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Cowboys 2017 Roster Projection: Training Camp Begins

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys 2017 Roster Projection: Training Camp Begins
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With the first practice of training camp happening this afternoon, I thought it a fine time to post my next 2017 roster projection. The first one was done about a week after the draft, and plenty has happened over the last two months.

Since early May, we’ve had too many players in the news for the wrong reasons. One suspension is already confirmed a few more are likely. Here’s a quick recap:

  • DL David Irving, 4 games (PED violation) *CONFIRMED*
  • CB Nolan Carroll, 2 games (DWI arrest) (probable)
  • LB Damien Wilson, ? games (Assault arrest) (probable)
  • CB Jourdan Lewis, ? games (DV charges) (pending court case)
  • RB Ezekiel Elliott, ? games (Various issues) (unknown)

This doesn’t include defensive end Randy Gregory, who is gone for the year and perhaps for good after repeated drug policy violations. Damien Wilson could be facing a major suspension depending on the details of his case, but the start may not come for some time depending on the movement of the legal system.

The point is that the Cowboys’ Week One roster may look a fair bit different from the majority of the season while these suspensions play out. Guys will make the team to fill out the 53 for those early weeks but then wind up on the practice squad or the open market. For now, here’s my best guess at what the team will look like.

Quarterbacks (2)

Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore

CHANGES: None

I recently addressed the topic of Dallas potentially keeping a potential third QB in more detail. Suffice to say that neither Zac Dysert or Cooper Rush currently looks like a candidate to make the 53. The Cowboys generally go with just their starter and a veteran backup, using that third spot only to hold on to a significant developmental prospect.

Of course, the events of last season may have shifted their viewpoint. Tony Romo and Kellen Moore had to get hurt to open the door for Dak Prescott. While Prescott doesn’t present the same injury concerns as Romo did, having to rely on QB3 last year might prompt Dallas to be more concerned about the position now. I don’t expect it, but I don’t dismiss it entirely.

Ezekiel Elliott

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Running Backs (4)

Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Rod Smith, Keith Smith (FB)

CHANGES: None

I am going with the assumption that Elliott does not get suspended at all.  At the most, he might get a fine for going Justin Timberlake on that girl’s shirt on St. Patrick’s Day.  Otherwise, there doesn’t appear to be enough on either the domestic violence case or the nightclub incident for the NFL to levy a suspension.

Elliott, McFadden, and Keith Smith appear to have their positions locked up. I think Keith’s value as a solid blocker as well as special teams player makes him hard to cut. He can even play linebacker for you in a pinch.

Rod Smith gets the nod over Alfred Morris and Jahad Thomas right now. He can be a short-yardage thumper, has some receiving skills, and is a solid special teams player. Thomas is more of a Lance Dunbar clone who will have a harder time getting on the field with Elliott and McFadden’s receiving ability.  Morris struggled last year and offers no special teams value.

Receivers (6)

Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown

CHANGES: Added Butler

The top three veterans and fourth-round rookie Ryan Switzer are all locks.  The only questions now are if the Cowboys keep five or six receivers and who will earn those spots.

While young prospects Noah Brown and Andy Jones could be competitive for roster spots, Dallas may be hesitant to lose the veteran Butler given Dez Bryant’s injury issues. I think this prompts them to go long, keeping Butler for experience but also wanting to use a spot to protect their favorite prospect. I am giving Brown the benefit of the doubt for now.

Jason Witten

TE Jason Witten

Tight Ends (4)

Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers

It’s entirely possible that Dallas will only keep three tight ends, but they have plenty of reason to go long. 2017 is likely Jason Witten’s last year, meaning all three backups could be useful next season. You also have Hanna and Swaim coming off injuries, which increases the need for a fourth option.

I think that 2017 will be a year-long audition for Hanna and Swaim to show if they can replace Witten next season or at least solidify themselves as the backup. Both missed a lot of time last year and may need more than just camp and preseason to get back to full speed.

How Rico Gathers performs in camp and preseason will be a major factor. Obviously, proving he can contribute should earn him a roster spot. Even if he still has major weaknesses, just a couple of big plays in preseason could be enough that Dallas won’t risk him on the practice squad again.

La'el Collins

OT La’el Collins

Offensive Tackles (3)

Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Chaz Green

CHANGES: Moved Collins from G, Cut Emmett Cleary

It appears that Collins is the new right tackle, at least for the start of camp. I’m going with the assumption that “Plan A” of Collins at tackle and Jonathan Cooper at left guard will work out. That then leaves the swing tackle position, like last year, between Chaz Green and Emmett Cleary.

