This is the time of year that is simultaneously exciting and excruciatingly boring. On the one hand, teams are starting to figure out which players are worth keeping – or at least worth looking at – and which need to start making plans to find a new address, either in or out of football.
On the other hand, it's early August, it's nearly as hot as the surface of the sun and "real" football feels like it's centuries away.
But while there are several weeks before left before the start of the regular season, some players are starting to separate themselves – either good or bad – from the pack. The Cowboys' roster is as set as any in the league, but there are a few question marks about players who are trying to claim a few roster spots:
1. Evan Oglesby makes the team
It seems like there's a player like Oglesby every few years with most teams: a free-agent signee who barely registers a blip on the radar and somehow winds up making the roster in September. On paper, Oglesby isn't the most impressive guy: a fourth-year veteran out of that renowned football factory, North Alabama. He played two years with the Baltimore Ravens and last year with the Cowboys, for part of the season. But when the team convened for mini-camp in the spring, Oglesby was one of those guys who had the media reaching for a roster with "who's he?" rolling around in their heads. But all he has done since mini-camp and the OTAs is make plays. He can cover receivers and he can come forward and stuff the run. In a pinch, he could play cornerback or safety. He excels on special teams.
The only thing going against Oglesby is the crowded secondary. Whereas some spots have a Pro Bowl-caliber starter and little behind him, the secondary is deep. Dallas went out in the offseason and added Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick and Pacman Jones (and re-upped with Ken Hamlin) in a secondary that already included Terence Newman, Anthony Henry, Roy Williams and Patrick Watkins. Oglesby is among several players fighting for a spot, and his versatility should help him squeak his way on to the final roster.
2. Dallas will add a receiver before the end of the summer
This is an obligatory move, isn't it? It's a debate owners and GMs and coaches deal with every year on teams viewed as Super Bowl contenders. The team is extremely talented, so they decide to stand pat and let their superior overall talent ride it out, or they trade future draft picks to shore up any thin spots in the lineup to make their roster overwhelming.
This is a season in which Dallas should do the latter. Go for broke, and if the Cowboys come up short, at least they can't be criticized for going about things in a half-hearted manner. They have 13 Pro Bowlers from last year, and added talented-but-risky players like Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones. Teams don't add a player like those guys – much less two players like that – unless the dominant sentiment is that this is the year.
The finality of a strong team is why this needs to be done now. Who knows who will leave after this year. Greg Ellis? Roy Williams? Marcus Spears? Zach Thomas? There's no chance Jerry Jones lets soon-to-be-free-agent DeMarcus Ware anywhere near the exits at Valley Ranch after the season, but there's no assurance that the others stay. Players could get hurt, or have an awful season, lessening their value on the field and on the trade market.
The time is now. The San Diego game showed that after Terrell Owens, the Dallas receivers don't scare a lot of teams, even teams playing their backup defensive backs. The trendy explanation is that "Jason Witten is really the No. 2 receiver." That's true, in terms of his talent, but he's not a speedster who can get downfield and keep defenses honest. He's as good a tight end as there is, but there's a reason he's not playing wide receiver.
The Cowboys need to monitor the available free agents, especially after teams begin making cuts, but if a suitable bookend to go across from Terrell Owens isn't available, go get one. This is a team that blew two first-round picks to add Joey Galloway to a team that wasn't threatening to reach the Super Bowl, so if a similar trade can be made to acquire a guy like "the other" Roy Williams, Dallas needs to pull the trigger.
3. Jay Ratliff and Tank Johnson both end up in the starting lineup
That seat Marcus Spears is sitting on has to be a little warm. Whether it's a seat that says "starter" or even "member of the team" – it's still too early to tell that. But Jay Ratliff and Chris Canty have been the most impressive linemen in camp, and it's no secret the coaches want them both on the field.
Ratliff is the perfect lineman for the Cowboys' 3-4 defense: he's strong enough to play inside, but quick enough and talented enough as a pass rusher that he can slide outside to end, too. If Tank Johnson keeps impressing everyone as much as he has, he'll be hard to keep off the field. So who goes where?
Chances are Spears remains in the starting lineup next to Ratliff … for now. But the real competition here is between Johnson and Spears. Whichever one plays better very well could line up next to Spears before the season is over.
Where's the crystal ball?
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