in the passing game. Here's a new element working against Copper, Pat Watkins and Abram Elam have shown some good skills on special teams and could man some of the same positions as Copper. Watkins is a lock for the 53-man roster and Elam is making a serious push and while not a lock, all signs point to him making it. That leaves Copper vulnerable.
In the end, if Parcells goes with 6 WR's, I'm giving the edge to Rector. With the problems of injury we are having with some of the top WR's on the roster, Parcells needs some backups who can get on the field at WR and make something happen. That sounds like Hurd and Rector, so they are my choices.
Final prediction: Parcells keeps 6 WR's including Green who is more of a return specialist. The depth chart will read Owens, Glenn, Crayton, Hurd, Rector and Green as specialist. Mark it down, set it in stone, and then laugh in my face when Parcells proves me an idiot in a couple of weeks.