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Brian’s Projected 53 Man Roster: Preseason Week 1

Brian Leatherman



Cowboys Blog - Brian's Projected 53 Man Roster: Preseason Week 1

In the fifth, and final part of our week one preseason series on a projected 53 man roster, Brian joins Paul in going deep on the defensive line and takes a new approach to full back - J.C. Copeland as a running back / fourth tight end. And as always, check out the first four parts of the week one staff projections: Mike Harlos - Jonathan Day - Christopher Mak - Tarheel Paul.


Tony Romo
Brandon Weeden

No need for a lot of talk here, Romo is the man. Weeden is proving what he can do with a good offensive line blocking for him. Caleb Hanie has shown why he’s been in the league as a backup for a few years now, but he isn’t going to be here in Dallas. Dustin Vaughan keeps improving; he could find himself a spot on the practice squad.

DeMarco Murray
Lance Dunbar
Joseph Randle
J.C. Copeland

Murray and Dunbar - of course - are the locks of this group. I was rather surprised to see them keep Dunbar out of the first game, and it wasn’t because he was hurt. The coaches kept him out like they did the rest of the important pieces to the offense.

Randle has shocked me, there I said it. And I’ve said from the start of the offseason that Randle would have to become a special teams demon or just turn it up a notch as a running back to make this team, and I didn’t think he would or could do either. Turns out that he might not have reached demon status in special teams (he has improved greatly) yet, but he sure has taken it up a notch in his overall game as a running back. Ryan Williams would have been a nice story had he been able to beat out Randle, but as of right now, Randle could be making a push for carries when the games start to mean something.

Copeland’s biggest competition isn’t from Tyler Clutts for the full back position, his competition is going to come from another position - tight end. Jason Garrett has never been afraid to keep an extra tight end over a fullback, and that could be the case again this year.

Wide Receiver
Dez Bryant
Terrance Williams
Cole Beasley
Dwayne Harris
Devin Street

No real big surprises here, although at one point I thought of keeping up to six WRs. LaRon Byrd and Dezmon Briscoe would have had a good shot at one of the last WR spots on the roster but because of injury on the defensive side of the ball, it just won’t happen. However, do look for Chris Boyd - the undrafted rookie free agent out of Vanderbilt - to make the practice squad, along with Jamar Newsome.

Tight End
Jason Witten
Gavin Escobar
James Hanna

So far in camp and in the first preseason game, both Hanna and Escobar have shown drastic improvement in their run blocking. And Jason Witten is being Jason Witten.

Offensive Line
Tyron Smith
Ronald Leary
Travis Frederick
Zack Martin
Doug Free
Mackenzy Bernadeau
Uche Nwaneri
Darrion Weems

Two questions with this group:

  1. Who's the starting left guard?
  2. Who's the backup tackle?

Bernadeau has the lead so far at the starting left guard spot, and the swing tackle is still up in the air, although I will give the edge to Weems. Versatility is the name of the game here. Bernadeau has shown he can play center and Martin can play either tackle position. I think Jermey Parnell has reached his ceiling and a younger, cheaper player like Weems - who is already at the same talent-level - gets the nod as the new swing tackle.



Defensive Line
Anthony Spencer DE
George Selvie DE
Jeremy Mincey DE
Tyrone Crawford DE/DT
Henry Melton DT
Kenneth Bishop DT
Davon Coleman DT
Terrell McClain DT
Caesar Rayford DE
Ken Boatright DE
DeMarcus Lawrence DE

Going deep on the D-line here. Some of the reasoning behind that being injuries to some of the players now, and the team wanting to keep sending in fresh players to rush the QB later. It basically means it will be the deepest position on the team. A surprise name not on the list is Nick Hayden. He was pushed all over the place in the Charger game and that was pretty much what we saw out of him last season. He has a cool nickname, but I would rather have younger guys with more upside on the team. Would love to have seen what Ben Gardner could have done, and hopefully we still might get that chance, but as of right now he will go on the practice squad.

Justin Durant MLB/OLB
Rolando McClain MLB
Anthony Hitchens MLB/OLB
Bruce Carter OLB
Kyle Wilber OLB
DeVonte Holloman OLB
Will Smith OLB

The only tough choice I had here was picking between Will Smith and Cameron Lawrence. Smith adds more speed and athleticism, even though Lawrence has the experience. This pick could change a time or two before it’s all said and done.

