The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

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.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 53-Man Roster: Draft Picks and Free Agents

Jonathan Bales

A few holes on the Cowboys’ roster went unfilled during the draft because the team decided to select the best player available in each spot.  That’s fine, as long as those weaknesses are upgraded via free agency.  I don’t think you’ll see Dallas be overly active in free agency, but I do envision one top player and one solid player coming to Big D.  Free safety and defensive end are the obvious areas of need.

***Note: Those listed in green are free agents signings.  Those in red are rookies.

Dallas Cowboys 2011 53-Man Roster

QB
Tony Romo
Jon Kitna
Stephen McGee

Analysis: Nothing much to dissect here.  There were rumors the Cowboys would have drafted TCU quarterback Andy Dalton if he fell to No. 40 in the draft, but it looks like McGee is safe.  And no, Kitna will not be the starting quarterback in 2011.

RB
Felix Jones
DeMarco Murray
Tashard Choice
Shaun Chapas

Analysis: Marion Barber will be cut within a couple months due to an upcoming bonus.  The Cowboys might look at trading choice (or cutting him outright).  Jason Garrett is not a fan of his because he doesn’t play special teams well.  He does produce at running back, but Murray will be the clear No. 2 option (and perhaps No. 1 within a year or two).

It’s also possible the Cowboys keep two fullbacks.  Chapas is a better lead blocker than Chris Gronkowski, so he is definitely making the team.  The Cowboys don’t need their fullback to be a monster in the receiving game.  I really think Garrett will want to keep two fullbacks, and it could be a reality if the ‘Boys use just one kicker this season.  I think the idea of two fullbacks is horrible, as it would steal a roster spot from a player who could help in the area of offense where football games are won. . .the passing game.  Plus, tight end John Phillips can be used as a fullback in emergencies.

WR
Dez Bryant
Miles Austin
Roy Williams
Kevin Ogletree
Dwayne Harris

Analysis: The ‘Boys could very well carry six receivers, in which case Jesse Holley and Sam Hurd are both options.  I think Hurd will be gone because, despite his special teams value, his upside as a piece in the offense is limited.  Rookie Dwayne Harris is a good special teams player, and if Dallas retains six pass-catchers, Holley would likely make the team ahead of Hurd because of greater upside.  Ogletree is also on the roster bubble because he doesn’t quite fit with the image Garrett is clearly trying to implement on his football team.

TE
Jason Witten
Martellus Bennett
John Phillips

Analysis: The only question here is whether Phillips will surpass Bennett for the No. 2 tight end job.  I think there are ways to get Phillips on the field without severely limiting Bennett’s snaps.  Despite concerns about Bennett’s maturity, he isn’t really a bad guy and he is so much more valuable as a blocker than people realize.

OL
Doug Free
Tyron Smith
Sam Young
Leonard Davis
Kyle Kosier
Robert Brewster
Phil Costa
Andre Gurode
David Arkin
Bill Nagy

Analysis: Projecting the offensive line is difficult.  Davis, Kosier, Brewster and Nagy are all far from certain to make the team.  I think you’ll see the Cowboys re-sign Kosier and retain Davis (even if they cut and re-sign him) because it is doubtful they’re ready to let Costa or Arkin start at guard.  It’s possible they could sign a free agent, and I detailed those players in my 2011 Dallas Cowboys Free Agency Guide.  Davin Joseph, Justin Blalock and Robert Gallery are among the options there.

DL
Jay Ratliff
Stephen Bowen
Cullen Jenkins
Josh Brent
Jason Hatcher
Sean Lissemore

Analysis: My first free agent signing comes with the addition of Cullen Jenkins.  Jenkins is a five-technique player who is far superior to Igor Olshansky.  Olshansky may very well make the team because he doesn’t cost a lot, but why?  He was horrible last season and is extremely limited in what he can do.  Bowen and Hatcher are both free agents, so the ‘Boys could let one of them (probably Hatcher) walk.  If they keep both, I think the Cowboys will retain the upside of Lissemore over the age of Olshansky.

