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Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection

Jonathan Bales
With roster cuts on the way, I wanted to take a final stab at the Cowboys’ 53-man roster.  There are a lot of tough decisions for Jason Garrett this season, making the 53-man roster even tougher to project than in other years.  Garrett has already shown the ability to make gutsy calls, sitting or cutting underperforming players.  The release of Andre Gurode was a recent surprise.  Don’t be shocked to see more unconventional moves in the next few days.
QB
1. Tony Romo
2. Jon Kitna
3. Stephen McGee
Analysis: This is one of the few positions which is easy to predict.  Romo, Kitna and McGee will enter the season as the Cowboys’ three quarterbacks.  McGee has improved tremendously this preseason, capped off with a 21-for-25 performance last night.  He has convinced me he is, at worst, the backup quarterback of the future in Dallas.
RB
1. Felix Jones
2. Tashard Choice
3. DeMarco Murray
4. Phillip Tanner
Analysis: Felix Jones is the clear cut No. 1 back, and for good reason.  Expect Garrett to utilize Jones far more this season, as the tailback is physically and mentally prepared for a heavy workload.
With Murray and Tanner’s lack of experience, I think you’ll see Choice stay on the team.  It doesn’t appear as though he will be traded, and you can’t release a player who projects to be your No. 2 running back (to start the season, anyway).  Choice’s possible increase in touches would justify his lack of special teams play.
Jerry Jones recently stated Tanner is a lock to make the roster, and that’s the right move.  If the ‘Boys placed him on the practice squad, he would be picked up in a heartbeat.  There is only a slight chance that the Cowboys enter the season with a running back combination different from this one.
FB
1. Shaun Chapas
Analysis: This position is perhaps the most difficult to predict this season.  You could make a case for Chapas, Chris Gronkowski and Jason Pociask.  Gronkowski has experience in the offense and offers some value as a receiver out of the backfield.  Pociask gives the team flexibility with his ability to play on offense and defense, and we know Garrett values versatility quite a bit.  Still, I think Chapas will be the guy to do his lead-blocking ability and the fact that Dallas spent a draft pick on him.
TE
1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett
3. John Phillips
Analysis: The two questions here are 1) Has Martin Rucker done enough to make the roster? and 2) Will Phillips overtake Bennett as the No. 2 tight end?  I vote no to both.  Rucker doesn’t offer enough upside to keep a fourth tight end, and Bennett is still one of the most underrated players on the team.  In my 2010 Tight End Grades, I once again showed how effective he is as a blocker.  I actually think he’s superior to Witten in that department.
WR
1. Miles Austin
2. Dez Bryant
3. Kevin Ogletree
4. Dwayne Harris
5. Jesse Holley
Analysis: Austin and Bryant are options 1A and 1B this season.  I think you’ll see them receive a similar number of targets.  Ogletree and Harris are battling for slot receiver duties.  I think Garrett will side with the veteran to begin the season, but I predict Harris will overtake him as some point this year.  The fifth receiver spot is still up in the air.  Promising undrafted rookie Raymond Radway may have had a legitimate shot at making the team before breaking his leg last night.  I think Holley’s evolution as a pass-catcher and added special teams value has his roster spot safe.
OT
1. Doug Free
2. Tyron Smith
3. Jermey Parnell
4. Sam Young
Analysis: Free and Smith are obviously locks.  Parnell has surprised me in the preseason and I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about him.  I think he deserves to be the primary backup offensive tackle.  He has played on the left side so far, but he would probably move to right tackle if either Free or Smith went down (with Smith kicking to left tackle in the event of an injury to Free).
G/C
1. Kyle Kosier
2. Phil Costa
3. Bill Nagy
4. David Arkin
5. Montrae Holland
Analysis: The first four players are secure, I think, with Holland’s competition coming primarily from center Kevin Kowalski.  Kowalski has a shot since Costa is down right now, but don’t forget Kosier can move to center.  Thus, I think you’ll see the Cowboys side with Holland’s experience due to the lack thereof from Nagy and Arkin.
DL

