Five Cowboys on the roster bubble to watch vs Rams
By: Greg Lehr
The Cowboys have wrapped up another training camp in Oxnard, CA, as they are set to face off against the LA Rams in Hawaii for their second preseason exhibition before heading home to Dallas. Every year there are a handful of players on the roster bubble that make notable impressions during camp, making fans wonder if they can sneak onto the final 53-man roster (Cowboys fans have become accustomed to the name Lance Lenoir around this time of year). These players are typically rookies or younger guys looking to take advantage of their opportunity, while others are veterans playing under a microscope, hoping they show enough to the coaching staff to remain on the team for another year. Dallas’ first preseason game against the 49ers validated some of these camp impressions, while others struggled to prove themselves in live game action. Who might some of these fringe guys be that need to string together some solid performances to have a shot at the final roster? Here are five Cowboys to watch vs the Rams and for the remainder of the preseason.
1. Jon'Vea Johnson - The undrafted rookie receiver from Toledo has turned quite a few heads throughout much of training camp. Johnson's excellent speed and quickness are attributes that cannot be taught, and there's no such thing as too many playmakers for an offense. However, despite putting together a nice camp, Johnson struggled last week in San Francisco. While he managed to haul in 3 catches for 30 yards, his two drops from backup quarterback Cooper Rush were hard to ignore (one up the seam that would have been a sizeable gain, and another on a slant that would have kept the chains moving). The coaching staff clearly likes what they see in Johnson, but he needs to do a better job finishing plays in order to be trusted in games that count. With plenty of opportunities bound to come his way, Johnson is a major player to watch against the Rams in this week two preseason matchup.
2. Devin Smith - With all the young receivers in camp, it's easy to forget about Smith, the former second-round pick who has struggled mightily to stay healthy throughout his career. However, he has quietly been one of the more consistent performers in camp. Smith's outstanding athleticism still easily passes the eye test, and like Johnson, he should continue getting a lot of opportunities this week against the Rams. Due to a lot of competition for the last one or two receiver spots, Smith will need to excel in all facets of the game to stay in the mix for a final roster spot. He will look to build on his performance from a week ago (3 rec, 54 yds). Can he make a big play vs the Rams to separate himself?
3. Mike White - It’s safe to say last week against the 49ers was not a good start for Mike White (9/20, 87 yds, 3 sacks, 1 fumble lost). In fairness to him, the offensive line at that point in the game wasn't doing him many favors. A couple of the most consistent criticisms of White so far in his career is that he holds the ball too long and he doesn't throw it down the field, settling for check-downs instead. These concerns once again came to fruition in San Francisco. What makes matters worse for White is that he didn't exactly light it up in training camp either. As it stands currently, it's reasonable to assume Cooper Rush holds the upper hand on the backup job to Dak, with White slightly behind. White needs to prove that he can command this offense and move them up and down the field, if called upon, making this week’s preseason showing vs the Rams all that more important.
4. Chris Covington - Five total tackles last week was enough to tie for the team lead against the 49ers, a good sign for the backup SAM linebacker. Covington, a sixth-round pick from a year ago, is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of injuries in the linebacker group. He has been able to get a few first-team reps throughout the last couple weeks with Sean Lee sidelined (MCL sprain), and also has a bit more wiggle room for a roster spot after rookie Luke Gifford got hurt. Gifford was coming on strong in camp and even had an INT last week before suffering an unfortunate ankle injury that will sideline him for the next few weeks. All pressure is not off Covington though. He is likely fighting for the last linebacker spot, and as other teams begin cutting similar players in the near future, he must show the coaching staff he can take care of business better than any other options that may become available soon.
5. Brett Maher - The last thing any team wants to do is enter the regular season lacking confidence in their kicker. Just one year after surprisingly choosing Maher over longtime kicker Dan Bailey, there have been enough inconsistencies this summer to warrant some concern. An 81% field goal kicker for his career, Maher has oddly struggled with some shorter kicks throughout training camp and this issue was on display last Saturday. Maher missed from 35 yards out, though he made his other three attempts during the game (from 25, 40, and 31 yards, respectively). Jason Garrett continues to speak confidently of Maher, but if this trend continues, particularly of misses less than 40 yards, Dallas may need to consider other veteran options before the regular season. The remaining preseason games are as important for Maher as anybody else fighting for a roster spot in Dallas.
Honorable Mention – Don’t forget about Tony Pollard! Obviously with Zeke still holding out down in Cabo, nobody is going to forget about his potential replacement until he returns. The flashy rookie running back has drawn high praise from players and coaches, even directly from the front office and Jerry Jones himself (certainly a little public negotiating tactic from the boss). Dallas coaches insist Pollard can handle a full body of work just as much inside the tackles as outside, despite his slighter frame for the position. Weeks two and three of the preseason will be key to watch Pollard’s handle larger workloads.