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.
Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore
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.
Running Backs (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Rod Smith, Keith Smith (FB)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
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.
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.
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, 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, 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.
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.
Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
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.
MRI Negative on Cowboys G Zack Martin’s Knee Injury
The Dallas Cowboys saw a few guys go down in last night's preseason game, but none scarier than All-Pro guard Zack Martin. Thankfully, they got some good news today on Martin's status.
An MRI of the knee showed no major injury, and that means Zack should be good to go for the team's regular season opener in three weeks.
Cowboys have received results of Zack Martin's MRI & it's encouraging. Source said there's no significant injury to left knee & he could be ready for opener against Carolina on Sept. 9.
Last week, Dallas lost one of their likely reserve guards when Marcus Martin went on injured reserve after the first preseason game. That leaves just Joe Looney as the only trusted reserve right now for the interior line.
But even though Looney has played well at times when called upon, he's no Zack Martin. In fact, only a couple of guys in the entire NFL can claim to be on that level.
Sprains and other non-major injuries to the knee tend to fall into the 2-4 week range for recovery. Barring complications, Martin should be ready to take on the Panthers' Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, and others.
We're still waiting for updates on other key players who were injured last night, such as Safety Xavier Woods, Running Back Bo Scarbrough, and Defensive Lineman Datone Jones. We'll get those to you as they are announced.
Hopefully, they all get the same good news that Zack Martin did today.
Zack Martin, Xavier Woods Suffer Preseason Injuries, Cowboys Down 2 Starters
Last Saturday night didn't end well for the Dallas Cowboys, who saw multiple players go down throughout the game, most notably Zack Martin and Xavier Woods. Preseason injuries are always the more painful ones, and when we're talking about someone like Martin, it just makes it worse.
Martin suffered a knee injury and was ruled out after going down. ESPN's Todd Archer tweeted out that a source had claimed the injury was a hyper-extended left knee. This surely would be great news considering the fear right now is a season-ending injury.
A source said the initial diagnosis of Zack Martin is a hyperextended left knee, but he will undergo an MRI on Sunday. The Cowboys do not practice again until Monday and play Aug. 26 against the Arizona Cardinals. Depending on the severity of the... https://t.co/1MPbJfQph8
Zack is set to have an MRI on Sunday and the team is hopeful the injury isn't that serious. We probably won't see the All-Pro left guard return in the preseason but could see him back on the field as soon as September 9th when the Cowboys kick their season off at Carolina.
Besides Zack Martin being the best offensive guard in the NFL, the Cowboys' offensive line depth is definitely not good. If his injury proves to be worse than what the front office believes, this offense will have to play without arguably their best player.
As we nervously await more news on Martin's knee, there are more injured players to talk about.
Xavier Woods injured his hamstring as he made an effort to intercept the ball and was also ruled out for the game. We still don't know about the severity, but we do know it's the same hamstring that he dealt with last year.
Although Woods isn't anywhere near Zack Martin as a football player, his injury comes at the team's weakest position in depth. Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier and Xavier Woods are the Cowboys' only legitimate safeties that will earn a roster spot.
If the hamstring injury is serious enough to keep him sidelined for multiple weeks, we could see the Cowboys getting outside help for the defensive backfield. Whether that means trading for Earl Thomas, some other safety or looking at the free agents available, I don't see the team going into the season with two safeties on the roster.
For now, we need to wait for more results regarding both of these players who will be detrimental to this team's success in 2018. The Cowboys suffered more injuries than these ones, though.
And the injuries continue... Jameill Showers is down on the Cowboys sideline with what looks like a knee injury. Still down. Duke Thomas Datone Jones Bo Scarbrough Xavier Woods and the big one, Zack Martin That's the injury list for the Cowboys tonight.
Datone Jones has been impressive during his stay in Dallas and is a quality DT and was ruled out for the game after getting tangled up with the Bengal's offensive line. Seventh-round draft pick Bo Scarbrough suffered a hip injury and is apparently not severe either.
Compared to Woods' and Martin's injuries, these ones won't keep Cowboys' fans up at night. However, hopefully they all turn out to be okay and ready to play as soon as possible. The team's starters make this team a legit threat in the NFC, but when it comes to depth, they're not in a good position.
Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals
The Dallas Cowboys are halfway through their 2018 preseason. Given the injuries they're left to deal with to Zack Martin, Xavier Woods, and Jameill Showers, the Cowboys were happy to see their first home game of the season come to an end when it did. Despite the 21-13 loss, the Cowboys starters made another strong impression before exiting for backups that once again failed to hold the lead.
This is a game I'm looking forward to getting another look at on film, but for now here are a few thoughts the first time through.
