We now have nine practices, the HOF game, and a scrimmage in the books. Here’s what the information may tell us about camp battles.
The cuts are coming for the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the league, although the first two will largely be very marginal players. With three remaining preseason games still to come, there is some clarity emerging about the most competitive camp battles. Here is where players are in a real fight to make the 53-man roster. Some are also trying to make the practice squad to keep that NFL dream alive.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, this is how things should stack up for the offense.
Dak Prescott is the carved in stone starter, and so far there is no reason to think that Garrett Gilbert is not going to be his backup. However, the conventional wisdom for months has been that Ben DiNucci is going to make the practice squad. This is a big part of that reasoning.
I’m being totally sincere when I say this. DiNucci’s athleticism and freelancing ability should make him a really useful scout team QB.
— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 6, 2021
There is a further implication there that if Prescott has to miss more than a game or two, or if something happens to Gilbert, the team will look elsewhere for a depth player on the 53. DiNucci just has not inspired any real confidence that he is at all ready to take the field. He has done nothing to offer any hope he will ever be ready in the eyes of many.
It may be a foregone conclusion in the front office that DiNucci will be on the PS. If it is not, then it must be asked if that spot can be most wisely used only for a scout team QB. It can also be a great way to have an emergency quarterback ready to go and already steeped in the playbook. Frankly, if you want that, Cooper Rush has already shown he is a better option in that regard. He probably would not be much worse as a scout team option, either.
However, this is something to watch when the PS is actually assembled, assuming they only carry Prescott and Gilbert on the 53. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys go outside the organization to grab someone waived by another team. And if they elect to carry three QBs on the roster, that should not include DiNucci if his performance in the remainder of the preseason does not dramatically improve.
The three returning backs from last year, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, and Rico Dowdle, look like a great bunch. The question is whether the team is content to just have three. There is also the fullback question. They did not carry one for most of 2020. Recent reports indicate that is not necessarily the plan this year. Sewo Olonilua was looking like the favorite there, but now he is dealing with a neck injury. That could open the door for UDFA Nick Ralston. It could also change the overall plan. Or the team could elect to carry a fourth RB. This is now a case of Ralston and the UDFA RBs JaQuan Hardy and Brendon Knox trying to convince the staff to carry a fourth body.
Where to invest the 53 spots on the roster is a major consideration for almost all positions, and TE is no exception. If they carry just three, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Sean McKeon look like the names. But one way to get around having a fullback is to have a TE who can be used as an H back, which includes being able to shift into the backfield. That seems to favor Jeremy Sprinkle at this point. Just like some of the names mentioned above, he is fighting to make his room a little bigger.
This is the first position group where there is some real competition no matter how many they carry. Let’s stipulate that Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson are pretty much locked in. Noah Brown is in the lead for WR5, but he is getting some serious push from Malik Turner, who overcame a fumble in the HOF game to have some very good reps. Simi Fehoko is in the mix just because he was a draft pick. And the team may well elect to go with more than five on the roster given how important the position is and the high risk of injury at that position. There is still plenty of time for one of the other players in this very large group (there are fourteen in all) to emerge in preseason action.
That means there are a lot of ways to go, and a real mob on this bubble.
Although a lot has been made of Connor Williams getting a lot of work at center, the plan for now is to keep him at guard and join Tyron Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins in the starting lineup. Connor McGovern seems like a lock as the primary backup for the interior line, while Terence Steele is somewhat surprisingly looking like the top option for swing tackle.
It is not unheard of for an NFL team to carry just seven linemen on the 53-man roster. That seems highly improbable for Dallas after the fiasco of 2020. And the competition to be the eighth, ninth, and possibly even tenth member of the group is extremely cloudy. It is early, but there is reason to think that Josh Ball is being set up for an IR stash. Ty Nsekhe has been a disappointment, as has Brandon Knight, although he has been getting a lot of work at guard and may get strong consideration due to position flexibility. Likewise, Matt Farniok is going to get a long look because he has the ability to play inside and outside, and also was a draft pick, albeit the last one taken by the Cowboys. A dark horse may be Isaac Alarcón, who is also being used in multiple positions.
They are just the most likely or most mentioned names. Overall, this is really a wide open situation in terms of both numbers and who fills the last few spots.
This is how the offensive battles are shaping up. It is frankly a lot more uncertain outside of the obvious names, with a lot of possible combinations. And we still could see outside help brought in to shore up some positions that have not gone as well as hoped, such as on the offensive line. Many expect the team to go a lot heavier on defense to try and solve the manifold issues from last year, which of course would reduce the opportunity for many of the names mentioned. That final cutdown is going to be riveting.
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