There is no exact blueprint for a NFL roster. Every year, teams are put together with different circumstances and philosophies that change the numbers at each position. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception, and 2017 is likely to have different math from last season.
Here is a quick look at some of the positions where you can expect change on offense. We'll see where roster spots are opened up, but also where they may be consumed.
You can read about the changes on defense here, or using the link at the end of the article.
Last year, Dallas carried three guys as they worked through Tony Romo's injury situation. Even once Romo became healthy, Mark Sanchez remained on the 53-man roster for the rest of the season.
There is little doubt right now that the Cowboys will have just two QBs in 2017. Dak Prescott is the clear starter and Kellen Moore, re-signed in March, is expected to be his backup. There is no young developmental player who projects to earn that third spot, which would only be used if Dallas didn't want to risk losing someone on the practice squad.
Granted, things could change between now and Week One. Injuries can change the landscape quickly. Also, some young guy could wow us more than Alex Tanney or Dustin Vaughan ever did to force his way onto the roster. However, if that happens, he might be good enough that Dallas decides they don't need Kellen Moore after all.
Still, the most likely scenario is that Dallas will keep just two quarterbacks. That opens a roster spot for another position in 2017 which we didn't have last year.
Dallas opened 2016 with four halfbacks and two fullbacks on the 53-man roster. That is highly unlikely this year, which should open up at least one or two spots for other positions.
One big change is the role that Lance Dunbar occupied. At this point, receivers like Lucky Whitehead or Ryan Switzer are likely to get the looks on offense that Dunbar did, which came primarily as pass catcher. You will see how this may push Dallas to keep a sixth receiver in 2017, using up one of these RB roster spots.
At fullback, Keith Smith seems to be entrenched now as the starter. Rod Smith is still around and made the team early in 2016 to compete at FB and play special teams, but he should only make the squad now as a halfback.
With Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden looking solid as the top two guys, a third halfback should be all the team needs. They only carried Darius Jackson last year as a drafted player who they didn't want to risk on the practice squad, never actually playing him in a real game. That is unlikely to happen again.
It is highly possible that Dallas will keep six receivers in 2017. The top four guys all have roles to play and bring their own element to the offense. Rookie Ryan Swizter is a virtual lock to make the team, already being seen as the front-runner to be the return specialist and to have a niche role on offense.
Noah Brown, drafted in the seventh round, could be carried as a gameday inactive to protect him from practice squad poachers. He could be good enough to push Brice Butler off the roster, but it's too soon to project that. The same can be said for Andy Jones, a promising undrafted player from last season.
It's also too soon to dismiss Whitehead from making this year's team. Many assume that his roster spot will go to Switzer, but both could make the squad depending on the roles they're best suited to fill.
However it shakes out, receiver is looking like a position where Dallas can easily go longer than last season. Here comes another one.
Dallas only kept three TEs last year. Would they have kept four if James Hanna hadn't been injured? It's hard to say; Gavin Escobar might have been released if Hanna and Geoff Swaim were both active.
Regardless, the Cowboys could easily be keeping four guys this season. Jason Witten's back to play his 27th season, or something like that, and you have the experienced backups in Hanna and Swaim. The fourth man is Rico Gathers, the highly intriguing draft pick from 2016 who spent last year converting from basketball to football on the practice squad.
If Gathers was able to develop enough, and there is plenty of chatter that he has, then Hanna and Swaim might be fighting for one spot. However, 2017 could easily be Jason Witten's last season. Dallas may be using this season as a year-long audition for all of these guys to show who might be able to start in 2018.
Camp and preseason will hopefully give us some clarity here. For now, I'm betting on Dallas going long and keeping the options open as the season progresses.
Dallas opened 2016 with just eight offensive linemen on the roster. They had more stability then, though, with veterans Doug Free and Ronald Leary in the mix. The exit of those two players has potentially created the need for some additional bodies.
The move of La'el Collins from guard to tackle appears to be final. That leaves a starting spot at left guard open with several contenders: Byron Bell, Emmett Cleary, Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, and Joe Looney.
It's too early to say there's a favorite. How all of these guys continue to compete should be the story of training camp for the offense.
However it unfolds, though, you could have some players with troublesome injury history in key positions. Collins had a foot injury which cost him most of last year. Cooper, a former first-round pick, has had his NFL career nearly derailed by health problems. Green has battled injuries the last two years.
