Monday was the last day of “full” media access to the training camp practices for the Dallas Cowboys. Saturday is the deadline to cut to 53, followed by the flurry of practice squad signings. So, pending any early waivers by the team, here is a take on who the Cowboys will have on the roster when they travel to play the Los Angeles Rams.
Note: This exercise is based on deciphering clues from reports out of training camp. Given that Mike McCarthy has better security and tighter control over information than we have ever seen, it makes it a very difficult process. Nonetheless, we endeavor.
LS: L.P. Ladouceur
P: Chris Jones
K: Greg Zuerlein
Let’s get them out of the way. Given that there were no other specialists in camp, this is one of the safest bets on this list.
It didn’t take long to get to the first thing creating a little uncertainty. Will QB-loving McCarthy want to carry three and add his personal pet cat, Ben DiNucci? Probably not.
Running back/fullback (4)
Yeah, this is also about as clear as mud. Mothership beat writer David Helman has made an argument that they will just carry two RBs and no FB, for reasons that will come up in the next group. However, two RBs seems a bit light for game day. It just seems prudent to have another body that can go in given the beating backs can take. Also, if DiNucci does make the roster, it will probably be at the expense of this position. That could mean no fullback, so no Olonilua. It seems counter to how McCarthy has used the position in the past, but Helman also points out that the fullback did not get much work throughout camp.
Further complicating this call is that the lack of a preseason and no tackling makes it very hard to evaluate the UDFAs. Dowdle seems to have the edge over Darius Anderson. Or, to be more accurate, that is a best guess.
Tight end (3)
Tight ends seem to be a suitable substitute for fullback under McCarthy, which could lead to carrying one more TE and no FB. The problem is that none of the other tight ends stood out a great deal, and it is anyone’s guess who might force their way onto the roster.
Wide receiver (6)
The first three are obvious. Wilson has had an outstanding camp and seems a lock for WR4. Brown also has been strong.
That takes us down to carrying five or six, and given the pass-oriented way the offense appears to be running, that argues for a sixth. Johnson has probably been the strongest of the remaining candidates. Also keep in mind that Cooper has been limited in the past few practices. It may just be to rest and protect him, but it also is a reason for a bit of insurance.
Offensive line (9)
The first five are your starters, despite the injury issues Smith and Collins dealt with. Erving has the edge at swing, but because he was also knicked up they will want to carry Knight. McGovern seems able to fill in at all three positions, and Biadasz is both good enough and represents high draft capital, so he sticks.
That is 24 on offense, which means going heavier on defense. And they probably need it.
Defensive end (6)
Let’s take McCarthy at his word. He stated that he likes to carry six ends and four tackles for the defensive line. The first three are not just certain to make the team, they may be the best trio of pass rushers the Cowboys have seen in a long time. Crawford has the well-publicized flexibility to kick inside if needed, but based on what came out of practices, he is not going to be the only end lining up against a guard. Anae has been very good, and Armstrong was seen at one point standing up behind the interior DL and rushing the passer from there. It is a slim reed, but I’m grasping it.
Defensive tackle (4)
Hill simply had himself one hell of a camp. Poe is that big, two-gapping nose tackle the team eschewed under the previous regime. Woods is solid in relief, and Gallimore is another rookie that presented evidence for why he was drafted.
Leighton Vander Esch
Call it the John Fassel factor. All seven linebackers that came to camp make it onto the roster to make sure Fassel has the horses he needs for special teams. The move to put Vander Esch at MIKE and Smith at WILL has been a rousing success in practice. Lee has seen almost no action in practice, but this is assumed to just be to save him for the regular season. Thomas is a solid backup for all three positions, while Bernard was the standout UDFA of camp. The other two will be in the mix whenever a foot is deliberately impacting the ball.
You may notice the name that’s not here, Jourdan Lewis. This is a projection that the team will use some, shall we say, creative roster management and put him on IR to start the season after missing considerable time in camp. That would have him ready to come back midseason when injuries might become an issue. The new rules enacted for this season make using IR a lot easier, with players eligible to return after only three weeks, and an unlimited number that can be returned to the active roster from IR. Lewis may not be the only player Dallas uses these rules to stash.
Awuzie seems to be benefiting from the new coaching emphasis on looking for the ball, and Brown had a very good camp. Diggs looked more like a first-rounder throughout and is likely to be a starter right out of the gate. Worley was more impactful than many expected, and Goodwin is another Fassel player.
Reggie Robinson II
Yes, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is not here and is a surprise cut. He just didn’t do much of note in camp. Wilson in particular seems to have taken a major step forward, and Thompson is a big reason to not see Clinton-Dix around. Robinson is a bit of a cheat, since he was drafted as a corner. Stephen Jones has been talking about using cornerback flexibility to cover weakness at safety, and Robinson is exactly what he is talking about.
That’s the 26 defensive players to round out the 53. But the practice squad is also expanding to 16 for this year, and new rules will allow much easier movement between the PS and the 53-man roster, with two PS players on the game day roster every week. It is more important this year, and up to six PS members can have unlimited years accrued. Here are my guesses as to who the Cowboys will target from within.
C/G Adam Redmond
CB Deante Burton
CB Chris Westry
DE Ron’Dell Carter
DT Justin Hamilton
QB Ben DiNucci
RB Darius Anderson
OT Isaac Alarcón (does not count against the 16 slots as part of international program)
OT Mitch Hyatt
TE Sean McKeon
WR Ventell Bryant
WR Devin Smith
Since Alarcón is essentially a freebie, that is eleven names, leaving five vacancies. Expect those to be filled from outside, although they may also try to keep a couple more of their own.
There are plenty of shots in the dark involved here, but this is what the reports from camp seem to indicate. In just a few days, we’ll know the real answers.