The three weeks of "voluntary" OTAs have come to a close for the Dallas Cowboys, and this week starts the mandatory portion of the off-season practice program with minicamps getting started out at The Star. As the OTAs progressed, several players made cases to have their names etched on Jason Garrett's 53-Man Roster when they open up the 2018 NFL Regular Season.
With what we know now, here's what the 53-Man Roster could look like week one.
- Dak Prescott
- Cooper Rush
- Mike White
Dak Prescott is the starter. There is no competition and no debate. He's a good player that has a chance to be a great player. He's in need of a bounce-back start to the season after the way his 2017 season finished, but he's a hard worker and is capable of improving his game.
There was a time when I thought the backup quarterback situation would be a competition between Cooper Rush and Mike White, and it still might be. After what I've read about the two from OTAs, I'm ready to state that the backup quarterback position to Dak Prescott is Cooper Rush's to lose.
Now, I don't have the benefit of watching every practice, but from everything I've read -- mostly from Bryan Broaddus at DallasCowboys.com -- White has been behind on throws while Rush has been making good throws throughout OTAs.
Rush has the edge of experience, even if it is only one year.
Running Back (5)
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Rod Smith
- Jamize Olawale (FB)
- Tavon Austin (Web Back)
- Bo Scarbrough
The guys I've listed above are locks to make the team at this point. The only question with Austin is how do they see him. As a WR/RB hybrid, he will line up in both spots. He's either the fourth running back or the seventh wide receiver.
Jamize Olawale is a great fullback piece. He's averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 10.9 yards per reception for his career while scoring seven touchdowns over the last five years. You may not think much of those numbers, but for a fullback, it's pretty good. Like Tavon Austin, he's a chess piece that the offensive staff can get creative with.
There's a lot that could be said about Ezekiel Elliott as a player. One nugget I found the other day was pretty incredible:
Only 2 running backs averaged more yards per game through their first two seasons than Ezekiel Elliott's 104.6. Eric Dickerson: 122.3 Clinton Portis: 106.9 #CowboysNation
Make sure you read my 2018 stat projection for Ezekiel Elliott for more interesting notes on Elliott.
The final running back spot on the team will come down to Bo Scarbrough, the team's seventh-round draft pick in 2018, and Darius Jackson, the sixth-round pick from 2016.
What gives Scarbrough the edge is his style of play. It's different from anything else we have on the team. He's a straight-line and downhill runner who will find a role as a short-yardage back from time to time. Darius Jackson reminds me a lot of Rod Smith; capable at a lot of things, but not great at any one thing. Bo has great physicality and once he gets going, he's tough to stop.
Imagine dealing with Ezekiel Elliott for 20 carries and then in comes Scarbrough for a series in the fourth quarter.
These five give the team a very well-rounded group of runners that will keep defenses off-balance. Should be a lot of fun to watch them behind this offensive line.
Wide Receiver (6)
The odd man out here, Deonte Thompson, could very well still be on the roster if the legal situation with Terrance Williams turns into an NFL suspension.
With a suspension, the Dallas Cowboys could release him without any cap penalties for the remainder of his contract, which is set to run through 2020. A suspension for Williams could also mean Deonte Thompson gets a roster spot until Williams returns, should the team decide to keep him anyway. It's a bit of an albatross that I'm sure the Cowboys would like some flexibility with, but if there's no suspension, Williams will be on the roster.
Thompson seems very similar to the Nolan Carroll signing a year ago - veteran insurance in case the rookies aren't ready to step into a full-time role.
Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson have both been making noise throughout the Rookie Minicamp and OTAs, and because of their route-running ability, they will be a part of the new-look Dallas Cowboys WR group.
The team loves Noah Brown's blocking ability and his ability to play special teams. They can use him as a small tight end in formations that motion him in-line like they tried to do with Vince Mayle a few years ago.
Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley are the veterans of the group and fully personify what a "Dak-friendly" receiver looks like. Quick route runners with the ability to line up in several spots on the field.
Tight End (3)
- Dalton Schultz
- Geoff Swaim
- Rico Gathers
The toughest decision for me came down to five running backs (including Tavon Austin) or four tight ends, and ultimately I decided that four tight ends was too much.