- Rookie Connor Williams is still a work in progress at guard, as he'll get himself in trouble trying to catch rushers too often.
This "catch blocking" is not uncommon for young offensive linemen, particularly ones learning a new position in preparation to start on the league's best front. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Williams was caught back in his stance dealing with a twist from the Bengals with Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The result of the play was an incomplete pass on third down from Dak Prescott. With Williams' footwork being as consistent as it has, I wouldn't worry too much about his upper body technique and strength improving greatly before week one of the regular season. Perhaps most importantly, Williams has looked smooth playing in space, something the Cowboys are prepared to ask the second round pick to do plenty of.
- With Randy Gregory back in the lineup, the Cowboys potential to have a great rotation of defensive ends was on full display.
The play that stands out is a tackle for loss by Safety Jeff Heath. On the play, Defensive End Tyrone Crawford did a great job setting the edge against the run, allowing Heath to come down and make the aggressive play.
Crawford created penetration against a tight end, staying disciplined in his rush lane from the right defensive end position to force the run outside.
On the Bengals' offensive series prior to this play by Heath, the Cowboys forced a punt following a missed Andy Dalton throw to A.J. Green. Despite not being tight in coverage on third down, Randy Gregory looked sharp coming off the edge to rush Dalton slightly.
With Taco Charlton also looking strong against the run, and rookie Dorance Armstrong continuing to develop as a weak side pass rusher, the possible match ups the Cowboys can create up front are seemingly endless.
Almost all of them will include last year's sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, who was also disruptive on nearly every snap in this game.
- Give credit to Joe Looney for handling the reps he did at center, but the backup interior lineman left a lot to be desired from this position.
It should come as no surprise that Looney is a better guard than center, or that the Cowboys would look significantly worse at center without Travis Frederick in the lineup.
Overall, this was a disappointing game for the Cowboys thin offensive line depth. Paul Alexander's unit was unable to give quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White a fair chance to settle into the game.
Looney's contact balance was suspect throughout the evening. Not the most powerful player, it's important for Looney to play with leverage and balance, which he did inconsistently last night.
Awaiting news on Zack Martin's first quarter injury still, the Cowboys should have already been concerned about their backups at tackle, with the guard position becoming a late concern now.
- This is becoming the standard for Jaylon Smith, but I did not see one Bengals blocker effectively slow him down.
The power that Smith is playing with is an outstanding sign for continued success. Not only is Smith physically up for the challenge of starting at MIKE for the Cowboys, but he's physically dominating opponents with strength, speed, and range.
Whether he was running laterally and avoiding blocks with great awareness, or attacking the pocket, Smith's path to the ball was rarely impeded against the Bengals.
No matter who the Cowboys lined up in their front seven, the group did a great job setting a strong tone. Antwaun Woods was once again impressive at the one technique position inside, and Brian Price made a flash play from this position late in the game as well.
Thanks to Smith's gap shooting ability, and the Cowboys willingness so far this preseason to be creative with the Notre Dame product, the team's defensive tackles don't have to be asked to do too much. Holding their spots while drawing blockers will be more than enough to free Smith and the rest of the Cowboys linebackers to make plays.
- Chidobe Awuzie's interception in the second quarter is a reminder of just how high the second-year cornerback's potential is.
Sure, Awuzie's length put him at an advantage to take a leap into year two once Kris Richard arrived as the Cowboys passing game coordinator.
Being productive on the ball, as Awuzie was here, is a testament to just how athletic he is as a boundary cornerback though. A beat late recognizing the ball coming his way, Awuzie remained in perfect position to get a hand on this pass.
Doing so with an explosive leap off the ground and full extension, Awuzie snagged the ball with one hand before bringing it into his body to secure another turnover for the Cowboys first team defense.
The Cowboys cornerback depth proved suspect beyond Awuzie and Byron Jones in this game, but being as good as they already are on the boundary is a huge step in the right direction for Rod Marinelli's defense.
I also thought that UDFA Tyree Robinson did a great job answering the bell at safety, showing up a number of times in run support with the Cowboys in desperate need of depth at his position.
It's in the slot, where Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis continue to feel the pressure of competition, that the Cowboys are struggling to find the right starter - even trying Lewis on the outside well into the fourth quarter of this game.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys will remain in their home state to conclude their training camp and preseason. Needing to see more out of their second and third team, practices will resume at The Star on Monday before another preseason game at AT&T Stadium.
This time, it will be the Arizona Cardinals coming in for a Sunday Night Football tune up. The Cowboys starters could very well see even more playing time than they have through the first two weeks, giving them a better chance of sustaining success and coming away with a preseason win.
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