The Cowboys finished their second week of the preseason with a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Between player performances and some injury news, we have some new things to consider in our roster projection for 2018.
Like last week against the 49ers, Dallas dominated the first half. The starters look ready to contend against any team in the NFL.
But depth is now looking like an issue. Some guys have been hurt and could miss the start of the regular season, and the players behind them are why the Cowboys have now lost two games they led at halftime.
How did these things impact the projected 53-man roster?
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
After two unproductive preseason games, Mike White is starting to draw some criticism and questions a bout his job security. As I've mentioned many times, the Cowboys have often kept just two two quarterbacks on the roster to save a spot for another position.
But when you consider how bad the offensive line play has been when White's in the game, you have to consider what opportunity he really has to show anything. We all saw what Chaz Green was doing out there, to the point that he finally got benched.
Just remember how Dak Prescott looked in Atlanta last year when he was running for his life. You've seen it from some of the game's best QBs. If it can happen them, it can certainly happen to a fifth-round rookie playing in his second preseason game.
Dallas didn't spend that pick on White lightly. They're not going to cut him, and lose his four-year rookie contract, without being truly sure he has no value. I think it's too soon to know that, and especially given what's been going on around him.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darius Jackson,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Added Jackson, Removed Bo Scarbrough
Jackson was one of the highlights of the last game, showing his ability to make things happen even in limited space. It also showed why he may give the team more use than Bo Scarbrough would.
Scarbrough is a thumper, but is he really going to get playing time over Ezekiel Elliott AND Rod Smith? Is he going to take goal-line carries away from both of those guys, who also play with plenty of power?
Darius, on the other hand, has the speed to take one carry to the house. And with the Cowboys clearly trying to add more juice to the offense this year, Jackson fits that agenda.
Remember, Dallas spent a sixth-round pick on Jackson in 2016. That's a round higher than when they took Scarbrough this year. Jackson was on the roster until December of that year, when he was waived to make room for Darren McFadden.
The team liked Darius to bring him back this season. He provides a more explosive element and, I think, more overall value than Scarbrough. Unless there's some tremendous different in blocking ability or special teams play, I think he'll hang around.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Lance Lenoir
Changes: Added Williams, Removed Deonte Thompson
I'm convinced that one of either Terrance Williams or Deonte Thompson won't make the roster, thanks largely to the rise of Lance Lenoir. At this point, I'm shifting to it being Thompson.
Terrance reminded us of his value on Saturday night. This is his third year playing with Dak Prescott, and that showed in the redzone scramble as Williams got open and gave Dak somewhere to put the ball. Plus, his contract remains a tough cut with $7.25 million in dead money.
Dallas brought Thompson in to be a speedy vertical threat, but they now have that in Tavon Austin and perhaps Lenoir. They also get special teams value out of Lenoir that the veteran Thompson doesn't offer.
The bottom of the depth chart generally comes down to special teams, but also long-term value. With Deonte being 29, he doesn't offer either. And with only a minimal veteran contract, he's much easier to cut than Terrance.
Tight End (3)
Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Dalton Schultz
Changes: Removed Rico Gathers
Rico Gathers is going to keep doing things that make you do a double-take. He has so much raw athleticism for a player of his size. But ultimately, he doesn't do enough of the little things.
When you see the way a guy like Blake Jarwin has come in a leapfrogged the depth chart, you get why Dallas may be ready to give up on Gathers. Jarwin was an undrafted free agent but he's developed himself into a guy the Cowboys are comfortable with as a starter. Rico in his third year and hasn't had much growth.
Sure, you'd like to have Rico out there as a redzone target. But he has to do enough things to actually be on the active 46, let alone the 53-man roster. At this point, there's just no indication that he's there.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming,
Fleming has had ups and downs throughout camp and preseason, but he's still a massive upgrade as the swing tackle from Chaz Green last year.
This trio seems fairly locked in. Dallas will likely keep additional depth in the interior line given the recent injury scares with Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. With both Tyron and Collins in seemingly great health, they can roll with just the swing tackle for now.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Kadeem Edwards
Changes: Removed Marcus Martin
Dallas should have a much better idea of Martin's Week One availability by finals cuts. If he can't go, they will probably have to keep an extra guy here while Joe Looney gets the start.
