As is usually the case with the Dallas Cowboys, there's no shortage of storylines heading into summer. Their OTAs have been headlined by the return of Dak Prescott, but he's not the only one back in uniform. So are Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, as well as tight end Blake Jarwin, and then there's the fact Dan Quinn now coordinates the defense -- the Cowboys desperately hoping he can fix everything his predecessor might've broken in 2020. The offense is set to get back to being prolific and maybe even more so with an intriguing addition in rookie Simi Fehoko, and the defense basically received the kitchen sink in the 2021 NFL Draft, with rookie first-round pick Micah Parsons already impressing as mandatory minicamp gets underway.
The problem is, well, the reality of it all. In other words, there's a lot of potential with each player on the roster (that's how they got to the NFL in the first place), but someone will inevitably either suffer an injury that opens the way for someone else or they'll simply not make a mark quickly enough.
And with teams now having only minicamp, training camp and the preseason ahead of them (with a four-week vacation between minicamp and training camp), there's not as much time as teams think to truly get a handle on who deserves to be on their final roster, who doesn't and who needs to be stashed for later. And with that, let's take an early stab at what the Cowboys roster might look like when they visit the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.
Lots of tough decisions to make here, so let's talk about them.
|QB||Dak Prescott||Garrett Gilbert|
|RB||Ezekiel Elliott||Tony Pollard||Rico Dowdle|
|WR||Michael Gallup||Noah Brown|
|WR||Amari Cooper||Simi Fehoko/R|
|SLOT||CeeDee Lamb||Cedrick Wilson Jr.|
|TE||Blake Jarwin||Dalton Schultz||Jeremy Sprinkle|
|LT||Tyron Smith||Ty Nsekhe|
|LG||Connor Williams||Connor McGovern|| |
|RG||Zack Martin||Isaac Alarcon|| |
|RT||La'El Collins||Brandon Knight||Terence Steele|| |
Forecast: 100% chance of Rayne
He's back and, by all accounts, Cowboys went heavy on defense in the 2021 NFL Draft (spoiler: they did) -- Prescott will see a few new faces on his side of the ball from both free agency and the draft. looks to be an upgrade over a very disappointing stint with Cameron Erving and should help keep him upright, , and the addition of rookie wideout Simi Fehoko adds a lot of speed to the WR position while to throw his blocking prowess into the mix. And speaking of tight ends, Blake Jarwin joins Prescott in returning from injury but in a world where , and it sets the Cowboys up to have a true two-headed threat at TE.. As he works to get back to business with his usual cast of weapons -- and having hoped the
Travis Frederick in him. All things considered, it's a loaded offense for the Cowboys but they're overloaded at WR, and everyone can't come to the party in September. That said, expect players like Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson to win out over the slew of younger guys, most of whom will have a shot at making the practice squad., nor is there a concern about and Amari Cooper, so the most looming questions (not related to health) hover over the interior offensive line -- where Connor Williams tries to hold off Connor McGovern and , while Tyler Biadasz tries to make good on praise that has Collins seeing
As for the backup quarterback role, Gilbert is taking an early lead and has thus far kept the Cowboys from signing any of the veterans they've worked out. Cooper Rush feels long in the tooth at this point and Ben DiNucci needs more development, and still qualifies for the practice squad -- something to consider when sifting through why the Cowboys would carry only one backup on the active roster (along with the fact Prescott's ankle was surgically designed to be stronger than it was pre-injury).
Let's get ready to rumble
It's expected the Cowboys will see fireworks in training camp, and not because it's a late Independence Day celebration. It's because they entered the offseason with a massive amount of need on the defensive side of the ball and, months later, they've now added a slew of bodies to the mix in the hopes of fixing what ails them. From free agency additions like Brent Urban and Tarell Basham to a draft aimed mostly at stacking defensive talent -- led by first-round pick Micah Parsons -- the position battles for Dallas this summer will bring more heat than the glowing ball hovering above them at practice in Oxnard, Calif., as Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith try to earn a future with the Cowboys against Parsons, Keanu Neal and a steal of a pick in Jabril Cox. Vander Esch is already back to wowing coaches in practice as he walks into a contract year, applying that much more pressure to Smith to match serve.
The clashes don't stop there, though, because there's also much to determine both on the defensive line and at safety (the latter seeing Damontae Kazee off to a running start opposite Donovan Wilson). The return of Trysten Hill from injury sees a front office favorite coming back to a roster that's now seen Urban added to aid in the run defense, ready to challenge both Hill and Neville Gallimore for snaps following the retirement of Tyrone Crawford. Tarell Basham can also flex inside and depending upon the play call, Quinton Bohanna will most certainly get his reps as a 0- and 1-tech tasked with eating up blocks and opposing RBs.
And then come the edges, with Osa Odighizuwa to the mix and, again, there's much to figure out -- as in who gets the nod and who gets risked to waivers in the hopes of re-signing them to the practice squad. Lastly, don't forget about cornerback, where Nahshon Wright locks horns with Reggie Robinson behind Kelvin Joseph and Trevon Diggs, with Wright being Quinn's "guy" in the draft and Robinson probably needing a moment to get back to playing CB after having lost a year to a failed safety experiment thanks to Mike Nolan.as starter opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, while Bradlee Anae fights desperately for a shot in his second year against the likes of Basham and another team favorite in Dorance Armstrong. Add rookies Chauncey Golston and
Special teams (3)
|KR||Tony Pollard||Cedrick Wilson Jr.|
|PR||Simi Fehoko/R||CeeDee Lamb|
Snap, crackle and pop
L.P. Ladouceur surprisingly replaced by Jake McQuaide -- a Pro Bowler in his own right -- while Chris Jones is , who is set to replace Hunter Niswander at punter. McQuaide joins Zuerlein in being a carryover from Fassel's days with the Los Angeles Rams, and the Cowboys are banking on all three making noise once the right milk is poured., thanks to the molding of it by John "Bones" Fassel. This season will see legendary long snapper
Expect the speedy Fehoko to begin taking over return duties from Lamb and possibly Pollard down the road, with Lamb, Pollard and Wilson all being available to operate in the role(s) at certain points until further notice.
Practice squad candidates
There are many that will be quality enough to get a look for the Cowboys practice squad, and here are some who'll likely get a first look as the team tries to flesh out the unit ahead of the Week 1 opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Keep in mind they can elevate two practice squad players on game days, a change that landed in 2020 due to the new collective bargaining agreement.
- Ben DiNucci, QB
- Matt Farniok, C
- Josh Ball, OT
- Sewo Olonilua, RB
- Nick Ralston, FB
- Artayvious Lynn, TE
- T.J. Vasher, WR
- Brennan Eagles, WR
- Osa Odighizuwa, DE
- Francis Bernard, LB
- Luke Gifford, LB
- Anthony Hines, LB
- Reggie Robinson II, CB
- Israel Mukuamu, S
- Hunter Niswander, P
This list isn't all-encompassing, but rather a list of players who might get extra consideration for the Cowboys practice squad. In chopping down the roster to 53 players, there will inevitably be several tough decisions to make, but they have to be made, and it's on the players to make a strong case in June, July and August to not be set free ahead of September by throwing every proverbial haymaker they can as they fight for their future with the Cowboys and NFL as a whole.
Ring the bell.