OLB
DeMarcus Ware
Anthony Spencer
Victor Butler
Brandon Williams

Analysis: I don’t think there’s much debate here.  Spencer needs to step up in 2011, and I think Butler will push him for snaps.  Williams’ improvement hasn’t been what the Cowboys wanted, but who is going to challenge him for a roster spot?

ILB
Bradie James
Sean Lee
Keith Brooking
Bruce Carter

Analysis: I think Brooking’s spot on the roster is fine if he isn’t a progress-stopper for Lee and Carter.  Lee should start and Brooking should only play in certain situations.  I really like the idea of Lee and Carter as the nickel linebackers.  It is difficult to keep a No. 3/4 linebacker who doesn’t play special teams, but Brooking’s leadership is worth it.  Leon Williams is gone.

CB
Mike Jenkins
Terence Newman
Orlando Scandrick
Bryan McCann
Alan Ball
Josh Thomas

Analysis: The biggest surprise here is Ball still on the team.  The Cowboys obviously liked Ball’s progress at cornerback in 2009, however, and he can also be thought of as an emergency option at free safety.  My confidence that Ball will make the roster is shaky because six cornerbacks is excessive and the other five are locks, in my opinion.

The only way the Cowboys can release Newman is if they sign a free agent.  With a top free agent free safety a must, I don’t think the ‘Boys will have the funds for a top cornerback like Nnamdi Asomugha or Jonathan Joseph.

S
Michael Huff
Gerald Sensabaugh
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
Barry Church

Analysis: The Cowboys’ starting free safety is not on the team right now.  There’s obviously a reason Jerry Jones passed on a safety throughout the entire draft, and I think Huff is that reason.  Donte Whitner and Dawan Landry are lower-end options.

Sensabaugh is a free agent, although I think the Cowboys would like to re-sign him.  He may test the free agent market, but the abundance of free agent safeties makes it unlikely he’ll find the deal he is seeking.  He could be in Dallas for one more season.

I think Barry Church and Danny McCray will fight for the final safety spot.  Neither is ready to start, but Church possesses more upside and better coverage skills, in my view.

Don’t count out undrafted players DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson) and Deunta Williams (UNC).  I think they’d actually take Ball’s roster spot as opposed to that of a fellow safety.

Specialists
David Buehler
Kris Brown
Mat McBriar
L.P. Ladouceur

Analysis: Will Garrett “save” a roster spot by either cutting Buehler or retaining him as the sole kicker?  I don’t think Garrett will want to experience the Buehler field goal circus again, but I do think he realizes the value of Buehler’s touchbacks.  Even with the new kickoff rule, Buehler’s ability to kick the ball through the end zone will be worth a ton.  Give him a year to work on his field goals behind a player like Brown (who is already on the offseason roster).  David Akers is also reportedly an option.

Notable Cuts/Left Unsigned
OT Marc Colombo
RB Marion Barber
DE Igor Olshansky
FB Chris Gronkowski
G Montrae Holland
S Danny McCray
WR Jesse Holley
WR Teddy Williams
DE Marcus Spears
LB Leon Williams
WR Sam Hurd
OT Alex Barron

Analysis: Yes. Yes. Yes.  Colombo and Barber gone.  The Cowboys may miss Barber’s pass protection in 2011, but they missed Colombo’s pass protection in 2010.  I honestly believe the Cowboys score three or four more points per game with Smith at right tackle over Colombo.

The players on this list with the best opportunity to make the roster are Olshansky, Gronkowski, McCray and Holley.  Spears is a free agent and probably won’t be back, so Dallas will need to replace his run-stopping ability.  Right now, I’m not sure who will do that.

By Jonathan Bales

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.


By Jonathan Bales

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.