Kadeem Edwards is the kind of guy who probably makes it past final cuts but could easily be gone once Dallas starts looking at new free agents from around the league. He's the best option for now, but that can change once all these other teams start releasing players.
Similarly, if Dallas decides to keep an extra lineman because of health concerns, it will probably come from other team's cuts. I can't fathom that Chaz Green makes the team again after what we've seen the last two weeks.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory,
Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper
The only guy I'm not sure about here is Tapper, who may be one pass rusher too many. With Randy Gregory on the way back and Dorance Armstrong being one of the standouts of training camp, they may not have need for a sixth guy.
Tapper's roster spot could easily go back to the offense, perhaps for that extra offensive lineman we talked about. It could also be how they hang on to Rico Gathers.
Or, as we'll get into now, it could go to keeping another defensive tackle.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Daniel Ross,
Brian Price, Jihad Ward
Changes: Added Collins, Ross. Removed Datone Jones
With Maliek Collins back from PUP and Daniel Ross moving up the depth chart, a tough cut is coming. Right now, I'm dropping the axe on Datone Jones.
For one, we have yet to hear the extent of Jones' knee injury. Doesn't sound like it's serious, but it could cost him valuable practice reps and preseason game time. That may be all it takes.
Datone has value as he can play both inside and outside, but Dallas already has that in several other players. He's also 28 years old, so there isn't much upside there compared to the majority of their linemen.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
The confidence in this group just keep growing, doesn't it? Jaylon Smith looks like everything we'd dreamed, and the depth is also showing up in preseason.
Joe Thomas nearly had his second interception of the preseason and appears to be a real steal from our free agency additions. Damien Wilson is still running with the starters and that could be the case in Week One, too.
With none of the teams other prospects really showing much so far in preseason, this six feels locked in. Barring injury, I wouldn't expect any changes over the next two weeks.
Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Charvarious Ward
The only real question here is who is that fifth corner. I went with Ward last week and nobody really emerged in the last game to make me think differently. Still a lot that could happen in the next few weeks, though.
I do want to take a minute to discuss Jourdan Lewis. It's hard to say what's wrong with him right now, but he strikes me as a guy who's letting discouragement take him in the wrong direction.
Dallas may want to consider finding a trade partner. It was just a year ago that some saw Lewis as a first-round talent and he only dropped because of a pending legal issue. Might be a good time to get something for him while you still can.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
We don't know if Xavier Woods will play in Week One according to the most recent updates about his hamstring injury. That keeps the safety position, and a certain trade possibility with the Seahawks, in the spotlight.
Another option just became available as the Bengals released veteran George Iloka. He was a college teammate of Tyrone Crawford at Boise St. and has been playing in a similar scheme to what Dallas runs.
Woods' injury doesn't appear severe enough that it will put him on IR, even temporarily. Dallas might even be okay with starting Heath and Frazier for a week or two.
But if they were already looking at Earl Thomas, they just got a lot more motivated.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
We finally got to see Bailey kick a field goal. That was nice.
Chris Jones also showed us why he's one of the best with that coffin corner punt. Having this trio of special teamers is one of the great luxuries you can ask for as a football team.
Previewing Tony Pollard’s Big Night as Cowboys Starting RB
With Ezekiel Elliiott still holding out for a new contract, Tony Pollard is currently playing with the Cowboys' first-team offense. After limited glimpses in the first two preseason games of 2019, Dallas fans hope to see much more of Pollard's potential in tonight's game against the Houston Texans.
The third preseason game has historically been dubbed the "dress rehearsal" game, where NFL teams generally play their starters for at least the first half or more. While there's still the vanilla play-calling and other typical issues of preseason football, it's our best chance to see the real Dallas Cowboys before the 2019 season begins.
Until something changes between Elliott and the Cowboys, Tony Pollard is the number-one RB. If Zeke's holdout lingers, we may be counting on the 4th-round rookie to help win important division games in the first two weeks of the regular season.
If last week's win over the Rams was any indication, the Cowboys offense may not suffer much with Pollard as RB1. He was able to get yards in chunks on the ground and as a receiver, then capped the drive with a tough bit of running for the touchdown.
