The Cowboys finally played their first preseason game last night. With what we saw from that game, plus two weeks of training camp reports, it's a good time to update the 53-man roster projection for 2018.
The last projection came out just before camp started and we've had some developments since then. Thankfully, none of those have involved a major injury. All of our changes will be based on performance.
The danger here is getting too hung up on stuff that happened in last night's game. Those limited reps against limited competition don't wipe out everything the coaches have observed in training camp.
They do matter, of course. A strong performance can do a lot to help a guy's stock. But it would be foolish to assume that a quiet night negates everything a player might've done so far in Oxnard.
So, with that being said, let's get to it.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
The pecking order is only more firmly established after last night. Dak had a perfect showing in his one series, leading a touchdown drive and having zero incompletions. Cooper Rush was next up and looked solid, completing 65% of his passes and having few errors despite some protection issues.
Mike White didn't get a chance to show much, playing with the bottom rung of receivers and getting even worse blocking than Rush had. It will be interesting to see if he gets a shot at being QB2 in any of the remaining games.
More than likely, though, this trio will remain as is the rest of the season. The only real potential for change was if Rush struggled and allowed the rookie to move up the depth chart, which could put Cooper's roster spot in jeopardy.
But last night, plus everything we've heard from Oxnard, indicates that Cooper Rush is entrenched as the backup QB for 2018.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bo Scarbrough,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Moved Tavon Austin to WR
Zeke sat out last night, allowing Rod Smith to run with the starters. He showed the same mix of power and athleticism we saw last year, even thought the stat sheet was nothing eye-catching.
Bo Scarbrough got to punch one into the endzone, capping a solid debut. We already knew he wouldn't get to flash much behind backup linemen, needing holes and lanes to show off as a downhill runner. He did get off one 28-yard run when he could find some daylight, plus had two catches for 19 yards.
Don't worry, Tavon Austin fans. He's still on the roster, but now being listed at receiver. He may still be a RB on the team's website roster, but the Cowboys' first official depth chart showed him at WR and all his snaps last night came from that position.
Darius Jackson got some run last night and flashed a few things, but not enough to knock anybody else off the roster.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Deonte Thompson, Tavon Austin, Lance Lenoir
Changes: Added Austin and Lenoir, Removed Terrance Williams and Noah Brown
It may be early and even foolish, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that Terrance Williams won't make the team this year. I alluded to this two weeks ago and last night only gave me more reason to stick to the theory.
Michael Gallup will need to keep making plays with the first-team offense to make this happen, but last night was a good sign. Lance Lenoir's good night and strong camp also puts pressure from the other end of the depth chart.
I could be way off. Maybe it's veteran Deonte Thompson who loses his spot over Williams.
But Terrance Williams doesn't give you special teams value, and now his role as a receiver is being threatened. The Cowboys can eat his contract if they want to, and they're getting more reasons.
Noah Brown was a tough cut, but he hasn't made the kind of noise in camp that we'd hoped for. Still plenty of time for him to get back on the radar, though.
Tight End (4)
Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz,
Changes: Added Jarwin
We saw Blake Jarwin playing with the starters last night, and word is that he might even push Geoff Swaim for the starting job. If nothing else, it seems impossible to leave him off the 53 at this point.
Rico Gathers is still in this fight, perhaps forcing the team to dump someone at another position. But like Noah Brown, he's another guy who hasn't built on last year's hype yet.
I'm giving him the roster spot for now, hoping we get to see more as preseason continues. He still has that great upside as a receiver, and his blocking has reportedly improved. But at this point Rico's still on the bubble.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming,
Changes: Removed Chaz Green
I tried to be a nice guy with my last projection, but Green looked bad last night. Some guys just can't handle the bright lights and Chaz may simply be a dude who folds under game-time pressure, no matter what he shows in practice.
Green was more of a versatile G/T option anyway, which was nice for the bottom of the depth chart for not if he still struggles this much. He could still be put on the practice squad, having just one accrued season so far in his career.
Dallas will likely just go with their starters and Cam Fleming as the swing tackle.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Marcus Martin
Changes: Added Joe Looney
With Chaz gone, that opens up a spot for Joe Looney to be retained. The Cowboys could go with some younger prospect, but until one emerges then Looney is reliable depth at both guard and center.
