Dallas Cowboys: 2014 Roster

Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Defensive line

On the roster: George Selvie, Terrell McClain, Henry Melton, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Anthony Spencer, Jeremy Mincey, Nick Hayden, Ken Bishop, Davon Coleman, Ben Gardner, Amobi Okoye, Martez Wilson, Dartwan Bush, Chris Whaley, Caesar Rayford, Ben Bass

Locks: Selvie, McClain, Melton, Lawrence, Crawford, Mincey

Inside track: Spencer, Hayden, Bishop, Gardner, Coleman, Bass

Need help: Wilson, Coleman, Bush, Whaley, Rayford,Okoye

How many fit? The Cowboys needed 20 defensive linemen last year because of injuries and a revolving door of newcomers who mostly struggled. The Cowboys opened the year last season with 10 defensive linemen on the 53-man roster and ended the year with that many, but the only constants were Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware, Edgar Jones, Hayden and Selvie.

Selvie
Ten seems to be the right number again in 2014 as the Cowboys plan to attack with numbers if not known commodities. Spencer and Okoye could be candidates to open the year on the physically unable to perform list because of injuries. Hayden started every game last year, but he is not a lock to make the roster. Selvie had seven sacks last year but he is not a lock to start. Crawford did not play last year because of an Achilles’ injury. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. McClain had a productive spring but can he carry that over to a full-time role?

The Cowboys gave up their third-round pick to move up for Lawrence, and he will fight with Mincey for a starting spot. He looks the part, but he has a lot to learn. Going against Tyron Smith might be a good thing. The Cowboys are betting that Mincey will be able to find a niche as a quality pass rusher.

Bass is entering his third training camp. He has flashed ability but hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his first two years. Gardner, Bishop and Coleman could be viewed as a part of the future as the line gets the overhaul the offensive line began in 2011. Rayford looks the part but has to have a good preseason to earn a spot. Wilson has some pass rush to him.

Losing Ware and Hatcher and possibly not having Spencer until the seventh game of the season, this group does not have high expectations. Rod Marinelli kind of likes it that way, but he has to somehow coax pass rush out of players who have yet to do it on a consistent basis.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
Linebackers
Offensive line
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Cowboys’ roster.

Offensive line

Smith
On the roster: Tyron Smith, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, Ronald Leary, Darrion Weems, Uche Nwaneri, John Wetzel, Josh Aladenoye, Brian Clarke, Andre Cureton, Darius Morris

Locks: Smith, Bernadeau, Frederick, Martin, Free, Leary, Parnell

Inside track: Weems, Nwaneri

Need help: Wetzel, Aladenoye, Clarke, Cureton, Morris

How many fit? The Cowboys had 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster to start last season and through attrition ended with eight on the final 53-man roster of the season. Eight seems too light, but the Cowboys have carried just seven to the game for the past few seasons. Ten might seem like too many but finding offensive linemen can be tricky and the future has to be factored in with Free and Parnell entering the final year of their contracts.

As the Cowboys head to Oxnard, California, for training camp, I believe nine is the magic number. The top six are without question Smith, Bernadeau, Frederick, Martin, Free and Leary. The Cowboys could have their best line since 2007 when Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis made the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys invested three first-round picks in Smith, Frederick and Martin. Free rebounded with a solid 2013 season. Bernadeau and Leary are good enough to win with.

The questions are with the backups.

With Parnell entering the final year of his contract, could he be trade bait late in camp provided Weems shows he can be the swing tackle on game day?

There would be some salary-cap benefit, saving $1.5 million, especially if Parnell isn’t viewed as a starter in 2015 or beyond. The Cowboys could choose to extend Free’s deal, which could make a Parnell move possible. It’s all predicated on Weems, who had some good moments in the offseason.