It’s important to remember that Green was a third-round pick just two years ago. Dallas wants him to succeed and that gives him a tiebreaker over Cleary and other contenders. Byron Bell could also be a factor as he played tackle for several seasons with Carolina.

Guards (3)

Zack Martin, Jonathan Cooper, Byron Bell

CHANGES: Moved Bell from OT

 

Again, we’re assuming that the current plan of Cooper taking over at left guard works out. I think Byron Bell will also stick as a backup at both guard and tackle. You also have Joe Looney as a versatile backup at guard and center.

It’s the versatility of the backups that will allow Dallas to keep just eight offensive linemen and free up a spot somewhere else. They could easily go with nine, though, depending on health issues and if there are still lingering concerns at left guard or right tackle. Some position battles aren’t always resolved by Week One.

Centers (2)

Travis Frederick, Joe Looney

CHANGES: None

No surprises here. The only potential change is if prospects Ross Burbank or Ruben Carter can somehow force Looney out, but Dallas won’t lose the veteran lightly. He can play center or guard and now has a full year in the system.

In fact, don’t sleep on Looney as the potential starting left guard.  If Jonathan Cooper gets hurt or just can’t get it done, Looney may be the next-best option. If that happens, we will have to address backup center with one of the young guys or a free agent signing.

Benson Mayowa

DE Benson Mayowa

Defensive Ends (5)

DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton, Damontre Moore

CHANGES: Added Moore

Good reports on Moore during the summer have prompted me to add him for the first four weeks during David Irving’s suspension. He may get cut at that point, but injuries and other issues between then and now and then could change things. Dallas isn’t going to part ways with anybody who proves they can get to the quarterback.

It will be interesting to see how Lawrence’s impending free agency affects him and the team’s use of him. Will they take snaps away from Taco and Tapper if DeMarcus isn’t in the long-term plans? Will Lawrence be able to force his way into a new contract if he has a breakout year? He’s one of the most intriguing players to watch all season.

Maliek Collins, Redskins

DT Maliek Collins (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Defensive Tackle (4)

Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea

CHANGES: Removed David Irving (suspended)

This core group is set.  When Irving comes back in Week 5, the roster spot will probably come from Damontre Moore at defensive end or maybe some other position. We should see a healthy rotation of all these players throughout the season, though Collins will likely get the most snaps as he did in 2016.

I know many fans are excited about seventh-round rookie Joey Ivie but I have a hard time saving him a spot given everything else going on with the team. An injury is probably the only way he’ll avoid the practice squad.

Sean Lee

LB Sean Lee

Linebackers (7)

Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, John Lotulelei

CHANGES: Removed Damien Wilson (suspended) and Jeremiah George, Added Durant and Lotulelei

I’m assuming that Wilson is eventually suspended for at least some portion of 2017.  It’s possible that the NFL won’t move until more plays out in the legal system, which could actually go into the season. However, they don’t have to wait to act on the Personal Conduct Policy if they so choose. The re-signing of Justin Durant last week speaks to Dallas’ concern about Wilson’s availability.

I think they’ll keep a seventh linebacker because of the question marks; Jaylon’s knee, Durant’s age, and Nzeocha’s recurrent health issues. John Lotulelei was praised during mini-camp and OTAs and seems to be front-runner among the unknown prospects.

Anthony Brown

CB Anthony Brown

Cornerbacks (6)

Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Leon McFadden, Marquez White

CHANGES: Removed Nolan Carroll (suspended), Added McFadden and White.

Carroll’s assumed two-game suspension makes it much easier for sixth-round rookie Marquez White to make the team. He will have to fight off some more experienced options in Leon McFadden and Sammy Seamster, though. Carroll’s absence could cause Dallas to be more enticed by veteran options, instead of another rookie.

I actually think both will happen. Dallas will hang on to McFadden, who was with them last year, for the experience while also protecting White with a roster spot. When Carroll comes off suspension one of the two will be released to make room.

Dallas may only be able to keep one of them if they have to go longer at safety, though, which we’ll get into right now.

Jeff Heath

S Jeff Heath

Safeties (4)

Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Xavier Woods

CHANGES: Cut Robert Blanton

I’m assuming that either or Frazier or Woods will show enough that Dallas doesn’t feel the need to keep veteran insurance policy Robert Blanton. If not, Dallas may be forced to keep five safeties if they don’t want to risk their young guys on the practice squad. Then again, Frazier might just get cut if he can’t take on a bigger role in his second year.