The guy who might push Looney or Marcus Martin out is Kadeem Edwards, who was playing with the second team last night and is a former fifth-round pick. Injuries derailed his early career in Tampa Bay, but Edwards has a chance to get back on track in Dallas.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton
Charles Tapper, Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong
Changes: Added Crawford and Tapper, Removed Kony Ealy
With Crawford being listed as a starting DE on the official depth chart, and having played there last night, I think it's time to make the switch. Tyrone even looked leaner as if he's been working on his body to do more work on the edge.
After reports that veteran free agent Kony Ealy hasn't shown much in camp, and no signs of life last night, I'm cutting him loose. Dallas has too many younger options with upside.
Keeping Tapper and Gregory may be a bit much, but it really is indicative of the versatility and style of the defensive line. Guys like Crawford, Tapper, and even Lawrence or Taco could play inside on some passing downs. What you need are as many athletes who can get to the quarterback as possible.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Jihad Ward, Datone Jones, Brian Price,
Changes: Moved Tyrone Crawford to DE, Added Woods
Removed Richard Ash
Antwaun Woods is the big mover, going from obscurity to being one of the most hyped defensive linemen in camp right now. He didn't have big game last night, but he's been pushing for a starting job based on his play in Oxnard.
I don't have Maliek Collins listed because he's on PUP now, and I expect will remain there to start the season. David Irving is missing due to his four-game suspension to start 2018.
Hopefully we will get to see more of Jihad Ward in the next few preseason games. He should be starting at least in September, and perhaps beyond depending on how he performs.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
Last night only confirmed what we already assumed about this group. Jaylon flashed in his limited playing time, Vander Esch had a strong night, and the veteran backups stood out.
Joe Thomas got an interception off a tipped ball. Justin March-Lillard showed his versatility with a big QB hit off a blitz, plus a pass deflection. It was a great night to further establish the quality depth that these two veterans offer.
Damien Wilson started the game, but Sean Lee was out. It will be interesting to see who starts between Wilson and Vander Esch when the captain is active.
Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Byron Jones,
Anthony Brown, Charvarious Ward
Changes: Added Ward, Removed Kameron Kelly and Duke Thomas
Our top four is locked in, so it all comes down to the bottom of the depth chart. Based on training camp over last night's game, Charvarious Ward has been the standout player and is my current pick for the roster.
I dumped two corners to add a fourth safety, which I didn't have in the last projection. Duke Thomas did have a pick last night but it was more a bad throw and tipped ball that landed in his lap.
But really, between Thomas, Ward, Kam Kelly, and Marquez White, I could be flip-flopping a lot on these last one or two corners between now and final cuts. In the end, the decision will probably come down to things I didn't get to see in training camp and practice.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
Changes: Added Huff
With a pass breakup and a nice special teams play in punt coverage last night, Huff drew eyes last night. I was already intrigued by the former fourth-round pick, and he didn't disappoint.
Of course, Marqueston's spot could be going to Earl Thomas if that deal ever gets done. But for now, Huff is a potential backup with 41 career games under his belt.
I still think Dallas could easily go with just three safeties and keep a sixth corner, and special teams will play heavily into that decision. If Huff keeps making plays like he did last night he will make a great case to stick on the roster.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
As always, we end things with this boringly consistent trio. For the positions they play, though, there is no greater compliment.
Cowboys Face Latest Challenge Fighting for First Road Win at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars feels like just the introduction to this season's story. Whether or not the body of this story tells a disappointing tale or one of triumph can be revealed as early as this Sunday.
When the Cowboys travel to Washington, they'll be looking for their first road win of the season, and with it the NFC East lead over a Redskins team that would fall to 3-3 and 0-1 inside the division.
Early season losses at the Panthers, Seahawks, and Texans do little in predicting the Cowboys faith at the Redskins. These three teams are a combined 6-2 at home this season, with the Cowboys most recent loss in Houston falling much more on coaching than it did on-field execution.
Making their week six win over the NFL's top defense look extraordinarily easy, the Cowboys continued on a seemingly timeless trend under Jason Garrett. Returning to AT&T Stadium at 2-3, the Cowboys won their 12th game at one under .500 under Garrett.