1. Jay Ratliff
2. Marcus Spears
3. Kenyon Coleman
4. Jason Hatcher
5. Josh Brent
6. Sean Lissemore

Analysis: The big question here is whether or not Igor Olshansky will get cut.  I think it happens, although I mentioned in my Defensive End Training Camp Battle article that he could theoretically get some snaps at the nose.  Nonetheless, there are cheaper options on the roster who can probably provide more pressure than Olshansky, including Lissemore and even Clifton Geathers.  I think you’ll see Dallas try to sneak Geathers onto the practice squad, though.
OLB
1. DeMarcus Ware
2. Anthony Spencer
3. Victor Butler
4. Alex Albright
Analysis: Will the Cowboys cut Brandon Williams?  He has underperformed and Rob Ryan has no loyalty to him, so it looks likely at this point.  The only thing Williams has going for him is the lack of sensational prospects behind him, but I still think Albright offers more upside.
Will Butler push Spencer for the starting job?  Either way, expect Butler to play more snaps.
ILB
1. Bradie James
2. Sean Lee
3. Keith Brooking
4. Kenwin Cummings
Analysis: The only thing saving Brooking, in my opinion, is the fact that rookie Bruce Carter will start the season on PUP.  Otherwise, I think you’d see the veteran get released.  Cummings will probably beat out Orie Lemon for the final inside linebacker spot since the latter player has a hamstring injury.
CB
1. Mike Jenkins
2. Terence Newman
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Bryan McCann
5. Josh Thomas
6. Mario Butler
Analysis: Most people have Alan Ball making the team due to his ability to play both cornerback and safety, but what is the point of retaining versatility if it comes in the form of a player who is mediocre at both positions?  Ball might be superior to Thomas and Butler right now, but he offers much less upside.
Thomas and Butler are far from locks, however.  Thomas has been dealing with a hamstring injury and Butler’s undrafted status means the Cowboys won’t feel like they “wasted” a draft pick if they cut him (although picks are already sunk costs and should really have no bearing on future decisions, in my opinion).  Either way, I think six cornerbacks will make the roster due to the abundance of ailments affecting the players at the position.
S
1. Gerald Sensabaugh
2. Abram Elam
3. Barry Church
4. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
Analysis: This position is very hard to project after Sensy and Elam.  Church and AOA are battling Danny McCray and Andrew Sendejo for the final two roster spots, although five safeties could make the team.  In my opinion, Church is safe due to better performance at the safety position than the other three.  McCray and Sendejo offer special teams ability, and the value of Owusu-Ansah’s return skills is diminished with plenty of other return men on the squad.  Still, I’m just not sure Dallas is ready to give up on him, although I may just be naive due to my fascination with AOA.  Sendejo is practice squad material.
Specialists
1. Mat McBriar
2. L.P. Ladouceur
3. Shayne Graham
4. David Buehler
Analysis: This won’t be popular to most of you, but I think there’s a legitimate shot the Cowboys keep two kickers.  Garnering touchbacks is more valuable than most realize, and Buehler is the only kicker on the roster who can do that on a consistent basis.  Unfortunately, he can’t kick straight. . .kind of a big deal for a placekicker.  Graham, Dave Rayner and Dan Bailey are all battling to kick field goals.  It would be tough to enter the season with a rookie kicker, and Rayner may have blown his shot with an 0-for-2 performance last night.  Thus, I think Graham is the guy.

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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.

Offense

QB
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-

RB
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-

FB
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-

TE
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+

WR
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-

OT
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-

G
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-

C
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)

Defense

NT
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

DE
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-

ILB
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

OLB
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+)

CB
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+

S
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-

Specialists

LS
1. L.P. Ladouceur

Overall Position Grade: A

K
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)

P
1. Mat McBriar

Overall Position Grade: A

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

PR
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.


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Mailbag, 8/28/10: Carrying Just Four Wide Receivers?

Today’s mailbag is a quick one-hitter.  I liked this question and wanted to address it before the Cowboys make their upcoming roster cuts.

Q:  What are the chances that we go with only four wide receivers on the roster (Austin/Williams/Bryant/Crayton) to free up one or two roster spots for other, less secure roster positions?  For example, we could keep nine linebackers (Ware/Brookings/James/Spencer/BWilliams/JWilliams/Lee/VButler/LWilliams) and six safeties (Ball/Sensabaugh/AOA/Hamlin/McCray/Church).

