The Cowboys released their first official depth chart of the 2014 season today because the NFL requires all teams to do so prior to the season opener.
Unfortunately, what the league requires and what the league gets are not always the same thing. So if you were hoping that this depth chart was put together by Jason Garrett and his coaching staff after hours of debate and handwringing, your're bound to be disappointed. The depth chart probably originates somewhere in the PR department, and we're lucky if it wasn't some intern who threw this together.
Be that as it may, it is the official depth chart, even if you may want to take it with a grain of salt, but it is still worth a look. Here's what the full depth chart currently looks like, with returning players marked in green, rookies marked in yellow and free agent additions marked in orange:
|WR||Dez Bryant||Cole Beasley||Devin Street|
|LT||Tyron Smith||Jermey Parnell||Darrion Weems|
|LG||Ronald Leary||Mackenzy Bernadeau|
|C||Travis Frederick||Mackenzy Bernadeau|
|RT||Doug Free||Donald Hawkins
|TE||Jason Witten||James Hanna|
|WR||Terrance Williams||Dwayne Harris|
|QB||Tony Romo||Brandon Weeden||Dustin Vaughan|
|RB||DeMarco Murray||Lance Dunbar||Joseph Randle|
|LDE||George Selvie||Tyrone Crawford||Jack Crawford|
|1-tech DT||Nick Hayden||Terrell McClain||Ken Bishop|
|3-tech DT||Henry Melton||Davon Coleman|
|RDE||Jeremy Mincey||Lavar Edwards||Anthony Spencer|
|SLB||Bruce Carter||Kyle Wilber||Cameron Lawrence|
|MLB||Rolando McClain||Anthony Hitchens|
|WLB||Justin Durant||Korey Toomer|
|LCB||Brandon Carr||Sterling Moore|
|RCB||Morris Claiborne||Tyler Patmon|
|FS||Barry Church||C.J. Spillman
|SS||J.J. Wilcox||Jeff Heath|
|H||Chris Jones||Tony Romo|
|KR||Dwayne Harris||Cole Beasley||J.J. Wilcox|
|PR||Dwayne Harris||Cole Beasley|
Notes / Observations from the initial depth chart:
Color by numbers: Notice how the Special teams unit is a tranquil sea of green, indicating that all key player noted there are returning players from 2013. Similarly, there's only one new starter on offense, all other starters are returning from 2013. Special teams and the offense are an experienced group of players, and we should expect them to match or exceed their 2013 performance.
The technicolor dreamcoat on defense highlights the patchwork nature of the unit, where free agent additions and rookies are being counted on to fill critical gaps.
The importance of position flex. Position flex is a term that's often thrown around by the coaching staff, but you don't fully comprehend its importance until you realize just how thin the Cowboys are at positions like the defensive line. The Cowboys have 11 defensive lineman on their roster, but two of them, Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence are still out injured. Also, when you look at the 3-technique spot, you have a guy coming back from ACL surgery and a rookie manning the starter and backup positions. That may all work out, but isn't it nice to know that Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford can both play inside as well? Similarly, what may look like a demotion of Kyle Wilber to backup linebacker is probably more of a reassignment to defensive end (even if the depth chart does not explicitly state this).
The two types of tight ends. Interesting that the Cowboys have two lines for their tight ends. We've always assumed that the sequence was Witten - Escobar - Hanna, but rabblerousr wrote during camp in August that when Escobar is in the lineup, "he's often in the slot, so it looks like a three-wide formation (Linehan and Co. seem to see him more as a big receiver than as a tight end); when they go to a traditional 2-tight end set, with both guys in the in-line "Y" position, its almost always who joins Witten)." That would make Escobar the "move" or "F" tight ends, who is almost receiver-like in terms of shiftiness but in turn might not be as powerful a blocker.
Mackenzy Bernadeau is a one-man army. Ronald Leary seems to have won the battle for the starting left guard spot, which leaves Bernadeau to back up all three spots in the interior O-line. Not ideal, but that's what you get when you have to go short (9 guys) on the O-line. Of course, the Cowboys see Donald Hawkins more as a tackle, but he can also play guard in a pinch.
Looking for Free's successor? Three backup tackles, one veteran backup guard. Could he Cowboys be hoping that one of the three tackles here steps up as Free's successor in 2015?
60 and 66 showed up early, and continued showing up:
Davon Coleman (60) and Ken Bishop (66) are the defensive tackles in the second defense. Get used to those numbers.— One Cool Customer (@OCC44) August 3, 2014
Contract-year linebackers: This may have quietly gone unnoticed, but none of the three starting linebackers has a contract beyond this year. Hopefully all three will show the type of performance peak Joe Public expects from a contract year. And even though Sean Lee is coming back next year, you may want to start familiarizing yourself with the top linebacker prospects in next years draft.
Share your thoughts on the depth chart in the comments section.