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Mailbag, 8/20/10: Sleepers to Make the 53-Man Roster

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Note:  We’ve added a “Gameday” tab above.  Hover over it and you will find pre and post-game notes, grades, and film study observations for every Cowboys game this season.

Q:  How did Travis Bright perform against the Raiders?   Did his run blocking get any better?  How about his pass blocking?  For the strongest guy on the team, he wasn’t explosive against the Bengals.

Dusty McGuire

A: Bright struggled quite a bit against Oakland.  I credited him with giving up a sack, and he was dominated on a few other plays.  He was also over-matched in the run game.  Overall, I gave him a “D” for the game.

Bright’s struggles forced me to leave him off of my latest 53-man roster projection.  Instead, I opted for Phil Costa, whose versatility could be an asset to a Dallas team without a true backup center.  Kyle Kosier was the backup center before he went down with an MCL sprain, but even he never took a snap at the position in his career.

Q:  Who are some sleepers who could make the roster or players who are expected to make it but might not?

Kerry Delmas, Plano, TX

A: There are actually quite a few roster spots up for grabs.  I don’t know how many players are “sleepers” per se, but a few unheralded guys I expect to make the team are supplemental seventh-round nose tackle Jose Brent, cornerback Bryan McCann, tight end Scott Sicko, and guard Phil Costa.

Brent is a high-energy player who reminds me of Jay Ratliff.  I have personally guaranteed he earns a roster spot.  McCann is another one of my favorite players.  Behind the “big three” cornerbacks, he has the best cover skills.  Sicko is almost a necessity after John Phillips season-ending ACL tear, and like I said above, Costa has a great opportunity after Kosier’s injury.

There are also a few players I am not projecting to make the roster, yet still could sneak in with good play over the final three preseason games.  These would be fullback Chris Gronkowski, wide receiver Jesse Holley, safety Danny McCray, and cornerback Teddy Williams.

Gronkowski’s versatility is his biggest asset, although I’m not sure the Cowboys can retain fullback Deon Anderson, Sicko, and him.  Two fullbacks and three tight ends on a pass-first team would be strange.  Holley has been great on special teams and could take Sam Hurd’s roster spot.  I haven’t been as high on McCray as others, but he’s performed well in practice.  Finally, it will be tough for the Cowboys to part ways with the freaky athleticism, speed, and upside of Williams.

As far as big-time “surprise” cuts, don’t expect too many.  However, you could see wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, wide receiver Sam Hurd, safety Michael Hamlin, inside linebacker Jason Williams, and up to three draft picks not make the squad.

Ogletree has looked terrible over the first two preseason games, although he has apparently turned up the intensity as of late.  If the Cowboys deem Holley ready for prime time, Hurd and his $1.75 million salary will walk.  Hamlin is very unlikely to get released, but he hasn’t shown much in the first two preseason games and there are talented rookies (McCray and Barry Church) breathing down his neck.  Jason Williams looked better in the second preseason game, but the Cowboys may opt to keep another Williams–Leon–over him.  Finally, don’t be surprised to see cornerback Jamar Wall, defensive tackle Sean Lissemore, and right tackle Sam Young not make the team, although Young has the best shot.

Q:  Do you think we will see more screen passes from the Cowboys this season?

Mark Owens, Jacksonville, FL

A: Yes I do, and for a few reasons.  First, the offensive line is obviously a bit suspect right now.  Left guard Kyle Kosier is already going to be out for the first couple of regular season games.  The unit does have the potential to play well, but they also have the potential to implode.  Screen passes are a great way to compensate for a struggling line.

Further, the Cowboys will try to get running back Felix Jones in the open field as much as possible.  While he has yet to show he is a totally natural pass-catcher, screen passes could be an effective way to get him the ball in a non-traditional way, if he can handle it.

The Cowboys also like to run screens to their wide receivers, and with great run-after-catch receivers like Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, why not?  You could see even more smoke, bubble, and quick screens this season to combat the blitz, particularly against teams like the Eagles.

The key for Dallas will be being unpredictable in their usage of screen passes.  Last season, the rate of screens more than tripled following playaction passes.  If the Cowboys can utilize them in the right situations, such as when they anticipate a blitz or a heavy pass rush, screens could become an effective tool in their offensive arsenal.

Q:  How do you come up with your overall player grades for each game?

Jonathan Bales (I just wanted to answer this question)

A: Well self, the overall grades (as seen here) are a combination of grades from different components of each position.  For example, I give linemen a run blocking grade and a pass blocking grade.  Because the Cowboys pass 60 percent of the time, I have decided to weight the pass protection 1.5 times as much as the run blocking grade (to represent the 3:2 pass-to-run ratio).  I do a similar thing for each position, and the methodology is basically the same as that which I use for my yearly grades.

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