I think we’d have a better return on our investment if we kept more special team players and backups for injuries than we would having a wide receiver who never sees the field because we’re always running two tight-end sets.

What are your thoughts?

Dusty McGuire via Facebook

A: I like the idea of having depth at the “weaker” positions, but there’s no way Dallas will carry less than five wide receivers.  The offense did employ more two-tight end sets than anyone in the NFL last season, but that will change this year.  Dez Bryant and Patrick Crayton are too talented to be left off of the field in favor of Martellus Bennett or Deon Anderson.

Further, the injury to John Phillips is actually more debilitating than a lot of people realize.  His presence on the field was counted in the team’s total of two-tight end sets last year, but he frequently lined up as a fullback or F-Back (fullback/tight end hybrid).  Without him, the Cowboys don’t really have a true motion tight end.  Jason Witten is capable of it, but he thrives in his traditional tight end role and in the slot.  Martellus Bennett rarely motions and is not at all an F-Back.

Also, an injury to one of the four receivers would cripple the Cowboys.  What would the offense do if a receiver (or even two) got injured during a game in which the team was losing?  There are times when four-receiver sets are superior to two-tight end sets, but those would be an impossibility with any injury.

Dallas would also have to cut (or trade) two very good players in Kevin Ogletree and Sam Hurd.  Ogletree has struggled in the preseason and Hurd may very well end up getting dealt, but is either player truly less valuable than the “extra” player the Cowboys could retain, such as Leon Williams or Danny McCray?  No way.  You’d be adding depth to one position by stealing it from another.

On a side note, I can’t see the Cowboys keeping six safeties.  I have seen a lot of projections with just that scenario, but the ‘Boys would be leaving themselves awfully thin at another spot.  I think five is a possibility, particularly because Alan Ball and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah can be considered safeties/cornerbacks.  That means the final roster spot at safety is probably up for grabs between Barry Church and Danny McCray.  I personally like Church to win that battle.

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Preseason Week Three, Cowboys vs. Texans: 12 Things to Watch

Jonathan Bales

As the fourth game on their five-game preseason schedule, Saturday night’s match-up against Houston will be the closest to a “real game” that Dallas will encounter until September 12 in Washington.  The starters will get significant playing time and will be able to go into the game with nearly the same mentality as that of a regular season game.  In addition to watching if the team comes out with that same regular season-type fire, here are 12 other things to watch. . .

1.  Can Tony Romo get back on track?  Will he be able to play better against the blitz?

By my count, Romo has been off-target on 10 of 28 passes this preseason.  That rate of 35.7 percent is nearly double that of last season, as you can see in my 2009 breakdown of Romo’s off-target passes.

He’s also just three-for-nine against the blitz, with only 36 yards passing and an interception.  That’s a passer rating of 6.9.

Romo is one of the top quarterbacks in the league when facing pressure, though, so these numbers are simply the result of a small sample size.  Romo will be fine, starting this weekend against the Texans.

2.  Will any of the Cowboys’ quarterbacks throw the ball downfield?

With Robert Brewster and Montrae Holland starting on the offensive line against San Diego, it seemed as though the Cowboys made it a priority for the quarterbacks to unleash the ball quickly.  They threw just six passes over 10 yards all game, and only two traveled 15+ yards.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.

With added confidence in both Brewster and Holland, the Cowboys may feel more comfortable taking some shots down the field.  That’s especially true against a weak Houston secondary.

3.  Who will start at right tackle, Robert Brewster or Alex Barron?  How will each player perform?

Barron took some reps at right tackle in practice this week and reportedly looked pretty shaky.  Brewster played well against San Diego and will probably get the nod to start.  Still, expect Barron to get some reps at right tackle.  The Cowboys want to see if he will be their swing tackle (once Marc Colombo returns) or just a backup left tackle.

4.  Will left tackle Doug Free hold his own against Mario Williams?

Doug Free has exceeded expectations thus far this preseason.  He played tremendously against the Bengals and Chargers and, although he yielded a sack, decently against the Raiders.