Their 378 total yards on offense against the Jaguars brought their average in three home games up to 363.3, nearly 88 yards better than their road performances this season. The Redskins have allowed 326.2 yards per game this season, ranked fifth in the league just behind the Cowboys at 315.2 yards a game.
Garrett has gone 11-4 in his head coaching career against the Redskins, winning his last five at FedEx Field by an average of less than 10 points a game. The Redskins have turned the ball over just five times this season and allow a stout 90.2 rushing yards per game, meaning this game has all the makings of another classic between historic NFC East rivals.
In an ongoing effort to learn just who these 2018 Cowboys really are, a close win on the road would go a long way, beyond the slack they were afforded earlier this season to tighten up their game and make a serious push for the division.
The Cowboys will be on their bye week following Sunday's game. It comes at the perfect time for players like Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie, and Tavon Austin. With Austin struggling to make a sustained impact in the Cowboys offense, Awuzie conceding snaps to Jourdan Lewis, and Lee looking on at Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch dominate at LB, these three Cowboys among plenty of others know how important this game is for remaining relevant down the stretch.
Shortening this rivalry's history to just the games quarterbacked by Dak Prescott, the Cowboys are 3-0 with Prescott completing 65.3% of his passes - easily his highest mark against any NFC East foe.
The Cowboys confidence in getting to 4-3 should rest in Prescott using both his arm and legs to give the Cowboys the lead, than force Alex Smith to beat this defense.
The Redskins aren't a team that will beat themselves, leaving this one for the taking of a Cowboys team buried after week five's loss and crowned NFC East leaders 'elect' by week seven. A funny game this NFL is, and one the Cowboys don't want to play around with too much when considering Sunday's opponent - as well as the task at hand of earning a win on the road the latest in a season since 2013 for Dallas.
Cowboys Defense Getting Players Back at the Right Time
The Dallas Cowboys have played really well on defense this season allowing the seventh fewest rushing yards per game, the third lowest yards per carry, and the eighth fewest passing yards per game this season. They've done it for most of the 2018 season without Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and David Irving, and Linebacker Sean Lee, who's missed the last three games with a strained hamstring.
This week the Cowboys play the NFC East leading Washington Redskins, making this a very important matchup for the Cowboys playoff chances. The Dallas Cowboys are 2-2 in the NFC in 2018, so a win against the Washington Redskins on Sunday carries much more importance. If the Cowboys have hopes of making the playoffs, they're going to have to improve their record against the NFC and they can on Sunday with their defense getting back to (nearly) full health.
Still awaiting word on Chidobe Awuzie's availability for this week.
Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford, and David Ross have held up really well on the Cowboys defensive interior without Irving and Collins, which makes their return even more important. Better depth along the defensive interior is only going to help those guys have more productive snaps. Both Collins and Irving are explosive penetrating defensive tackles that give interior offensive lineman fits with their combination of strength and quickness. They play the run and pass with equal effectiveness and make life a lot easier for the linebackers and the defensive ends.
In their first game back in week six, Irving and Collins combined for two quarterback pressures, a quarterback hit (Irving) and a sack (Collins). Irving also drew a holding call on a punt.
Getting them back takes so much pressure off the defensive ends to generate pressure in passing situations. With better pressure from the interior of the defense, DeMarcus Lawrence and the other defensive ends will have better opportunities for sacks because opposing quarterbacks won't be able to step up in the pocket with as much ease as they have through the first five games of the season.
The linebacker duo of Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch have been one of the best position groups for the Cowboys this season. As good as they've been, Sean Lee is still one of the better linebackers in the NFL. Though he's leading the Cowboys in solo tackles with 43, Leighton Vander Esch probably sees a decrease in his snaps with Lee returning. They'll all play, however, and the Cowboys will look for ways to have them all on the field together.
Getting Lee, Irving, and Collins on the field at the same time with the defensive parts that the Cowboys already boast in Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Byron Jones is going to make playing offense nearly impossible.
How do you attack these guys?
The Washington Redskins rank in the bottom third in passing yards, yards per attempt, and are 18th in the NFL in passer rating. Washington ranks in the top half of the league in rushing yards per game, but rank 23rd in yards per attempt.
If there's an area where the Dallas Cowboys defense has been susceptible this season it's against the pass and having all of their best defensive players available for this week seven NFC East matchup is going to make all the difference. They'll be able to generate pressure with fewer blitzes because of the ability of Irving and Collins to generate pressure from the interior.
