It is the calm before the storm. The Dallas Cowboys are set to open their 2022 NFL season in just a week as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roll into AT&T Stadium. While their are probably going to be a few roster moves, one of which will hopefully be to make room for offesnvie tackle Jason Peters to join the team on Monday, we know almost everyone that will take the field against Tom Brady and company.
What we don’t know is how the depth chart stacks up at many positions. The big one, of course, is the left tackle/left guard combo, which is complicated by the Peters question. For now, the plan seems to be starting first-round pick Tyler Smith at left tackle and Connor McGovern at left guard. That could all change.
That has been the focus of discussion for days, but meanwhile there are a bunch of other spots, some involving starters and others backups, where we do not yet know how things actually stand. Here are some of those things yet to be determined.
We know DeMarcus Lawrence starts at LDE. But everything else is up for grabs. The starter opposite Lawrence is assumed to be Dorance Armstrong, but it could also be Tarell Basham or Dante Fowler. Chauncey Golston is something of a dual-role player, able to line up both at DE and DT. Expect him to be used inside on some passing downs but not as a starter at either spot. For now, Sam Williams is expected to be used sparingly as he continues to adjust to the pro game. But keep an eye on him to move up as he gets his feet under him - and hopefully cuts down on the penalties that plagued him both in college and the preseason. This is a part of the depth chart that will almost certainly change as the season progresses.
The starters on the interior of the defensive line look set with Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa, and Trysten Hill is the third 3-tech for the team. But the definition of starter in this case is more about the base defense. To open series, Quinn will likely put one of the big bodies out there. That will be either Quinton Bohanna or John Ridgeway. Based on what we saw in both camp practices and preseason, Bohanna seems to be the guy who will show up most weeks as a starter, probably next to Gallimore. Ridgeway is probably going to be inactive for most games as long as Bohanna is healthy.
This will change once Michael Gallup is ready to go. The team is signalling that they expect that to be around game two or three. Until then, CeeDee Lamb and Noah Brown are the top two WRs, but the third WR in the base 11 offensive package is an open question. Rookie Jalen Tolbert was up and down throughout camp, but looked much better when Dak Prescott was the one throwing the ball. Simi Fehoko may well have earned the WR3 job to start the season, but UDFA Dennis Houston forced his way into the conversation. And we can’t overlook KaVontae Turpin. He is the kick and punt returner, but showed some dynamic ability when inserted into the passing game. With six wide receivers even without Gallup’s availability, the team may have to make one of them inactive each week. That could make using Turpin in the passing game more attractive. For now, Fehoko may have the edge here, but we really won’t know until we see how they line up in the first game. The real story will be told by the snap counts. With the lack of experience in the wide receiver group, this may wind up hinging on who has the hot hand during the game. Or maybe the most sticky ones.
We are probably going to see more 12 personnel to try and help the pass protection due to the uncertainty on the offensive line. With Sean McKeon currently on the practice squad, the team has to rely on two rookies. Jake Ferguson is expected to be the TE2 at least partly because he represents draft capital, and that matters more than it should for the Cowboys. But UDFA Peyton Hendershot literally played himself onto the roster and if he can show better blocking ability than Ferguson, he could move up. He is also a better threat down the seam. That could make 12 personnel a viable passing group. This is a very interesting decision for the staff, and it is probably closer than we might think.
Dallas is using an innovative approach to capitalize on the practice squad rules. They have Prescott as the only quarterback on the roster, and will call up a backup from the PS. They have both Cooper Rush and Will Grier available, so by doing the call up provision they could stretch that out to six games. Grier frankly outplayed Rush most of camp. But this could be a rotation of the two players to keep capitalizing on those rules for as long as possible. We won’t really know who the true QB2 is until they finally sign one to the 53-man roster. Hopefully it will never matter, of course. This offense will go as far as Prescott can take them.
Those are the most interesting roster questions remaining. It is a bit unusual to have so many uncertainties on the depth chart, but in one way this could be a good thing if it turns out it is about more players being better than expected. That is the optimistic way to look at it. Let’s go with that until the games start to unfold.