He hasn’t faced a pass-rusher of the quality of Mario Williams, though.  Williams will test Free like nobody he’s faced (outside of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in practice).  Let’s see if Free is up to the challenge.

5.  As always, will the offense keep running strong side dives out of “Double Tight Strong”?

Seven times lining up in the formation against San Diego, and seven strong side dives.  That raises the rate of strong side dives from “Double Tight Strong” to 85.7 percent–even more than that which I found in my analysis of the Cowboys’ 2009 usage of the formation.

It is only preseason, of course, so let’s hope Jason Garrett is simply setting up teams for the regular season.

6.  Will the offense continue to run weak side out of “Double Tight I”?

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.

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.


7.  How about a toss to the two-tight end side of “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace?”

As I explained in my final film observations from the Chargers game, 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 to the left.

8.  Will newly-acquired tight end Martin Rucker get playing time, and can he make a case for a roster spot over the under-performing Chris Gronkowski and Scott Sicko?

Rucker is behind the curve mentally, so he will have to show he’s picked up the offense.  If he can do that, he’ll have a chance to make the 53-man roster, as his competition, Gronkowski and Sicko, haven’t been stellar.

Gronkowski is a fullback but, because I can’t see Dallas cutting starter Deon Anderson, he’ll probably have to take the spot of a tight end to make the roster.  I can’t see that happening, as he’s been absolutely awful as a blocker.

Sicko played well in the Hall of Fame game but, like Gronkowski, needs to improve his blocking.

9.  Will center/guard Phil Costa continue to outperform guard Travis Bright?

Costa holds a big-time advantage over Bright right now because, not only has he been superior on the football field, but he is also more versatile.  Costa will likely be Dallas’ backup center this season (even once Kyle Kosier returns), while Bright, unless he steps up in a hurry, will probably be relegated to the practice squad once again.

10.  Will rookie Sean Lee show why the Cowboys traded up to draft him in his first NFL start?

This may be the most interesting aspect of Saturday night’s game.  Lee had an up-and-down night last week, but showed that he is capable of learning (quickly) from his mistakes.  That’s an important characteristic for any football player.

With starter Keith Brooking nursing a sprained AC joint, Lee will have an opportunity to prove he’s the future for the Cowboys at inside linebacker.  Watch to see how Lee performs in coverage, in particular, as he will almost certainly be Dallas’ nickel linebacker this season.

11.  How will the Cowboys’ secondary match up against one of the league’s premiere passing attacks?

The starters will get significant playing time, so let’s see how Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins take on the challenge of the No. 1 WR on my 2010 All-Pro offense, Andre Johnson.  Jenkins got beat a few times last week, losing his leverage and failing to press receivers, while Newman played superbly.

As always, the success of the cornerbacks will be dependent on that of their teammates–a strong pass rush will allow the ‘Boys to provide safety help over the top, making Jenkins’ and Newman’s jobs much easier.

12.  Safeties Barry Church and Danny McCray may be fighting for the same roster spot.  Who will step up?

I’ve been really impressed with Church.  He’s been okay in coverage, but outstanding in run support.  I think he has the leg up on McCray and Pat Watkins for the final safety spot on the roster.

McCray’s saving grace has been his special teams play, but I don’t think it’s been enough so far.  He blew a coverage last week and hasn’t performed nearly as well on defense as Church to this point.

The battle is still up in the air, though, so a couple of strong performances from McCray in the final two preseason games could win him the job.

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“Grading the ‘Boys”: Preseason Week Three, Cowboys vs. Chargers

Jonathan Bales

I’ve done a lot of analysis of the Cowboys/Chargers game (what to watch, DOs and DON’Ts, initial post-game notes, what we learned, final film study observations, and so on).  The Cowboys really played quite awfully, although there were some good signs (the offense scored a red zone touchdown and Sean Lee showed flashes of play-making ability, for example).

Today, I will grade the players.  In my first two “Grading the ‘Boys” segments, I explained that it would be impossible for me to study every player as closely as I deem necessary for grading.  Instead, I watch a select group of players in great detail and report back to you on their performance.