By Jonathan Bales

“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 Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys’ Five Biggest Strengths Heading Into 2010 Season

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys are loaded with talent this season and a popular pick by experts and casual fans alike to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.  The defense ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year and looks even better so far in the preseason.  The offense was second in yards in 2009 and just added a receiving threat that was arguably this draft’s most explosive offensive weapon.

It is the list of players (and coach) below, however, that makes up the core of the 2010 Cowboys.  Without further ado, the five biggest strengths for Dallas this season. . .

5. Coach Wade Phillips

Wade Phillips as a strength!?  You bet.  You won’t hear much of this on ESPN, but Phillips is the perfect coach for this Cowboys team.  He doesn’t yell a lot, but that’s not a bad thing.  It is actually a misnomer that players respond well to being screamed at. . .the illusion lies in the correlation/causation dichotomy I’ve talked about in the past.

In fact, Phillips non-aggressive approach allows the few times he does yell to actually mean something.  Going off into a tirade isn’t commonplace for Phillips, so when he does it, his message really gets across to the players.

Further, Phillips is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL.  The Cowboys were second in the NFL in total defense last season due in large part to Phillips taking over control.  Hopefully, he’s in Dallas to stay.

4. One of the league’s best cornerback trios

I ranked Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman third in my list of the league’s top starting cornerback duos.  Both players had All-Pro seasons in 2009.

I  provided Newman with a “B+” overall grade and Jenkins with an “A-” overall grade, putting them at 10th and 8th on the team in our overall rankings, respectively.

Although nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled somewhat last season, he is still one of the better third cornerbacks in the league.  Don’t forget that he often gets picked on due to the caliber of play exhibited from Newman and Jenkins.

Scandrick has also been the team’s best cornerback thus far in the preseason.

3. The league’s top set of skill position players

Imagine the frustration of opposing defensive coordinators when they try to game plan for the 2010 Dallas Cowboys offense.  The running game is one of the league’s most efficient, so that must be contained first.  Do you focus on Marion Barber up the middle and in the passing game, or Felix Jones on counters and other misdirection plays?  What do you do about the Tashard Choice/Felix Jones combo in “Razorback” formation?

But won’t selling out to stop the run leave you vulnerable against pass?  Miles Austin’s presence alone, whether he is outside or in the slot, is enough to force defenses to play honestly.  Leave him single-covered and you risk getting beat deep on any one particular play.

How about the rookie?  We still need to see a lot from Dez Bryant, but every sign points to him being a legitimate threat on offense, even in his first season.  If you focus on Austin, Bryant surely has the skill set to beat you.

And then there’s Roy Williams.  Fans were undoubtedly uninspired from his play last season, but believe me when I say this man has regained his “swag.” I explained in a previous article why this isn’t a “new” Roy Williams, but instead, we are finally obtaining a glimpse of the “old” Roy Williams–the University of Texas variety.

Don’t forget Williams also scored seven touchdowns last year and is still a threat on in-breaking routes, such as slants and skinny posts.  His game should actually be a nice complement to that of Austin & Bryant.

So suppose you have the requisite defensive line and linebackers to somehow halt the run without placing a safety in the box.  You can just sit back in Cover Two and stop the outside receivers, right?

Not a chance.  Disregarding the fact that Austin figures to be a terror in the slot this season, the Cowboys also have another pass-catcher roaming the middle of the field.  His name is Jason Witten, and he’s been arguably Dallas’ most reliable receiver over the last few seasons.  He hauled in 94 balls last year and he’s the final guy I’m mentioning. . .pretty scary stuff, huh?  Don’t forget the Cowboys also figure to utilize Witten more in the red zone this season.

2.  DeMarcus Ware & Anthony Spencer

If my “A” and “A-” overall grades for Ware and Spencer didn’t show how important they are to the ‘Boys, perhaps my ranking of the top 105 players in the NFL did.

Either way, the dominance of Ware and Spencer make the jobs of the men at No. 4 on this list much easier.  Ware led the league in pressures (by far) and Spencer set the pace for quarterback hits (by far).