The interior depth is a little in question. The loser of the left guard battle between Bernadeau and Leary becomes the top backup with Bernadeau serving as the backup center. Nwaneri has a lot of experience. Clarke could be a guy worth grooming for the future after what he showed as well. Wetzell might have some position flexibility as well at tackle and guard.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
Linebackers

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Linebackers

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
1:30
PM ET
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 position groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Linebackers

On the roster: Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman, Anthony Hitchens, Rolando McClain, Will Smith, Keith Smith, Dontavis Sapp, Orie Lemon, Joe Windsor, Cam Lawrence

Locks: Carter, Wilber, Holloman, Hitchens

Inside track: Durant, Will Smith, Lawrence

Need help: McClain, Keith Smith, Sapp, Lemon, Windsor

How many fit? In a 4-3 scheme, the general answer is to go with six, but seven is a real possibility here. They ended last season with seven on the 53-man roster, although that was because they held out hope Sean Lee could return from a neck injury and didn’t put him on injured reserve.

Now that backup quarterback Kyle Orton is gone, that could open up a spot on the 53-man.

Durant will enter camp as the starting middle linebacker for Lee, who will miss the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but if Durant doesn’t keep the job is he certain to be around? He counts $1.46 million against the cap and the Cowboys would save more than $1 million if they let him go. I don’t see that happening because there is so little experience among the linebackers, but I can’t put him in the ‘lock’ category just yet.

McClain is the most intriguing prospect just because of his past. He was the eighth pick in the draft in 2010, but never found a fit in Oakland and retired twice before he could play a snap with Baltimore. There should be a heavy dose of skepticism, but if he wants to play and wants to work, then the Cowboys might have hit on a player for a pittance (sixth or seventh round pick in the trade with the Ravens).

Carter needs a big year for a variety of reasons, especially personally. There is no better time to turn it on than in a contract year and he is in the final year of his deal. Wilber found a home late last season on the strong side after a position switch. Holloman showed he can be a playmaker in the preseason and played well in last season's finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys drafted Hitchens in the fourth round in hopes he could be Lee’s backup, but then Lee got hurt. Hitchens has to be a main special teams’ contributor, as do the rest of the backups if they hope to make the final roster.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Tight ends

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
9:00
AM ET
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Tight ends

Witten
Escobar
On the roster: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Jordan Najvar

Locks: Witten, Escobar

Virtual lock: Hanna

Need help: Najvar

How many fit? The Cowboys have carried four tight ends in the past, doing it last year with Andre Smith serving as the fourth, and they could do it again this year if they find the right fit from a player not currently on the roster.

As of today, they would go with three: Witten, Escobar and Hanna. Witten's catches were down last year (73 from 110), but his touchdowns were up (eight from three). He still remains a threat in the passing game and a focal point of defenses. Escobar will get more chances to prove he can be a factor this year. Hanna came to the Cowboys known for his speed but they have yet to put him in position to use it, serving mostly as the second tight end last year.

Hanna
The Cowboys have a need for a blocking tight end that would take some of the load off of Witten. That's not Escobar's forte and that's not Hanna's strength. They had the blocker they needed in Smith last year, but he barely saw the field before he was released. They need a Dan Campbell or Sean Ryan type in order to be able to move Witten off the line in situations to keep the playbook open.

If they add another tight end, then that would put an end having a fullback on the roster. There just aren't enough snaps to carry a fourth tight end or fullback to justify carrying both spots. The tiebreaker would be who can play special teams better.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Cornerbacks

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
1:30
PM ET
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Cornerbacks

On the roster: Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Sterling Moore, B.W. Webb, Terrance Mitchell, Tyler Patmon, Dashaun Phillips

Locks: Carr, Scandrick, Claiborne

Inside track: Moore, Mitchell

Need help: Webb, Patmon, Phillips

How many fit? Remember when the Cowboys kept only three cornerbacks a few years ago? And the fourth was Alan Ball, who was a starting safety? They can’t go that light again, but the Cowboys rarely used a dime package (six defensive backs) last season and Rod Marinelli did not use it much when he was with the Chicago Bears.

While some teams will carry six cornerbacks, taking five is the most likely option.

Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne are starters (yes, the third corner is like a starter). The remaining two spots are up for grabs, but Moore’s ability to play inside and outside should give him a leg up provided he plays as well in the summer as he did in the spring. He should have had the job last season, but the Cowboys kept Webb instead and he never really developed as a rookie. Webb’s struggles continued for most of the spring, but he was a little better in the minicamp. His draft status last season was a big part of why he made the roster, but he might not be so fortunate this summer.