WR Miles Austin: A

He and Romo have the potential to be unstoppable on those back-shoulder fades.

FS Alan Ball: A-

Not sure if I mentioned this, but Ball looks much better tackling this season; brought down Darren Sproles in open field and looked solid elsewhere

RB Marion Barber: C

Barber’s first preseason grade; don’t see the added explosion and burst others are raving over

TE Martellus Bennett: B+

Showed why the Cowboys drafted him with freaky athleticism; always a great blocker; committed one false start; may have gotten “A-” if not for horrid post-touchdown dance

OT Robert Brewster: B+

Shocking performance; did receive some help from tight ends/running backs, but technique was much improved; one false start

LG Travis Bright: C

Just not seeing the same level of dominance from Bright as from Costa

S Barry Church: B+

He’s an “in-the-box” guy, but his tackling ability really stood out; if he can show adequate range, he’s got a shot



G/C Phil Costa: A-

Very impressive film; versatility will grab him a roster spot

RB Herb Donaldson: D-

Hesitant on runs and dances in hole; poor receiver

CB Cletis Gordon: A

Underestimated this guy; tremendous technique and coverage ability; displayed athleticism and ball skills on one-handed interception; also an emergency return man; will likely be Dallas’ fourth cornerback

FB Chris Gronkowski: D

Just can’t see how Cowboys will keep him on 53-man roster; loses balance and lunges at defenders; light years behind Deon Anderson

DE Jason Hatcher: B

Nothing extraordinary, but playing well this preseason against both pass and run; could unseat Spears for starting gig

LG Montrae Holland: A-

Really nice job in both run game and pass protection; showed good balance and is a “scrapper” inside

WR Sam Hurd: B

Stepped up with roster spot in question; probably more potential as a receiver than Jesse Holley

CB Mike Jenkins: C

Nothing to worry about, but got beat a few times inside; showed poor technique by losing leverage, missing on press

QB Jon Kitna: B

Others hate, but I am comfortable with Kitna as backup; has checked out of four plays this preseason, all with good results

LB Sean Lee: B-

Up-and-down night; lost track of ball a few times early (two run plays and a screen that I noticed), but responded well and made some tremendous plays to close out game

S Danny McCray: C-

Still not as impressed with this guy as others; blew assignment in third quarter to yield huge play; special teams ability could save him, but I prefer Church

RG Pat McQuistan: F

Next.

FS Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: C+

Hesitant on kickoff returns but showed burst and decisiveness on punt return; no obvious mental errors

QB Tony Romo: C-

By my count, was off-target on four of 11 passes; analysis of 2009 off-target passes shows he’s missed about twice as many this preseason; also made poor decision on interception

NT Junior Siavii:  B

Arrival of Josh Brent has lit fire under Siavii; would be nice to see him improve in pass rush

RT Sam Young:  D-

Really poor game after solid outings earlier; yielded only sack of game and got beat other times due to poor technique and lack of quickness; lined up off of line of scrimmage twice in period of a few plays

By

Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection, Version 4.0: Will David Buehler kick field goals?


Jonathan Bales

With two preseason games in the books, we’ve actually already learned a fair amount about the Cowboys, in both the Bengals game and the Raiders game.

There have been some great stories, such as the emergence of cornerback Bryan McCann (who I predicted would make the team months ago) and linebacker Leon Williams (who I completely missed on). 

On the other hand, the ‘Boys now know they could be slightly thin at tight end after John Phillips went down with a season-ending ACL tear.  Other players may not be injured, but their poor starts are surprising (Kevin Ogletree and Robert Brewster, for example).

As I altered my last 53-man roster projection to create the one you see below, the key was to not overreact to the Cowboys’ first two games.  There are three to go, which may be a blessing in disguise for a Dallas team that has a lot to sort out on the back end of their roster.

Offense

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

This is a no-brainer.  Barring a devastating injury, Romo, Kitna, and McGee will be your Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks in 2010. 

Didn’t make the cut: Fourth-stringer Matt Nichols could be stashed on the practice squad.

Overall Position Grade: A-

RB
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).  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 has shown little explosion in preseason, and undrafted free agent Lonyae Miller has been just average.