Further, both players are outstanding against the run.  The importance of their presence cannot be overstated.

1. Tony Romo

I’ve used the following Michael Irvin quote a few times in various articles, but it really sums up my feelings on Romo:

Can we get Drew Bledsoe back out here (for) just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony? Let’s put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, ‘No, I’m really doing well.’ Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we’re really doing well.

And Romo really is the “pretty girl” at the party.  How so?

Well, I could try to impress you with Romo’s 4,483 yards or 26:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but the truth is, Romo just needs to do what it takes to win in 2010.

And he’s done that in the past, posting an incredible 38-17 record to date. Of course, as fans, we want playoff wins.   We expect Romo to get to the playoffs.  But let’s not forget that these expectations only result from our overwhelming confidence in Romo.

Did we expect the same for Quincy Carter or Chad Hutchinson?  How about Ryan Leaf? Clint Stoerner?  Drew Henson?   How about the incomparable Brad Johnson, whose three-game stint in 2008 (should have) showed us how important Tony Romo is to the Dallas Cowboys.

This time, let’s not wait for a Romo injury before we realize his importance.  It’s easy to call for the backup when things aren’t going as planned, but true fans–the loyal ones–stick by their guy during times of adversity.  On which side of the fence will you be this season if the ‘Boys stumble out of the gate to a 4-4 start?  Will you be screaming for Kitna?  Or will you support your quarterback, knowing he is the most vital piece to the home Super Bowl puzzle?


By Jonathan Bales

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 Jonathan Bales

10 Dallas Cowboys Under Most Pressure This Preseason

Jonathan Bales

This preseason is the most intriguing in years for Dallas due to the abundance of position battles and uncertain roster spots.  Many players are under a lot of pressure to perform well in these exhibition games, whether it is for a starting spot or to simply make the team.  Below are my top 10.

10.  FS Alan Ball

Ball’s roster spot is obviously secure.  The same can probably be said about his starting job, although that is still somewhat debatable.  Nonetheless, Ball is under a lot of pressure to prove the Cowboys made the right decision in cutting veteran Ken Hamlin.  He must show he is physical enough to play safety and hold off the up-and-coming second-year man Michael Hamlin. I previously posted an in-depth breakdown of the Ball/Hamlin battle.

9.  LT Alex Barron

Barron probably won’t play tonight against the Raiders after injuring his ankle in the Hall of Fame game.  It is unclear when Barron hurt himself and how that affected his play, but he sure didn’t perform well.  His roster spot isn’t in jeopardy, but fans want to see enough from Barron to know the Cowboys got the best of the Barron/Carpenter trade.

8.  FB Deon Anderson

Anderson’s legal troubles have prompted some to dismiss him from their 53-man roster projections, but I’ve been saying since the end of last season that Anderson is extremely valuable to the Cowboys offense.  He’s in my latest 53-man roster projection, but his chances actually took a slight hit with the John Phillips injury.

Phillips moonlighted as a fullback, but his loss increases the probability of H-Back/TE Scott Sicko and FB/H-Back Chris Gronkowski making the team.  Both players are more versatile than Anderson, but I think the Cowboys value Anderson’s blocking ability enough to retain him.  Still, he needs to play well.

7.  TE Martellus Bennett

Bennett was in a tight battle with John Phillips for the No. 2 tight end job before Phillips was lost for the season with an ACL tear.  In my opinion, Bennett was going to lose that battle.  He is an excellent blocker( I gave him a “B+” in my 2009 Tight End Grades), but Phillips’ blocking appeared to improve enough that he may have overtaken Bennett.

Some of the pressure was lifted off of Bennett’s shoulders when Phillips went down, but there are still questions about his maturity, work ethic, and commitment to football.  He does appear to be working harder this offseason than in prior ones, but he still needs to show the coaches he can be counted on as the primary backup to Jason Witten.

