Now that the first preseason game for the Dallas Cowboys is in the books let’s take a look at where some of the training camp battles stand as we head into Saturday’s second preseason game.
Arguably the most competitive spot on the roster right now is for the third (second after a potential Elliott suspension?) string running back. Neither Alfred Morris or Rod Smith disappointed in the Hall of Fame game, with Morris looking rejuvenated with fresh legs while Smith ran hard despite a meager YPC and displayed an all-around game with a few receptions. It’s hard to say who has the upper hand at the moment, Morris is actually third on the official depth chart while Smith is listed as the backup fullback. If I had to bet I’d say that Morris would be the preferred option if the team had to rely on one of the two for 10-15 carries a game in the case of an Elliott suspension due to his experience and better pure ability as a runner, while if Elliott is not suspended I think Smith would get the nod to his all-around skillset and ability to contribute on special teams. Morris’ roster spot may come down to what happens with Elliott.
Following a solid start to training camp Marquez White looked decent against the Cardinals and with Nolan Carroll, Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Chidobe Awuzie all locks to make the roster, White may be in a battle with not just the other cornerbacks but the backup safeties to possibly be that 9th or 10th defensive back.
Along with the aforementioned five cornerbacks you know at least three safeties will be kept, so White is likely in competition with guys like Kavon Frazier, Robert Blanton, and Xavier Woods. Frazier and Woods both flashed last Thursday night, while Blanton was mostly quiet. It’s still very early but I like White’s chances if he continues to build on what he’s done so far.
Chidobe Awuzie had a promising first game but didn’t show enough to make you think that he’s going to supplant any of the three veterans who seem to be entrenched at the top of the depth chart, at least not early on.
John Lotulelei and Kyle Wilber were underwhelming as part of the base defense on Thursday night although we all know that Wilber’s value is primarily derived from his special teams ability. Damien Wilson had a flash play with a sack on the Cowboys third drive but his angles of pursuit were poor on the two touchdown drives that started the game. At the end of the day the Cowboys are only going to have two linebackers on the field about 80% of the time so the path to the 53 will go through special teams. In that case Wilber has a huge advantage and you have to imagine that Lotulelei will be on the outside looking in unless something drastic happens, especially with Mark Nzeocha’s roster spot seemingly safe, also due to his ability on special teams.
Charles Tapper had a solid, if unspectacular debut and given the suspensions to David Irving and Damontre Moore you have to think that he is a lock to make the roster, with a strong chance of sticking around once they return to action after Week 4. Lewis Neal looked good in spurts playing on the inside but he faces an uphill climb to make the roster given the options the Cowboys have as far as “jumbo defensive ends who can kick inside” go. Jordan Carrell and Joey Ivie did nothing of note and generally looked poor, making their uphill battle even more difficult. You have to imagine that the only hope any of these three have at making the roster early on hinge on the suspensions and the fact that the team will have two extra spots open, although once they return I can’t see any of them sticking unless injuries occur.
Rico Gathers is clearly fourth string right now so it will be interesting to see if he can eat into James Hanna or Geoff Swaim’s snaps at all going into Saturday. Given that he is still developing as a blocker I don’t see it happening but they may try to get his tantalizing ability as a receiver on the field in certain packages. Gathers will make the 53, the only question is can he provide enough versatility to justify activating him on the 46 man roster on game days?
For the people who thought that Jonathan Cooper had the inside track due to the injury to Chaz Green (myself included), think again. Byron Bell who has spent most of his time at right guard or tackle so far has started to get reps at left guard. This could be nothing but cross-training in case of emergency but it will be interesting to monitor where Bell starts off playing Saturday against the Rams once the starters come out. If it’s left guard Bell may be in the mix more than many thought.
Brice Butler backed up a strong start to training camp with an excellent performance against Arizona, which makes you think that the top five here are set in stone. If the team is to keep a sixth at this position it will almost certainly be Andy Jones, who made a few plays in the opener, or Noah Brown who didn’t show up much. At this point I don’t think you can justify keeping either on the 53 but there’s still a long way to go.