The first practice of training camp is on July 27th for the Cowboys, which isn’t very far off. That also means that the preseason isn’t too far off either. In other words, football is inching its way closer. Up to this point, free agency, the draft, and waiting on potential contract extensions have been the only thing tiding everyone over until football starts. Now, the wait's almost over.
At first glance, this Cowboys team is as talented and as deep as it may have ever been. So much so that Jason Witten came out of retirement, Randall Cobb took a one-year deal, and Earl Thomas tried his hardest to be a part of it. Being this deep is a gift but also a curse.
The team can only carry 53 players and there’s at least 70 that could be on an opening day roster that won’t make final cuts, making this one of the hardest preseasons to cut talent. A lot of the time, a player isn’t let go because of ability but because the team needs an extra roster spot or two for a position group that needs more help.
For example, last year, the Cowboys kept seven receivers and four tight ends when they had no number one target and wanted to give Dak Prescott as many options as possible to succeed. This season, we’ve got a pretty good idea who has a rhythm with the offense.
Given what the team needs most and where they’re strongest, a lot of talented names will either be practice squad bound or stuck on the waiver wire.
Special Teams (3)
L.P. Ladouceur is the long snapper. Brett Maher is the kicker. Chris Jones is the punter. This is the easiest position group to predict. Let’s move on.
Dak Prescott’s contract extension is imminent. At this point, it’s not a matter of if but rather how much he’ll get. The goal is to get everything done before the season starts and before another young stud quarterback resets the market.
The real question is who will back up Prescott.
Last year, the Cowboys kept both Cooper Rush and Mike White, but now they’ve had a full year with both and will determine the permanent backup during the preseason My guess would be that Mike White has the edge simply as a pure passer, but I’d be surprised if they keep more than two.
Running Backs (4)
Barring an Ezekiel Elliott holdout, he’s still your lead dog with Jamize Olawale as the fullback.
Tony Pollard is expected to be the team’s Duke Johnson or Alvin Kamara (not a comparison) who will play a factor in the return game, line up as a receiver, catch passes out of the backfield, and have an impact on their third-down offense.
Darius Jackson and Mike Weber will fight for the third running back spot. Whoever wins this is either a player who’ll not make the game day 46-man roster or have their biggest impact on special teams.
The other could be a likely candidate for the practice squad if they clear waivers.
Wide Receivers (6)
Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, and Michael Gallup are the only receivers that I would call a lock for the final roster. They’re the starting trio and one of the best ones the Cowboys have had in some time.
After these three, someone like Tavon Austin is not guaranteed a spot, and young players like Cedrick Wilson, Jalen Guyton, and Jon’Vea Johnson will need to prove they belong while in camp.
Noah Brown would be the next receiver I’d be comfortable saying will get a spot. He’s primarily the team’s H-back, or as my colleague, John Williams likes to call him, a light end. He’s a valuable blocker and receiver out of the backfield.
The receiver group will be the toughest to trim. It’s so deep and full of talent, but there’s one position group that’s in need of more bodies.
Offensive Line (9)
Aside from the starting five, throw in eventual starter Connor McGovern, swing tackle Cameron Fleming, Joe Looney at center, and a competition for the next spot with Xavier Sua’Filo, Mitch Hyatt, Jake Campos, and others; the offensive line will be the deepest position group on offense.
There are definitely still some concerns with the Cowboys three best linemen, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. Frederick is coming back from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and Smith and Martin battled injuries during the season. They should be fine going into 2019, but caution is probably the right move.
It’s hard to know if the team decides to keep another tackle or interior lineman, but expect reinforcements. Remember in Tony Romo’s final years, the team kept an additional quarterback on the roster in case the team had to deal with another injury to an important player.
This time around, it’ll be about protecting the team’s first line of defense, which protects their most important player.
Tight Ends (3)
Jason Witten is back and will likely take over the number one tight end spot he left with. He’s not the player he once was but a year off to get healthy should give Prescott another reliable target.
