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Eatman: Key Injuries Probably Bursting Some Bubble Players

Posted Aug 29, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas – Every year is the same it seems. We go into this final preseason game with a handful of players right there on the verge of making the team.

It’s always around the same number of players, with only the names changing, this year’s group including the likes of Hamilton, Coale, Lemon, Bass, Dunbar and Olawale. Oh, there were a few more, but those were the main guys.

But this year, the differences include more than just a few name changes.

Because as soon as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Wednesday’s 30-13 win over the Dolphins, the regular season was upon us. Just like that, it’s on.

No longer do the Cowboys have about 10 days to get ready. With the Wednesday night game on Sept. 5, the team only has a full seven days before they face the defending champs.

And it certainly doesn’t help that the Cowboys are dealing with injuries to key players such as Jason Witten, Jay Ratliff and Miles Austin. Throw in Dez Bryant, Mike Jenkins and Danny McCray, and that puts quite a strain on the Cowboys trying to trim the roster down to 53 by Friday, at the same time they’re getting ready for a real game week.

Because of that, those injuries might have popped a few bubbles in the process.

We’ll see on Friday, but with the Giants game right around the corner, it might be too soon for some of these guys, particularly Witten and Ratliff. The Cowboys certainly won’t rule out either player. In fact, doctors checked out Witten’s lacerated spleen injury on Tuesday and it appears it will be a game-time decision on next Wednesday.

As for Ratliff, who has a high ankle sprain and was still on crutches as of Tuesday, it’ll also likely go up until kickoff before the Cowboys figure out his status.

In the meantime, the team has to prepare for the worst. In doing so, you must go long at those positions.

We could see Josh Brent and Robert Calloway make this team, at least for Week 1.

At tight end, either the Cowboys go and claim a player who gets cut, sign a veteran tight end or maybe keep Andrew Sczcerba around. Perhaps fullback Shaun Chapas makes it, mainly for his special teams ability.

Either way, moves like that knock off luxury keeps. By that, I mean keeping players who aren’t really ready to play just yet, but possess a certain quality. Guys like Ben Bass who plays with a high-motor on the defensive line, or Adrian Hamilton, who hasn’t figured out the 3-4 defense and/or special teams just yet, but he can rush the passer. Those guys are hurt by these injuries.

At running back, a guy like Lance Dunbar might have made the team in the past – solely because of that dazzling 58-yard run. Who knows, maybe he still does. A play like that will get noticed around the league and getting a player like that through waivers will be tough. Still, that’s one of those “luxury keeps” that might not happen because you’ll have a hard time getting him active each week. Personally, after that run, I think I’d make an exception. He’s got some wiggle to him and might be a decent kickoff returner, too.

The Cowboys like Andre Holmes and Danny Coale, who would be the sixth and seventh receivers. They’ll probably like a receiver or two that gets cut over the next few days. But they won’t keep eight and probably not even seven. They’d like to go long at receiver, especially if it means hanging onto Coale, a fifth-round pick who has been injured most of the offseason.

Now if Austin and Bryant were bigger question marks to play, it’d be a different story. However, it seems like both players have been held out of action just to be ready for the Giants. Bryant and Austin will start, and it looks like Harris and Ogletree will be next, with possibly Cole Beasley or maybe Holmes going to the game as a special teamer.

Then you go to the secondary. Mike Jenkins is not going to Florida after all to get an update on his shoulder. He passed his physical on Wednesday and will come off PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) to practice as early as Saturday.

Still, you wonder how quickly he can get back into the mix. Yes, he’s a veteran and yes he knows the Giants and yes he plays a cornerback position that doesn’t always need the strongest continuity with his teammates. But football shape is a different thing. I still have hard time thinking Jenkins can get back to Dallas and start practicing Saturday and Sunday and be ready to play. It’s certainly a possibility, but if you remember last year’s game in New York against the Jets, Jenkins also battled a stinger/shoulder injury all preseason but played in the game. He went in and out about four times, battling all sorts of injuries.

The Cowboys likely have to go long at cornerback, not only on the roster, but the 46-man game-day roster as well. Expect Mario Butler to be active either way.

At safety, Matt Johnson (hamstring) will likely make the team although he’s barely played. McCray will obviously make it because he’s the special teams ace, but he’s battling a shoulder/stinger injury. So Mana Silva probably makes this team to start the season – and who knows, maybe he’ll stick around. He’s played pretty well this preseason. He’s a solid tackler and good on special teams. But still, that’s five safeties to keep.

This probably happens every year – injuries that cloud roster decisions. But it’s different when the guys injured are Pro Bowlers like Witten, Ratliff, Jenkins and Austin, who says he will play, but you probably have to make sure there is plenty of backup because of the nature of the injury and his history with hamstrings.

We’ll find it all out on Friday. But with so many guys playing for roster spots Wednesday night, it’s unfortunate for them that their fate was probably already sealed with a few of these preexisting injuries.
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