6.  WR Sam Hurd

Hurd has always been a valuable special teams player in Dallas, but there are some talented wide outs behind him (Jesse Holley, Manuel Johnson, Terrell Hudgins) who may offer more potential on offense.

Further, there is no guarantee the Cowboys will keep six wide receivers.  If they only retain five, Hurd will be battling Kevin Ogletree and the three aforementioned youngsters for that final spot.

5.  NT Junior Siavii

Siavii didn’t perform terribly last season, racking up a tackle percentage that was actually over two times that of Jay Ratliff.  Siavii only racked up two pressures in 189 snaps, however, and didn’t even record a quarterback hit or sack.

The pressure on Siavii just skyrocketed with the supplemental draft selection of Josh Brent.  Brent has a tremendous motor and showed a lot of potential on Sunday night despite just arriving in Dallas.  His play-making ability appears to be greater than Siavii’s.

The Cowboys also selected DE/DT Sean Lissemore in the seventh round of the draft this year, so Siavii has a lot of competition for his roster spot.  If he doesn’t step up, he’ll lose it.

4.  LB Jason Williams

Williams said he learned more in one year from watching Brooking and James than he did in his entire college career.

Williams has so much athleticism and speed that you sometimes wonder if he relies on it too much.  In the NFL, a misstep in any direction spells disaster for any player, regardless of his speed.

Williams did okay in run support in the Cowboys’ first preseason game, but he looked lost in coverage at times.  That is a big problem since he is fighting to become the team’s nickel linebacker.

His battle with rookie Sean Lee will have to wait another week, as Lee is out for tonight’s game against Oakland.  Williams has a big-time opportunity tonight (and the rest of the preseason), and his roster spot is really on the line.  Don’t dismiss the idea of the Cowboys keeping a player like Leon Williams, who has already made some plays this preseason, ahead of Jason.

3.  RT Robert Brewster

Coach Wade Phillips half-heartedly praised Brewster’s play in Dallas’ initial preseason game, but that may have been to boost his confidence.  I intently watched Brewster multiple times on each of his plays, and he really struggled against Cincinnati.  He displayed poor footwork, even at his more natural right tackle position.  At left tackle, he was severely over-matched.

It will be difficult for Dallas to release a second-year player with so little game film, but with roster spots basically guaranteed for Doug Free, Marc Colombo, and Alex Barron, Brewster may be in a competition with rookie Sam Young for a roster spot.  The Cowboys could potentially move Brewster to guard.

2.  CBs Jamar Wall/Cletis Gordon/Bryan McCann

I’ve detailed the fourth cornerback battle in the past.  Gordon is leading the pack right now, but the gap between the three players isn’t enormous.  With Alan Ball and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah at safety, the Cowboys have two “extra” cornerbacks at another position.  Thus, I predict only one of the three cornerbacks listed above will make the final roster.

All three players look uneasy on returns, so the winner of the battle will probably be whoever displays the best combination of coverage ability–both on defense and on special teams.

I personally like McCann to win the job, but his recent injury (along with Gordon’s) has opened the door for Wall (opened the door for Wall, get it?) to step up.  Frankly, Wall has looked awful in coverage in practices and the first game, but the Cowboys did invest a draft pick in him.

1.  K David Buehler

This shouldn’t be a surprise.  In fact, I’ve talked about the pressure on Buehler so much in the past that I’m not even going to add anything here.

If you’re curious about my thoughts on Buehler, click here.  Or here.  Or here.  Or here.

—————————–

Dallas Cowboys Times on Twitter

By Jonathan Bales

Comparing Cowboys Roster Predictions: How Many Rookies Make It?

