FRISCO, Texas -- On Tuesday, most of the Dallas Cowboys’ 90-man roster will board a plane for Oxnard, California, and the start of training camp.
By the time the season starts, only 53 players will remain when the Cowboys take on the Carolina Panthers in Week 1.
Before the first practice of camp, there does not appear to be a lot of spots open in the starting lineup or for key contributors, but the summer can bring a lot of change. The final decisions will come down to preference -- five or six cornerbacks, six or seven linebackers, three or four tight ends, three or four running backs, six or seven receivers -- injuries and whom the Cowboys might be able to add over the summer.
Based on the work in the organized team activities, the three-day minicamp in June and conversations with multiple sources, here is the first projection of the 53-man roster.
The Cowboys kept three quarterbacks on the roster last season for only a few weeks before Rush was named the backup over Kellen Moore, who is now the quarterbacks coach. White was a fifth-round pick and had some positive moments in the offseason to show he has the chance to develop.
I thought about going just with three running backs but thought that was too light, so Scarbrough, a seventh-round pick, got the final spot. This group will be all about Elliott, but the Cowboys do need to spell him a little bit during the season.
Seven? Well, if you consider Austin a hybrid player, then it’s really six. He can play some running back, but the coaches consider him a receiver, so that’s where he is listed. Thompson gets the edge for the final spot over Lance Lenoir at the start of camp, but that one will be up for grabs throughout the summer.
The Cowboys will go with a committee at receiver to replace Dez Bryant and do the same at tight end to replace Jason Witten. I can hear the hue and cry now with Rico Gathers not on the roster. If you listen closely to coach Jason Garrett, he keeps saying the same thing about Gathers, that he has a long way to go. The coaches are in win-now mode and don’t have time to have him develop.
Williams has been with the starters at left guard since the moment the Cowboys took him in the second round. Can he hold the spot? Unless the Cowboys want to move Collins back to guard or use Fleming there, then he'd better. Chaz Green opened camp last year as the left-guard starter, but things did not go well for him in 2017 and he opens camp this year fighting to make the roster.
The Cowboys like their depth in this group more than at any time in Rod Marinelli’s tenure coaching defensive linemen. It all starts with Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks last season. If there is a question, it is their interior strength. Collins is coming off his second broken foot in three years. Ward was a second-round disappointment in Oakland. Price suffered a knee injury last year. David Irving, who had seven sacks in eight games last season, will open the year on the suspended list. It’s possible the Cowboys could look for defensive-tackle help with a big body.
Unless there are injuries, it is difficult to see another linebacker breaking into this group at the moment. March-Lillard made some plays in OTAs and minicamp and can help on special teams. Thomas can play multiple roles. So can Wilson. There will be added emphasis on linebackers on special teams because of the change in the kickoff rule, so maybe the Cowboys add a seventh. By the way, my prediction for the linebacker starters: Lee at weakside, Vander Esch in the middle, Smith at strongside (and he helps some as a pass-rusher).
The first four are set going into camp and Thomas would have made the roster a year ago if not for an injury late in the preseason. Jones has all the attributes new passing-game coordinator Kris Richard wants in his corners -- tall and long -- and had some good moments in the offseason program. The battle between Lewis and Brown for the slot-corner role could be the best of the summer.
It might be a little light with three safeties, but Jones can play there if necessary. So can Awuzie, although that is far from ideal. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the Earl Thomas chase is over yet. Huff gets the final safety spot for now. It’s possible Kam Kelly or Tyree Robinson -- both undrafted rookies -- earns the final spot here, but I think the Cowboys will spend the summer looking around the league for help. This could be a spot for a Week 1 waiver-wire addition.
I have never been so sure about anything in my life.