Now that the 53-man roster has been announced, it is time to take a closer look at the team and the positions. While the roster has been announced it is not guaranteed that this is the roster we will see come Sunday’s opener in Washington on NBC at 8:20 pm ET. With that understood, here we go:
Quarterbacks: Tony Romo (S), Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee
Bottom Line: The only surprise out of this group was that Stephen McGee held on to a roster spot. Wade Phillips typically only carries a couple of quarterbacks and has his third guy on the practice squad. Not this year. McGee’s last game was the one that convinced the coaching staff he might not pass through waivers. Kitna is probably the best backup in the league. He is accurate and has a lot of experience. His arm is still strong and he fits in well to Jason Garrett’s system. All the focus will be on Romo. Can he duplicate his season from a year ago? Romo has to continue to be smart with the football and use all the weapons that he has at his disposal. Last year he had a tendency to focus on a couple of guys. The team will go as far as Romo takes them. We all hope that is to a date in February at Cowboys Stadium.
Running Back: Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, Deon Anderson, Chris Gronkowski
Bottom Line: None of these three halfbacks were impressive in the preseason. Choice probably had the best preseason of any of them. While there were rumors the Cowboys were trying to deal Barber, they were just that, rumors. It does not matter who starts out of this group they will all play, and play a lot. Barber still has a physical running style despite the weight he lost in the offseason. Jones is your home run hitter and the Cowboys hope they can get him the ball a lot more this season. Choice is your “jack of all trades” back. He can do it all. He might have passed Barber as the best pass catching back. The Cowboys will need to get this group rolling. It was unusual for the Cowboys to keep two fullbacks but with the injuries at tight end, Gronkowski will be more of an H-back. Gronkowski made it hard for the Cowboys to think about releasing him. He outplayed Anderson in the preseason, and is better out of the backfield catching the ball. Anderson still is that battering ram that the Cowboys need to get their running game going.
Wide Receiver: Miles Austin (S), Roy Williams (S), Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree, Sam Hurd
Bottom Line: This is Williams last opportunity to prove he is worth starting, not to mention the millions the Cowboys have payed him. Coming off a 7 touchdown season a year ago, he needs to match that number and bring his receptions and yards up, while decreasing his drops. Austin will attempt to prove he is no fluke by looking to be Romo’s number one guy. The wildcard is Dez Bryant. Bryant has the talent and ability to be a huge upgrade over Patrick Crayton, but he is unproven. Without getting a chance to see what he can do in the preseason, we will have to see what he has under the lights on Sunday. Ogletree and Hurd round out a unit that is full of great potential, but potential never wins you a title. Hurd can thank his special teams play and a great preseason for sticking around. He was on the ropes this year and needs to prove he can translate that into the regular season. Look for Ogletree to get some touches and build on his solid rookie campaign.
Tight End: Jason Witten (S), Martellus Bennett
Bottom Line: With Jon Phillips on IR it was a bit surprising to see the Cowboys keep only two tight ends. While Chris Gronkowski will get some time at H-back to take some of the plays from Witten and Bennett, they will be the work horses at the position. We all know what we get with Witten, arguably the best all around tight end in the league. This year it is about Bennett. He is coming off a very disappointing season. Can he get his head in the game and earn the trust of Romo. That will be the key. He can block, but now it is time to show he can be a dangerous threat out running routes.
Offensive Line: Andre Gurode (S), Kyle Kosier (S), Leonard Davis (S), Doug Free (S), Marc Colombo(S), Montrae Holland, Alex Barron, Robert Brewster, Phil Costa, Sam Young
Bottom Line: The Cowboys went a little crowded at this spot only because of the injuries that they have. But, these guys have to be better than they were in the preseason. Too many times were the quarterbacks running for their lives. There is great potential here as well, but they have a lot of eyes on this group. The starters return, but Kosier and Colombo are banged up. Colombo is expected to be back for the opener but Kosier could be gone longer. If this unit can come together and protect Romo while opening up holes like it did last year, the Cowboys will play late into the winter. If they cannot duplicate their performance from a year ago, they will be a 9-7 team. There is a lot of pressure on this group to perform, hopefully they can withstand the pressure.
