OXNARD, Calif. – The next time I write a date line, it'll be back home in Texas.
The West Coast portion of this training camp has come to its close, as the Cowboys have put in a lot of good work over the last three weeks. And while it's time for the team to travel home, the work is really just beginning – as Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has pointed out several times this week.
The biggest tests of the preseason are still in front of this team, especially these young players trying to earn a roster spot. As the Cowboys get ready for their second preseason game against Cincinnati, here are a few position battles and number crunches I want to keep an eye on.
· Saturday is going to serve as another opportunity for guys like Lance Lenoir, Mekale McKay and K.D. Cannon to crack this 53-man roster while Deonte Thompson and Noah Brown continue to sit out. Of the guys available Lenoir has shown the most during these practices, but McKay and Cannon have enjoyed their moments, as well. I still believe this front office will carry six receivers, and by my count Tavon Austin, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns and Terrance Williams appear to be making this squad. That leaves one spot open so this is a big game for those who suit up.
· I still don't believe the staff is any closer to figuring out this tight end situation. Geoff Swaim has been the most consistent of the group, as both a receiver and blocker. Blake Jarwin has been a good route runner and receiver but not as good when put in those blocking situations. His lack of power hurts him here. Dalton Schultz has had some nice moments catching the ball and playing in space. Where I believe he's been a miss is at that inline blocking spot. He hasn't played with nearly enough power or strength – which, to be honest, has been very surprising from what I saw of his college tape. Rico Gathers has had some outstanding practices catching the ball, but that's about it. My biggest concern with Gathers is how well he really understands the playbook. He is a tremendous athlete -- but if you're not sure of your assignments, that's an issue. David Wells doesn't get many snaps in practice to evaluate fully. I still believe they only keep three tight ends on the 53-man roster.
· We know the five starters on the offensive line, with Joe Looney and Cam Fleming as the backups. With Marcus Martin now out on injured reserve, that eighth spot is really in question. Kadeem Edwards has had a nice camp, but is that enough? This is a position where I believe the staff is going to look to the waiver wire or perhaps a trade to fill that position -- regardless of how Edwards plays. I just don't see any of the other backups at this point playing their way onto the roster.
· Cooper Rush is leading the backup quarterback race at this point. Mike White has had some opportunities, but he just hasn't been as good as Rush. If White is going to make this a closer battle, he's going to need to do a better job of moving the offense for sustained periods in this game. I am not asking him to be reckless, but I am asking him to cut it loose more. I have felt like he has been too deliberate and cautious in practice. White has some receivers that are capable of making plays for him, so it will be on him to step it up.
· Right now, I am giving Bo Scarbrough the nod as the third running back on this squad until Darius Jackson, Trey Williams or Jordan Chunn proves otherwise. Scarbrough should get the majority of the carries against the Bengals with Jackson, Williams and Chunn receiving what they can. Scarbrough is also receiving more action on special teams, which was a question mark for him on whether he was going to make the club or not. By lining up on the punt and punt return teams and executing his assignments well, it's putting a great deal of pressure on the other backs.
· You have to be impressed from what we've seen from the defensive line here in Oxnard. There have been more answers than questions, which is always a situation the staff welcomes. It appears that things are settling in for the ends, but Kony Ealy and Charles Tapper could be wildcards with those plans. Ealy has been moving around throughout these practices, playing at both tackle and end. I personally think he has been better playing at tackle, and with need for a bridge player there, that very well could be his spot. The battles are likely going to come down to Daniel Ross, Datone Jones, Jihad Ward and Richard Ash for those tackle spots. Jones and Ward were the starters when we arrived at camp, but now we're seeing more of a rotation where Ross and Antwaun Woods have played a larger role. These battles are likely to come down to the final game in Houston for those final spots.
· The staff has received some outstanding work from this linebacker crew. I feel that they will only keep six, so there are not many opportunities to crack this group. Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson are your likely Day 1 starters in Carolina, with Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas and Chris Covington as the primary backups. The wildcard here is Justin March-Lillard, who would be the guy if they carried seven for the spot. I need to keep an eye on the Covington and March-Lillard battle to see if that flips the other way for that sixth spot. Covington has just returned to practice and has appeared extremely active in doing so.
· There's still an opportunity for Donovan Olumba or Charvarius Ward to make this roster at cornerback. Both players went into the 49ers game to step up and take ahold of that spot, but neither played as well as they practiced. The week after the game, Olumba practiced better than Ward overall -- but these games down the stretch will tell the story. There still are plenty of questions at safety. Jeff Heath will likely not play due to his ankle injury, so that means Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier will draw the start. Frazier has had his own issues with his knee, so how long he goes will be a question. I expect that we'll see plenty of Jameill Showers, Kam Kelly and Tyree Robinson in this game. Robinson has been the best one in coverage, so I'd give him the slight edge. There is an opportunity for a roster spot here if one of them could just step up and take it. If that doesn't happen, this position could be like the offensive line where that final spot is a waiver wire claim or trade.