I've decided to forgo the "traditional" 53-man roster prediction this week, instead opting to take a look at the younger players that have likely earned a spot on the team already, those that are on the bubble and those that are facing the Turk come next week.
With just one preseason game left and less than two weeks before the official start of the season, the Cowboys will have to go from 75 players down to 53 by Saturday; not much time to make 22 cuts after the game against Miami.
Continuing our discussion from yesterday on the remaining position battles for the Dallas Cowboys, we now turn to the defense where things start to get a bit more tricky.
After the jump, I take a look at the players fighting for a roster spot and what I believe to be their standing heading into Thursday night's game. I've left out the obvious choices to make the team; no sense in discussing Anthony Spencer here. I've also listed who I believe the Cowboys should target for the practice squad.
On the bubble - Junior Siavii, Josh Brent
Here comes the Turk - Marcus Dixon, Sean Lissemore, Jimmy Sadler-McQueen
Thursday's game is going to be a battle in the trenches as both Siavii and Brent are likely fighting for the same roster spot. Brent has been more than impressive, showing uncanny skill in his ability to track a play downfield while displaying quickness and power both against the run and the pass. Siavii, meanwhile, has responded to the challenge posed by Brent with easily the best preseason of his career. The Cowboys will have a tough choice to make between the two, especially considering Brent's potential and the unlikeliness of sneaking him onto the practice squad.
For the rest of the defensive line, nothing has shown us this summer that Jason Hatcher or Stephen Bowen are going anywhere anytime soon. With the defenses the Cowboys roll out, going into the season with four defensive ends will be more than enough.
Safe - Victor Butler, Brandon Williams
On the bubble - Steve Octavien
Here comes the Turk - Curtis Johnson
You almost have to feel for Victor Butler and Brandon Williams. Here are two very capable, potentially dangerous outside linebackers and they'll be lucky to get five snaps per game once the regular season starts. Wade is going to try and get Ware and Spencer some time off, but I doubt Ware will ever miss more than two or three plays a game this season. Still, it's a nice luxury to have two quality backups at those positions. It also opens up the playbook a bit for Wade, as he now has some dangerous options to unleash in obvious passing situations.
Steve Octavien is a good special teams guy and an okay backup option. He's on the bubble because of the numbers game; my previous projection had the Cowboys keeping just eight linebackers total, and generally a 3-4 defense likes to keep at least nine. Depending on what the team does at other positions, Octavien could be a victim of the numbers crunch.
Safe - Jason Williams, Sean Lee
On the bubble - Leon Williams
Here comes the Turk - Brandon Sharpe
Leon Williams has received plenty of playing time this preseason and has shown the ability to be a playmaker. He's also shown the ability to completely blow plays with missed tackles in the open field and missed assignments. Unfortunately, it seems that the player the Cowboys drafted last year (Jason Williams) is safe, despite still being very raw in pass coverage. With a great game on Thursday, Leon could force the Cowboys to go a bit deep at this position and it might not be a bad idea; with Sean Lee's injury history and Jason Williams' inconsistency, Leon Williams could be a good fail-safe option.
Safe - Cletis Gordon
On the bubble - Byran McCann
Here comes the Turk - Jamar Wall, Teddy Williams
Here's where the other half of the numbers crunch comes into play: do the Cowboys keep four cornerbacks or five? With Alan Ball and AOA at safety, the Cowboys could roll with just four cornerbacks and still feel they have options in nickel and 4-1-6 formations. Then again, McCann has been just too good to easily pass up and it's questionable whether he makes it to the practice squad. His ability on special teams as a return man also gives him value, and while many cite his size as being an issue so far in the preseason he'd done nothing but impress.
Safe - Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Mike Hamlin
On the bubble - Barry Church, Danny McCray
So here's the rub. Five safeties or six? Church, McCray, or both? This is going to be the position battle to keep an eye on against Miami, as the Cowboys are going to have to find some way to get the most out of two promising young safeties.
What the team has to determine is which player has the most upside and potential as a safety, not just a special teams ace. Both Church and McCray have been impressive on special teams while both had issues at safety against Houston (although both showed flashes of potential as well). It's possible the Cowboys keep both but it's going to be hard to justify keeping six safeties -- unless the team feels that AOA and Ball are fully capable at providing support at cornerback.
Practice squad candidates - Sean Lissemore, Brandon Sharpe, Jamar Wall, Teddy Williams