The start of the 2016 season comes with a lot of questions about how certain players will be utilized. Debates over named starters and workload distributions abound, and only the actual games will tell us the full story.
However, the team's posted depth chart does share some interesting nuggets about where the Cowboys are leaning regarding certain players and positions. For today, let's look at their list and see what it tells.
|WR||D. Bryant||B. Butler|
|TE||J. Witten||G. Swaim||G. Escobar|
|LG||L. Collins||R. Leary|
|C||T. Frederick||J. Looney|
|RT||D. Free||C. Green|
|WR||T. Williams||C. Beasley||L. Whitehead|
|QB||D. Prescott||M. Sanchez|
|FB||R. Smith||K. Smith|
|HB||E. Elliott||A. Morris||L. Dunbar||D. Jackson|
Going down the list, the first noteworthy item is Geoff Swaim being above Gavin Escobar at tight end. During the offseason I assumed that James Hanna, based on his new contract, had leapfrogged Escobar as the second tight end thanks to his blocking ability. It appears that Swaim has taken up the mantle while Hanna is on the PUP list, leaving Escobar buried in what is likely his final year as a Cowboy.
At quarterback, Tony Romo wasn't even put on depth chart. That tells you just how “out” he is for the moment. Perhaps they felt it was be an indignity to put him anywhere but QB1, but also didn't want to create any confusion about his availability.
Rod Smith is currently the starter at fullback over Keith Smith, which is a surprise as Keith appeared to have the better preseason. This could indicate that Dallas intends to use the fullback more as an offensive weapon than a traditional blocker, which would work in Rod's interests more so than Keith.
Everything else is what you'd expect. So, let's move on to the defense
|LDE||J. Crawford||D. Irving|
|LDT||T. Crawford||M. Collins|
|RDT||T. McClain||C. Thornton|
|RDE||B. Mayowa||C. Tapper|
|WLB||S. Lee||J. Durant|
|MLB||A. Hitchens||M. Nzeocha|
|SLB||A. Gachkar||K. Wilber||D. Wilson|
|CB||M. Claiborne||D. Swanson|
|CB||O. Scandrick||A. Brown|
|SS||B. Church||J. Wilcox||K. Frazier|
|FS||B. Jones||J. Heath|
Benson Mayowa is no surprise as a starting defensive end. He was signed to nearly $3 million in average salary as a free agent, indicating that Dallas saw him in a significant role. Jack Crawford gets the nod over David Irving for now while DeMarcus Lawrence is suspended.
Dallas' biggest 2016 free agent signing, defensive tackle Cedric Thornton, is listed below Terrell McClain in the base defense. This is more of a technicality than anything; Thornton will get plenty of reps and may even see more total playing time as one of the nickel tackles. However, after two years of waiting for McClain to be healthy, Dallas is probably anxious to finally get their money's worth.
At linebacker, Andrew Gachkar is listed as a starter over Kyle Wilber or Justin Durant. This is a surprise to me, especially in regards to Wilber. While Gachkar had a good season in 2015, Wilber seems more like the prototypical strong side linebacker. Like with McClain and Thornton at DT, I expect a healthy rotation and shared duties.
Dallas made a point to list Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne all as “starters.” Yesterday, Rod Marinelli said that the base starters would be Scandrick and Carr. This caused a good bit of complaint among fans and followers. Personally, I think it's a temporary issue.
Dallas is showing veteran deference to Carr right now, a locker room leader who hasn't missed a game since signing here. The job is Claiborne's to take if he can stay healthy and finally carry his Oxnard and preseason hype into September. It's just another carrot for Claiborne in an all-important reclamation season.
|PR||L. Whitehead||C. Beasley|
|KR||L. Whitehead||M. Claiborne||D. Jackson|
The only notable items here are in the return game. I'm still flabbergasted by seeing Morris Claiborne's name anywhere on these lists. I can't fathom how a guy with his injury history would ever be allowed to return kickoffs. It will be interesting to see if, should Lucky Whitehead have an issue, they're truly ready to put him in.
It's also surprising to not see Dax Swanson's name on either list. His return ability was clear during the preseason and seemed to be a reason he made the team. That he's not in the mix as a returner likely says that Dallas doesn't plan to dress him for games at this time.
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These charts certainly don't tell us the full story, but they do give us some early indications of how the team perceives certain players. There will be plenty of room for change, of course, over the next four months of football.
Who will move up the depth chart? Who will keep jobs and who will lose them?
Maybe we'll start getting some answers this Sunday.