These question marks could easily prompt Dallas to keep some extra depth, at least nine players over eight, at the start of the year. Even if health isn't the concern, they may still not be settled at left guard or with some of the reserve spots and want to keep evaluating guys into the regular season.
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Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator
The big word around the Dallas Cowboys lately is about Jason Garrett and the future of the head coaching job. Some have speculated that either Quarterback Dak Prescott or Jason Garrett will get axed, and the other will stay.
Owner Jerry Jones was quoted on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas about his young quarterback, putting to bed at least half of the conflict.
"Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s young and he’s going to get extended."
This shut the door on the idea of Prescott being replaced.
As far as Jason Garrett? Jerry Jones has been less than committed.
"I’m not in the business of backing anybody; the head coach, or offensive coordinator, I just don’t back them publicly." Jerry Jones said.
So it seems that Jason Garrett’s future is up in the air.
But what about offensive coordinator Scott Linehan? What’s held the Cowboys back this year has been the offense, and a lot of it can be contributed to their predictable play calling and inability to adapt to today’s game and its current players.
Whether or not Jason Garrett retains his job, Scott Linehan’s job doesn’t seem near as secure. His scheme doesn’t really mesh with Dak Prescott and how the offense could look. There’s only so many times you can run a three tight end set and not get furious.
Cowboys fans may want Garrett gone but they might have to settle for a new offensive coordinator instead.
The good news is that there are many options out there. Options that not only could work well with Dak Prescott, but could bring the Cowboys offense into the 2010s.
Jerry Jones once said how the Cowboys offense was like the LA Rams. If they are able to sign their Co-Offensive Coordinator, then they could be.
When Matt LaFleur left to become the Tennessee Titans OC, the job became a shared job between Waldron and Aaron Kromer. I wonder if Waldron would rather have the job all to himself?
What makes Waldron so appealing is he is also the Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Those are two areas where the Rams excel and where the Cowboys need help.
Teams are going to start copying the offensive juggernauts of the NFL and the Rams are definitely one of them. The Cowboys should do themselves a favor and get out in front before other teams beat them to it.
Cam Newton is having one of his best seasons. Not only is he an MVP candidate but he’s set to have career highs in completion percentage and QBR, as well as a career low in interceptions. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback but some of this has to be attributed to his new Quarterback Coach, Scott Turner.
The son of Norv Turner, Scott has seemingly helped mold Cam into a more accurate passer without compromising who Cam Newton is as an athletic quarterback. That has Dak Prescott written all over it.
He's got NFL lineage and a new, scary Cam Newton to add to his resume. He may not have as impressive a track record as others on here but he looks like he could be a chip off the old block and get the Cowboys where they need to be going.
A popular head coach candidate, Lincoln Riley has shown his creativity and offensive innovation during his short time as Oklahoma’s head coach. It’s uncertain if he’ll get any real offers to be a head coach, but as an OC, he would be a serious grab.
Everyone has seen the work he’s done with Baker Mayfield and now Kyler Murray. How he’s able to incorporate different formations to open up the pass game and have the run game seem unstoppable. Just imagine what he could do with the weapons he would have at his disposal in Dallas.
It's likely that Lincoln Riley is a hot commodity for a head coach position, especially in Cleveland where he could reunite with Baker Mayfield. That shouldn’t stop the Cowboys from trying to lure him to Dallas, though. Lincoln Riley could be the real missing piece that Dallas has been looking for.
Another product of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy is the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. The former running backs coach has the experience under Andy Reid on not only how to run an offense but to use your weapons at your disposal to the fullest.
Maybe I’m over-hyping this man but when you see the work he helped put in with Pat Mahomes and how he uses those weapons around him, it makes me imagine what he can do for the Cowboy offense.
The team has no shortage of weapons and could benefit greatly from a guy like this.
If the Chiefs make it past their first playoff game, Bieniemy could become a more attractive name when it comes time for new head coaches. However, if Jerry Jones comes calling and the right offer is met, who’s to say?
If Kris Richard can be lured from Seattle to fix the Cowboys defense, Eric Bieniemy can be lured from Kansas City to fix the Cowboys offense.
Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta
The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.
As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.
The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.
It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.
Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.
Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.
If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.
The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.
In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.
Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.
It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.
The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.
Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.
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