First, my final 53 based off of my observations thus far.
QB - Tony Romo, Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee (though, it would be nice if we could tuck McGee away on the practice squad, to save room for additional personnel on defense)
HB - Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice
WR - Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, Sam Hurd, Kevin Ogletree (I'd prefer Ogletree or Austin handle Kick Returns over Felix Jones)
TE - Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, John Phillips
FB - Deon Anderson
LT - Flozell Adams, Doug Free
LG - Kyle Kosier, Montrae Holland
C - Andre Gurode, Duke Preston (finally someone who can replace Proctor's ability to be interchangeable at guard and center; Duke Preston was a starter at both position's for Buffalo last season, and actually did very well, despite their pedestrian finish)
RG - Leonard Davis, Duke Preston
RT - Marc Columbo, Pat McQuistan
I feel pretty comfortable with the above offense. I'd say the offensive line could afford injuries at the center and guard position, but we our an injured OT away from our offensive line being a turnstile. Outside of that, we have decent depth. Considering that since Stephen McGee's debut against the Raiders, we haven't seen much of him, I would not be suprised if the Cowboy's organization isn't trying to make the league forget about him, so they can sneak him past waivers, but we will know more if that's their strategy this coming Friday night against the Vikings. If we see more of Jon Kitna and Rudy Carpenter, that's exactly what the Cowboy's are trying to do.
RE - Igor Olshansky, Stephen Bowen (if we could get McGee to accept a practice squad spot, I might consider keeping Marcus Dixon here)
DT - Jay Ratliff, Junior Siavii
LE - Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher
ROLB - Demarcus Ware, Steve Octavien, Victor Butler
MLB - Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Bobby Carpenter, Stephen Hodge
LOLB - Anthony Spencer, Jason Williams (I actually had hoped Jason William's would be converted to this position from the beginning; with the season-ending injury to Brandon William's, he may be the most ideal replacement)
CB - Terence Newman, Orlando Scandrick, Mike Jenkins, Alan Ball, Mike Mickens (we will be watching the waiver wire very closely for this position; Mike Mickens is another who could use some time on the practice squad)
FS - Ken Hamlin, DeAngelo Smith (again, we will be watching the waiver wire for both Safety positions, as DeAngelo Smith and Michael Hamlin are not ready for pro football and could use some time on the practice squad)
SS - Gerald Sensabaugh, Pat Wakins, Michael Hamlin
I am more concerned about our defense, than our offense, particularly in the Seconary. First and foremost, corner is my most significant concern. Terence Newman has been an injury waiting to happen the last few seasons, and behind Scandrick and Jenkins, the options are dismal. Next on my list of concerns is Safety. Ken Hamlin has been solid, but behind him is a whole lot of inexperience. Sensabaugh, has been solid in coverage, but not as good as advertised against the run, taking poor angles and not wrapping up on potential tackles (not to mention the two major penalties levied against him in the last two games). Behind him, once again, the options are pretty weak. Linebacker is actually the least of my concerns. Bobbie Carpenter has done quite a bit to regain some of my confidence thus far. Granted, when he is headlining the second and third string defense his production is pretty weak, but I think if he is surrounded by good players, he in turn will play well, as would be the case should an injury demand he step up.
K - Nick Folk, David Buehler
P - Matt McBriar
LS - L.P. Ladouceur
I would have liked to have seen Buehler have more opportunities to kick field goals. I love the clutch performances Nick Folk has given us, but if David can be solid in this area, it would be nice to have an extra position to offer a corner, safety, linebacker, or even receiver if we would like to see a little more of Isaiah Stanback. The same goes for L.P. Ladouceur: Once again, he has been solid, but if Matt Stewart can perform the position, the additional linebacker/special teams contributor would be nice. On the other hand, unless the coaching staff is absolutely certain in regards to Buehler and Stewart taking over for Folk and Ladouceur, it certainly is not worth a gamble.
