The Dallas Cowboys sat 33 players for the exhibition finale against the Houston Texans on Thursday night. Most of those 33 were healthy, and all of them are expected to make the team.
That left 38 players competing for 17 spots, not counting the three special teams jobs that already are claimed.
The Cowboys began cutting their roster Friday, needing to reduce it to 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday. Defensive end Ben Gardner tweeted of his departure, and running backs Ben Malena and Gus Johnson and fullback Ray Agnew also received walking papers, according to a source.
“Well, it’s challenging,” coach Jason Garrett said after Thursday’s 21-14 victory over the Houston Texans. “It’s the worst part of our job. There’s a lot of guys whose dreams and aspirations of being a pro football player are going to be cut short or at least detoured for now. That’s not easy.
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“We have to do what’s in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys. We’ll have some hard decisions to make. We’ll have some really good discussions. But we appreciate the effort of all these guys. They certainly practiced hard over the course of training camp and played hard through these preseason games.”
Dustin Vaughan, Davon Coleman and Lucky Whitehead were among the players who sought to make an 11th-hour appeal with their play in the final preseason game.
There are a lot of guys who think they’ve shown enough, but the fact of the matter is that the brutal reality of the NFL is that it is out of our control now.
Quarterback Dustin Vaughan
Vaughan played the entire game against the Texans, completing 11 of 20 passes for 115 yards and a 71.9 passer rating.
Vaughan, who served as the third quarterback behind Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden last season, had 26 drives during the preseason, not counting kneel-downs, and scored on only three. He finished 35 of 67 passing for 343 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 54.5 passer rating.
“There are a lot of guys who think they’ve shown enough, but the fact of the matter is that the brutal reality of the NFL is that it is out of our control now,” Vaughan said. “You hope you’ve shown enough, and, yes, I think I did, but you leave it up to the coaches to make that decision.”
In Garrett’s five previous seasons as head coach, the Cowboys carried three quarterbacks on the 53-player roster three times. They kept only two quarterbacks in 2012 and ’13.
“I think there will be a lot of conversation,” quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said. “We’re deep at a lot of other positions. We’ll just have to see how the numbers work out.”
I feel great about it. … I think I did everything I could. It’s not in my hands anymore.
Wide receiver/returner Lucky Whitehead.
Whitehead became the favorite to win the fifth receiver/returner role the day he signed as an undrafted free agent, and it didn’t hurt that he has drawn praise from owner Jerry Jones.
“I feel great about it,” Whitehead said. “… I think I did everything I could. It’s not in my hands anymore.”
Trying to make an impression with a big return, Whitehead has dealt with fumbling issues on punt returns. In the dress rehearsal against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys went with Cole Beasley on punts and Lance Dunbar on kickoffs to open the game.
Beasley and Dunbar are expected to retain those jobs for the season opener. But Whitehead, who had eight catches for 61 yards and a touchdown on offense, has shown enough potential to make the team.
“Of course it’s going to be stressful, because it’s not in your hands anymore,” said Whitehead, who played 50 snaps on offense and seven on special teams against the Texans. “But I feel like I put in a lot of hard work, and I just want to show them I belong here. It’s not up to me anymore. I’ve just got to sit back and wait.”
I’m going to say yes [he’s done enough to make the team], but I really don’t think too much about it. I’ll let them handle that. That’ll just stress me out.
Defensive tackle Davon Coleman
He and Ken Bishop might be in competition for the final defensive tackle spot. Coleman played 41 of 66 plays against the Texans and had three tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.
His quarterback hit knocked Texans third-string quarterback Tom Savage out for a few weeks with a shoulder injury.
“He’s had a good preseason,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He’s in there fighting every day. He rushes and plays hard. He’s an athletic guy. He’s what you’re looking for.”
Coleman, Tyler Patmon and Vaughan were the three undrafted rookies to make the team out of training camp last year. Coleman played in two games as a rookie, with four tackles, before being released and signed back to the practice squad.
He isn’t sweating cut-down day, because he surmises, he has no control over it.
“I’m going to say yes [he’s done enough to make the team], but I really don’t think too much about it,” Coleman said. “I’ll let them handle that. That’ll just stress me out.”
8 Days until the Cowboys’ season opener vs. Giants, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13, KXAS/5