By Greg Lehr
The Dallas Cowboys will officially begin their 2019 campaign later this week when they arrive in Oxnard, CA for the start of training camp. After last season’s exciting mid-season turnaround, fueled by the trade for Amari Cooper, Dallas will aim to meet this year’s even higher expectations. The Cowboys will not only look to repeat as division champions but also get over the ongoing playoff hump of the NFC divisional round. As Jason Garrett enters the last year of his current deal with a lot on the line, the impact of rookie offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will be a major development to follow throughout training camp. Garrett is counting on Moore to jump-start a stagnant offense that has had its fair share of redzone struggles in recent years. A couple of additions to their offensive arsenal hope to aid Moore’s vision for the offense, while the defense continues to grow into one of the best young units in all of football. Here’s a glimpse of what the game-day roster might look like when Dallas takes the field against the Giants in Week 1 of the season.
As Prescott awaits a contract extension, Cooper Rush and Mike White will compete for the backup job throughout camp and the preseason. Neither Rush or White were too impressive during OTAs, which means Dallas could look to add a veteran to back up Dak if they don’t feel comfortable entering the season with Rush or White carrying the torch if called upon.
While questions arise at the possibility of a holdout by Zeke, despite two years left on his rookie deal, there is no doubt he will be fed the rock early and often anytime he is on the field. Dallas’ fourth-round pick, Tony Pollard, is one of the most anticipated players to watch in camp to see how he may be used in this offense. The only true battle here is for the third back, between Jackson and seventh-rounder Mike Weber. As long as Elliott is available, expect Jackson to get the edge based on experience and familiarity within the system. Olawale will once again hold down the fullback position.
Cooper, Gallup, and Cobb are locks. Beyond that, it’s purely a numbers game. A door to one of the final spots is now open a little wider since Allen Hurns was released on Tuesday after being asked to take a pay cut. This likely helps Noah Brown the most, followed by guys such as Cedrick Wilson and Lance Lenoir. Reggie Davis and a couple promising UFAs (Jalen Guyton and Jon’Vea Johnson) have great speed but would have to prove enough during camp for the Cowboys to feel good enough to replace Tavon Austin. As long as Austin stays healthy, which can be a big “if”, I think he makes this team. Cedrick Wilson, who missed his entire rookie season, is not being talked about much now but has a bit more polish to his game than some other names on this list. If Dallas does keep six receivers, it should be Wilson who gets the final spot.
Jason Witten’s return undoubtedly affects Rico Gathers the most, who likely faces a make-or-break training camp/preseason. Cowboys fans saw glimpses of promise with Jarwin’s three-score season finale in New York, and Shultz offers the blocking ability that this coaching staff covets in their tight ends. By going deep at other positions, Gathers could once again be the odd man out, and it will remain to be seen if he will land on the practice squad or if another team will take their turn in developing his potential.
La’el Collins is most likely entering his last year with the Cowboys, as he is expected to be out of their price range due to all the other extensions looming for other high-end players. Due to this scenario, Dallas may keep Mitch Hyatt, one of the more prominent UFA from this year’s class. Hyatt has a solid chance of making the roster as a reserve, especially with the way Smith’s health has been in recent years.
It’s a huge positive that Travis Frederick will be active and ready to roll after missing all of last season with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. While Joe Looney proved to be a valuable asset last season as a fill-in for Frederick at center, the addition of Connor McGovern does offer some additional flexibility as a backup for both guard and center. Looney is a veteran presence and locker room favorite, which could mean Xavier Su’a Filo is the odd man out on a deep offensive line.
Randy Gregory (suspended)
The addition of Robert Quinn is a timely one with Randy Gregory currently facing another indefinite suspension, although he is looking to get reinstated as soon as possible. Quinn should find himself in a great scenario opposite of Lawrence, once the latter is fully recovered from offseason surgery. Dorance Armstrong and Taco Charlton are a couple of names to watch during the preseason, as the Cowboys are certainly hopeful both take big strides forward to make an impact on the rotation. Hyder beats out day-three picks Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks, who are more likely to be practice squad candidates in a crowded defensive line room.
The hope is that Collins stays away from nagging injuries that he has battled through the previous couple of years and be the force he was in his rookie season. A healthy Collins would let top draft pick Trysten Hill spell him in good situations without having too much put on the rookie in year one. Woods and Covington should be able to hold down the 1-tech spot just fine. Covington should be an upgrade to Daniel Ross, who simply hasn’t been as consistent as what Dallas would like in their interior rotation.
Leighton Vander Esch
The rise of Leighton Vander Esch throughout his rookie season was a treat to watch for a team that had struggled year in and year out to overcome Sean Lee’s injury issues. Vander Esch thrived as the weak-side LB last season next to Jaylon Smith, who had himself a heck of a year as well. Now with Lee moving to the strong-side position, the Cowboys can get their three top linebackers on the field at the same time. An argument can certainly be made for this defense boasting the top linebacker trio in the league. Behind them, Thomas can play middle and weak-side, while Covington backs up Lee on the strong side.
Much like receiver, where the top three names are locks, a lot of intriguing players will be left fighting for a spot at cornerback. Jourdan Lewis doesn’t truly fit the mold of how Kris Richard likes his corners, but he has put in a great offseason and seems to understand what he needs to do to make this team. He offers versatility and experience, two huge legs up over some younger players. Jackson, the team’s fifth-round pick out of Miami, has the size and athleticism to excel in this defensive scheme. Other young guys such as Donovan Olumba, Chris Westry, and CJ Goodwin will have chances to prove themselves, especially with Byron Jones recovering from offseason hip surgery, but it would be surprising if one of them was able to overtake Lewis or Jackson.
After the offseason drama surrounding Earl Thomas, the Cowboys enter this season with mostly the same group from a year ago, with the addition of George Iloka and sixth-rounder Donovan Wilson. The rookie will have an uphill battle to make the team, but his physical style of play and special team ability should give him a fair shot. With a similar skill set and higher upside, Wilson pushes out Kavon Frazier for the final spot here.
Brett Maher (K)
Chris Jones (P)
LP Ladouceur (LS)
Breakout Player: Xavier Woods
Comeback Player: Maliek Collins
Rising Star: Michael Gallup
Don’t Forget About: Sean Lee
Hot Seat: Taco Charlton
Under the Radar: Connor Williams
Dark Horse MVP: Robert Quinn