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Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection: The Final Version

Jonathan Bales

A lot has changed since my last 53-man roster projection.  Scott Sicko was released, Patrick Crayton trade rumors have again heated up, Sam Young got injured, and Cletis Gordon has come on strong.

The Cowboys’ final cuts are due tomorrow, and below is my best approximation of what will transpire.


1. Tony Romo
2. Jon Kitna
3. Stephen McGee

McGee played lights out last night in what may have been a final audition for a roster spot.  He earned it.  The Cowboys learned to not place a promising quarterback on the practice squad with Matt Moore.

Overall Position Grade: A-

1. Felix Jones
2. Marion Barber
3. Tashard Choice

I have Jones listed on top due to projected touch distribution, not his starting status (or lack thereof).  I’ve recently argued that Jones should indeed be starting, or at least receiving the bulk of the touches.  He is too talented for the Cowboys to not feed him the ball early and often.  Perhaps a running back rotation like this is just what the ‘Boys need.

Altogether, this may be the top running back trip in the NFL.  Check out my grades for their 2009 play.

Didn’t make the cut: Herb Donaldson ran tough last night but has shown little explosion throughout the preseason, and undrafted free agent Lonyae Miller has been just average.

Overall Position Grade:  A-

1. Deon Anderson
2.  Chris Gronkowski

I’ve explained the importance of Anderson ad nauseam.  He’s limited in what he does well (basically just lead block), but he does that very well.

In my last projection, I had Gronkowski being cut but said he could make the team as an F-Back type player.  I thought the Cowboys liked Scott Sicko in that role, but he was released a few days ago.  Gronkowski’s versatility should earn him a roster spot.

Overall Position Grade: B-

1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett

Didn’t make the cut: Sicko was already cut and I can’t see DajLeon Farr or Martin Rucker making the team.  Rucker has the best shot, but his blocking ability is sub-par and Dallas doesn’t really need another weapon in the passing game.  The presence of Gronkowski as a fullback/tight end hybrid makes retaining just two tight ends possible.

Overall Position Grade: B+

1. Miles Austin
2. Roy Williams
3. Dez Bryant
4. Patrick Crayton
5. Kevin Ogletree
6. Sam Hurd

Will the Cowboys keep five receivers or six?  Could they trade or release Crayton or Hurd?  How about Ogletree?

Their decision has a rather large impact on a number of other positions.  I think the possible shift in offensive philosophy means six is the number, and since I don’t see a team giving up more than a late-round pick for Crayton or Hurd, I think they stay.

Here are five reasons trading or cutting Crayton would be a mistake.

Didn’t make the cut: Jesse Holley still has a shot at unseating Hurd, especially since Hurd is due $1.75 million–quite a bit of money for a special teams player.  In the end, I think Hurd gets one more year.

Overall Position Grade: A-

1. Doug Free
2. Marc Colombo
3. Alex Barron
4. Robert Brewster

The play of this group will be crucial to the Cowboys’ 2010 fortunes.  Free has looked pretty comfortable at left tackle, but Colombo struggled at right tackle before going down with a knee injury.  Brewster played well enough in his absence to justify a roster spot, particularly with the Cowboys’ possibly placing rookie Sam Young on IR.

Didn’t make the cut: The key here will be if the Cowboys place Young on injured reserve.  He won’t be out for long and the team likes him a lot, but how much playing time will he really get this season?  Perhaps saving the roster spot and preparing him for next year is the way to go.

Overall Position Grade: C-

1. Kyle Kosier
2. Leonard Davis
3. Montrae Holland

Last time, I had Phil Costa as the fourth guard.  I’ve since moved Costa to the backup center position.  He’s done really well in the preseason (perhaps the best of any lineman on the team), and I think he deserves to be the backup center over Kyle Kosier.

Costa’s versatility might allow the Cowboys to keep just three guards.

Didn’t make the cut: It is tough to leave Travis Bright off of the roster.  I originally put him on this list, but then realized I had 54 players.  I’m pretty sure the league won’t let Dallas keep one extra player than the other teams, so Bright had to go.  It was between him and Sam Hurd.  Ultimately, the fact that Bright is still eligible for the practice squad (and should make it there) made me choose Hurd over him.

If Pat McQuistan makes this team, I’m trying out next season.

Overall Position Grade: B-

1. Andre Gurode
2.  Phil Costa

Like I said, Costa moves to backup center.  I think he has potential as Gurode’s long-term replacement.

Overall Position Grade: B (due to lack of depth)


1. Jay Ratliff
2. Junior Siavii
3. Josh Brent

Surprised at three nose tackles?  Don’t be.  Brent has shown enough potential that the Cowboys will not be able to put him on their practice squad.  In fact, I’ve gone as far as to guarantee he makes the 53-man roster.

