The Cowboys will go light on Linebackers in favor of keeping more defensive backs and defensive lineman. Also, if McClain comes on strong, he may replace Durant at the MIKE linebacker, allowing Durant (a former 2nd round pick in his own right) to slide over and replace former 2nd round pick Bruce Carter at the WILL linebacker spot. But I think the Cowboys will put 2 linebackers on their Practice Squad in case of injury to one of their top 6 players.
Matt Johnson gets a roster spot based on the coaches’ opinion of his talent, but he is on very thin ice. Ahmad Dixon is waiting on the Practice Squad to replace him. Also, his roster spot is shaky due to all the defensive players the Cowboys have who will start the year on Reserve Lists, but will return some time later in the season. Johnson gets a spot primarily because there aren’t more talented linebackers and linemen on the team. If he wants to keep his roster spot, he’s going to have to move ahead of Hamilton on the depth chart before the beginning of October.
Claiborne wins the starting RCB position by default due to Scandrick’s 4-game suspension. And I believe the Cowboys go heavy at cornerback. B.W. Webb is in danger of being cut once Scandrick returns from his suspension. The Cowboys traded for Green, but his roster spot is not secure. And Mitchell is still eligible for the Practice Squad. Moore starts the year as the 3rd CB, and will stick with the team due to his versatility.
A couple of late off-season free agents, Ken Boatright and Zach Minter have made a case to make the team at the Defensive End positions, and former 3rd round draft pick Martez Wilson has been disappointing. But both of those players are really stop-gap solutions. The Cowboys will be looking forward to replacing both of them with Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence when they return later in the season.
If former TOP 10 pick Amobi Okoye can regain his football conditioning after his devastating illness, look for Nick Hayden or Ken Bishop to be on the chopping block. Bishop is still eligible for the Practice Squad, but Hayden could be traded or cut if Okoye returns.
With so many defensive players on the reserve lists, I believe the Practice Squad will be imbalanced in favor of the offensive players. The Cowboys will want to keep some players in reserve in case of injury to the front-line offensive players. Also, my opening day 53-man squad is already tilted toward the defense, so the Cowboys will need to keep more offensive reserves on the Practice Squad.
There is guaranteed to be a lot of continuing churn in the roster, so don’t get too attached to the borderline players. The key for a lot of the borderline players will be how well they contribute to special teams, so keep an eye on those players on the kicking and coverage units. Having said all that, here is my initial 53-man roster.
Offense – 23 players
• QB – Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden
• RB – DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams
• TE – Jason Witten, James Hanna
• TE – Gavin Escobar
• WR1 – Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Devin Street
• WR2 – Terrance Williams, Dwayne Harris
• LOT – Tyron Smith, Jermey Parnell
• LOG – Ron Leary, Mackenzy Bernadeau
• OC – Travis Frederick
• ROG – Zack Martin, Uche Nwaneri
• ROT – Doug Free, Darrion Weems
Defense – 27 players
• LCB – Brandon Carr, Sterling Moore, Terrance Mitchell
• RCB – Morris Claiborne, Justin Green, B.W. Webb
• FS – Barry Church, Jakar Hamilton, Matt Johnson
• SS – J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath
• WLB – Bruce Carter, Anthony Hitchens
• MLB – Justin Durant, Rolando McClain
• SLB – Kyle Wilbur, Ernie Sims
• LDE – George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford
• RDE – Jeremy Mincey, Zach Minter, Ken Boatright
• 3DT – Henry Melton, Davon Coleman
• 1DT – Terrell McClain, Nick Hayden, Ken Bishop
Special Teams – 3 players
• LS – L.P. Ladouceur
• PK – Dan Bailey
• P – Chris Jones
Author’s Note: The Cardinals released Sims. But since he’s played for the Cowboys the last two seasons, I think he is the logical short-term replacement for Holloman. Jones has said the Cowboys are in the market for a veteran to replace Holloman. I think Sims will be that guy.
The NFL has expanded the Practice Squad Roster to 10 players for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Here are my predictions for the Cowboys’ initial Practice Squad Members, which includes two of the Cowboys five 7th round draft picks from May. It also includes a backup Center, and a Fullback. If the Cowboys are able to trade Ryan Williams or Joseph Randle prior to the start of the season, then perhaps Copeland will make the 53 man squad, or perhaps the Cowboys will keep a 4th tight end. But for now, I expect Copeland to be on the Practice Squad. He just has not shown enough to make the team.
6 Offensive Players to Practice Squad
• FB – J.C. Copeland
• OG – Ronald Patrick
• QB – Dustin Vaughan
• TE – Asa Watson
• WR- Jamar Newsome
• WR – Chris Boyd
4 Defensive Players to Practice Squad
• SS – Ahmad Dixon
• LB – Cameron Lawrence
• LB – Will Smith
• DT – Dartwan Bush
The Cowboys will likely have 7 defensive players on some type of Reserve List to start the year. Of those 7 players, 4 will be eligible to return at some point in the year. Only Sean Lee, Chris Whaley and Ben Gardner are definitely out for the season. Scandrick can return after 4 weeks, which puts the roster spots of several cornerbacks in jeopardy.
Spencer must sit out the first 6 weeks on the PUP list, and Lawrence will have to sit out the first 8 weeks if the Cowboys choose to put him on IR. Okoye has started to practice, and since he is on the NFI list, he can return at any time once the Cowboys deem him healthy enough to play. As a result of the players who are eligible to return to the team, expect a lot of turnover from the opening day roster on defense as the season progresses.
1 Defensive Player on NFL Suspension List
• CB – Orlando Scandrick
1 Defensive Player on PUP List
• DE – Anthony Spencer
2 Defensive Players on Non-Football Injury/Illness (NFI) List
• DE – Chris Whaley
• DT – Amobi Okoye
3 Defensive Players on Injured Reserve
• LB – Sean Lee
• DE – Ben Gardner
• DE – DeMarcus Lawrence (eligible to return after 8 games)
Wildcard – Tyler Clutts could make the opening day roster if Scott Linehan insists on having a fullback on the team. One of the defensive players (most likely B.W. Webb or Matt Johnson) would likely be cut if that is the case. But in my opinion, neither Clutts, nor Copeland has played to the level necessary to make the team. However, Clutts is also known as a very good special teams player, which may sway the coaches’ decision when it comes to the final cuts.