Robert Brewster - Torn pectorial muscle
Brandon Williams - Torn ACL
Matt Stewart, Marcus Dixon, Jonas Seawright, Derreck Robinson, Keon Lattimore, Julius Crosslin, Asaph Schwapp, Rudy Carpenter, Manuel Johnson, Isaiah Stanback, Jesse Holley, Travis Bright, Ryan Gibbons, Cory Proctor, Greg Isdaner, Andre Douglas, Mike Jefferson, and Julian Hawkins.
The bolded players represent guys I would like to see make the practice squad. I would have bolded Stanback, but I don't think he is eligible.
For all the emphasis placed on playing perfect, you would think we would see improvement in the penalty area. 3 preseason games down and the Cowboys are the most penalized team in the NFL. But it's not just the penalties that are bothering me, as much as, when they are happening. On the offense, their favorite time to a draw a penalty is to negate a 1st down or a score. The defense loves to commit penalties when the opposing offenses will have to punt or go for it on fourth down without the penalty that otherwise offers them a 1st down on a silver platter. The Cowboy's organization has also been telling us that they have focused on creating more turnover's via the secondary and thus far the Cowboy's only have 1. In defense of the defense, the Titan's and 49ers utilize ball control offenses, running the ball, working the flats and zone is predominantly how they move the ball limiting the number of opportunities to create turnovers via interception.
Positions of interest on the waiver wire in order of need.
Corner - Newman has been an injury waiting to happen the last two seasons. Behind Scandrick and Jenkins (and Jenkins is still not what I consider solid) the pickings are slim. Alan Ball, Courtney Brown and Mike Mickens are on the bubble, and were not for the lack of option's, Ball would likely be the only one considered worthy of a roster spot.
Safety - I know many think linebacker should be 1st and foremost if not, at least, second. But as I said above, I am much more comfortable with our second stringers at linebacker than I am at Safety.
Offensive Tackle - The position of this concern is debatable. OT could even be considered a chief concern. But for all the penalties and mistakes, the QB's have actually had a pretty clean pocket throughout the first 3 games; though, they haven't exactly played defensive powerhouses either. We will know more about this offensive line once the regular season begins, playing our first two games against the Bucs and the Giants.
Linebacker - This probably wouldn't make my list, though, I know Wade will be keeping his eye's pealed for linebackers, because they are so crucial to the success of a 3-4. But ultimately, I've been moderately happy with the play from our 1st stringers down to our rookies.
Being the preseason, it's difficult to really gauge how much my confidence has changed prior to the season beginning. I knew the offense would be a match-up nightmare and could be much more balanced than they have been since Jason Garrett took over. I even said this team was built to dink and dunk; but I would have liked to see Romo take some more chances down field (minus that duck he threw intended forOgletree), to open the intermediate game up more, as the 49ers did have a tendency to sit on routes expecting the short game. I don't think using the go route to back a defense up, show's too much of your offenses hand.
On defense, the Cowboy's can be dominating. But I've noticed, the face of their intensity changes once a defender commits a series continuing penalty. It is as if they really want these younger players to feel the sting of their mistakes, by pretty much allowing the opposing offense to do what ever it want's from that point forward. I really don't believe that's the strategy; I'm just saying, that is what it seems like.
All in all, I feel pretty confident this team is capable of having a 10 and 6 win/loss ratio by season end. But the bigger question is if that's going to be enough in a very tough NFCE.
5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule
Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.
If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.
Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.
1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons
The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.
In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.
This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.
2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor
Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.
Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.
The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.
For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.
The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.
Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.
3. Revenge Against the Falcons
The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.
Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.
4. Running Through December
The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.
This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.
It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.
Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.
5. Thanksgiving Tradition
For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.
The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).
Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.
Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.
Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.
Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring
In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:
The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC
Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.
James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.
That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.
Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory
Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.
There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.
Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.
Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.
Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.
Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.
UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC
Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.
Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.
If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.
The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.
Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.
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