There is Jameill Showers, the former quarterback who converted to safety while on last year’s practice squad. It’s hard to see him beating out Frazier or Woods, but Showers’ special teams prowess and usefulness as a mobile scout team QB aren’t without value. If a full offseason at safety leads to major growth, perhaps Showers will surprise people.

Chris Jones

P Chris Jones (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Specialists (3)

Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)

CHANGES: None

There’s little doubt about these three. The one thing to watch is that Jones and Ladouceur are both on expiring contracts. Dallas should bring in young guys as camp bodies, but if one of them really stands out then things might get interesting. Dallas could decide hanging on to the younger prospect is more prudent.

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I’ll be sure to respond!

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3 Comments
  • John Williams

    There isn’t a whole lot to argue with here. The Left Guard competition is easily the most important piece to the offensive puzzle. Whether it’s Cooper or Green or Looney, will have a domino effect on the rest of the roster.

    If Green wins the job, it’s likely they have to keep 9 because Cooper doesn’t offer the same versatility as the rest of the backups. But Green at LG would mean Cleary is the swing tackle and Bell is kept as backup across the line. Cooper could be on the 53, but not active for game days and then inserted if Green gets hurt.

    I also don’t see them keeping more than 2 quarterbacks.

    RB we are in agreement on. I don’t see Morris having enough value to keep him on the roster. He isn’t going to get many snaps, and would likely be inactive on gameday.

    With you on WR. I am beginning to think they keep six. They’ll use Brown in the Vince Mayle role some so that they can be in 11 with a really good blocking wide receiver. Imagine Brown and Dez and Terrance in the lineup together. That is a pretty awesome 11 personnel. They all are above average to good blockers and Elliott will run forever.

    I get the feeling the team is really excited about Moore at DE. I can see that as a place they go long on the 53 man roster for much of the season.

    You’re right on at DB. There is too much depth at CB and DL and too many questions at LB to keep more than four safeties.

    • Jess Haynie

      Totally agree about the LG linchpin. Starting position has to get figured out and then a lot trickles down from there.

  • John Williams

    Oh, and I’m #ReadyForRico. I think he does enough to make the roster out of camp.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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Dallas Cowboys

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job

Sean Martin

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job 1

By keeping all three top coaches (Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli) in place for 2018, there isn’t a Dallas Cowboys coaching hire that feels like they “must” get it right to contend next season. This is how it should be.

Producing nine wins, despite missing key players throughout the season, the Cowboys are changing things up at the position coach level to hopefully introduce new ideas and give the talent on this team a better chance at sustained success.

One coaching vacancy that needs to be filled by the right guy above any else is on the offensive line, where things haven’t been the same since the great Bill Callahan departed.

Frank Pollack took his place, and now finds himself with the Cincinnati Bengals after not being retained by Dallas this offseason.

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job

Tom Cable (Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)

The first name that was thrown around in consideration for the Cowboys job was Tom Cable, which sent a panic throughout Cowboys Nation before Cable decided to sign with John Gruden and the Raiders.

Cable had been coaching the Seahawks’ OL, a position that franchise has not valued in some time, and struggled to develop any talent in protection of their franchise QB Russell Wilson.

Now, two new names have emerged as candidates to coach the likes of two-time 1st Team All-Pro LT Tyron Smith, 1st Team All-Pro C Travis Frederick, and two-time 1st Team All-Pro RG Zack Martin.

Mike Solari and Paul Alexander

Paul Alexander has already met with the Dallas Cowboys, looking for work after 23 seasons with the Bengals. During this time, Alexander served as Marvin Lewis’ assistant head coach, in addition to his duties as their OL coach.

Judging on reactions out of Cincinnati to Alexander’s departure, the Bengals offensive line regressed under him in 2017, warranting change from a franchise that is as reluctant as any to move on from coaches.

Goodberry on Twitter

Paul Alexander better be gone

Most recently, Mike Solari has served as the offensive line coach for the New York Giants — far from a renowned unit around the NFL lately. He does have previous experience with the Cowboys, having served as an assistant OL and special teams coach here from 1987-88.

From 2006-07, Solari did reach the rank of offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, which shows the level of respect that the 30-year NFL coaching veteran has earned.

He will be the Dallas Cowboys’ next interview for their open OL coach position.

Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack 1

Dallas Cowboys RT La’el Collins, RG Zack Martin

Depth at tackle, a long-term answer at left guard, and an extension for Zack Martin are among the questions facing the Cowboys offensive line moving forward. Whoever is in charge of keeping this unit up to standard in 2018 though, may hold the keys to getting the entirety of the Cowboys’ program back on track.

Whether it’s Alexander, Solari, or another outside candidate yet to emerge, Inside The Star will keep you updated on the Cowboys’ ongoing coaching search.

Tell us what you think about “Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Defensive Back Questions Still Need Answers

John Williams

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Byron Jones
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys defense took a step forward in 2017, and in the process they answered several questions. They found a “war daddy” in DeMarcus Lawrence, something that’s been missing since DeMarcus Ware left for the Denver Broncos. Lawrence finished tied for second with Calais Campbell in sacks with 14.5, and made the NFL All-Pro Second Team.

We got to see Jaylon Smith answer questions about his health all season long. Smith appears to be trending in the right direction, both in his health and his performance on the field.

The plan to rebuild the secondary seems to be on the right track as they’ve found a couple of aggressive corners in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. They have the look of a dynamic duo that will be impact players on this team for a long, long time.

Kavon Frazier has been a revelation. The thumper at the safety position is something that’s been missing for the Dallas Cowboys since Roy Williams.

However, questions still remain about a defense that carried this team at times, and looked like the Rob Ryan and Monte Kiffin defenses of yesteryear at other times.

To me the biggest questions in the secondary revolve around Byron Jones and Xavier Woods.

Cowboys en Español: Proyectando el Roster de 53 Jugadores 2

Dallas Cowboys S Byron Jones (James D. Smith via AP)

Where do Byron Jones and Xavier Woods Fit?

Byron Jones has been a popular whipping boy for Cowboys Nation. Some of that has been accurate, but he’s not as bad as social media would have you believe.

He’s been sticky in coverage, especially against tight ends, throughout his career, but in 2017 it seemed like he was shying away from tackling a bit too much. He still has that tremendous athleticism and coverage ability that warranted a first-round pick, but the question remains: What is his best position?

After playing where needed his rookie season, the Cowboys coaching staff moved him to safety for the last couple of years with mixed results.

As stated, he’s been pretty good in coverage and made some incredible plays on the ball, even if he’s lacking the interception numbers. The problem comes, in my opinion, when he’s asked to make tackles in space, which is an important aspect of being a safety.

Many have begun to wonder if Dallas would be best served moving Jones back to corner.

As a cornerback, Jones would be able to use his athleticism and coverage skills against the bigger wide receivers in the league, but not be asked to make as many tackles in the middle of the field against running backs and tight ends.

They can still bring him in against some of the better tight ends in the league. We already know the Cowboys will face Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins, and Evan Engram of the New York Giants for a total of six games in 2018.

Dallas will also face the likes of Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Alshon Jeffrey and Marvin Jones, who are bigger more athletic wide receivers who could require a man of Byron’s skill.

It will be interesting to see what they do with Byron this offseason.

Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search For "Fresh Ideas" Begin? 3

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB/S Xavier Woods (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The same question applies to Xavier Woods, but not because he struggled. He was actually quite good as the slot corner throughout much of his rookie season.

Woods primarily played safety in his time at Louisiana Tech, and showed an ability to be the deep middle safety. Because of injuries to the cornerback group, Woods lined up as the slot corner for a lot of his snaps.

He played well there for Dallas, leaving many to wonder if he hasn’t earned the role of third cornerback. That may be a good fit, but it’s not typical to see a guy who was primarily a safety in college become a corner in the NFL.

I’d rather see him as a full-time safety.

With Woods at safety, Dallas can stay in their base defense when teams go to three wide receiver formations, especially on early downs or in situations where a run is just as likely. He can drop down from the safety spot to play in the slot, if — and it’s a big if — you trust your single-high safety.

Woods’ ability to cover in the slot allows you to stay competitive against the run, which was a struggle for Dallas.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

We’ve seen how the yo-yo game between positions can affect a player’s technique and mentality. Chaz Green wasn’t the same player in 2017 when asked to prepare as both a guard and a tackle, as opposed to 2016 when he strictly played tackle.

In my opinion, it would be to the Dallas Cowboys interest to move Byron Jones back to cornerback full-time, and move Woods to safety.

When you decide to go to your nickel package, Chidobe Awuzie and Jones play the outside with Jourdan Lewis moving to the middle. Or you bring Jones in to cover the tight end, leave Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, and drop Woods into the slot and play cover 1.

What do you think?

Where do Byron Jones and Xavier Woods fit best on this team?

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