Blake Jarwin looked at the end of last season like he’s the future at the position. Hopefully, Witten coming back doesn’t take away time with the first-team offense and hurt his progression.
The final spot is going to come down to Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers. The Cowboys took Schultz in the fourth round last year and he has shown to be a reliable blocker, but Rico Gathers is the better athlete who hasn’t progressed the way the team had hoped up to this point. This will be a battle to watch in camp.
Defensive Line (11)
Enter the Hot Boyz.
This is Dallas’s most loaded group, which is ironic because two years ago it was the team’s biggest weakness.
DeMarcus Lawrence got his mega-contract this offseason, the team signed Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington, traded for Robert Quinn and drafted Trysten Hill in the second round of this year's draft.
Veterans Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Daniel Ross, and Antwan Woods return to the squad, while young players like Taco Charleton and second-year edge rusher Dorance Armstrong Jr, draft picks Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks, and undrafted Daniel Wise will have to compete for snaps. We will have to also keep our eyes on the Randy Gregory situation as well.
This is the hardest group to guess who stays but it will also be the deepest group on the team, with the toughest cuts.
Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are the NFL’s best young linebacker duo. Add Sean Lee to this and it's arguably the best overall linebacker core.
Behind them, Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard both gave this team a lot of meaningful snaps off the bench and on special teams. Plenty of other players will compete for that last spot.
Last year's fifth-round pick Chris Covington is an option, as well as undrafted rookies Nate Hall, Andrew Dowell, and Luke Gifford. This will be where the real competition is.
The cornerback room is set. Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown and fifth-round draft pick, Michael Jackson. This is who will be there, barring injury. Safety, on the other hand, could feature a lot of new names. Xavier Woods is this team’s best safety and a starter, and Jeff Heath will likely still be the day-one starter opposite him.
Rookie Donovan Wilson has a lot of talent, and had he not been injured at Texas A&M, might’ve been a higher draft pick. Kavon Frazier might be this team’s best special teams player who doesn’t kick or snap the ball. George Iloka was brought in to provide veteran leadership but is not a lock. Lastly, Donovan Olumba and Kyle Queiro showed a lot of skill last offseason and how well they developed in year two could factor into the decision.
Taco Charlton Isn’t Going Anywhere After Strong Preseason Week 3
Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Taco Charlton might be turning things around. The former first round draft pick didn't have a great couple of seasons to start his career off, which forced him to be in a battle to earn a spot on the Cowboys 53-man roster this offseason. Three weeks into the preseason, it looks like he's a lock to make the team. In a "Dress Rehearsal" game that went great for the Cowboys, Charlton's performance was among the best players.
A couple of weeks ago, I discussed how the Cowboys' younger defensive ends could force the team to move on from Taco. From Dorance Armstrong to Jalen Jelks, there's a handful of promising players that were participating in a positional battle that one way or another, included Taco Charlton.
However, the Michigan product showed up to play versus the Los Angeles Rams with two passes batted down. Despite making such plays, we still hadn't seen much from him in the pass rush department.
That changed against the Houston Texans last Saturday when he managed to get two sacks (one strip-sack), two forced fumbles and a recovery. This was undoubtedly Taco's best game in his career. He still has a lot to prove, but it was definitely good to see him have a "breakout" preseason game.
With such performance, it doesn't seem like he'll be going anywhere in 2019. Charlton won't be a starter for this team, but he could become a very important rotational piece for Rod Marinelli's defense. He has a great opportunity to find playing time during the first two weeks of the season before Robert Quinn returns from suspension.
One unfortunate note was that in his best game yet, Taco went out injured twice (ankle). The first time he went back to the field to get some more but had to walk off the field for a second time. Hopefully, he's able to play next Thursday but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't after having a breakout game versus the Texans.
Taco Charlton still has a very long way to justify being a first-round pick, but his play against Houston was a start. It will be very interesting to see how he plays in the 2019 regular season. He'll have to fight for playing time and he'll have to make every snap count to turn his career around.
Cowboys’ Taryn Christion Gets Time at QB; More Coming?