Mitchell missed most of the offseason because Oregon did not graduate until late, but he made a favorable impression at the minicamp. The coaches like his swagger and he also possesses good size. The Cowboys feel lucky that they were able to grab him in the seventh round. Phillips was given the largest signing bonus of any undrafted free agent ($7,500) and Patmon earned a spot on the 90-man roster by making the most of an invite to the rookie minicamp. Of the two, Patmon was noticed more in the spring, but Phillips showed ability to go get the ball at Tarleton State.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Cowboys’ roster.

Wide receivers

On the roster: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, Devin Street, Tim Benford, LaRon Byrd, Jamar Newsome, L'Damian Washington, Chris Boyd

Locks: Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Harris, Street

Has a shot: Benford

Need help: Byrd, Newsome, Washington, Boyd

How many fit? The Cowboys typically keep five wide receivers and that appears to be the max going into 2014 as well, but injuries in camp or an unexpected turn from a Benford, Byrd or Boyd could force them to keep six.

They know what they have in their top four receivers. Bryant is a star. Williams is only entering his second season but he showed last year he can handle the job. Beasley and Harris have roles in the slot while they can play a little bit outside if needed. Street has the lead for the fifth spot after a solid spring. The Cowboys traded up in the fifth round to get him and liked the fact that he worked in a pro-style offense at Pittsburgh. He needs to work on handling a more physical game at the NFL level but that’s something every young receiver needs.

Benford has spent the last two seasons on the practice squad, which is not always the best thing. I can’t think of a receiver who made the jump to the active roster with the Cowboys after spending that much time on the practice squad. But he had a good spring and his quickness in the slot could earn him some extra time. At the very least he can show he can play in the league with a good spring. Byrd is listed at 225 pounds, but he looks almost like an H-back. He did a nice job catching the ball in the spring and his experience in the pro game gives him an edge. Newsome was on the practice squad last year and flashed a few times this spring.

Washington’s spring was cut short because of a shoulder injury. His speed and story have a lot of people rooting for him, but Boyd might be the more accomplished receiver. He has good size and decent speed to fit what the Cowboys want in outside receivers.

Every year one of these young receivers jumps out early at camp only to be reeled in later on. Last year it was Eric Rogers. One of these guys will do the same, but don’t get too excited too fast. It will be difficult for any of them to break into the top five without an injury.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Safeties

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
1:30
PM ET
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Safeties

On the roster: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton, Ahmad Dixon, Ryan Smith

Locks: Church, Wilcox, Heath

Virtual lock: Hamilton

Need help: Smith, Johnson, Dixon

How many fit? This is a thin group with only three locks and five spots open. And it’s possible the Cowboys go with four safeties, but they kept five last year and they don’t appear to have a hybrid corner/safety on the roster at this point.

Adding a veteran during camp or by the time the final cuts come around is a possibility.

Church
Church is the only truly known commodity. He is one of the most stable defensive players they have and has developed into something of a leader as well. The Cowboys want Wilcox to be the guy, but that doesn’t mean he will end up being the guy. He has much to learn after playing the spot only for a year at Georgia Southern and having his development slowed last year after the death of his mother and a knee injury. Heath will be a special-teams stalwart. He was forced to play too much last year, but he has fans throughout the building who believe he can grow into the job.

Of the remaining safeties, Hamilton had the best spring. He was a disappointment last year after he was one of their priority college free agents. He was not disciplined enough but was better in the OTAs and minicamp. Johnson’s lack of health has kept him off the field for the last two seasons, and he has run out of options. He did little in the spring because of a hamstring injury. He has to show he can stay healthy and make plays. The coaches say he did it in the limited work he has had over two seasons, but the Cowboys can be only so patient.