Brandon Carr
Orlando Scandrick
Mo Claiborne
Sterling Moore
B.W. Webb
Terrance Mitchell

I feel they keep six here, mainly because of Orlando Scandrick’s suspension. They need someone to cover the slot while he’s gone and I sure wouldn’t leave that to one of the safeties. Mitchell has shown enough promise and Webb has improved enough from last season to give them both an edge over their competition.

Strong Safety/Free safety
Barry Church SS
J.J. Wilcox FS
Jeff Heath FS
Ahmad Dixon SS
Jakar Hamilton FS

Even though Jakar Hamilton as shown some versatility in training camp, covering the slot if asked, I don’t feel it’s enough. However, with suspension to Scandrick , Hamilton still makes the team for now. Heath is a special teams demon and he can cover, he just has to locate the ball better. Ahmad Dixon had the reputation of being around the ball and knocking the slobber out of people when he was drafted out of Baylor, and he lived up to that reputation in the first preseason game. When a player goes from fighting for a spot on the team, to running plays with the first and second team in a week's time, I think he's a lock to make the team.

Dan “Got’em” Bailey

Long Snapper
L.P. Ladouceur

Chris Jones

There’s my 53, like it or not? Comment below and let me know. You can also send me your thoughts on Twitter: @bleatherman2011

Brian has been a football junkie from the time he was 5 years old. He lives, eats and breathes the game. Brian is a college graduate living in the south who loves his faith, his family, and his Dallas Cowboys.

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Star Blog

2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch

Kevin Brady



Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies

As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.

It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.

Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.

No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.

Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.

There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.

Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.

Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.

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Star Blog

What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?

Kevin Brady



Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.

Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.

They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?

Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.

Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.

Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.

Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.

Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.

This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.

The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.

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Star Blog

3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018

Kevin Brady



Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

Coming into the 2018 season, loads of questions surrounded the Dallas Cowboys and the future of their roster.

Could their defense stay intact when the annual Sean Lee injury occurred? Was Kris Richard going to lead the Cowboys young secondary to places we thought they could be? And would Dak Prescott earn a contact extension and become the official franchise quarterback of America's Team.

Of course, there are tons of other questions that may have gone unanswered, but these three critical areas seem to find clarity in 2018.

Leighton Vander Esch And Jaylon Smith Are Legit

The Dallas Cowboys caught a lot of flack for their selection both of these linebackers, each for different reasons.

When they snagged Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was still unknown to the public if Smith could ever even play football again. When they took Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall last April, fans questioned how valuable an off-ball linebacker would be on a defense that already had Sean Lee.

Well, after their first full season together, it's easy to say that both Vander Esch and Smith are the linebacker options of the future in Dallas. Named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season, Vander Esch took the world by storm in 2018. When Lee went down, he was there to not only fill his shoes, but to outplay the veteran all year long.

What is fun to consider is that as good as Vander Esch was this season, Jaylon Smith might be even better. Both posses insane sideline to sideline pursuit ability, and are some of the surest tacklers in all of football.

Watching these two grow together will be a pleasure over the coming seasons.

Their Young Secondary Is Coming Together

Like their linebackers, the Dallas Cowboys secondary is a young group, who fans are excited to watch grow throughout the years. It seemed like more pressure sat on the shoulders of young cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie than of Smith and Vander Esch, however.

With Kris Richard joining the staff and making the decision to move Jones to cornerback full time, it was do-or-die for the former first round pick. Byron Jones answered all the doubters, earning not only a Pro Bowl selection but also First Team All Pro honors for his performance.

Opposite him, Awuzie had a rough start to his sophomore campaign. While typically right there in coverage, wide outs too often made contested catches over him. Over the final few weeks of the year, however, that changed and Awuzie played some of the best football yet.

Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis (in much fewer snaps) all had fantastic seasons as well, giving the Cowboys great hope and confidence in their secondary moving forward. They may need to add another safety during the offseason, however, though Jeff Heath remains more than just a viable option.

Dak Prescott Is Here To Stay

Whether or not you think it's justified, Dak Prescott is the quarterback of the future in Dallas. And he earned that right the back-half of 2018 and during the postseason. After a shaky start to his 3rd season, Prescott turned things around nicely, leading the Cowboys to a 7-1 finish to the regular season.

Prescott played the best football of his young career down the stretch, and showed just how valuable he is both on the field and in the locker room. It seemed like every game he made 2-3 winning plays that put the Cowboys over the top that afternoon.

Dak is going to get a contract extension, and will be locked in as a Cowboy for the foreseeable future, and with the way he played the final 10 games of his season, I can't second guess this decision much at all.

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