The "dress rehearsal" game has come and gone. For the Cowboys it felt like any other preseason game with several starters not playing, and a few who didn't stick around very long.
The absence of those key players was useful in allowing for more sifting through the remainder of the roster. Some changes are reflected in this new projection.
QB: Tony Romo, Dak Prescott (2)
Prescott got a longer night of work in Seattle than perhaps anyone expected. He entered the game after Romo went down with back pain on the third play. Prescott didn't look any different from the uncannily calm player we've seen in the last two weeks. It was his toughest test yet but Prescott still delivered.
If not for Prescott's confidence-inspiring performances, Romo's injury scare would likely have us all screaming for a veteran QB to be signed. However, our rare rookie gives Dallas the luxury of getting their backup and developmental player in a single roster spot. Jameil Showers should be back on the practice squad.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris
Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson (4)
Zeke's debut lived up to expectations and Morris continued to look strong against one of the league's top defenses. At this point, Darren McFadden has been all but forgotten.
The assumption that Jackson will make the team is fairly universal, but perhaps we need to give it a little more thought. The rookie has some impressive physical gifts but hasn't been able to show much in preseason behind second and third-tier linemen. The possibility that Dallas will try to sneak him to the practice squad can't be dismissed.
I'm not ready to project that just yet, but it certainly merits consideration. Dallas may be more inclined to keep McFadden than we realize. Assuming Dunbar still has a role in the offense, Jackson could be closer to the practice squad than we've been speculating.
FB: Keith Smith (1)
CHANGES: Added K. Smith, Removed Rod Smith
I'm switching out the Smiths at fullback. I had Rod as the front runner but, as he's been missing time with an injection, Keith has been doing well with increased opportunities. Not only does Keith give you versatility with his linebacker and special teams experience, but one Cowboys insider said that he has been better as a run blocker.
While I like the idea of having a fullback who could do some thing with the ball in his hands, for which Rod Smith is better suited, it appears that Keith will claim the job based on the total package. Actually being healthy and earning the coaches' confidence the last few weeks plays a pretty big part, too.
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)
Barring an explosion in the team's final preseason game, undrafted rookie Andy Jones appears to have lost whatever foothold he had. I've never projected him to make the team but all of the positive reports from camp had him on the radar. After several missed opportunities in preseason play, though, it seems like it's time to move on.
At this point it doesn't seem that Devin Street, Vince Mayle, or Rodney Smith are any closer to making the team than Jones. Dallas would likely rather use the roster spot to keep an extra running back or tight end, anyway.
TE: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar
Geoff Swaim, Austin Traylor
Rico Gathers (5)
CHANGES: Added Traylor
Five tight ends is a lot, but Gathers is only on the team to protect him from being picked off the practice squad. He won't ever be active.
I've added Traylor because he helps fill the void as a blocker that has been left by James Hanna's injury. The return time for Hanna is still unknown. He will likely start the year on PUP and will be out at least six weeks, maybe more.
OT: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Chaz Green (3)
Althought he didn't ace it, Green passed another test last night with overall solid play against one of the league's best defenses. He still is getting penalized too much and needs to improve his conditioning for sustained performance later in games.
However, Green's work is good enough that Dallas should ride with him as the swing tackle and hope for continued development along the way. At this point, anyone on the street isn't going to be much better and likely have much less upside.
G: Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Ron Leary (3)
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney (2)
We can go ahead and lock this group in until someone gets injured or maybe Leary gets traded. With three first-round talents starting and two solid veterans in reserve, Dallas easily has the best interior line group in all of football.
~ ~ ~
Just to quickly recap, we've used 25 of the 53 roster spots on the offense. Your biggest questions marks are:
- RB: McFadden vs. Dunbar vs. Jackson (2 or 3 kept?)
- FB: Rod Smith vs. Keith Smith vs. No FB at all
- TE: Rico Gathers vs. Austin Traylor
- OT: Chaz Green vs. Veteran Free Agent TBD
So, let's move on to the defense.