After our first round of roster predictions, we compared our thoughts to those of Dallas Morning News reporter Todd Archer.  With another projection comes another comparison.  First, take a look at our predictions:

Dallas Cowboys Times 53-man Roster, Version 2.0

Todd Archer’s 53-man Roster, Version 2.0

First for the similarities:

  • Quarterback, running back, and the specialty positions are all fairly easy to predict (although K David Buehler may eventually have company), and are thus identical between us.
  • Archer joins us as one of the few to believe six wide receivers (Austin, Williams, Bryant, Crayton, Ogletree, and Hurd) will all make the final roster.
  • After “hating” on fullback Deon Anderson in his first projection, Archer now agrees with us that Anderson will make the final cut.  This results in his tight end predictions conforming with ours as well.
  • Shockingly, we are both predicting the same nine offensive linemen to make the 53-man roster, including the release of OT Robert Brewster. We think the final two spots come down to Brewster, rookie Sam Young, and guard Travis Bright.
  • We both envision the Cowboys retaining four inside linebackers (Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Jason Williams, and Sean Lee).

Here are the differences:

  • We have one extra defensive lineman (Marcus Dixon) making the cut.

We both agree on rookie seventh-rounder Sean Lissemore having a difficult time making the squad (although we are rooting for him).  The issue is that the Cowboys may not have a true backup nose tackle behind Ratliff if Junior Siavii is let go.  If Lissemore can prove he is up for the task of playing inside, he could take Siavii’s spot.  That will be a battle to monitor during training camp.

Archer is projecting just six defensive linemen to make the final roster.  However, Coach Phillips loves to rotate defensive linemen, so we believe there could easily be a seventh defensive line spot available.  We see it going to Marcus Dixon, a player is improving vastly from year to year.  We really don’t think there is any way the Cowboys will be able to keep him off of the roster this season. For more on Dixon, check out our interview with the up-and-coming defensive end.

  • We believe the Cowboys will keep a fifth outside linebacker (Curtis Johnson).

The Cowboys are in the business of retaining the best football players possible.  Johnson is a highly underrated pass-rusher who could act as a security blanket for the Cowboys.  Without him, the team would be relying on inexperienced second-year players Victor Butler and Brandon Williams to be the primary backups to Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.  We wrote about this scenario in a Mailbag.

The development of B. Williams will be huge for Dallas.  If he shows he is capable of being a reliable backup to Ware and Spencer, Johnson’s chances of making the team decline.  B. Williams was superb in OTAs, but we still like Johnson’s skill set.

  • Archer believes the Cowboys will keep the standard five cornerbacks, while we believe it could be just four.

Only four cornerbacks in this day and age?  The reason behind our prediction is that the Cowboys will have two safeties on the roster (Alan Ball and rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah) who will be able to play cornerback.  In a way, the team will really have six cornerbacks on the roster even if they only list four at the position.

Archer also believes the Cowboys will keep two rookies: Jamar Wall and undrafted free agent Bryan McCann.  McCann is actually a player we predicted the Cowboys might select late in the draft.

Although we still have Dallas keeping four cornerbacks, we have substituted McCann for Cletis Gordon.

Gordon’s opportunity to make the final cut may have shrunk once the Cowboys upgraded the return spots with Dez Bryant and AOA (Gordon was, and still is, a sleeper to return kickoffs).  McCann has outplayed rookie cornerback Jamar Wall thus far in off-season work.  He seems to be more athletic with a better nose for the football (although a worse tackler).

  • Archer is predicting that six (SIX!) safeties to make the 53-man roster.  We only see Dallas retaining five.

Archer has all five of our players making the cut, including (interestingly) undrafted rookie Barry Church out of Toledo.  Church has really impressed the coaches thus far and we think he will take Patrick Watkins spot.

Archer sees Watkins still making the cut, saying “Watkins is the newcomer to this spot from the first prediction. His special teams ability makes him too valuable to leave off, especially woith Ball’s time to be limited with a more prominent defensive role.”

We don’t think special teams play alone will be enough to save Watkins, particularly with players like Jason Williams, Barry Church, Michael Hamlin, Marcus Dixon, and Curtis Johnson able to fill in.

By Jonathan Bales

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