The Dallas Cowboys have arrived in California, and the first practice of 2016 will be Saturday. First will come the opening
spectacular ceremonies and the initial press conference. But the real work of training camp is almost here, which is of course to figure out who will be on the team going into the regular season.
Why wait for things like data and analysis, though? Here is another training camp projection. Be warned, there may be a bit more "want" than logic in some of these names. Still, here is how one writer would like to see the 53-man roster shape up.
Special teams (3)
Dan Bailey (placekicker)
Chris Jones (punter/holder)
L.P. Ladouceur (long snapping perfection)
Just getting the most obvious unit on the team out of the way first.
I have made no secret that I really, really want to see Showers win the backup job outright. This will require that he have a very good preseason, and sort of anticipates Kellen Moore not doing so well. But as was mentioned, this is partly about what I want, so take it as you will. Don’t expect Nick Foles or some other free agent to become part of this battle. Besides, my prediction is that Foles will wind up with the San Francisco 49ers, because Chip Kelly is the only coach who ever got anything out of him, and he knows Kelly’s system. You have to admit, the furor by the Bay would be fun to watch.
Running back/fullback (4)
Fullback? We don’t need no stinking fullback. Yes, this is one of the more risky predictions to make, because Jason Garrett does love him that fullback, but the Cowboys are most effective when they run the offense with a single back or empty set. The one thing that really hurts here is leaving out Darren McFadden. He did an outstanding job last season, but he just makes the offense change too much when he is in, and that should become apparent in the preseason games. I hope he lands somewhere else and does well, but I just think the Cowboys are better off going with the other options.
Wide receivers (5)
I looked hard for someone to break through, but just cannot find any plausible argument why this is not the strongest group for the Cowboys to roll with. Butler will be used to provide an additional deep threat, but won’t push Williams down the depth chart. Look for Scott Linehan to find more ways to get Whitehead involved. Those jet sweeps are fun. Devin Street would have to blow it up in camp to make the team, and that is just not in the cards.
Tight ends (4)
Here is another wildly speculative thought: Gathers makes huge strides in camp and becomes a basically unstoppable red zone weapon. Just throw it too high for any defender to stop and let him climb the ladder. It becomes either a touchdown or a penalty when the defender has to tackle him before the ball gets there. Sorry, Geoff Swaim, but Gathers takes your slot.
Offensive line (8)
Not much surprising here, but a lot of hoping things work out. Green has to step up and prove himself, and Looney has to work out as a backup center. The team is NOT going to trade Collins or Leary for pass rushing help. That will be done differently.
Total offense: 24
Defensive line (10)
. . . and Dwight Freeney
Yeah, that’s right, I think the team is going to pull the trigger on Freeney, but he will not sign until after the Cowboys depart Oxnard for Frisco. This will allow him to miss most or all of the training camp work, which he desires. That doesn’t mean that the groundwork will not be done in advance, but he is just too effective as a spot rusher to not roll the dice on. He would be a third down specialist, and would provide that extra impact until DeMarcus Lawrence rejoins the team in week five. The team will have to make a decision then, unless attrition makes it for them. Freeney’s addition does not mean that the rest of the defensive line will be that bad going into the regular season - he is just a bit of extra impact to put things over the top.
Also, Randy Gregory will not see the field this year at all. He may try to make a comeback in 2017, but that is now up to him.
A couple of these names, probably Gachkar and Nzeocha, will be on the roster more for special teams contributions. Hitchens and Durant will battle it out for the starting MIKE role to keep Lee at the WILL. And the team will finally have to face reality and cut Rolando McClain with his apparent no-show in Oxnard.
Defensive backs (9)
The geometry-challenged J.J. Wilcox will lose his spot to the rookie, Frazier. And in somewhat of a surprise, Claiborne will come out of camp ahead of Carr on the depth chart.
Total defense: 26
That is my 53, with a few surprises for you. It does give a lot of value to being a draft pick, as I have all of them except Jaylon Smith, who will be on PUP or IR the entire season (I think), making the team. The weakest name on this projection is Gathers, but like I said, this is about what I want to happen, not what my best reasoning says will happen.
And I fully believe this will hold up quite well, at least until the start of the second hour of practice the first day.