They have four guys who are very unproven NFL assets at tight end. Geoff Swaim has the most experience and Rico Gathers brings the most intrigue. Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin offer a lot of potential, but their ceilings may not be as high as Gathers if he can put together consistent performances as a blocker.
Jarwin would be a candidate for the practice squad if he doesn't make the team out of camp, but as you know there are always injuries in training camp, so there's still a good chance he makes the team.
Hopefully one of these guys steps up and asserts themselves as TE1 before training camp is completed.
Offensive Line (8)
- Tyron Smith
- Connor Williams
- Travis Frederick
- Zack Martin
- La'el Collins
- Cameron Fleming
- Joe Looney
- Marcus Martin
We know who the starters are before we even hit minicamp. This group of offensive linemen might be the most impressive group we've ever had with a Star on the side of their helmet. They've created a monster that is going to give Dak the protection that failed him in 2017 and blow open holes for Ezekiel Elliott.
Most importantly, the deal with Left Guard Zack Martin is done. He will be with the Dallas Cowboys through 2024 and will begin working with the team on the field during this week's minicamp. Kudos to the front office for getting this done and not letting it linger into training camp.
Joe Looney has been and will continue to be the backup center to Travis Frederick. He can also play some guard in a pinch.
While I think the team is going to give Chaz Green a chance to keep a job, I think the need to go long at WR, TE, and defensive line will prohibit the team from carrying nine guys on the 53-man roster. Though they won't be able to keep a lot of bodies for the offensive line, the depth has gotten better with the signing of Cameron Fleming as the swing tackle.
Defensive Line (10)
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- David Irving
- Maliek Collins
- Tyron Crawford
- Taco Charlton
- Datone Jones
- Jihad Ward
- Dorance Armstrong
- Randy Gregory
- Kony Ealy
Maliek Collins' injury and David Irving's family issues have me concerned that they may have to prepare to start the season without either of those guys.
Irving has stated he'll be ready for training camp when they go to Oxnard, California in July, but the stuff that he's dealing with can take time to sort out. As he stated, it's important to take care of the off-field stuff first so that he can focus on football.
Collins should be ready for week one, according to several reports, but with his history of foot issues now covering each of his first three seasons in the NFL, it's also possible he's not ready when the Cowboys travel to face the Carolina Panthers.
Jihad Ward and Datone Jones are going to get quite the opportunity on the interior to earn playing time with the absences of Collins and Irving. Going up against the All-Universe offensive line that the Cowboys have should only help them to improve.
At the moment, I'm going to say that Randy Gregory gets reinstated and is put on the 53-man roster out of training camp. They'll have to go long along the defensive line.
The odd man out at the moment looks like Charles Tapper, who hasn't really found his stride in the NFL due to injury. The last spot along the defensive line will come down to Tapper and Ealy. Ealy gets the nod at the moment because of his ability to move inside to rush from the 3-tech defensive tackle spot.
We know how this team loves position flexibility.
- Sean Lee
- Jaylon Smith
- Leighton Vander Esch
- Damien Wilson
- Joe Thomas
- Justin March-Lillard
Justin March-Lillard is the name that has been making the most noise so far in the OTAs, aside from Jaylon Smith. With Sean Lee being held out for precautionary reasons and Leighton Vander Esch spraining an ankle, March-Lillard took advantage of a tremendous opportunity to shine with the first-team defense in the last couple weeks of OTAs.
Damien Wilson has been a forgotten man this offseason with the spotlight on Jaylon's recovery and Vander Esch's draft selection. Though he looks like he's going to be moved to more of a reserve role, it's a great sign for the depth of the linebacking group. He's been a good run player for the Cowboys.
Last year they were really thin at the position and now they have four guys who can start for them and play significant snaps.
Joe Thomas is a nice depth piece who will contribute on special teams while being able to play the MIKE and WILL linebacker positions.
- Byron Jones
- Chidobe Awuzie
- Anthony Brown
- Jourdan Lewis
- Marquez White
The surprise of OTAs so far has been the usage of Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis.