DE: Benson Mayowa, David Irving
Ryan Russell, Charles Tapper (4)
CHANGES: Removed Shaniel Jenkins
Weeks 1-4 aren't going to be pretty. The Cowboys can't do much about it at this point. They can only hope that the next two weeks of practice and the fourth preseason game give guys some more momentum and development for when the games really count.
The biggest problem now is health. If DeMarcus Lawrence's suspension wasn't bad enough, everyone but Russell has some kind of injury. Mayowa, Irving, and Tapper all have nagging issues but should be okay for Week One.
Jenkins is more uncertain. His knee issue is not yet full diagnosed and may be more critical. Has he done enough that Dallas would keep him on the roster to get healthy? I could easily see Dallas cutting Jenkins to make room for someone off another team's waivers over the next few weeks.
For this projection, I'm cutting Jenkins due to his injury and the fact that they can use Kyle Wilber as a pass rusher. It's a tough cut given how Jenkins has played, but his injury is awful timing. Besides, he'd likely be cut when Lawrence comes off suspension anyway.
DT: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, Maliek Collins
Jack Crawford (5)
CHANGES: Moved J. Crawford from DE to DT
Collins made his preseason debut last night but didn't show much in the game. If he has a slow start to the year, Jack Crawford will likely see a lot more work as an inside tackle.
Nothing really projects to change here. The top three are set and J. Crawford and Collins will share rotating duties.
LB: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens
Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant
Andrew Gachkar, Mark Nzeocha
Damien Wilson (7)
I don't see making any changes here unless a new injury pops up. I think the have to go with seven guys given the health issues and that we may see Wilber getting used as a DE in some formations.
One factor to consider is if they do keep Keith Smith as the fullback, that's a potential backup linebacker for you as well. I'm not ready to cut any of these guys on the basis of Smith's presence, but it could help swing a decision if they are really up against it between linebacker or a spot at some other position.
CB: Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr
Deji Olatoye, Anthony Brown (5)
This is another position where I don't expect any changes. The top three are locked in. Olatoye has shown up well in preseason play and brings a unique size and physicality to the group.
Brown had his own injury scare last night but appears to be okay. He returned to the game and there was no mention of it afterwards.
S: Byron Jones, Barry Church
Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier (4)
Another position that seems fairly certain. J.J. Wilcox doesn't appear to have a role, unless they just aren't impressed enough with Frazier's work to want to keep him. There's no indication of that at this time.
ST: Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
Bailey had a rare miss last night, albeit from 52 yards out. Thankfully, preseason misses don't hurt your career percentage. He's still the G.O.A.T.
~ ~ ~
So, there are your 53 players for the Week One roster. As a bonus, here are the 22 guys who I think will still be around after the first round of cuts next Tuesday.
|QB - Jameil Showers
FB - Rod Smith
WR - Andy Jones
WR - Rodney Smith
WR - Vince Mayle
WR - Devin Street
C - Jake Brendel
G - Dan Buchholz
G - Boston Stiverson
T - Bryan Witzmann
T - Ryan Mack
|DE - Shaneil Jenkins
DE - Mike McAdoo
DT - Rodney Coe
DE/DT - Lawrence Okoye
LB - Derek Akunne
LB - James Morris
CB - Josh Thomas
CB - Dax Swanson
CB - Jeremiah McKinnon
S - J.J. Wilcox
K/P - Matt Wile
I think that Kellen Moore will be moved to Injured Reserve so that he no longer takes up a roster spot. Also not accounted for here are Darren McFadden and Jaylon Smith, who are still on the Non-Football Injury list. James Hanna is still on PUP. Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory also do not count against the roster as they never reported.
The cuts could begin at any point this weekend. Inside the Star will keep you up to date!
Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch
Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?
Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.
While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.
For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.
Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.
“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”
Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.
The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.
If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.
Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.
Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.
If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.
Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.
A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.
In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.
When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.
While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.
After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.
In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder Stand Out in Cowboys Practices
With Left Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, Defensive End Taco Charlton rehabbing a shoulder and foot injury, and Right Defensive End Randy Gregory currently suspended indefinitely, there have been plenty of snaps at defensive end for other players to make a name for themselves in the offseason training activities (OTAs) and this past week's minicamp. The two players that stood out above all others on the defense were defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder.
