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Where the Cowboys training camp roster battles stand going into Saturday vs. Colts

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A look at the competitions for roster spots and starting positions as the Cowboys head into preseason game number three.

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Oxnard portion of training camp is over and the Cowboys are heading back to Texas with only two weeks of practice left before it’s Giants week, and only eight days until the “dress rehearsal” against Oakland. That means there isn’t much time left for some of these roster battles to shake out, so let’s see where we are.

Left Guard

Quite interestingly Byron Bell started the second preseason game off at left guard, unfortunately he looked horrendous, drawing several blatant holding penalties that derailed drives. Could part of it be attributable to the absence of Tyron Smith? Perhaps, but it’s more likely that it’s an indication of why we didn’t hear his name pop up much during the early parts of camp while Chaz Green was healthy and in the battle to win this starting spot. Jonathan Cooper has looked better but not by a mile.

There’s barely any more clarity here than there was a few weeks ago when camp kicked off, although with the Cowboys stars slated to play at least a drive or two against the Colts we could get a look into where the coaches’ minds are at. If Green is inserted into the starting lineup after not practicing for the better part of two weeks he may just need to stay healthy to end up winning the job. Of course if Tyron Smith is out that means Green will play at left tackle and we’ll still be left asking the same questions going into the dress rehearsal.

Defensive Line

With David Irving and Damontre Moore suspended to start the season the team will have a few more roster spots to play with, at least for a couple weeks. Several fringe players flashed against the Rams, including edge rusher Lenny Jones and Lewis Neal who actually started the game at defensive tackle in front of seventh-rounders Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell.

It’s not a stretch to say that the Cowboys could keep 10 or even 11 linemen, and with seven locks to make the roster (Taco Charlton, Tyrone Crawford, Demarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Maliek Collins, Stephen Paea, Cedric Thornton) you have to imagine that the team will keep at least two to three others. Charles Tapper likely has one of those spots but that leaves plenty of room for someone like Neal or Jones. Even once Irving and Moore return you have to like the chances of someone like Neal to force the team to keep 11 if he continues to show up in games and earn the trust of the coaches.

Safety

Xavier Woods was one of the brightest spots for the Cowboys against the Rams and unless something catastrophic happens you have to think he is a lock to make the roster given the investment the team made in him, not to mention the fact that the team viewed him as a fourth-rounder. Robert Blanton has barely been seen or heard from during practice or in the first two games, and with Kavon Frazier also showing development and making plays, especially in special teams, the writing seems to be on the wall here. Ultimately it will come down to special teams, but Blanton will have an uphill battle for that possible 10th DB spot, especially since it would likely come down to him or a rookie such as Marquez White who has more room to grow moving forward.

Tight End

Barring a serious injury we all know the team will end up keeping four tight ends, now it’s just a matter of whether or not Rico Gathers can force his way onto the active 46-man game day roster and get snaps during actual games. The traditional point of view is that he must improve as a blocker and show value on special teams but what are you to do if he continues making explosive downfield plays?

I still think it’s a long shot that he starts off the year getting many meaningful snaps but if he keeps hauling in 20+ yard touchdowns over the next few weeks it may be impossible to keep him off the field for long. He may be relatively limited as far as being a polished, well-rounded player, but there’s no arguing that Gathers could easily evolve into a mismatch that forces opponents to account for him every time he is on the field sooner rather than later.

He’s fighting an uphill battle but it will certainly be interesting to see how difficult of a decision he makes it for the coaching staff. Unfortunately we may not get to see him Saturday night after suffering a concussion a couple days ago in practice.

Quarterback

To be honest I never thought there would be much intrigue surrounding the quarterbacks at this year’s camp but here we are. The coaching staff’s love for Kellen Moore makes it hard for me to believe that he could be beaten out for the backup job but if he plays another game like he did against the Rams and Cooper Rush is able to replicate his impressive performance?

Things could get interesting.

I’m not one to jump to conclusions based off one game, especially not at the quarterback position, but Rush has at least forced himself into the conversation. At the end of the day I can’t see the team cutting Moore and rolling with nothing but a rookie backing up a second-year player in Prescott, but there will definitely be a greater than zero chance of that happening if Moore puts up another sub-50% completion rate, sub-5.0 yards per attempt performance.

Luke McCown not only looked horrific, but he came in behind Rush, which is an ominous sign for whatever meager hope he may have had at making the roster.