Cowboys roster isn’t perfect, but it’s built for success

Posted Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will never admit it but the team has gone through a rebuilding phase the past three years under coach Jason Garrett. Although the process is still not complete, Garrett has churned this roster over since taking over midway through the 2010 season. Only 17 players remain on the roster from when Garrett took over. The Cowboys are decidedly younger and are filled with Garrett-kind of guys. The roster is not perfect as there still remains holes on the offensive line. But talent abounds. No more excuses. The time is now.

Quarterback

Starter: Tony Romo.

Backup: Kyle Orton.

Say what you will about Tony Romo having one career playoff win. He is the team’s present and future at quarterback. The Cowboys see him as the solution more so than the problem, which is why they gave him a six-year, $108 million contract extension, including $55 million in guaranteed money. The Cowboys feel so good about Romo that they not only gave a contract extension but also a bigger role in the offense. He will have input on personnel, game plans and play-calling. Romo needs to improve his decision-making after throwing a career-high tying 19 interceptions last year, but the Cowboys blame much of that on a porous offensive line. He was sacked a career-high 36 times and got no help from the running game either. The Cowboys are confident that Orton can win games if needed.

Running back

Starter: DeMarco Murray.

Backups: Joseph Randle, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar.

The Cowboys come into this season with the mandate of running it more and better than a year ago when they fielded the worst rushing attack in team history. Part of the blame goes to the offensive line. Part of it goes to Murray missing six games with injury and part goes to the Cowboys abandoning the run early in games. Murray vows to stay on the field for all 16 games. Randle was drafted to be the primary backup to Murray, but the speedy Dunbar emerged in training camp as a legitimate change-of-pace option and primary pass catcher out of the backfield. Dallas rushed for

just 79.1 yards per game in 2012.

Wide receivers

Starters: Dez Bryant,

Miles Austin.

Backups: Terrance Williams, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley.

After breaking out last season with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, Dez Bryant is looking to become one of the NFL’s best receivers. He has shown maturity with a controversy-free off-season for the first time in his career. He is openly talking about 2,000 yards receiving and catching 20 touchdown passes. Miles Austin had an injury-free training camp that should bode well for him. He caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns when he was bogged down by injuries. Williams, a third-round pick from Baylor, will be the third receiver. He will play opposite Bryant on the outside, allowing Austin to work the slot. The Cowboys still want to find ways to get Harris, a dangerous punt returner, the ball in the regular offense.

Tight ends

Starters: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar.

Backups: James Hanna, Andre Smith.

Jason Witten is Jason Witten, a seven-time Pro Bowler who remains quarterback Tony Romo’s most trusted pass catcher. He set a league record for receptions by a tight end last year and is showing no signs of slowing down. The difference in 2013 is the Cowboys have moved to a two-tight end offense. The Cowboys don’t have a fullback on the roster so the tight end will also be used as an H-back in the running game. Escobar will start opposite Witten. He is potentially a dynamic pass catcher, but needs to improve as a run blocker. Hanna has played well enough to carve out a role.

Offensive line

Starters: LT Tyron Smith,

LG Ron Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG Brian Waters,

RT Doug Free.

Backups: T Jermey Parnell,

T Darrion Weems, C Phil Costa,

G David Arkin, G Mackenzy Bernadeau.

The Cowboys wanted to upgrade the line as late as last month with contract offers to veteran guards Brandon Moore and Brian Waters. It took until Tuesday for Waters, a six-time Pro Bowler, to come to terms. But he won’t be ready for Sunday’s opener. Leary and Bernadeau will likely be the starting guards at the outset. Leary is questionable for the opener after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month. If he is ready to go, he is a questionable first-time starter. The Cowboys made no secret of trying to replace Bernadeau, who played a huge role in the line’s struggles a year ago when Romo was sacked 36 times. Smith is developing into one of the best left tackles in the game and Free had a solid camp at right tackle after slumping in 2013. The Cowboys added a major upgrade at center with rookie top pick Travis Frederick.

Defensive line

Starters: DE Anthony Spencer,

DE DeMarcus Ware, DT Jason Hatcher, DT Jay Ratliff.

Backups: DE Kyle Wilber, DE George Selvie, DT Ben Bass, DT Nick Hayden, DT Landon Cohen.

The Cowboys are excited about the move from the 3-4 to the 4-3 because of what they have up front. Former linebackers Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware are now undersized defensive ends in the team’s new scheme and could be the league’s best pass rushing duo. Ware had 11.5 sacks last year and Spencer had 11. Both should boost those numbers in a scheme that requires them to attack the quarterback 100 percent of the time. The only issue is Spencer being ready for the start of the season after missing the preseason because of arthroscopic knee surgery. Nick Hayden will start until Jay Ratliff returns from the physically unable to perform list with a hamstring injury. Ratliff won’t join the team for at least another six weeks. Hatcher might be the breakout star in 2013. He had career highs in tackles (77), sacks (four) and quarterback pressures (25) last year and should build on those numbers after the best training camp and preseason of his career.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Bruce Carter, MLB Sean Lee, SLB Justin Durant.

Backups: OLB Ernie Sims, OLB DeVonte Holloman, OLB Kyle

Bosworth, OLB Edgar Jones.

Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are perfect fits for the middle linebacker and weakside linebacker in the 4-3 scheme. They are being compared to former Chicago Bears star Brian Urlacher and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Derrick Brooks. Lee, who is the team’s unquestioned leader on defense, has made a smooth transition. He had a dominant camp and preseason and should be a play-making machine in 2013. Carter was considered a perfect fit for the 4-3 when the Cowboy drafted him 2011 even though they were in the 3-4. He played well in the 3-4 and now is where he belongs in the 4-3. Durant was signed as a stopgap option at strongside linebacker. Rookie DeVonte Holloman showed superb play-making skills in camp and will take over for Durant at some point.

Secondary

Starters: CB Morris Claiborne,

CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church, S Will Allen.

Backups: CB Orlando Scandrick, CB B.W. Webb, S Jeff Heath,

S J.J. Wilcox, S Danny McCray.

The Cowboys entered camp with questions at free safety and were set back by the injury to Matt Johnson and the absence of J.J. Wilcox, slowing their development. Veteran Will Allen showed that he will be more than a place-holder at the position. Allen brings leadership to a secondary that was lacking it in recent years. The other positions are pretty solid and set with strong safety Barry Church returning from a torn Achilles. The Cowboys are deep at cornerback with starters Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Carr and Claiborne are man-to-man style cornerbacks although they can also play zone and help out against the run.

Special teams

K Dan Bailey, P Chris Jones, LS L.P. Ladouceur, PR/KR Dwayne Harris.

There are no concerns with Dan Bailey, who has been near perfect throughout his career. He made 29 of 31 field-goal attempts last year, including 26 of 26 from less than 50 yards. Chris Jones will return from an injury-plagued 2012 to handle the punting job. Dwayne Harris is a potential game-breaker on returns. He had seven punt returns of 20 yards or more yards to tie the league lead after getting the job halfway through the season. He will also be the primary kickoff returner.

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