However, the Cowboys probably don’t want a supplemental seventh-rounder being the primary backup to Ratliff, so Siavii will likely make the team.  He’s shown enough (in the run game, anyway) this preseason to justify his stay.

Also, don’t forget Brent could be used at defensive end.  In reality, that’s from where this “extra” roster spot has come.

Didn’t make the cut: Sean Lissemore, the Cowboys seventh-round pick in the April draft, has just been injured too long to make an impact.  His versatility surely intrigues the Cowboys (he can also play defensive end), but his path became a lot more difficult once the Cowboys acquired Brent.

Overall Position Grade: B

1. Marcus Spears
2. Igor Olshansky
3. Stephen Bowen
4. Jason Hatcher

Will Spears still be a starter when he returns?  Bowen and Hatcher have played pretty well in his absence, but the defense missed Spears’ presence against the run.  If the Cowboys do make a move, Hatcher is actually Spears’ backup, so he’d be the guy.

Could the Cowboys really only keep four players at a position that requires so many substitutions?  The addition of Josh Brent to the roster (at NT) makes me think it is possible.

Didn’t make the cut: As you can tell here, I love Marcus Dixon.  Unfortunately, he has yet to stand out in either preseason game.  He has the requisite skill set and I’m personally rooting for him, but he needs to step up in a hurry.

Overall Position Grade: B-

1. Bradie James
2. Keith Brooking
3. Sean Lee
4. Jason Williams

James and Brooking look like players in their mid-20s so far this preseason.  They are flying around to the ball and together they comprise the “heart” of the Dallas defense.

Didn’t make the cut: Leon Williams has been solid at times this preseason and he has a chance to make the team, but I am having trouble deciding whose spot he should take.  It would be tremendously difficult for the Cowboys to cut Jason Williams, and he would never clear waivers to make it to the practice squad.

I just can’t see the Cowboys keeping five inside linebackers.  From which position do they “take” a roster spot?  Leon Williams’ future, like that of a lot of players, could strangely be linked to that of Sam Hurd and Patrick Crayton.  Unfortunately, Williams isn’t practice squad eligible.

I’ve also seen a few projections with Stephen Hodge making the roster, but I just can’t see Dallas making room for him.

Overall Position Grade: B

1. DeMarcus Ware
2. Anthony Spencer
3. Victor Butler
4. Brandon Williams

I removed Steve Octavien from my last projection.  Keeping just eight total linebackers in a 3-4 system is risky, but I think the Cowboys like their depth at both spots, particularly this one.

Didn’t make the cut: I don’t think Curtis Johnson’s special teams ability is any better than that of Octavien, but Octavien has shown more pass-rush ability.  If the Cowboys keep a fifth man at OLB, it will probably be Octavien.

Overall Position Grade: A (almost A+)

1. Mike Jenkins
2. Terence Newman
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Cletis Gordon
5. Bryan McCann

I’ve loved McCann since the Cowboys signed him and, although he struggled a lot last night, I still think he’ll make the team.  He’s shown tremendous athleticism and coverage ability.  The versatility of the safeties (Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Alan Ball) could allow the ‘Boys to keep just four CBs, however, in which case McCann would be gone.

Didn’t make the cut: Dallas suddenly has a “problem” of depth at cornerback.  I don’t think rookie Jamar Wall is an NFL-caliber player yet, but Dallas could try to place him or track star Teddy Williams on their practice squad.  I think both guys would make it, although Wall could get scooped up by a Cover 2 team.

Williams’ potential in particular is insane, but how do you use a roster spot on a player who hasn’t played football in five years?

Overall Position Grade: B+

1. Gerald Sensabaugh
2. Alan Ball
3. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
4. Michael Hamlin
5. Barry Church

The big question is whether Dallas will retain six safeties.  If so, Danny McCray will make the team as well.  Of course, only the top three safeties are guaranteed a roster spot, so McCray could make it even if Dallas retains just five safeties.  Church has shown more promise on defense, though, so I don’t think McCray’s special teams ability will be enough to save him.

Didn’t make the cut: McCray will be on the practice squad if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster (assuming no one signs him).

Overall Position Grade: C-


1. L.P. Ladouceur

Overall Position Grade: A

1. David Buehler

Buehler has looked outstanding on field goals in the preseason.  The Cowboys saw just what they wanted from him last night, as he was four-for-four on field goals, including a 51-yarder and a game-winner.  He has locked up all kicking duties, at least to start the season.

