As we strive to remind everyone, there is only so much you can glean from the OTAs. With no contact and a lot of installation and teaching going on, what we gather about the Dallas Cowboys is more hints than hard data. One thing that is somewhat instructive is to look at how the team is using players on the field. This might point the way to how the team will structure its roster for the season.
This very premature attempt at putting together a roster will certainly change after training camp gets underway, and might even shift somewhat after minicamp next week. Also, there are players listed in italics. These are more placeholders, indicating the position would be filled on this roster, but not necessarily by the name given. This exercise is more about the structure of the 53 than who will actually win the spot.
Starter: Tony Romo
Backups: Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan
The Cowboys will likely go with three again this year. The team is showing a clear interest in how Vaughan develops, and the new investment in virtual reality technology could be a huge plus for his growth. It is highly doubtful that he will be able to challenge Weeden for the number two spot this season, but that looks to be the target for the following year.
Offensive line (9)
Starters: Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free
Backups: La'el Collins, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Chaz Green, Darrion Weems
I don't think Collins will crack the starting lineup, mainly because Leary and Free are not going to let it happen. But he will become the primary backup at guard, which is just fine. Weems may face a significant challenge from Laurence Gibson. He has never quite developed the way the team hoped. The key point here is that the team will go with nine on the roster.
Wide receivers (5)
Starters: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley
Backups: Devin Street, Lucky Whitehead
Whitehead gets the nod here because of his work as a returner in the OTAs, but clearly the competition for the fifth spot is wide open.
Running backs (4)
Starter: Joseph Randle
Backups: Darren McFadden, Ryan Williams, Lance Dunbar
Running back by committee is the way this season, The team goes deep here to try and get Dunbar more involved this season, while McFadden and Williams will primarily relieve Randle.
Tight ends (4)
Starter: Jason Witten
Backups: Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
I think the team is going to forego a fullback and use Swaim for the few times they deploy a lead blocker. This is obviously open to a lot of discussion, but it is the only logical explanation for the trade to draft Swaim.
Total offensive players: 25
This predicts a balanced distribution of players on both sides of the ball. If the team decides to go heavy on defense, the places that it could cut would most likely be running back, tight end, and possibly offensive line.
Starters: Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Nick Hayden
Rotational players: Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain, Ben Gardner, Jack Crawford, Chris Whaley
Greg Hardy is going to be suspended to start the season, so someone here is likely to be bumped when he is available. Whaley is practice squad eligigle, so he may be the designated player to move for Hardy. The players are also listed as rotational rather than backups because of how Rod Marinelli deploys his rushmen. Mincey is likely to become primarily a three-tech this season.
Starters: Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, Anthony Hitchens
Backups: Jasper Brinkley, Damien Wilson, Andrew Gachkar
Gachkar makes the team for his special teams prowess. Brinkley is the MIKE backup, and Wilson the WILL, although Hitchens may be moved over if needed with Wilson backing up the SAM.
Defensive backs (10)
Starters: Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Byron Jones, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox
Backups: Morris Claiborne, Tyler Patmon, Corey White, Danny McCray, Jeff Heath
This is a large group because of the need for players to contribute on special teams. Jones has been getting work all over the field, playing outside and in the slot as a corner, dropping back as a free safety, and even coming up to play as a nickel linebacker. There has also been some discussion of White being able to play some safety.
Total defense: 25
If the team decides to bolster one of these groups, it is likely the line. They could short the offense one player, or maybe go with one less DB.
Dan Bailey, L.P. Ladouceur, Chris Jones
Although many want to see Jones get beaten out, it is highly unlikely. Being Bailey's holder is a very good thing.
The team also has to assemble a practice squad, which can be a vital resource for injury replacement. The team has a freebie in Efe Obada, who should not count under the international player rule. A possible list of practice squad players: QB Jameill Showers, RB Lache Seastrunk, OT Laurence Gibson, LB Mark Nzeocha, WR Deontay Greenberry, WR Antwan Goodley, S Tim Scott, CB Joel Ross, DE Ryan Russell, and OT Reshod Fortenberry. This includes the rest of the draft picks, and players who have all flashed in OTAs or who fill definite needs on the PS.
That is one man's take on how the Cowboys are going to build their roster for this year. Now it's your turn to tear it up and give your own opinion. If you could be Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, or Jason Garrett for a day, how would you put the team together?