Top 10 Stories to Watch at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp: No. 3: Predicting the Final 53
By Matthew Postins
Our Pre-Training Camp Final 53-man roster predictions
By the start of the regular season the Dallas Cowboys must be down to 53 players. Injuries and other factors could play a role in who stays and who goes. But here is our look at the 53 players that, for the moment, seem the most likely to make the roster:
Why: Romo’s job isn’t under threat and he appears to be totally healthy for training camp. Weeden has performed well enough to validate the Cowboys’ release of Kyle Orton. Lately the Cowboys have kept just two quarterbacks so at this moment I’m not comfortable saying Caleb Hanie will make the team. But that’s what training camp is for — to figure those things out.
Why: Ben Malena is the odd man out, but as an undrafted rookie the Cowboys have some options with him after the preseason ends, including the rookie squad (as long as no one else wants him, that is). Of the four I have making the team Williams and Randle are the most vulnerable, and if Malena has a great camp and preseason things could get interesting.
Fullback (1): J.C. Copeland.
Why: The Cowboys need a good lead blocker, and while Tyler Clutts did some nice things late last season, Copeland is 275 pounds and opened up lead holes for one of the college game’s best running games at LSU. As long as Copeland is athletic enough to handle the NFL, I see him getting the job.
Why: So here is an area where I’m taking a bit of a gamble. Last year the Cowboys only kept five wide receivers and it didn’t hurt them, depth-wise, once Miles Austin was hurt. But I’m not sure the Cowboys want to gamble twice. Harris is the unquestioned kick returner, unless he gets hurt. Street, a fifth-round pick, should make the team, too. Boyd is the risk. He had an impressive offseason by all accounts and if he keeps that up he could make the team as the No. 6 wide receiver. Special teams will be key for Boyd.
Why: Witten is a lock. Hanna and Escobar are pretty much locks, especially the latter as the Cowboys don’t want to give up that second-round investment yet. But, I if I had to guess, the “two-tight end” offense that owner and general manager Jerry Jones wants so badly to happen last season will not be the talk of training camp this year.
Why: I’ve read and heard in some circles that Leary’s left guard job might be in jeopardy. I don’t think it is, frankly. But we’ll see how things go in camp. If Free has a lackluster camp that may change the dynamic of Martin’s situation, as he can play tackle. The key for the three backups is versatility. Weems can play tackle or guard, Nwaneri can play either guard position and Bernadeau can play center and guard (which could be key for Berandeau’s employment, as Frederick is the Cowboys’ only true center). I think Jermey Parnell’s time may be up.
Defensive line (9): Jeremy Mincey (starter, end); George Selvie (starter, end); Henry Melton (starter, tackle); Nick Hayden (starter, end); Tyrone Crawford, Demarcus Lawrence, Terrell McClain, Ben Bass, Ben Gardner.
Why: This assumes that Anthony Spencer will be on the season-opening physically unable to perform list, which is a distinct possibility. That would open up a roster spot. I have Mincey penciled in as the starter at right end, but he’ll share plenty of time with Lawrence. Crawford is big enough to play inside or outside. McClain will push Hayden for time. I’m intrigued to see what Gardner can offer. Amobi Okoye is behind the curve because he missed much of the offseason. How much of that ground he can make up will determine if this Cowboys flier makes the team or not.
Why: I see Durant as the starter in the middle for Sean Lee, while Holloman edges out Hitchens for the strong-side spot. Hitchens will play often, though. I’m not sold on Rolando McClain being ready for training camp, so I have Smith and Wilber beating him out for the final two spots. Cam Lawrence’s special teams prowess could play a role in the pecking order, too.
Defensive backs (10): Brandon Carr (starter, CB); Morris Claiborne (starter, CB); Barry Church (starter, S); J.J. Wilcox (starter, S); Orlando Scandrick, B.W. Webb, Terrance Mitchell, Sterling Moore, Jeff Heath, Ahmad Dixon.
Why: The Cowboys have questions about Claiborne and their strong safety situation, so expect them to keep some options around. I don’t have Scandrick as a starter, but Claiborne’s spot on the depth chart is in pencil for right now. Mitchell will be valuable depth and could project as a third corner in a year or two. Moore finally makes the team out of training camp. Wilcox edges Heath out for the starting role and Dixon should impress. I don’t trust Matt Johnson enough for him to stay healthy, so I don’t have him making the team.
Why: Bailey is unchallenged entering camp and for good reason. He’s one of the most reliable kickers in the game. Cody Mandell is in camp as an extra punter, but he’ll have to really impress to unseat Jones. Same goes for Casey Kreiter, who is in camp mainly to provide additional practice reps when Ladouceur needs a break.