Overall Position Grade:  A-

FB
1. Deon Anderson

I’ve explained the importance of Anderson ad nauseam.  He even showed some pass-catching ability against the Raiders (don’t expect much more of that).

Didn’t make the cut: Chris Gronkowski has shown he can be a threat in the passing game, although his blocking is nowhere near the level of Anderson.  He could make the team as a H-Back-type player, even if Anderson is retained.

Overall Position Grade: B-

TE
1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett
3. Scott Sicko

I just couldn’t see Sicko making the team before Phillips was injured.  Even with a projected increase in three-receiver sets this season, the Cowboys run enough two and three-tight end formations that Sicko’s presence is now needed.

Didn’t make the cut: DajLeon Farr did a commendable job in making no obvious mental errors against the Raiders, despite being signed just two days prior.  Still, he’s a longshot.

Overall Position Grade: B+

WR
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?  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. 

Didn’t make the cut: Jesse Holley has a really great 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 shot.

Overall Position Grade: A-

OT
1. Doug Free
2. Marc Colombo
3. Alex Barron
4. Sam Young

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 recently going down with a knee injury.  His 2-4 week absence could force the Cowboys to keep an extra tackle on the roster.  If so, it will probably be Robert Brewster.  Let’s play this one by ear.

Didn’t make the cut:  Like I said, Brewster could make the team by default.  His preseason play has certainly not justified it.

Overall Position Grade: C-

G
1. Kyle Kosier
2. Leonard Davis
3. Montrae Holland
4. Phil Costa

I substituted Costa for Travis Bright because Bright has really struggled in the preseason and Costa’s versatility (he can play center) is valuable.  Yeah, the Cowboys plan to work Kosier in behind Gurode, but the guy hasn’t taken a snap (or given one, actually) from the position in his entire career. 

A Gurode injury would also force the Cowboys to make two alterations to the offensive line–one at center and one at left guard–and I doubt they want to do that.

Didn’t make the cut: Bright has struggled too much in the first two preseason games for me to justify leaving him on the roster.  Don’t count out the possibility of the Cowboys moving Brewster to guard, but his lack of experience there would be quite a risky proposition.

Overall Position Grade: B-

C
1. Andre Gurode

The Cowboys don’t even have another true center on the roster.

Didn’t make the cut:  Kosier, Costa, and even Bright could all get a look at center in the preseason.

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

Defense

NT
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

DE
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 magnificently in his absence, so it isn’t a sure thing.  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-

ILB
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: It is so hard for me to leave Leon Williams off of this roster, 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.  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

OLB
1. DeMarcus Ware
2. Anthony Spencer
3. Victor Butler
4. Brandon Williams
5. Steve Octavien

I substituted Octavien for Curtis Johnson here.  It is possible the Cowboys keep neither player and just roll with four outside backers, but Coach Phillips loves depth at the position.  If the Cowboys do only keep four outside linebackers, they may very well retain five inside LBs.

Didn’t make the cut:  I don’t think Johnson’s special teams ability is any better than that of Octavien, but Octavien has shown more pass-rush ability.

Overall Position Grade: A (almost A+)

CB
1. Mike Jenkins
2. Terence Newman
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Bryan McCann

No changes here.  I’ve loved McCann since the Cowboys signed him and he’s done nothing to change my opinion.  He’s shown tremendous athleticism and coverage ability.  If he can continue to prove he can hold up physically, I think he obtains the fourth (and last) cornerback spot.  The versatility of the safeties (Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Alan Ball) allows the ‘Boys to keep just four CBs.

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 veteran Cletis Gordon and even track star Teddy Williams could both make the 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?  Will he make it to the practice squad?

Overall Position Grade: B+

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

The big question is whether Dallas will retain five safeties.  I think they will due to the lack of a true strong safety.  Owusu-Ansah is a lock to make the team and Hamlin is probable (although I haven’t been overly impressed with his play this preseason), but both players are strong safeties.  Church is probably the best of the Cowboys’ backup strong safeties.

Didn’t make the cut: No matter how things shake out, I think Patrick Watkins has already played his final season in Dallas. 