Overall Position Grade: B- (A+ for kickoffs and still a question mark on field goals)

1. Mat McBriar

Overall Position Grade: A

1. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
2. Dez Bryant
3. Kevin Ogletree

1. Dez Bryant
2. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
3. Patrick Crayton

Overall Returner Grade:  B+ (Based on potential)

Additions since last projection
FB Chris Gronkowski
OT Robert Brewster
CB Cletis Gordon

Departures from last projection
Sam Young (IR?)
TE Scott Sicko (released)
OLB Steve Octavien

Practice Squad Projection
S Danny McCray
G Travis Bright
TE Scott Sicko
RB Lonyae Miller
WR Jesse Holley
DT/DE Sean Lissemore
LB Brandon Sharpe
CB Jamar Wall

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**UPDATE:  Obviously this list was formulated before the Cowboys traded Crayton.  I am now projecting the team to retain just five receivers, along with guard Travis Bright.  For me, it comes down to Bright and Danny McCray, but I just can’t see the team keeping six safeties.


Cowboys vs. Chargers Preseason Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted initial game notes, “DOs and DON’Ts analysis,” and what we learned from the Cowboys/Chargers game.  Now that I’ve finally had a chance to completely break down the film, here are my final observations.

Play-Calling/Formation Notes

  • The Cowboys lined up in Double Tight Left (or Right) Strong Left (or Right) seven times on Saturday night, running a strong side dive all seven times. They gained 22 total yards (3.14 yards-per-carry).  I know it is only preseason, but this is getting a bit ridiculous.  However, all seven of the plays came with the backups in the game–perhaps not a coincidence.  Here is my full analysis of the Cowboys’ play-calling out of the formation.
  • Overall, the Cowboys have run a strong side dive out of the formation on 12 of 14 plays this preseason (85.7 percent).
  • Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive out of both the “Strong” and “I” variations of the “Double Tight Left or Right) formation (below).

  • This preseason, they are running weak side out of the latter variation (I-formation).  The reason is simple: the weak side lead block for the fullback is easier if he lines up behind the center as compared to lining up between the strong side guard and tackle.  On Saturday night, they lined up in Double Tight Right I Right twice, running weak side both times and losing four total yards.
  • The Cowboys have lined up in a new formation this year called “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace” (or vice versa).  The play-calling out of this formation is by no means as predictable as that from “Double Tight Strong,” but I’ve noticed that Dallas has frequently lined up in “Double Tight Right Ace” and motioned the receiver on the Double Tight side of the formation over into a twins set, running a toss to the two-tight end side.  The play, which I (and not the Cowboys) have titled “Double Tight Right Ace Liz 28 Toss” is shown below.

  • The Chargers said they would blitz the Cowboys, and they did.  San Diego came after the Dallas’ quarterback 17 times after Oakland blitzed the ‘Boys just five times.  The Cowboys gained only 88 yards on these plays (5.18 yards-per-play).  Unfortunately, Romo was just one-for-five against the blitz for six yards and an interception. That won’t be a trend for a quarterback who is one of the league’s best in the face of pressure.
  • It seemed as though Dallas made it a priority for the quarterbacks to get the ball out of their hands quickly.  They allowed only one sack (Sam Young), but only six passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air, and only two more than 15.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.


  • I haven’t been impressed with fullback Chris Gronkowski.  I’ve seen multiple 53-man roster projections with him making the team over Deon Anderson.  You won’t find that in my roster projection.  Sure, Gronkowski is probably more athletic and a bigger receiving threat out of the backfield, but with the weapons the Cowboys possess on offense, does that really matter?  They don’t need another pass-catcher.  They need a powerful lead blocker, and right now Gronkowski isn’t showing that ability on film.  I’ve witnessed him lose his balance and dive at defenders on multiple occasions.
  • I still cannot figure out how Lonyae Miller has not jumped over Herb Donaldson on the depth chart.  Donaldson is extremely hesitant when running the ball and a poor receiver.  Miller has shown a knack for catching the ball and, although inconsistent, has at least shown some burst with the ball in his hands.
  • I’ve been impressed with Phil Costa at center.  Starter Andre Gurode is still one of the most important pieces of the offense, but Costa is making a case that he, and not Kyle Kosier, should be the backup center.
  • After watching more film, I am beginning to like safety Barry Church more and more.  He is never going to be a ball-hawk in the secondary, but he sure can tackle.  He has come flying up from the back of the secondary to make a few extraordinary tackles, yet still maintains control.
  • I was wrong on cornerback Cletis Gordon.  He will be the Cowboys’ fourth cornerback.  The one-handed interception and subsequent return he displayed in the fourth quarter in San Diego was a thing of beauty.
  • For more player observations, check my post-game notes. Player grades coming tomorrow.


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