Last night was the first time we've seen Taryn Christion, the Dallas Cowboys' fourth quarterback on the current depth chart, actually playing the position in preseason. Could we see more of Christion at QB in this Thursday's finale, and at what point should Mike White be worried?
Signed just a few days before training camp began, Christion has been tried at running back, receiver, and various special teams units while the Cowboys were in Oxnard. But last week he started getting more time at quarterback, and last night's win over the Houston Texans saw him playing a few drives at QB to close the game out.
Sure, Taryn came in fourth behind White in the rotation. But that Dallas thought to give him reps in that game, the critical dress rehearsal game, is telling.
Jason Garrett doesn't get cute with rotations and playing time. He's old school, and there's meaning in every decision he makes about when and how guys get time in preseason.
Ironically, the decision came following Mike White's best preseason game this year. He went 6-of-9 for 56 yards and a touchdown, plus avoided any sacks or turnovers.
Rather than let White keep building on that, though, Dallas pulled him for Taryn Christion in the 4th quarter. It seemed as if the Cowboys were determined to get him some time at QB.
An even better showcase will come this Thursday night. The Cowboys host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final preseason game; we know Dak Prescott won't be playing, and the team may even protect Cooper Rush with limited time on the field.
Dallas likely intends to give Christion some significant playing time on Thursday. And to help make that easier, they played him last night to get some of those butterflies out of his system.
No, Taryn Christion probably isn't going to make the 53-man roster. Neither is Mike White, for that matter. It feels like the battle for the number-three QB is more about the practice squad now.
But whatever the case, the battle seems to be heating up. Dallas appears more invested in Christion now as a quarterback than at any other point since he arrived; some added intrigue for Thursday's final preseason game.
HOU 0, DAL 34: Defense Dominates in Dress Rehearsal Game
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't have scripted a better result in tonight's dress rehearsal game against the Houston Texans. All three phases of the game made big plays as they dominated 34 to 0.
The night belonged to the defense as they terrorized Houston's starters and reserves along the offensive line with 8 sacks. Taco Charlton, a former first-round pick turned outcast was the star of the night with 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. In my opinion, if there were any doubts about him making the roster he put them to bed tonight.
Kerry Hyder showed once again why he's one of the smartest free-agent signings of 2019. After being a lost man in the 3-4 defensive scheme with his former team the Lions, he's done a really good job applying pressure even though he hadn't recorded any sacks in the first two preseason games. However, tonight he recorded 2 sacks and reminded everyone of the player who had 8 sacks in 2016.
The young guys weren't to be left out in this defensive clinic. Dorance Armstrong, Trysten Hill, Daniel Wise, and Joe Jackson all had half sacks. Rookie Safety Donovan Wilson had one of the plays of the night with a beautiful interception as he tapped both feet before heading out of bounds. Cornerback C.J. Goodwin, who will probably make the roster on his special teams ability, got in on the interception party himself high pointing a contested pass.
Dak Prescott was only 2 for 5 (11 for 14 in the preseason) but managed to escape what looked like a sure sack and roll to his left and threw a rope to Michael Gallup for a touchdown. The two have shown a lot of growth and chemistry during training camp, something that was missing at times in 2018.
Wide Receiver Devin Smith had 6 receptions for 79 yards while Cedrick Wilson snagged 3 passes on 4 targets. Both receivers are fighting for the final roster spots in the receiver group which they'll have to continue to do next week against the Buccaneers.
Tight End Marcus Lucas had a very solid game with 4 catches for 50 yards. He will definitely be a player to watch in the final preseason game before final cuts are made. Cooper Rush went 15 for 25 and further solidified his position as the primary backup to Prescott. Mike White was also solid going 6 for 9 and tossing a touchdown.
Special teams got in on the action themselves when Linebacker Joe Thomas recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Now the Cowboys have only one more preseason game before the 2019 season begins. All that's left now is figuring out the last few roster spots and staying as healthy as possible. September 8th is right around the corner.
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