In less than a month, the Cowboys and all other NFL teams will announce their first roster cuts when they have to reduce their squad to 75 players on August 27. A week later, on August 31, the roster will be cut down to the final 53.
Today, based on little more than six practices worth of impressions from training camp and yesterday's scrimmage, we're going to take a look at what the Cowboys' final 53-man roster could look like. A lot of this will be nothing but conjecture of course, and it isn't made any easier by the various injuries that have plagued the Cowboys in the first week of camp. But before jumping into the roster details, here's a look at how the Cowboys' opening-day 53-man rosters (per the Week 1 game books) compare over the last few years.
|of which: CB||5||5||3||4||7||5||5|
|of which: S||5||4||6||5||4||5||4|
Even with the switch to a 4-3 defense, the table should still be a good rule of thumb for how many roster spots will be available for most positions, keeping in mind that regardless of how you slot the positions, they always need to add up to 53. As you look at the numbers above, you'll notice that there is a lot of movement in the number of players at a given position over the years. Notably, there doesn't appear to be a position where you could say, "The Cowboys always carry so and so many players at this position."
This is particularly true of the QB position. Nowhere is it written that the Cowboys have to keep three QBs. And with that thought, we transition smoothly into the roster projections:
Tony Romo, Kyle Orton, Alex Tanney
Garrett said he'd like to keep a developmental QB on the roster. After yesterday's scrimmage, that could be Alex Tanney: strong-armed, nimble-of-foot, accurate passer, non-checkdowner. Prior to yesterday's scrimmage, I had the Cowboys going with two QBs. Now I'm thinking that if Tanney shows sustained performance through camp, and especially in the preseason games, there's no way he'll clear waivers to land on the practice squad.
But by adding Tanney, I have to cut someone else, and running back is the place for that.
Running Backs (3)
DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle.
I'm keeping only three running backs, and Phillip Tanner is the odd one out. The Cowboys don't need three feature backs on gameday. They have two in DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle and have Lance Dunbar as the change of pace back. And they'll stick another change of pace back on the practice squad in Kendial Lawrence. Hopefully that is enough depth, but the Cowboys have kept more than three running backs only once in the last seven years, so three it is for me.
Tight Ends (4)
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, Dante Rosario.
"At full health, this is one of, if not the, deepest positions on the team, blessed with a strong incumbent starter and two young, ascending players," rabblerousr wrote in Saturday's camp summary. We've talked at length about 12 personnel, but even the three-tight end formation (13 personnel) offers intriguing options at the goal line. Andre Smith is still PS-eligible, so that's where I'm stashing him.
Wide Receivers (6)
Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Dwayne Harris, Anthony Armstrong, Cole Beasley.
The good news here is that there's been almost no talk of bringing in a veteran wide receiver at this point. That speaks to the overall strength of this group. At the same time, until we see clearer separation among the candidates in camp, I'll have to make this a luxury position and go six deep.
Cole Beasley offers intriguing potential because he always seems to have a clear understanding of where each defender is, even the guys behind him, and this ability allows him to get separation and be open. But the Cowboys are asking him to block more and to go deep. Can he do that? If not, Eric Rogers is waiting in the wings. Or do they opt to keep RB Tanner instead of a sixth wide receiver?
At this point, Danny Coale appears like more of an afterthought. He needs to get healthy if he is going to compete for a spot. He's still eligible for the practice squad, so that may be his best option at this point.
Offensive Linemen (9)
Starters: Tyron Smith, Nate Livings, Travis Frederick, Ronald Leary, Doug Free
Backups: Jermey Parnell, David Arkin, Phil Costa, Ryan Cook.
Tough break here for Kevin Kowalski and Mackenzy Bernadeau, who both miss out on a spot. Bernadeau needs to get healthy to compete and Kowalski needs to show more. For now, I'm keeping Parnell as the swing tackle, David Arkin as the primary backup at either guard position and Phil Costa as the backup center with flexibility to play guard in a pinch. The last spot goes to Ryan Cook as the utility man who can play every position except left tackle.
Defensive Ends (4)
DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Kyle Wilber, Cameron Sheffield.
Tyrone Crawford is out for the season, leaving the backup spots at DE thinner than the Cowboys would have wanted. Wilber will back up Ware and the backup for Spencer has yet to be found. I've penciled in Cameron Sheffield at this position for lack of a better option and because he looks like a first-teamer on special teams. Recently signed George Selvie could also be an option here (but we have to see more of him), as could Ben Bass, who is penciled in as a defensive tackle below.
Overall though, DE might be a spot where the Cowboys could make a waiver wire claim at the start of the season.
Defensive Tackles (5)
Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Ben Bass, Nick Hayden, Sean Lissemore.
Veteran Nick Hayden worked with the first team ahead of DT Sean Lissemore in team drills on Saturday, so he looks to be climbing up the depth chart. The one positive here is that Ben Bass offers valuable positional versatility, as he could also play strongside DE as a backup for Anthony Spencer. Also, watch out for #99, DT Jerome Long. He keeps showing up and making plays, and while he may not make the 53-man roster, I have him on the practice squad.
Starters: Justin Durant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter
Backups: Caleb McSurdy, DeVonte Holloman, Brandon Magee, Ernie Sims
The Cowboys look set with their starters, but it gets murky after that. It's really hard to evaluate linebackers when they're not tackling, so this backup linebackers list is probably the least clear of all the positions on the roster. Sims makes it based in part on the role he plays on special teams. Magee has been making plays and looked good in run defense. As we had speculated earlier in the offseason, Alex Albright may be one of the few victims of the scheme change, because despite his versatility he doesn't seem to fit really well anywhere - and he looks like the slowest of all the linebackers, not very helpful if you're looking for a spot in Kiffin's scheme.
Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, Sterling Moore, B.W. Webb
There really is no discussion about the top four corners on the team, which essentially leaves one slot open, and that goes to rookie B.W. Webb. Webb may not yet have earned that spot over the other cornerbacks, although yesterday's interception helped his cause, but his draft pedigree carries him for now.
Starters: Barry Church, Will Allen
Backups: J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson
The Cowboys are happy with their safety depth and stick with four guys as they have more pressing needs elsewhere on the roster. Jakar Hamilton is out, and the Cowboys are taking a big risk in trying to get him through waivers onto the practice squad. Danny McCray is also out for now, but the Cowboys may want to get him a roster spot for his Special Teams role.
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
I don't even want to think about the days when the Cowboys carried four specialists.
Practice Squad (8)
WR Eric Rogers, WR Danny Coale, OT Darrion Weems, TE Andre Smith, RB Kendial Lawrence, LB Cameron Lawrence, DT Jerome Long , S Jakar Hamilton.
So there you have it. 25 defensive players, 25 offensive players and three specialists. All seven draft picks make the team, but uncharacteristically for the Cowboys, only a single UDFA makes the team in Brandon Magee. However, five late-season and offseason free agent pickups (Tanney, Rosario, Sheffield, Armstrong, Hayden) make the final roster in this projection - though this may change as the UDFAs get more time in camp to show what they've got, but after the first week, those veterans look to be ahead on the depth charts.
Of course, all of this is just a snapshot. Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
More from Blogging The Boys:
- Dallas Cowboys News & Notes: Cowboys LB Corps Among Best In NFL?
- Cowboys Training Camp Report, Practice Number Seven: Blue-White Scrimmage
- Training Camp Chronicles: How Much Longer Will Miles Austin Remain A Dallas Cowboy?
- Cowboys Training Camp Report, Practice Number Six: Studying For The Midterm
- Cowboys 2013: How Good Will Cornerback Trio Carr, Claiborne & Scandrick Be?