Secrets Behind The Cowboys Cuts: The Defense

The Cowboys made their initial roster cutdown to 53. We look inside the cuts, and the keeps, and what could be coming down the road.

The initial rosters are set, finally. We have some semblance of an idea of who the Cowboys will go into battle with when they face off against the San Francisco 49ers in just seven days. Roster cutdown day is the NFL quoting the old Hip-Hop spiritual from Rakim, “It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you.”

Dallas trimmed the fat in some expected and unexpected ways. There were a few surprises and a few disappointments for a lot of fans. Most importantly though, is that the moves are probably not yet done. Players that were cut yesterday have until 12 noon Eastern today to clear waivers. That means that teams, in order of where they drafted, can claim a player and his original contract. Any player not claimed, becomes a true free agent.

Dallas could utilize either of these methods to augment their current roster. Here’s a look at the schedule over the next few days.

August 31: Waiver claims and Practice Squad designation (10 players)
Claiming period for players placed on waivers at the final roster reduction will expire at 12:00 noon, ET.

September 2 (Designated for Return IR)
After 4:00 p.m., ET, a club is permitted to place a player on Reserve/Injured as "Designated for Return". This means that anyone the team wishes to be given this designation MUST have been part of their original 53 man roster.

September 3: Salary Cap change
At 4:00 p.m., ET, the Top 51 Rule expires. This means that all clubs must be in full adherance to the salary cap for all players on their ledger for the 2014 season. This includes the active roster, IR, injury settlements, dead money, etc. etc.

It’s a distinct possibility that Dallas could have protected players they eventually want to move to the practice squad, while exposing others they feel safe will survive the waiver claims. For now, though, we analyze the 53, starting with the defense.

Dallas rolls with 11 defensive linemen, although only nine of them are available for Week 1. With six linebackers, and nine defensive backs, Dallas has rightly chosen to lean defensively with their roster makeup.

Headliner News

Rookie on ice, Demarcus Lawrence.(Getty Images)

The biggest news to come out of yesterday was the fact that the Cowboys announced their plans to place second-round rookie Demarcus Lawrence on DIR, Injured Reserve-Designated to Return. That means that the club will be without his services for at least the first eight weeks of the season. Lawrence broke his right foot at the end of July and was given an 8-12 week recover time frame. This puts him at the latter.

Lawrence will be able to practice starting Week 7, and can play Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals.

The second biggest news was the official marking of the return of Anthony Spencer from microfracture knee surgery. Dallas activated Spencer from the PUP list. It is not known how soon Spencer will return to game action, but he will not be available for Week One against San Francisco.

These two injuries, as well as the Cowboys move to cut Ken Boatright, left Dallas with only one weakside edge rusher, Jeremy Mincey. Before the list of cuts was released to the public, Dallas forged a trade to help on that front.

Dallas traded a conditional seventh round pick to the Tennessee Titans to bring in second-year man Lavar Edwards. Edwards was atop the Cowboys list of 5th round talents in the 2013 draft out of LSU. He sat behind All-Americans Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo his final season in Baton Rouge.

Edwards scouting report is that of someone that has good combine speed that shows up in pursuit. He has good hands, but his foot technique could use some work. Standing 6’4 and weighing 270 lbs. He has the versatility to move up and down the line, a key attribute that Dallas looks for in their defensive linemen. Edwards is an athletic guy, with the long frame teams look for in edge rushers.

Rest of Defensive Front Seven

The Golden Cock survives the initial trim down. (Getty Images)

There were no surprises at the linebacker positions; the six who have been getting playing time in the preseason all made the team. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys bring either Keith or Will Smith back to the practice squad. Both players were leading collegiate tackling machines and would seem to have some upside if they can adjust their awareness.

As far as defensive tackle, the name that stayed who might surprise some is Nick Hayden. Hayden offers very little pass rush skill from the one-tech position; but was Dallas’ most durable lineman last season. With Terrell McClain yet to take a snap for Dallas because of a high angle sprain, the club was probably hesitant to leave just rookie seventh rounder Ken Bishop to fend for himself.

As for the three-tech position, prize free agent acquisition Henry Melton hasn’t debuted for the club in 2014 either, after missing most of 2013 with an ACL injury. Standout UDFA steal Davon Coleman started every preseason game for Dallas, so it should be no surprise he made the cut. Tyrone Crawford and George Selvie round out the defensive end group, and will be two of the four DEs on the active roster to go along with Edwards and Mincey.

Many consider it a possibility the Cowboys to still look around the waiver wire to augment this position. The question is, with Spencer not far off from returning, will the club hold pat?

Three of the final cuts, Dartwan Bush, Ken Boatright and Caesar Rayford, are likely to be high considerations for the practice squad should they not get snatched up by other clubs. Zach Minter, who flashed against deep reserves in both the Baltimore and Denver preseason games, was waived/injured. That means that he won’t be eligible to rejoin the team until six weeks after whatever return date is negotiated with the player.

The Secondary

UDFA rookie CB Tyler Patmon put it together at the right time. (Getty Images)

Dallas will have to do without maybe their best corner, Orlando Scandrick, due to a four-game suspension for Poppin’ Molly. They will also be without backup safety Jakar Hamilton for four games for missing his drug test (he was already in the program). While Hamilton isn’t necessarily a roster lock, Scandrick’s loss affects this team.

Morris Claiborne’s shoulder is still not right, and it was revealed that he will need to take pain-killing shots prior to each game for the forseeable future.

Many thought this would mean that Dallas would go heavy at the corner position, but they did not. Ingrained on most projections were Brandon Carr and Sterling Moore, to go along with Claiborne. Only rookie UDFA Tyler Patmon, who shined with the higher levels of the depth chart against Miami with two picks and a touchdown, was added. Seventh round pick out of Oregon, Terrance Mitchell, showed a lot of swagger in practice, but in games showed he wasn’t ready for the big time just yet.

Fans can expect him to be brought to the practice squad if he’s not snatched up. Dallas might be looking at moving on from both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne this coming offseason, so all the bodies they can develop now will help them make such calls.

The fifth corner could be hybrid Jamea Thomas. Thomas was signed after he was in the Patriots cutdown to 75 list. Out of Georgia Tech, Thomas was rated as a third-round safety by several services and showed well in his debut against the Broncos. The Pats had him as a corner, but Dallas’ intent is to use him at safety.

He joins starters Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. Jeff Heath, a key member of special teams, along with heavy hitter Ahmad Dixon also made the initial 53. Ryan Smith, who fared pretty well with the extended playing time against Denver, is a practice squad possibility.

The Upshot

Dallas will gain a roster spot on Tuesday when Lawrence is moved to the IR/D list. Some parts of Cowboys Nation are still mightily concerned about the pass rush in its current state.

The Cowboys will have some decisions to make in their secondary once the suspensions of Scandrick and Hamilton expire following Week 4. If they choose to stick with only four corners, one might see Sterling Moore get released as opposed to Patmon. The club has already shown they aren’t enamored with Moore’s skillset, despite his playmaking history for them.

At safety, as stated earlier, Hamilton wasn’t a lock to make the team. The entire position behind the two starters is in flux here.

Dallas has stated that they will try to employ linebacker by committee. Good luck with that. None of the players cut showed an ability to help in the near future, so it will be interesting to see if the waiver wire brings a veteran that might compete with Cameron Lawrence.

We’ll be back with an extended look into the offense’s side of the roster.

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