Dixon was drafted with the idea that he would be a special-teams ace as a rookie with the ability to grow. He is aggressive. He will attack. When the pads come on that should fit his game more. Smith is an intriguing undrafted prospect. He opened some eyes with his work in the spring and ability to cover some ground. Will he be aggressive when the pads come on? If he wants to build on a good first impression then he better.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Running backs

On the roster: DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams, Ben Malena, Tyler Clutts, J.C. Copeland

Locks: Murray, Dunbar

Virtual lock: Randle, Clutts

Need help: Williams, Malena, Copeland

How many fit? The Cowboys had four running backs on the roster with either four tailbacks or three tailbacks and a fullback. That seems to be the right number in putting together the 53-man roster this year, but the breakdown could be different.

Murray, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season, and Dunbar are locks. Randle has the inside track for the No. 3 job and would likely take over the every-down role if something were to happen to Murray. He will be pushed by Williams, who is a former second-round pick. He was unable to stay healthy in his time with the Arizona Cardinals but he has natural ability that could push him by Randle, a fifth-round pick last year.

Malena is an interesting prospect. He showed speed, quickness and smarts in the spring, and his ability to play special teams could enhance his chances. Of the other tailbacks only Dunbar has real special teams' experience.

There is a question as to whether the Cowboys will keep even one fullback. Could they go heavy and carry four tight ends, like they did for a spell last season? If they do, that fourth tight end isn't on the roster at the moment. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup. Copeland, who signed as an undrafted free agent, needs to get in better shape.

Evaluating fullbacks in the spring is difficult because they are not in pads. They are paid to move people and you can't really move people in the organized team activities and minicamp. Clutts has the edge over Copeland, and he could also play some special teams.

Could the Cowboys keep only three tailbacks? Sure, but then they would have to put one on the practice squad, which could be a spot for Malena.
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Specialists

On the roster: Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur, Cody Mandell, Casey Kreiter

Locks: Bailey, Jones, Ladouceur

Needs help: Mandell

How many fit? There was a time the Cowboys kept two kickers, one for field goals and the other for kickoffs. Bailey, however, does not need kickoff help. He is more than fine in that department. Three is the magic number for this group.

The Cowboys could look to bring a kicker into camp just so they don't overwork Bailey, who signed a seven-year extension this offseason.

Jones had a solid first full season as the Cowboys' punter. Mandell has a good leg, but he will have to clearly be better than Jones to win the job this summer. Jones has a strong leg but has done a better job on his directional kicking. Mandell showed he has a strong leg in the spring, but he was not consistent.

Do not overlook the fact Jones is a good holder too. That goes a long way to a kicker's confidence even if Bailey does not seem to be bothered by anything.

Ladouceur is a mainstay. It seemed in a few years ago the Cowboys were searching for Ladouceur's replacement, but nobody has been able to handle the duties. Plus, Ladouceur is just too good to go with an unknown snapper. Kreiter will get a chance to show what he can do in the preseason but it might be for another team or a return with the Cowboys in the future.
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Cowboys’ roster.

Quarterbacks

On the roster: Tony Romo, Kyle Orton, Brandon Weeden, Caleb Hanie, Dustin Vaughan

Locks: Romo, Orton

Virtual lock: Weeden

Need help: Hanie, Vaughan

How many fit? The Cowboys have kept three quarterbacks before, but not since they had Stephen McGee around in 2011. I believe they carry three again in 2014.

They have carried just Romo and Orton on the 53-man roster the last two seasons with Alex Tanney spending some time on the practice squad last season before he was poached by the Cleveland Browns.

Some might be surprised to see Orton is a lock after he skipped the entire offseason, which could cost him about $150,000 in fines and a de-escalator, but the Cowboys have consistently said they value him. If he doesn’t show up to training camp, then he faces big-money fines, so for that reason I believe he shows up to Oxnard, California.

The Cowboys have invested little money in Weeden, but they have invested time this offseason with him taking the first-team snaps since Romo is recovering from back surgery and Orton is missing. They like Weeden enough to want to continue to develop him. He appears to be the 2015 backup right now, but injuries at other spots -- or poor play in the preseason games -- could mean the Cowboys go with two quarterbacks for the third straight season.

Getting snaps for five quarterbacks in the summer is impossible so it’s likely Hanie or Vaughan will be let go if/when Orton shows up to camp. Hanie had some positive moments in his work over the spring. Vaughan has a big arm and could be a developmental player.

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