Danny McCray also has a chance to nab the final safety spot, but he’s probably better suited on the practice squad.

Overall Position Grade: C-

Specialists

LS
1. L.P. Ladouceur

Overall Position Grade: A

K
1. David Buehler

Buehler has looked pretty good on field goals in the preseason.  He is six-of-seven thus far and he struck the ball very well on Thursday against Oakland.  If the Cowboys do need to bring in another kicker, they will have to release a very good player at another position.

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

P
1. Mat McBriar

Overall Position Grade: A

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

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

Overall Returner Grade:  B+ (Based on potential)

Additions
TE Scott Sicko
G Phil Costa
NT Josh Brent
OLB Steve Octavien

Departures
TE John Phillips
G Travis Bright
DE Marcus Dixon
OLB Curtis Johnson


By

Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection, Version 2.0: Year of the Undrafted Rookie?

The second version of our 53-man roster projections is here without too many alterations from the first attempt.  At guard, we substituted Travis Bright for the recently released Cory Procter.  We can’t say we aren’t happy to see Procter finally gone.

At cornerback, we replaced Cletis Gordon with Bryan McCann.  Coach Wade Phillips likes Gordon, but after further thought, the return skills he offers are less imperative with rookies Dez Bryant and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah on the roster.

Of course left tackle changes with the addition of former Rams tackle Alex Barron.  We expect him to take second-year man Robert Brewster’s spot.

The last change came at safety, where we replaced free agent O.J. Atogwe (still a possibility, but a slim one) with undrafted rookie Barry Church.  It may be a stretch to predict two undrafted rookies (McCann and Church) to make the squad over two drafted ones (Sean Lissemore and Jamar Wall), but we like what both undrafted players have to offer.

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

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

FB
1. Deon Anderson

TE
1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett
3. John Phillips

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

LT
1. Doug Free
2. Alex Barron

LG
1. Kyle Kosier
2. Travis Bright

C
1. Andre Gurode

RG
1. Leonard Davis
2. Montrae Holland

RT
1. Marc Colombo
2. Sam Young

DT
1. Jay Ratliff
2. Junior Siavii

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

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

OLB
1. Demarcus Ware
2. Anthony Spencer
3. Victor Butler
4. Brandon Williams
5. Curtis Johnson

CB
1. Mike Jenkins
2. Terence Newman
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Bryan McCann

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

LS
1. L.P. Ladouceur

K
1. David Buehler

P
1. Mat McBriar

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

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

Additions
Dez Bryant (R)
Sean Lee (R)
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (R)
Sam Young (R)
Jamar Wall (R)
Sean Lissemore (R)
Barry Church (R)
Bryan McCann (R)
Marcus Dixon (from practice squad)
Travis Bright (from practice squad)
Alex Barron

Released/Traded
Patrick Watkins
Bobby Carpenter
Pat McQuistan
Duke Preston
Steve Octavien
Stephen Hodge
Flozell Adams
Ken Hamlin
Jamar Wall (R)
Sean Lissemore (R)
Cory Procter
Cletis Gordon
Robert Brewster

By

Cowboys Poll: Wide Receivers

In our 53-man roster projection, we predicted the Cowboys will retain six wide receivers: Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant, Patrick Crayton, Kevin Ogletree, and Sam Hurd.  Crayton are Hurd, of course, could get dealt or released prior to the start of the 2010 season.

Of those two scenarios (traded or cut), we see the latter as more probable, considering the Cowboys did not receive a suitable offer for either player in this year’s draft.  With Bryant being selected in the first round, Dallas had two days to find a trade partner for Crayton or Hurd and were either unable to do so or unwilling to pull the trigger.

Keeping six wide receivers is obviously a luxury, so the fates of Crayton and Hurd could be directly linked to the pre-season success of kicker David Buehler.  If Buehler wins all kicking duties, the Cowboys may be more apt to retain an “extra” wide receiver.

By

Predicting Dallas’ 2010 Depth Chart/53-Man Roster

Below is our projected Cowboys’ opening day 53-man roster and depth chart.  It is also the one we think will be the team’s greatest ticket to success.  We have listed a few of the intriguing aspects of our projections at the bottom of the post.

