The Dallas Cowboys report to training camp in Oxnard, Calif. on July 25 with the first practice set for Saturday in what will be the first step in crystallizing the squad they will open the 2019 season with.
It will be a month of decision making and deliberating on what will arguably be the toughest round of cuts in years as the Cowboys roster is its deepest and strongest in more than a decade.
Look for the toughest decisions to be at offensive line, defensive line and receiver with the possibility of some players being whittled off in trades, possibly even former first-round pick Taco Charlton.
PREDICTING THE DALLAS COWBOYS 53-MAN ROSTER
Starter: Dak Prescott. Backup: Mike White
The Cowboys will carry just two quarterbacks. Prescott is obviously set. Mike White gets the nod here as the backup over Cooper Rush, who has flashed little promise since his surprising rookie year in 2017. The Cowboys will have a third-quarterback on the practice squad.
Running back (4)
Starters: RB Ezekiel Elliott, FB Jamize Olawale. Backups: Tony Pollard, Mike Weber
Not much mystery at running back, though, a strong case can be made for Darius Jackson over Mike Weber for the final running back spot because of his value on special teams. However, Weber, a prototypical down-hill runner, is being slotted as the primary backup for Elliott if he gets hurt or needs a breather.
Tight end (4)
Starter: Jason Witten. Backups: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers
The first three are set with Jason Witten moving back into the starting lineup after a year-long sabbatical with ESPN. The question is what to do about ever-developing Rico Gathers. He still has tons of potential. Remember, the Cowboys kept four tight ends last year. If Gathers is cut, he won’t be free for long.
Starters: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup. Backups: Randall Cobb, Noah Brown, Jon’Vea Johnson
Receiver behind Cooper, Gallup, and Cobb is where the real agony begins. Tavon Austin appears to be the odd man out because Cobb and Pollard can do the gadget stuff as well as return punts. Allen Hurns is the wild card, especially with his $6 million cap hit. He needs a pay cut. But can they take a chance on letting the speedy rookie Johnson get away if he performs in training camp as he did in OTAs and minicamp?
Offensive line (9)
Starters: LT Tyron Smith, LG Connor Williams, C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin, RT La’el Collins. Backups: Cam Fleming, Connor McGovern, Joe Looney, Mitch Hyatt. *Xavier Su’a-Filo (trade)
The big question on the offensive is what to do about Xavier Su’a-Filo, who performed adequately in place of the demoted Connor Williams last year. With Williams back in the starting lineup and the rookie McGovern seemingly able of backing up there, might the Cowboys get something for Su’a-Filo in a trade? Hyatt, a four-year starter at Clemson, will stick as a rookie undrafted free agent.
Defensive line (10)
Starters: DE DeMarcus Lawrence, DE Robert Quinn, DT Maliek Collins, DT Antwuan Woods. Backups: Tyrone Crawford, Trysten Hill, Chris Covington, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson, Dorance Armstrong. *Taco Charlton (trade) **Randy Gregory (suspended)
The defensive line is as deep as it’s been since the Super Bowl teams of the 1990s and that’s saying a lot. It means some hard decisions have to be made and that’s before even considering the possibility of the suspended Randy Gregory being reinstated. Charlton has a target on his back because he is a former first-round pick who doesn’t appear to have a future as a starter in Dallas but could still have some value around the league.
Starters: Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch. Backups: Joe Thomas, Chris Covington, Justin March-Lillard
The shop at linebacker is closed. Nothing really to discuss. Nothing to talk about, unless you want to start touting Lee, Smith and Vander Esch as arguably the most talented threesome in the league. Covington, a former college quarterback, should take a big step in Year 2.
Defensive backs (10)
Starters: CB Byron Jones, CB Chido Awuzie, S Jeff Heath, S Xavier Woods. Backups: Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Donovan Wilson, George Iloka, Mike Jackson, C.J. Goodwin, Kavon Frazier
The big question at safety concerns veteran free-agent signee George Iloka, who is competing with Heath for the starting spot at strong safety. Heath went unchallenged in OTAs and minicamp. Iloka is expected to show his worth in training camp when the pads come on. If he doesn’t supplant Heath, there is a good chance he doesn’t make the roster. The Cowboys didn’t invest much and they could use the backup safety spot on a young, developing player who is also eager to play special teams.
Starters: K Brett Maher, P Chris Jones, LS L.P. Ladouceur
Anything is possible if you consider Maher came out of nowhere to win the kicking job last season in training camp. He certainly needs to be more consistent and regain the team’s trust. But as of now, the specialists are set. Jones is as solid as they come. Ladouceur will be here forever.