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.
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