Question: Can the Cowboys justify keeping Matt Moore as the third quarterback on the roster?
At least there is no debate on who is the third-best quarterback. Moore, a rookie free agent from Oregon State, has played well in limited preseason action and further distanced himself from Richard Bartel Thursday night in Minnesota. If the Cowboys decide to keep three on the active roster, then it's an easy solution. Moore would probably be the only undrafted player to make the 53-man roster, but his security will come down to other positions. If the Cowboys decide to go heavy at other spots because of injury or just depth concerns at positions like cornerback and linebacker, then it might make more sense to go with just two quarterbacks on the roster. Now while some might argue that cutting Moore with hopes of retaining him on the practice squad could be risky, it's rather unlikely that a team will claim Moore on its 53-man roster with the regular season around the corner and Moore unfamiliar with a new offense. The Cowboys think highly of Moore, but it seems more logical to try and place him on the practice squad, at least in the near future.
Running Back Question: With trio of runners in place, who is going to block for these guys?
The only real question about the tailbacks is how the carries will be divided between Julius Jones and Marion Barber, and maybe even Tyson Thompson. But those three will all make the team. Rookie free agent Alonzo Coleman appears to be a good practice-squad candidate, but the fullback position is much more complicated. Oliver Hoyte has missed two weeks with a stinger, but returned Thursday to start against the Vikings. It would appear that Hoyte and Deon Anderson have the edge over Lousaka Polite because of special teams. But Polite also showed some versatility Thursday night, playing tailback in the two-minute offense in the fourth quarter.
Wide Receiver Question: If the Cowboys go with six, who wins in Austin vs. Urban?
While there always seems to be a question about how many receivers are kept on the final roster, the Cowboys usually end up retaining six. If that happens again this year, that final spot will probably go to either Miles Austin or Jerheme Urban. The Cowboys have Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd, and rookie Isaiah Stanback should be in good shape to make it, considering he is still transitioning from college quarterback. But Austin and Urban appear to be the leading candidates for the sixth spot. While Urban's 95-yard punt return against Minnesota is fresh on everyone's mind, he hasn't been better than Austin as a wide receiver. And other than the return, Austin is a better special teams player, serving as the gunner on punt coverage. Austin also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in last year's playoffs. It seems Austin would be easier to place on the 45-man game-day roster than Urban,
which likely gives him the edge for a roster spot.
Tight End Question: Is there anything left for Tony Curtis to prove?
We can actually give an answer to this question, and it's a resounding no. Curtis, who started training camp behind the rest after playing all spring in NFL Europa, caught on quickly to Jason Garrett's new system. He ended up leading the team in catches during the preseason with 11 for 151 yards and one touchdown. Curtis not only has made plays on offense, but had two special teams tackles. And if that's not enough, head coach Wade Phillips has praised Curtis for improving his blocking from what he saw last year on film. Curtis makes sense to keep over Adam Bergen and rookie free agent Rodney Hannah, who might be a good practice squad candidate.
Offensive Line Question: What will transpire at backup center and guard?
If everyone stays healthy, as they are now, the offensive line has a chance to be rather good. The starters are set and the team also has three young tackles at the backup spots. The only question comes at backup center and guard. Cory Procter, who still has yet to play in a regular-season game, has worked extensively at center behind Pro Bowler Andre Gurode. But he moved from guard last year and still would be a key backup at either guard spot on game-day. The same goes for Joe Berger, who like Procter is a true guard but has worked some at center. If the Cowboys keep nine offensive linemen, it likely will come down to Berger and Procter. But keeping 10 may also be an option.
Defensive Line Question: Do the Cowboys actually need a true nose tackle to back up Jason Ferguson?
If that answer is yes, then look for Remi Ayodele, Akin's younger brother, to stick around on the 53-man roster. He might be good enough to make it anyway. But Phillips has said he wouldn't mind having someone built similar to Jason Ferguson as a backup nose tackle. He did, however, tab defensive end Jay Ratliff as his backup nose following the Texans game. The wild card in the defensive line mix is second-year defensive end Stephen Bowen, who started Thursday night and played well against the Vikings. With the Cowboys already having five locks on the defensive line, it's likely they will keep just six, and that last spot should come down to either Ayodele or Bowen.
Linebacker Question: When will Greg Ellis make it back and what happens if he's still not ready?
The first part of that question hasn't been answered in several months. The Cowboys have continued to wait for Ellis to finally return from the torn Achilles injury he suffered last November. After practicing only the first day of training camp, Ellis' status has continued to be day-to-day. But he hasn't made it back yet and with the first game now on the horizon, the Cowboys must look to contingency plans. While Anthony Spencer will continue to start and Bobby Carpenter will also get some looks outside, the Cowboys probably have to keep Junior Glymph as an outside linebacker. And don't be surprised if the Cowboys try to retain either John Saldi or Khari Long on the practice squad.
Cornerback Question: How bad is Terence Newman's foot injury?
This is one position that has several question marks, but it starts with Newman, who said last week he was unsure how ready he would be for the Sept. 9 opener against the Giants because of a partial tear in his plantar fascia. But the best remedy for that injury is rest and Newman has received that, missing the last two weeks of practice and the final three preseason games. But the Cowboys have game-day options for Newman to help alleviate some of the pain. He might not be right at 100 percent, but the Cowboys are expecting Newman to be out there against the Giants. Behind him are more question marks. The Cowboys have depth issues with Aaron Glenn having an inconsistent preseason and Jacques Reeves, Nate Jones, Joey Thomas, Quincy Butler and Alan Ball all jumbled together in a pack. Look for the Cowboys to keep two more corners behind Glenn, with Reeves and Thomas likely leading the way.
Safety Question: How many
special teams safeties can this team keep?
We know Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin are the starters. And the Cowboys like the upside of Pat Watkins. All three are safe, and because of his special teams play, Keith Davis should be in good shape, too, not to mention he's played well on the second-team defense at strong safety. So there's four safeties right there. But what about Abram Elam, who has played mostly on special teams but is considered one of the team's top performers in the kicking game? It might be hard to justify keeping Elam and Davis if their main duties will be on special teams. And don't forget about rookie Courtney Brown, who moved from cornerback this off-season. But Brown has shown some playmaking skills, getting another interception Thursday night in Minnesota.
Special Teams Question: Does this team have the guts to go with a rookie kicker?
That's really all this boils down to. No teams want to keep two kickers if they don't have to. The Cowboys have been trying to decide if Nick Folk can handle the job by himself and indeed if they are willing to hand it over to a rookie. With all the expectations for this team, and seeing firsthand the importance of the kicking game the last few years, it might be an uneasy feeling for the Cowboys if they decide to keep only Folk. But the recent hamstring injury to Martin Gramatica raises the issue of whether they want to keep him on the roster for the first week and guarantee his $800,000 base salary for the entire season. Gramatica has said he'll be ready for the Sept. 9 opener if he's still on the roster. The best bet would probably be to go with Folk for now and if he struggles, try to bring back Gramatica or another veteran off the street if he's not available.