Cuts Coming: Who's Winning Camp Battles?

After camp in Oxnard and returning to Valley Ranch, this is the week for the Cowboys to decide who they will roll with into the regular season.

The Cowboys, like every other team in the NFL, are mandated to trim their roster down to 75 players by 4pm Eastern on this coming Tuesday. They do not have to wait that long, of course, and cuts could be made at any time. In fact, Dallas hasn’t been at the maximum number of players on the roster for some time, having only 88 players for over a week.

The big cut, the move down to 53, is not until Saturday. That means that most of the tough decisions will not occur until after Dallas squares off against the AFC Champion Denver Broncos next Thursday night in the preseason finale. The guys that will be giving their release in this window will tend to be the guys that have been brought in as camp bodies, or are injured and waiting to be moved to a list. Guys like QB Caleb Hanie, RB D.J. Adams, guards Stephen Goodin and Wayne Tribue are candidates not to survive this round on offense.

On defense, where Dallas could use all of the evaluation they can get their hands on, we might see the departure of LB Orie Lemon or DE Adawale Ojomo. Special teams will most likely lose one of the punters, or the backup long snapper.

The expansion of the practice squad from 8 to 10 players for 2014 and 2015, and the loosening of the restrictions on who can be added there might make this conversation a little more interesting than in years past. It might behoove the team to move on from veteran players in hopes that younger guys they might not have been able to stash can now be brought forward.

Regardless, expect the names to start trickling out over the next few days, as opposed to a deadline rush. Once the coaching staff reviews last night’s tape, verdicts should be in.

Once that is done, fans and media will then shift their attention to the big round of cuts. Of course, the big round of cuts won’t end it, as a lot of teams will be perusing the transaction wire. The Cowboys are one of many teams expected to bring in several players cut by other teams at positions of need. Earlier in the offseason, we put our eyes on the biggest battles of training camp, here in Part I and Part II. Now, a look at how some of those have worked out over the past month.

Middle Linebacker:Justin Durant vs Devonte Holloman vs Anthony Hitchens

Pre-Camp X-Factor: Outside vet brought in during camp. Pre-Camp Prediction: Holloman wins the job, Hitchens becomes the primary backup during the season. Current Status: Well that outside vet happened to be twice retired Rolando McClain. Holloman suffered another neck injury that has cut his career short. Hitchens started the dress rehearsal, but going into the last week of the preseason, nothing here is definite.

Left Guard: Mackenzy Bernadeau vs Ron Leary

Pre-Camp X-Factor: Recently signed G Uche Nwaneri Pre-Camp Prediction: Leary (assuming he untangles his legal entanglements) gets the nod and stays at LG Current Status: Leary avoided punishment for his DUI situation, and appears to be who Dallas wants to win the job. He didn’t look good at all in the dress rehearsal, however should still be considered the favorit.

Strong Safety: J.J. Wilcox vs Matt Johnson vs Jeff Heath

Pre-Camp X-Factor: Jakar Hamilton, a player with SEC pedigree, had a tremendous spring and could throw his name into the ring. Pre-Camp Prediction: Wilcox holds the spot down, but Cowboys run with 5 safeties for depth and ST. Current Status: Surprise, Matt Johnson has missed the entire preseason with injury. Wilcox is the unquestioned starter and has been. Ahmad Dixon will determine if Cowboys keep five safeties.

Starting Cornerback: Brandon Carr vs Orlando Scandrick vs Morris Claiborne

Pre-Camp X-Factor: There is none; these are the three guys fighting for two starting spots. Pre-Camp Prediction: No losers. Cowboys will primarily nickel coverage and all three will log over 850 snaps each (pending health). Current Status: Can I add “pending health OR SUSPENSION”? Claiborne once again has knee and shoulder issues, Carr missed most of camp due to his mother’s passing and Scandrick will miss the first four games of the season because of some chick named Molly. Le Sigh. The Cowboys showed that nickel coverage might be their M.O. in the dress rehearsal, as they were spread out by the Dolphins offense.

Dime Corner: B.W. Webb vs Sterling Moore vs Terrence Mitchell

Pre-Camp X-Factor: UDFA Tyler Patmon was raved about his awareness from his tryout and the first few OTAs while Mitchell was finishing his semester at Oregon. Pre-Camp Prediction: Mitchell gets the nod as the fourth corner, but Dallas keeps six corners on the roster and one in the chamber (Practice Squad) Current Status: Mitchell impressed some in camp, but is probably not ready for major action. Moore has been getting the nod while Carr and Claiborne sat and Patmon had the game of a lifetime in the dress rehearsal. Scandrick’s suspension makes this part of the roster very interesting.

Swing Tackle: Darrion Weems vs Jermey Parnell

Pre-Camp X-Factor: Could extremely solid guard depth make rookie Zack Martin an option as backup tackle? It was his position throughout college. Pre-Camp Prediction: I think the player's performance will be similar, which makes Weems the choice for the salary savings. Expect Dallas to go this route for backups moving forward, as three first round picks on the line will be getting expensive rather quickly. Current Status: Neither has been impressive and I’d expect Dallas to do something off the wall here. Either call Martin as the primary backup (word is he hasn’t played a single snap there) or they’ll look for a veteran castoff after Week 1. Very weak spot of the line.

Running Back Depth: Lance Dunbar vs Ryan Williams vs Joseph Randle

Pre-Camp X-Factor: Health. Health. Health. Oh, and ball security. Pre-Camp Prediction: Dunbar wins the backup role, but don't be surprised to see Williams getting enough snaps so the team can consider him as an option should Murray want too much money in the offseason. Current Status: Williams has proven his talent level and Randle has surprised everyone being stronger, quicker and better vision than last year. With all factors considered, I find it difficult to imagine Dallas entering the season without any of these players.

Weakside Defensive End: Jeremy Mincey vs Demarcus Lawrence

Pre-Camp X-Factor: Anthony Spencer. It's doubtful he's healthy enough to go at camp, or at the beginning of the season for that matter. Never say never, though. Pre-Camp Prediction: This competition might be window dressing. Word is leaking out that DeMarcus Lawrence more than held his own against Tyron Smith during OTAs. Now, while that can only mean so much being that it isn't full contact, it is promising. Expect a rotation (with all DL positions) but I expect Lawrence to win the job. Current Status: Lawrence’s foot injury was a serious blow, especially since Mincey hasn’t shown much production in pass rushing. Nor have any of the other backups. Dallas is really hurting here, and even though Spencer is much further along than anticipated.. he hasn’t played. Doubtful he could be an impact guy early, even if he isn’t kept on the PUP list.

Third Wideout: Devin Street vs Cole Beasley

Pre-Camp X-Factor: Aliens. It would take an out of world performance by one of the UDFAs orDwayne Harris for the third wideout to not be Street or Beasley. Pre-Camp Prediction: Toughest call of the 10 to predict; but I think Beasley wins out. Current Status: Beasley seems entrenched as the third wideout, with Street being the primary backup. If Dez or Terrance goes down, expect Street to fill in. The roles for Beasley and Harris are specific.

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