You might be asking yourself, "what does it matter? DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are the starters. Why should we care about a couple of backups."
First, the backup defensive ends for the Dallas Cowboys will play. After DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, the leaders in defensive end snaps in 2018, Randy Gregory got 44% of the snaps on defense and Taco Charlton saw 39%. Dorance Armstrong, who played sparingly as a rookie, saw 26% of the snaps. The defensive ends that make the 53-man roster are going to get playing time.
Secondly, there's no guarantee that DeMarcus Lawrence will be ready for week one. Tyrone Crawford, who was the starter at right defensive end in 2018, could miss week one if the NFL deems his offseason altercation is worthy of a suspension. That leaves a whole lot of potential snaps at the left defensive end spot if either of those two guys misses week one.
Dorance Armstrong, the Dallas Cowboys fourth-round pick from 2018, caught the eye of several observers from the media and finished his offseason with a strong minicamp.
"These coaches have to be happy with what they’ve seen from Dorance Armstrong during these practices. Armstrong has been mainly filling in for DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side, but on Wednesday he switched over to the right. There were several snaps where he was a handful for Cam Fleming to handle. Armstrong started off well last season before hitting the rookie wall. He physically looks bigger and is also now equipped with the knowledge of how he has to prepare to play at a high level the entire season. Keep an eye on Armstrong to make that jump from the first to second year."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Armstrong had a really nice training camp as a rookie and as Broaddus notes, tailed off during the regular season. Reports are that he's added size this offseason -- as most players do between their first and second year -- and if all the reports are correct, could be a breakout player in the making.
Kerry Hyder is another intriguing player and one of the more underrated offseason acquisitions by the Dallas Cowboys front office.
Coming from the Detroit Lions, where they used Hyder as a nose tackle in Matt Patricia's 3-4 alignment, he was played severely out of position. In 2016, playing primarily as a defensive end, Hyder recorded eight sacks for the Lions. In 2017, he suffered a torn achilles which kept him out all of that year.
Now with the Dallas Cowboys, he gets to return to his more natural defensive end position. And he's making some noise in these offseason practices.
D-Linemen never get any shine during OTAs, so today is for them. With Tyron Smith & La'el Collins sitting out today, Dorance Armstrong & Kerry Hyder absolutely wrecked practice. Murdered it. I legitimately don't think Dak would've gotten a single throw out if sacks were allowed.
Of course not playing against the starting tackles in Tyron Smith and La'el Collins will allow players to shine a bit more, but let's not forget that Cam Fleming started in the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots before signing with the Dallas Cowboys. Connor Williams, who has been getting snaps at tackle as well, is no slouch as a former All-American for the Texas Longhorns.
Here's what Bryan Broaddus had to say about Kerry Hyder in one of the previous OTAs his "Scout's Notebook" from May 22nd.
"I have to be careful with my love for veteran defensive linemen, but Kerry Hyder looks like a different man playing at end instead of head-up tackle. The coaching change in Detroit did him no favors last season. Having to play in a spot where he had to fight blocks all day to now working on the edge in space is a good thing for him. It appears that Hyder has his quickness back, but he also has some pass rush moves in his tool belt. I thought maybe they were going to use him as an under-tackle, but putting him back at end might be his best shot at making the roster."
Bryan Broaddus - Dallas Cowboys.com
The Cowboys found a really good player in Kerry Hyder. He's capable of playing some 3-technique defensive tackle if needed as well as on the edge. He has a good motor and is able to make plays in the running game.
With the emergence of Kerry Hyder and Dorance Armstrong this offseason, it puts Taco Charlton behind the eight ball as the team heads to Oxnard. If they continue to play well, it's a real possibility that Charlton could be a gameday inactive during the regular season, especially if Randy Gregory is reinstated.
However they end up being deployed, this group of defensive ends will cause fits for opposing offensive lines. They've been aiming for waves of pass rushers for Rod Marinelli's defense and for the first time since becoming defensive coordinator, he looks to have just that.
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