Despite scouting reports that made him out to be a Darren Sproles or Lance Dunbar, Pollard looks like more than just a receiving RB. His pass-blocking could use some work, which may limit his usage on third downs, but otherwise he looks very capable of producing in Zeke's absence.
Without question, we're hoping that Elliott returns and gets his usual workload in Week One and beyond. But while his status remains unclear, increased confidence in Tony Pollard is good for all of us.
And if another big game helps the Cowboys' leverage in their negotiations with Zeke, that's also not a bad thing.
That's the added wrinkle to tonight's intrigue. Pollard's performance, good or bad, could impact these ongoing talks between Dallas and their franchise RB.
No, anything Pollard does tonight won't suddenly make Zeke decide he deserves less money than Todd Gurley. But it could bolster the Cowboys' resolve not to give in to Elliott's demands.
Without question, the Dallas offense is better with both Zeke and Pollard playing this season. But if the Cowboys are determined not to make Elliott the highest-paid RB in football, then anything the rookie can do to make that decision easier is important.
So yes, tonight is just another meaningless exhibition game in a lot of ways. But when it comes to the future of the running back position for the Dallas Cowboys, and how big a part of it Tony Pollard will be going forward, it may mean more than you think.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
Cowboys’ Tight End Marcus Lucas with Huge Opportunity vs the Houston Texans
With only two preseason games remaining, opportunities to make a statement are growing thin. The Dallas Cowboys have very few spots on the roster available, especially at the tight end position where Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz appear to have the depth chart locked down. The problem is, Jarwin and Schultz have been dealing with injuries and missed the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams and probably won't play against the Houston Texans tonight.
Enter Marcus Lucas.
Marcus Lucas hasn't been a member of the Dallas Cowboys for very long, but he's already made an impact.
In his first preseason game with the Dallas Cowboys, Lucas caught four passes on four targets for 20 yards. His receptions went for two, seven, five, and six yards for an average of five yards per reception. He did have a holding penalty that cost the Dallas Cowboys 10 yards on a first down play that didn't go anywhere anyway.
Though Lucas has bounced around NFL practice squads, he's never really found a home. After going undrafted in 2014, Lucas was signed by the Carolina Panthers in May of that year but wasn't able to stick on the 53-man roster and was released and placed on the practice squad. In 2015, he was on the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears practice squads. In 2016, the Panthers brought him back in the summer after the Bears released him from their 90-man roster. That September after cut-down day, the Seattle Seahawks signed Lucas to their practice squad where he spent all of 2016. From 2017 to the end of 2018, Lucas spent time with the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks again, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was with the 49ers in 2019 before joining the Dallas Cowboys about two weeks ago and will get an extended run in these final two preseason games.
At Thursday's practice, Lucas was the only tight end available with Jason Witten getting a rest day and Jarwin, Schultz, and fellow Tight End Cody McElroy dealing with injuries.
With Jason Witten getting a day of rest, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and Codey McElroy injured, the Cowboys have one tight end practicing today: Marcus Lucas, who has been with the team for about two weeks.
It's possible that Lucas may get an extended amount of playing time tonight with an opportunity to show the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL that he's ready to land on a 53-man roster. With likely only Jason Witten being the only other tight end active for the game against the Houston Texans, Lucas will get a lot of playing time. If his last preseason exposure is any indication, he'll get the chance to display his receiving prowess.
At 27, Lucas likely has few opportunities left to make his mark for an NFL franchise. On a team that proclaims the "next man up" as a battle cry, after Witten, Lucas is the next man up for tonight and depending on his performance could make the Dallas Cowboys front office or another front office around the league take notice.
Depending on the long-term health of the Dallas Cowboys' tight end position, Lucas may find his path to a roster spot simply dependent upon the health of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Though a job may not come with the Dallas Cowboys, tonight is an extremely important audition for his next suitor. How he performs tonight could land Marcus Lucas a job after the Dallas Cowboys trim the roster to 53 next week.
They say "preseason games don't matter," but to Marcus Lucas, this might be the most important game of his career.
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