Defensive Line: Marcus Spears (S), Jay Ratliff (S), Igor Olshansky (S), Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, Josh Brent, Sean Lissemore
Bottom Line: One thing became very evident during the preseason, Marcus Spears is a huge part of the Cowboys ability to stop the run. With Spears out all preseason with a knee injury the Cowboys failed to consistently stop the run, especially on the left side of the defense. While Spears does not rack up huge stats he is a run stuffer on that line. Ratliff is still a force to be reckoned with and will try to maintain that reputation this season. Hatcher proved that while he may be able to get to the quarterback he has a tough time against run blocking. Olshansky does what he does…run stuffer. He is great at it. Stephen Bowen had a great preseason and was a consistent presence in the backfield of opposing offenses. The Cowboys need this group to be able to hold opponents run game down and allow the linebackers to do what they do…make plays. The biggest surprise of this group was that Junior Siavi, who was having a great preseason, did not make the team. Instead the Cowboys held onto rookies Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore. Brent figures to have the most impact spelling Ratliff.
Linebackers: DeMarcus Ware (S), Anthony Spencer (S), Keith Brooking (S), Bradie James (S), Victor Butler, Brandon Williams, Jason Williams, Sean Lee, Leon Williams
Bottom Line: This was the most productive unit out of all the positions in the preseason. The Cowboys have a number of players capable of making plays and it all starts with their starters. This might be the best group of starting linebackers in the league. Ware and Spencer are back together hoping to build off a great finish to last season. James and Brooking anchor the middle and are exceptional tacklers. Victor Butler just keeps proving he is a playmaker and will be pushing for time on the outside. Sean Lee looked very good in the last two preseason games and will challenge for nickel time. The rest of the linebackers who are all named Williams will battle each other for time during the season. Leon had a great preseason and will probably keep Jason off the field and inactive for most of the season depending on which one plays better in special teams coverage.
Cornerbacks: Terrance Newman (S), Mike Jenkins (S), Orlando Scandrick
Bottom Line: This position was the biggest surprise on cut down day. Everyone thought Cletis Gordon would be the fourth corner, but the Cowboys decided to only keep three. Newman and Jenkins are coming off Pro Bowl appearances and Scandrick is solid. The question will be can these three remain consistent from last year and even build upon it.
Safeties: Gerald Sensabaugh (S), Alan Ball (S), Mike Hamlin, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Danny McCray, Barry Church
Bottom Line: This position was the reason the Cowboys went with only three corners. Both Ball and Owusu-Ansah can play corner in a pinch. Sensabaugh had a bad game in the playoff loss to Minnesota and will look to rebound this season. Ball will start at free safety and will have a lot of eyes on him, especially when it comes to run defense. The critics of Ball say that he does not like to get mixed up in the running game. McCray and Church were welcome surprises in the preseason and could not be cut. They will be looking to make more impressions on special teams during the season. A.O.A. will look to establish himself as a returner. He has blazing speed and great size, look for him to enter the game as a corner in the dime packages later in the season.
Specialists: David Buehler (K), Mat McBriar (P), L.P. Ladouceur (Sn)
Bottom Line: Whomever the 53rd man was should send Buehler a thank you basket. With Buehler winning the kicking job (10 for 11) in the preseason, the Cowboys were able to carry just one kicker this season. That opened up a much need spot on this team. McBriar is one of the best punters in the league and just keeps getting better. Most people do not even know who Ladouceur is, he likes it that way. It means L.P. is doing his job when he remains anonymous.
As it stands right now, this will be the Cowboys roster come Sunday in Washington. The Cowboys have a lot of talent and good players. It is not unreasonable to think they could challenge for a title. The key will be execution. After the preseason, that is what a lot of people are questioning them on.