Though the Redskins have had some success on the ground in 2018, it's going to be tough sledding for Adrian Peterson and the Redskins run game. Lee, Vander Esch, and Smith all play the run extremely well and with the improved talent at defensive tackle, Peterson is going to find very few open lanes against the Dallas Cowboys defense.
The elite defense that we imagined this team could be may be right around the corner. Having everyone healthy and on the field together as the Dallas Cowboys get ready for the stretch run of the NFL season is huge.
Get ready NFL. Points are going to be really hard to come by.
Report: Austin Heading to IR: Deonte Thompson is the Next Man Up
Tavon Austin's stint with the Dallas Cowboys has been up and down through six games. He's provided some big play ability on the outside, but hasn't really had the running room on jet sweeps that the Dallas Cowboys would have hoped for when they acquired Austin from the Los Angeles Rams during the 2018 NFL Draft.
Now it's being reported by Brandon George from the Dallas Morning News that Austin may be headed to injured reserve for a groin tear suffered in the Dallas Cowboys week six win over the Jaguars.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said WR Tavon Austin will be getting a second opinion on his injured right groin in the next day or so. He didn't discount possibility of him being placed on injured reserve.
Whether Austin goes to injured reserve or not remains to be seen, but we do know that he'll miss week seven and likely won't be able to suit up for a while. Though Austin hasn't been relied upon much, he has been a threat that opposing defenses have had to account for in both the passing and running game. Tavon Austin leaves a bit of a hole.
Enter Deonte Thompson.
Deonte Thompson, who was signed by the Dallas Cowboys this past offseason, hasn't been the same type of rushing threat that Austin has been in his NFL career. Thompson's only carried the ball two times in his career for -5 yards. However, Thompson has some skills that could bode well should the Dallas Cowboys decide to use him in the jet sweep role that Austin is vacating.
He's been a return threat in his NFL career, averaging 24.8 yards per return. He's had returns of 47, 64, and 74 yards. He's also had some good moments running after the catch in his career, though he hasn't gotten many opportunities.
Thompson's a former track athlete and before the 2012 NFL Draft ran a 4.30 40 yard dash. He has the speed and a bit more size than Austin to make some things happen if given the opportunities.
The jet sweep has become an important staple in the Dallas Cowboys offense. Even when they don't hand it off on the sweep, they use it in play action, to set up screens, and even to get the defense thinking about it on direct hand offs to Ezekiel Elliott. They aren't going to want to scrap that part of the playbook just because Austin will be sitting out. Deonte Thompson can be that guy. Much like Marquise Goodwin in San Francisco, Thompson has elite speed.
He's not just football fast. He's fast-fast.
When I was in high school, I played baseball. In the baseball program I was fast. The fastest on the team. That was my game. Infield singles. Stretching doubles to triples. Stealing bases. I was fast. I went out for track my senior season because I thought, "hey I'm fast, let's see what would happen if I ran the 100-meter-dash." I found out really quickly that there is a difference between baseball fast and track fast.
The same applies to football and track. Deonte Thompson is track fast. He's a guy that the Dallas Cowboys need to get the ball to on those jet sweeps to continue to threaten defenses sideline to sideline. When it's working, as we've seen with Lucky Whitehead in the past and Tavon Austin this year, it opens up a lot for the Dallas Cowboys offense.
It's likely that Cole Beasley gets those first jet sweep attempts, and as a trusted veteran for the Dallas Cowboys, he probably should. But, if Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan want to continue to use the jet sweep to the offense's maximum benefit, they need to start showing it with Deonte Thompson. He has the speed to get to the corner and take it to the end zone from any where on the field.
Here's an example of what Thompson can do with the ball in his hands.
109 YARDS TO THE HOUSE!!! Deonte Thompson returns the missed field goal and runs it all the way back for a @ChicagoBears TD! #CHIvsAZ https://t.co/k9IfkZMoIY
With Tavon Austin set to be out -- possibly for the season -- it's time to see what Deonte Thompson can do. The Dallas Cowboys need to get a win here to get above .500 for the first time this season and set themselves up to make a run at the divisional crown. Deonte Thompson's ability with the ball in his hands will give them a good opportunity to do just that.
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