As we travel to Oxnard today for the start of training camp, we piece together our 53-man roster projection for the Cowboys:
Jerry Jones likes to say that teams overturn the roster at about a rate of 30 percent a year. We are wise to try to factor that into our 53-man roster production for 2016 ... But as we think you will see below, there really aren't a lot of surprises here. Competition, yes, but not too many surprises. Let's lock in the specialists with Dan Bailey, Chris Jones and L.P. Ladouceur ... and let's educated-guess away ...
QUARTERBACKS (keep 3) - Tony Romo, Kellen Moore, Dak Prescott
THE STATUS: Tony Romo seems poised to once again be at his best. It will be fun to watch at camp to see if the run-and-throw fourth-round rookie Prescott can push Moore ... And to see if Jamiell Showers looks NFL-ready now that he's allowed to focus on one position only.
THE WORRY: An injured Romo can mean this is a bad football team.
THE WILDCARD: The Cowboys aren't necessarily done here; we've been told that if there is an affordable option that is certain to be better than more, Dallas will have its eyes open. We're also told that the personnel department isn't high on Nick Foles, so don't hold your breath there. A treat would be if Dak develops so quickly that he becomes a viable No. 2 sooner rather than later. But for now, know that as always, this offensive coordinator loves this No. 2 QB.
RUNNING BACKS (keep 3 or 4) Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden
THE STATUS: It's the Zeke Show. Oh, and we say Morris is the No. 2. These jobs are virtually set in stone.
THE WORRY: For now, we'll work on the assumption that Elliott's only personal issues amount to him overcoming a false accusation ... and not actually being guilty of anything.
THE WILDCARD: McFadden’s broken elbow could keep him off the practice field for a bit. Lance Dunbar's knee rehab might do the same, pushing him to the PUP list. Now, what if Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick, is more than just SPARQ'y? (Hear our podcast with Jackson here.) Dallas will have almost completely turned over its running back crew from two seasons ago -- and even though that group was led by an MVP candidate in DeMarco Murray, this group threatens to be even more productive.
FULLBACK (0 or 1): Rod Smith
THE STATUS: This coaching staff like having a fullback on the roster --especially when it's one who plays special-teams.
THE WORRY: Do you keep one just because you like to have one? Converted linebacker Keith Smith is another candidate ... But again, is the player good enough to justify the position?
THE WILDCARD: Rod Smith not only plays special teams but could also play tailback.
WIDE RECEIVER (5) Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead
THE STATUS: Dez Bryant has no competition for his job. But his competitive nature will have a trickle-down impact on the rest of the group -- and there will be lots of competition here. T-Will getting pushed by Butler. Whitehead trying to take snaps from Beas. Devin Street getting nudged off the roster altogether. A rookie like Andy Jones jumping up.
THE WORRY: Dez' foot. He and the Cowboys have nursed this thing carefully all offseason. Dez tells CHQ.com of Oxnard, "They'll let the boy out at training camp!'' Can you be "out'' and "safe'' at the same time? Or is "safety'' even necessary anymore because Bryant is truly 100 percent?
THE WILDCARD: There are those inside the organization who believe Butler has bust-out ability. Most of this team's receivers have certain "specialties''; it'd be nice if the Cowboys had another receiver with "do-it-all'' abilities.
TIGHT END (4): Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swain
THE STATUS: It's a position of depth and strength, not because of the spectacular but because of the reliability, led, of course, by the venerable Witten.
THE WORRY: Hanna has become the player he's going to be, and that's fine. Escobar, however, has not. Maybe that's because it's impossible to beat out Witten, or maybe that's because Dallas' use of personnel groups doesn't often enough feature Escobar. But as he rehabs off his injury, there remains the hope that especially as a goal-line threat, he can push Dallas' offense one notch up.
THE WILDCARD: Much will be written about Baylor basketball player Rico Gathers and he's a good story. But he also has "practice squad'' written all over him.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Ron Leary, Joe Looney, Chaz Green, Cameron Bradfield
THE STATUS: Arguably the best unit of its kind in football. This is a serious-minded, devoted-to-the-task and fully-bonded group. Best example: Last year, Leary big-brothered new teammate Collins, essentially guiding the rookie into a position to take Leary's starting job.
THE WORRY: Only an injury can take this group down. And even then, depth and position flex offers security.
THE WILDCARD: Somebody will come calling in trade for Leary. Dallas will have a tough decision to make, as Leary is a starting-caliber player ... and maybe more valuable on the Cowboys bench that almost anything you can get for him. Unless that "something'' is a difference-making pass-rusher. ... and what if it takes the trading of a quality O-lineman for that?
DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Benson Mayowa, Cedric Thornton, Tyrone Crawford, Ryan Russell, David Irving, Terrell McClain, Jack Crawford, Charles Tapper, Maliek Collins
THE STATUS: The aforementioned nine don't exactly qualify as "Rushmen.''
THE WORRY: Randy Gregory will miss the first 10-or-more games of the season because of a suspension -- and even after that we'll wonder about his devotion to football. DeMarcus Lawrence does not cause us that second concern, but he's suspended for the first four. This group has balance ... but September threatens to be very, very light on sacks.
THE WILDCARD: "Marinelli Magic'' might be the most you can ask for here -- unless the front office switches gears and opts to chase veteran free agent Dwight Freeney or somebody like him.
LINEBACKER (7): Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, Justin Durant, Andrew Gachkar, Damien Wilson
THE STATUS: Rolando McClain's 10-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy casts a pall over this group -- as does the organization's ongoing debate over whether to keep Ro around.
THE WORRY: Beyond Pro Bowler Sean Lee (and his as-always health concerns), there are lots of them. Can Hitchens become good enough to make Ro expendable? Does Durant represent improvement? Are the kids ready to make a leap? Coaches think Nzeocha, for instance, can play at a high level. But they've thought that about Wilber, Hitchens and Wilson, too, and in a sense, we're still waiting for "high level.''
THE WILDCARD: Hitchens owning the MIKE job would go a long way to soothing concerns here.
CORNERBACK (5): Orlando Scandrick, Mo Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Deji Olatoye, Anthony Brown
THE STATUS: Scandrick -- this team's defensive MVP in 2014 - is back after missing all of last year. That pushes everybody else down a peg on the CB totem pole ... meaning Mo can be "the other corner'' and Carr competes from there.
THE WORRY: Claiborne (sensitive to criticism) is trying to prove mentally tough. Carr (having lost a step?) is trying to prove physically capable.
THE WILDCARD: Dallas thinks it stole a fourth-round player in sixth-round rookie Brown.
SAFETY (4): Barry Church, Byron Jones, Kavon Frazier, Jeff Heath
THE STATUS: Byron Jones as a starter represents a major upgrade here. Last season, as a rookie, he developed a skill for covering tight ends. This year he'll evolve into Dallas' best safety ... maybe its best DB ... and maybe more than that.
THE WORRY: Where is J.J. Wilcox? He is a good soldier, a high-motor guy, a smart guy ... but this is a get-better business and with Byron at safety and with Frazier's promise? If you are looking for a solid vet who gets squeezed off the roster, Wilcox' situation bears watching.
THE WILDCARD: Like fellow rookie Brown, Kavon Frazier was rated higher by Dallas than his draft position. How soon he comes on -- and whether he truly proves worthy of supplanting Wilcox on the roster -- will not only be a camp measure of his ability, but of the scouting department's ability.null