With the Dallas Cowboys injured up front and resting many of their starters in Sunday’s preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals AT&T Stadium, including quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, the normal dress rehearsal for the season has turned into roster battle palooza.
At least, part 1.
Part 2 is will come in the preseason finale against the Houston Texans on Thursday with final cuts to the 53-man roster set for Saturday.
Vice president Stephen Jones openly admitted the players are not only competing for spots against each other but also against some on other teams as additions will be made after final cuts to shore up concerns, most notably at safety, center and defensive tackle.
“As we all know, the 53 we ultimately have [Week 1] for Carolina might not all be on campus right now,” Jones said on his radio show on 105.3 The Fan Friday. “We’ll just continue to see what things make sense to us in terms of improving this football team and we’ll see where we end up.”
There is a real chance the Cowboys could add three or four players after final cuts.
Here is what we know after four weeks of training camp and two preseason games.
Locks: Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush
Still to be decided: Mike White
The Cowboys will most likely keep three quarterbacks. But with so much uncertainty in other areas of the roster, there is a chance they could try to fit White on to the practice squad. He hasn’t shown enough the first two preseason games to warrant other teams signing him to the roster. Of course, that could change starting Sunday against the Cardinals.
Running back (4)
Locks: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith and fullback Jamize Olawale
Still to be decided: Bo Scarbrough or Darius Jackson
The Cowboys are keeping four backs. Scarbough has the bigger name and following as a draft pick from Alabama. He is the favorite. And could be the future backup with Smith set for free agency after the season. There is no question that shifty Jackson has more juice in his legs. He will have to have a big showing against the Cardinals and Texans to make it happen.
Tight end (3 or 4)
Locks: Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz
Still to be decided: Rico Gathers
This is all about Rico Gathers. Can he show enough in the final two preseason games to force the Cowboys to keep four tight ends on the active roster? It’s not just about making highlight catches. Can he find a role on special teams to justify his existence?
Locks: Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup and Allen Hurns
Still to be decided: Lance Lenoir, Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown
Do the Cowboys keep six receivers or seven? Stephen Jones acknowledged the latter is a possibility, which seems odd for a run-heavy team like the Cowboys. Injuries have all canceled Brown out. If the Cowboys go to seven its speaks to how strong a preseason and training camp Lenoir has had so far. Thompson has a proven track record with coach Sanjay Lal. His speed is also a difference-making skill set. He has been injured all training camp so he will play against the Cardinals looking to show everyone what he brings to the table.
Offensive line (9)
Locks: Left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Connor Williams, center Joe Looney, right guard Zack Martin, right tackle La’el Collins. Backup tackle Cam Fleming, backup guard Kadeem Edwards, Injured center Travis Frederick
Still to be decided: Backup tackle Chaz Green, backup center Jacob Ohnesorge, (center after final cuts)
Frederick is out indefinitely with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so that has complicated things for what was the strongest position on the team. Now backup center Joe Looney is starting and the Cowboys are on the hunt for a backup. That could happen after final cuts. Ohnesorge was an emergency add this week. And then there is the question of Green. Does he survive again?
Defensive end (5)
Locks: DeMarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Randy Gregory
Still to be decided: Charles Tapper, Kony Ealy
Add in Tyrone Crawford who is playing end and tackle and the Cowboys set on the edge. They will like to be able to slip Tapper to the practice squad. Ealy has shown little since he arrived and will hope to show he can make impact at tackle.
Defensive tackle (5)
Locks: Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins Antwaun Woods, Brian Price, David Irving (suspended)
Still to be decided: Daniel Ross, Datone Jones, Jihad Ward
Crawford has kicked inside from end and will likely open the season as the starting under tackle. Collins, Woods and Price are also picks to stick. Jones is out with a sprained knee. Ward is the wild card. He needs to have a strong finish to make the final roster.
Locks: Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas
Still be decided: Justin March-Lilliard, Chris Covington
The Cowboys are as deep and as fast at linebacker as they have been in years. The top five are unimpeachable. March-Lilliard is the sixth linebacker but he is always fighting for his football life. The Cowboys like Covington’s skill set and potential. They would hope to slip him on the practice squad.
Locks: Chido Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
Still be decided: Duke Thomas, Donovan Olumba, Charvarius Ward, Kam Kelly, Marquez White
The top four are no-brainers and have been since the start of training camp, though it is a surprise that Lewis was unable to unseat Brown as the nickel cornerback. The battle is for the fifth spot. Thomas has been the most consistent. But he will have to hold off Olumba and Ward.
Locks: Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
Still to be decided: Tyree Robinson, Marqueston Huff, Jeron Johnson, (Earl Thomas)
Again the top three have never been a question. But Woods’ pulled hamstring that will keep him out for at least the season opener, if not longer, has complicated things. The Cowboys have long questioned their backup safeties. Tyree Robinson has the lead right now. Jeron Johnson was brought in this week as an emergency option because of his familiarity with the system. Trading for Earl Thomas remains an option after finals cuts.
Locks: Kicker Dan Bailey, Punter Chris Jones, Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur
They all are among the best at what they do. What more needs to be said?