This is the first part of my two-part roster evaluation post-training camp. I’ll cover the offense in this post, and the defense in the next one with the special teams tacked on at the end. I’m not predicting the 53-man roster yet, because the preseason games will have a lot to do with that, but I’ll give you my opinion of how guys did in camp and their prospects as of right now. Of course, doing this on the eve of the first preseason game is tricky because a few guys who were not great in camp will perform well in the game and I’ll have to start over again. But what the heck, I’ve been wrong before.
Pretty easy one to dissect. Tony Romo is the starter and Brad Johnson is the backup. The question is: Will they carry three QB’s on the active roster? Right now I would say that neither Matt Moore nor Richard Bartel is ready to do anything in real games. Of the two, Moore looked like he had a better grasp on things; he seemed a little more comfortable in finding open receivers and hitting them on occasion. Bartel is more of a risk-taker, he loved to throw long in camp, just not always to the offense, and he threw a lot of picks going deep. Moore is the more polished of the two and has the inside track to stick around, but it may be on the practice squad. Bartel is a big kid with pretty good wheels, but is a major project and would probably take a year or two to even be ready to play in a real game.
The competition between Julius Jones and Marion Barber was a good one. JJ showed more ability in the passing game than he previously had, but that could have been a case of finally getting the opportunity. MB3 is still running hard and looked as good as last year. The only question is how Wade plans to use the two, and it may not be that different from last year, although I get the feeling MB3 will get more opportunities between the 20-yard lines than he did last year.
Tyson Thompson looked fully recovered from his injury and showed some improved jukes to go along with his straight-ahead speed. In my mind, he solidified his hold on the #3 back. Plus, he returns kickoffs. Jackie Battle was impressive for an UDFA. He was more than I expected, and I’m sure the Cowboys would love to hold on to him somehow. Getting that accomplished is the tough part. You might be able to slip him on to the practice squad, but other teams may have their eye on him. And even though he’s a big kid, they didn’t practice him at fullback during camp, so I don’t think they see him as a RB/FB combo. Alonzo Coleman never practiced at camp and I don’t see much hope for him.
Probably the position with the most depth of young, under-the-radar talent. The Cowboys are going to have tough decisions to make after the top four. TNT is going to start, as long as Terry Glenn’s knee injury heals in time, and the Cowboys seem confident of that. Patrick Crayton is still the #3 and Sam Hurd has jumped into a solid #4 based on another outstanding training camp. After that, there’s some question.
Miles Austin is my leading candidate for the fifth spot. He started a little slow at camp, but once he got more reps with Glenn’s absence and Owens’ brief absence, he started making plays. He also returns kicks so he has a second job beside WR, so I’m projecting him as safe. After that is the great unknown. Isaiah Stanback looked great running sprints and standing around throwing mini-footballs 70 yards, but can he play WR? I don’t know, but the Cowboys knew this might be the case when they drafted him so he’ll either find a spot on the roster or they will put him on the injury list for the first six weeks.
After that, Jamel Richardson had a strong second week of camp and has the physical size and ability that you want in a WR. He has a big body that can shield CB’s off the ball and he has decent hands. He made a case to stay, but finding a spot for him will be tough. Jerheme Urban (I finally spelled his name correctly) is going to try and make a case tonight as a punt returner. If he can do that, he goes into the mix as well as Richardson, because he made plays at WR in camp. The kid has ability, but it won’t be enough unless he proves to be an excellent punt return guy. Tonight is big for him. Jerard Rabb has great hands; he caught almost everything thrown his way. He is angling to get on the PS. Jamaica Rector really hurt himself with the knee injury; he just hasn’t shown enough to stick around and is in real danger of leaving. My boy from Georgia Tech, Damarius Bilbo, was switched to WR late in camp and has great physical ability, but isn’t ready to hold a full-time roster spot at WR. Mike Jefferson can get open, but attended Hands-of-Stone University, the guy drops passes, regularly. No chance.
I considered this a wide-open competition going into camp. But Oliver Hoyte ran with the 1st-team almost exclusively at camp, so the Cowboys must think the job is his unless one of the other two showed enough to take it way from him. I don’t think either of them did. At this point, Hoyte is the #1 FB. Lousaka Polite didn’t do anything I didn’t expect in camp, meaning he was OK but nothing that cemented his spot on the roster. He is what he is, to use a former coach’s phrase. But now he faces competition from Deon Anderson who, if nothing else, can help out on special teams. If I had to guess, I think Hoyte is the starter, Anderson is given the chance at #2, and Polite is left out in the cold. But the preseason games will be very important for this group.
Jason Witten and Anthony Fasano are a given. And yes, Fasano had a great camp, catching a ton of balls in the team drills. Beyond those two, I didn’t see anybody who really got you excited. They cut Andy Thorn already. With the crop they have, I can’t see the Cowboys carrying more than three TE’s on the roster. Adam Bergen and Tony Curtis are the two candidates. Bergen was steady throughout camp, and Curtis made a big push over the last couple of days of practice. Right now, I’ll go with Bergen. Rodney Hannah has the body-type you’d kill for in a TE, but is just too raw, I saw him get beat repeatedly blocking at the end of the line. Practice squad material if anything.
We know the starting line; Flozell Adams, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. There are a few guys who will make the roster as backups without question. Rookies Doug Free and James Marten are going to be given time to develop. Pat McQuistan is going to be a primary backup on game day. I think you can lump Cory Procter in that group, who has the flexibility to play center and guard and looked good at camp. That would give you nine linemen right there. Anybody else is really going to have to show something to secure a spot. The two guys who look to have the best shot of making that happen are Joe Berger and Trey Darilek. Berger got a lot of 2nd-team reps at guard and Darilek had some good days in the blocking drills. They would have to have to put together a strong run in preseason games for either of them to secure a spot. Steve Franklin, Matthew Tarullo, and Pete Lougheed are just playing out the string until cut-down days.
That’s a snapshot of where I stand on the roster on the eve of the first preseason game. When you really look at the numbers for a 53-man roster, there are truly only a handful of spots available. The combination of FB’s and TE’s we carry on the roster will influence a lot.
I’ll have the defense evaluation – with special teams - up later today.