We'd been hearing all offseason that Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie figured to be the outside cornerbacks for the Dallas Cowboys. We also figured that meant Jourdan Lewis would be the first cornerback off the bench to play in nickel situations. So far, that hasn't been the case as Brown has been playing with the first team defense more regularly.
In 2016, when Brown filled in for Orlando Scandrick in the slot, he was very good. Perhaps he's found his home there again in 2018.
We know that Lewis doesn't fit the long and tall profile that Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard prefers, but I'd argue it's only a matter of time until we see Lewis make his move up the depth chart.
This is a young, talented, and deep cornerback group. The top four guys have each started games in the NFL.
Marquez White, who was seen as a project when drafted in 2017, does fit the profile for Richard and will be the fifth cornerback on the squad this year. He's very athletic and profiles as an outside corner.
- Jeff Heath
- Xavier Woods
- Kavon Frazier
- Tyree Robinson
Xavier Woods is probably the most intriguing player on the defense after Jaylon Smith.
The Dallas Cowboys felt so good about what they had in him that they didn't pull the trigger on draft day to trade for All-Pro Safety Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks. I wouldn't completely rule out a trade however, if Earl continues his hold-out into training camp and the preseason.
I really like Woods' ability to cover and play the run. In his rookie season he was really good as a slot cornerback for the team early on when they were dealing with injuries. His cover ability allows the defense a ton of flexibility when lining up. They can stay in their base 4-3 on early downs more frequently, even when opposing offenses want to go with 11-personnel.
Kavon Frazier really came on at the end of the season as a run-stuffing "box safety." He helped bring an edge to the defense that struggled for much of the year against the run.
Barring any unforeseen deals for a certain safety from a certain team in the Northwest US, Tyree Robinson is my fourth safety. Robinson is a center-fielder type of safety. While Woods also can do that, Robinson will have a shot to earn that spot with his natural instincts to play the position.
From Bryan Broaddus' notes during the rookie minicamp:
"Of the undrafted rookie free agents, Tyree Robinson appears to be the one guy that’s a true free safety. If there was something that stood out about him today was his ball skills. There were a couple of different snaps where he did a nice job of reading the quarterback and putting himself in position to make interceptions."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Special Teams (3)
- Dan Bailey
- Chris Jones
- L.P. Ladouceur
Dan Bailey needs to rebound from a slump he experienced in the second half of the season. His field goal percentage of 75% was the worst of his career. He missed some games in the middle of the season due to injury, but had been perfect until the second Giants game when he missed two out of three attempts.
No need to panic yet, but if he gets off to a slow start in the preseason games or the regular season, the Cowboys will have to think about making a change.
Chris Jones remains one of the best punters in the NFL. Not only does he kick it well, but his physical presence helps as a safety valve for the team. What also makes him great is his ability to convert on fakes. It's a weapon that has been quite useful.
L.P. Ladouceur will be the Dallas Cowboys' long snapper for as long as he wants to be the Dallas Cowboys' long snapper. He's that good.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Obviously, a lot could change between now and September when the regular season opens up, but here's my best guess at the 53-man roster as we sit in June.
We're now 44 days till the first day of practice in training camp, 58 days from the first preseason game, and 89 days from the start of the regular season.
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons
The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.
Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.
Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.
- A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.
The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.
Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.
If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.
- Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.
The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.
On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.
Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.
- Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.
Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.
I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.
- The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.
Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.
Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.
His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.
Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.
Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.
Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.
- Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.
Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.
Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.
Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.
It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.
This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.
Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose
The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.
In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.
This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.
This time though, things should be different.
The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.
Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.
Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire
However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.
But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.
DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win
A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.
Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.
Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.
Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.
Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.
- Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
- DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
- Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
- Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
- Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
- Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
- If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.
Star Blog5 days ago
Should Cowboys Stick With Xavier Su’a-Filo at Left Guard?
Star Blog4 days ago
How Cowboys Could Regain a 2019 1st-Round Draft Pick
Player News1 week ago
Legendary Cowboys Quarterback Backs Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys1 day ago
4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Next Day Rant: Dak Prescott Shows Big Flaws in Big Win
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Is Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones to be Trusted?
Player News3 days ago
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
Star Blog6 days ago
Leighton Vander Esch Is A Stud, And Should Be For A Long Time