It has been a hectic week for the Dallas Cowboys. They announced the contract extension for Jaylon Smith. New rumors are swirling about the team’s latest offer to Ezekiel Elliott, raising hopes that the holdout may not last much longer. And there was a bitter tragedy for the greater Cowboys family with the sad news of the passing of Luke Laufenberg, whose father Babe was a former member of the team and has long been the team’s play-by-play partner on radio for Brad Sham.
But it is still training camp, and one of the primary missions is to determine who makes the 53-man roster, who could be a practice squad candidate, and who is going to be looking for a job in September. One place where there is some real competition, especially for the last spot or two, is the defensive line. It is hard to break this bunch out into ends and tackles, because of players like Tyrone Crawford and Kerry Hyder, who have the flex to play both spots. So here is a look at the overall group.
The suspended players
These two are mentioned first, not because of what they will represent when (and if) they come back, but because they represent two spots that have to be filled on the 53.
Robert Quinn is going to miss the first two games. When he comes off suspension, he will either step right into the starting job, or get it in just a game or two. Randy Gregory is the great unknown. We don’t know what is going on with any application for reinstatement. Nothing has been said, but it is possible it has been submitted, and it is not being discussed until the league makes a ruling. In any case, he is not part of the equation for now.
The presumptive starters
Based on what the team has done in practices, it looks like the starters will be DeMarcus Lawrence and Crawford at end, with Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods inside. That is a pretty solid group, and it just gets stronger when Quinn is available. Collins has been cited as the MVP of camp by many and seems poised to have a great year.
The key backups
Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder have both had really good camps. It looks like both their spots are safe.
Taco Charlton has not had a bad camp, and showed up at times in the preseason games. He is going to make the roster, but at least as much because of the draft capital invested in him as his performance. At least we have reason for hope he can contribute more this season.
Likewise, Trysten Hill will get his Star because he was the team’s first pick in the draft. He may spend some games on the inactive list, because he needs a lot of development for the pro game.
Battling for a spot
Now it gets down to just how many linemen the team elects to carry. Given that Quinn at least is waiting in the wings, nine seems likely, and ten is not out of the question. Here are the ones that remain, and how things have gone for them
Christian Covington has had his moments. He is showing that he was misused in his last year with the Houston Texans. However, with Hill in the mix, Covington looks to be the fifth DT on the roster. He seems like a good bet to get on the 53, but not a lock by any means.
Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks may be competing with one another for the fifth DE spot, if the team carries that many. The rookies have both looked good at times, and like the late-round draft picks they are at others. But with the team probably going deep on the line, one may make the roster. Both are also prime practice squad targets. There is always the danger of poaching while clearing waivers, but historically we tend to think more of our last few cuts than the rest of the league. It is very probable that at least one, and possibly both, will still be with the team in some capacity.
Ricky Walker has been a pleasant surprise. The UDFA signing has been much better than expected, and looks like Covington’s biggest competition for a DT spot. It is still a long shot, but if he makes the roster, it should not come as a big shock. He is also a prime PS candidate, depending on how the Cowboys allocate those jobs.
On the other side of things, Daniel Ross has had a disappointing summer. He has just not done much. Going into camp many (including me) thought he was going to stake a claim, but he has come up dry.
Daniel Wise has also not been overly impressive, but looked better than Ross. He is, after all, another UDFA and had a steep climb ahead of him. Still, his chances are slim to even get a PS offer.
Shakir Soto looked like a camp body from the start. He still does.
That is how things look, at least from here. The staff may have some very different views in a case or two, but this is what the practices and preseason games are indicating. The cutdown happens on August 31st, just over a week away. We will know soon who actually makes it, and who has to deal with disappointment.