**UPDATE:  The Cowboys just signed guard Montrae Holland to a two-year contract.  We had originally had him being released and have since changed our projected roster, removing Travis Bright.

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

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

FB
1. Deon Anderson

TE
1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett
3. John Phillips

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

LT
1. Doug Free
2. Robert Brewster

LG
1. Kyle Kosier
2. Cory Procter

C
1. Andre Gurode

RG
1. Leonard Davis
2. Montrae Holland

RT
1. Marc Colombo
2. Sam Young

DT
1. Jay Ratliff
2. Junior Siavii

DE

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

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

OLB
1. Demarcus Ware
2. Anthony Spencer
3. Victor Butler
4. Brandon Williams
5. Curtis Johnson

CB
1. Mike Jenkins
2. Terence Newman
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Cletis Gordon

S
1. OJ Atogwe
2. Gerald Sensabaugh
3. Alan Ball
4. Michael Hamlin
5. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

LS
1. L.P. Ladouceur

K
1. David Buehler

P
1. Mat McBriar

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

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

Additions
Dez Bryant (R)
Sean Lee (R)
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (R)
Sam Young (R)
Jamar Wall (R)
Sean Lissemore (R)
OJ Atogwe (from Rams)
Marcus Dixon (from practice squad)

Released
Patrick Watkins
Bobby Carpenter
Pat McQuistan
Duke Preston
Steve Octavien
Stephen Hodge
Flozell Adams
Ken Hamlin
Jamar Wall (R)
Sean Lissemore (R)

Some points of interest

  • We expect FB Deon Anderson to make the squad despite his current legal situation.  If Anderson is suspended for a long period of time, however, expect undrafted rookie Chris Gronkowski to be the guy.
  • We expect Dez Bryant to begin the season as the #3 wide receiver.  As of now, we actually believe there is a solid chance the Cowboys keep six wide receivers.
  • We don’t expect Dallas to address the offensive line in free agency.
  • If the Cowboys cannot trade Marcus Spears for a reasonable price, expect him to be on the team and for the Cowboys to carry five defensive ends to make room for the up-and-coming Marcus Dixon.
  • Expect rookie Sean Lee to immediately compete with Jason Williams for the nickel LB job.  That leaves one Bobby Carpenter out of the mix.
  • The Cowboys seem to really like the versatility and athleticism of seventh-rounder Sean Lissemore, but we think he will have a tough time making the squad.  His best bets would be for a current defensive end to get traded or to beat out Marcus Dixon for the final roster spot.  We don’t see the latter scenario happening, and Lissemore probably cannot be counted on to immediately be an effective backup to Jay Ratliff inside.  Thus, Junior Siavii will probably make the team and Lissemore will have his work cut out for him.  He could also benefit from the Cowboys keeping just five wide receivers.
  • Curtis Johnson has so much promise as a pass-rushing OLB that we don’t think the Cowboys will let him go.  Putting him on the practice squad would likely result in another team signing him.
  • Unfortunately, we think Texas Tech rookie cornerback Jamar Wall is going to have a tough time making the team.  Due to the versatility of both Alan Ball and rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Dallas may just keep four true cornerbacks on the roster.  If so, Wall will compete with Cletis Gordon for the last spot.  The coaching staff loves Gordon and he is a darkhorse candidate to return kickoffs this season.  This is a toss-up, but we believe Gordon has the slight advantage as of now.
  • Fans will be happy to know that we do envision the team signing one free agent–Rams FS OJ Atogwe.  We think the presence of veteran free agents such as Atogwe and Darren Sharper allowed Dallas to truly focus on selecting the best player available in the draft.  Atogwe’s addition wouldn’t preclude the Cowboys from keeping five safeties (again, AOA and Ball can be considered hybrid players), but it would likely mean Patrick Watkins would be released.
  • David Buehler will be given every opportunity to win all kicking duties.  If he struggles, the team will obviously have to sign another guy.  The most likely roster casualty?  Probably Curtis Johnson.
  • Dez Bryant will probably begin the season as the primary punt and kickoff returner.  This will likely be just for 2010, as his emergence at receiver would pave the way for AOA to take over return duties.