IRVING, Texas - This time last year, the entire league had uncertainty. No one knew exactly when the season would begin, if at all.
And definitely there was no clue on which players would be on the team, considering veteran and rookie free agency hadn't occurred.
When the lockout finally lifted, it was a whirlwind of a week as camps opened and veterans started signing deals and changing teams.
All summer long we thought the players who would get the short end of the stick would be the undrafted rookies, who instead of having all summer to practice in the OTAs and minicamps, had to wait until days before camp to sign, learn the playbook and go practice.
So what happened? Well, the Cowboys actually had five different undrafted rookies make the team last year, and would've had six had it not been for an injury to receiver Raymond Radway on the final play of the preseason. Radway, an unknown receiver from Abilene Christian, had done enough to win a job before he suffered a broken tibia and fibula in the final seconds against Miami.
Although Radway went to IR, the Cowboys still kept Dan Bailey, Phillip Tanner, Kevin Kowalski and Alex Albright on the team. Punter Chris Jones joined the squad later in the season.
Of course, we know the Cowboys have been successful with undrafted players over the years. While Tony Romo and Miles Austin are two of the NFL's best undrafted players, guys like Barry Church, Danny McCray and Kevin Ogletree have made their mark on this roster despite getting overlooked in the draft.
So if five guys can make it last year after missing the entire summer, who can stick around this season, as the Cowboys have practiced 12 times, including nine OTAs and three minicamp workouts.
There are some favorites on the list to make it. Here are 10 of the top undrafted rookies with a legitimate shot to make the team and possibly compete for a starting job.
10. Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State– Before the Cowboys signed Pat McQuistan, Adcock was working with the second-team offense. Obviously this club would prefer to have a younger guy stick around than McQuistan and/or Jermey Parnell, but so far, Adcock is probably on the outside looking in.
9. Aston Whiteside, LB, Abilene Christian – This guy has "practice squad material" written all over him, and it's not because he doesn't have the talent to make it, but changing positions, along with a jump from Division II to the NFL is quite a transition. Whiteside played defensive end in college and now is moving to inside linebacker. At 6-2, 257 he could be called a "tweener," but it wouldn't be surprising if we see the Cowboys move him around to possibly outside linebacker. A year on the practice squad would definitely help his development.
8. Charley Hughlett, LS, Central Florida– Replacing L.P. Ladouceur won't be an easy chore for anyone. Sure the Cowboys wouldn't mind going cheaper and younger at the long snapper spot, but it's not a position to play around with, especially since Ladouceur has been so steady for so long. Hughlett will get plenty of chances in the preseason but he has to be darn near perfect, like Ladouceur has been since 2005.
7. Tim Benford, WR, Tennessee Tech – This might be a little low on the list for a guy the Cowboys were so high on back in April. Benford's $20,000 signing bonus was the most of any rookie free agent. And he's actually done rather well in the summer practices. Benford has good hands and runs crisp routes. He doesn't have the blazing speed, but has caught a few deep balls in practice. Good player but a little overshadowed by another undrafted rookie.
6. Lance Dunbar, RB, North Texas– Like Benford, Lance Dunbar might not be that high on this list, but we're getting to the point where all of these guys have a decent-to-good chance of being on this team. Dunbar is included in the mix, but he's not higher because of the crowded position. DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones have secured spots obviously, and Phillip Tanner has looked good this summer. It'll probably come down to Dunbar vs. Tanner, but depending on the rest of the roster, maybe there is room for both. Dunbar has quickness that might be unmatched by any other back. His size is an issue at just 5-8, 191, but if he can play a few units of special teams, he'll have a good chance.
5. Lionel Smith, CB, Texas A&M – With Morris Claiborne (wrist) out all summer and Mike Jenkins still rehabbing his shoulder – mostly from afar – it opened the door for a few younger cornerbacks to take advantage. While veteran C.J. Wilson and first-year pros Mario Butler and Teddy Williams all got the first crack to fill in, Smith was one of the rookies who seemed to emerge as the summer went on. The undrafted rookie from Texas A&M probably got more looks than anyone else because he's donning the No. 41 jersey, previously worn by Terence Newman the last nine years, but he's also found the football with a few interceptions and never seems to be too far from the action.
4. Cole Beasley, WR, SMU – A rookie receiver named Coale was supposed to turn heads this summer. But instead of fifth-round pick Danny Coale, who suffered a broken foot in the first OTA practice, it was fellow rookie Cole Beasley who took advantage of the extra reps. He's a smaller guy at 5-8, 174 pounds but he can run and never seems to get tired. Don't be surprised if Beasley gets a shot for the No. 3 job as an inside receiver. His biggest competition there will likely be Kevin Ogletree. Beasley could help his cause if he can contribute in the return game.
3. Adrian Hamilton, OLB, Prairie View A&M – Any player, on any level who produces 22 sacks in one college season should have some hype around him. That was the case for Hamilton and he's done his best to live up to it, despite the lack of physical contact allowed in these OTA and minicamp practices. Once the pads come on, it'll be interesting for a lot of rookies, especially Hamilton, who hasn't faced the likes of Tyron Smith and Doug Free on a regular basis. He does show great quickness off the edge. With fourth-round pick Kyle Wilber expected to make this roster, look for Hamilton to battle with guys like Alex Albright for a final roster spot on the 53.
2. Isaac Madison, CB, Arkansas – There's not a lot of difference between Madison and Smith right now. Madison did work more with the second-team defense and even got some first-team reps in the nickel. He's on the light side at 5-10, 173 pounds, but is super quick. Toughness with smaller corners is always be a big question mark and this is one that hasn't been answered just yet. But when it comes to covering and making plays on the ball, Madison has passed the test so far.
1. Ronald Leary, G, Memphis – Immediately after the draft, owner Jerry Jones made sure to announce the signing of Leary, a mid-round prospect who went undrafted because of concerns about his knee. He was also moved from tackle to guard, where he has taken advantage of Mackenzy Bernadeau's hip injury. Leary and David Arkin have traded first-team snaps at guard and considering Leary's advantage in size and strength, he could have a leg up as the backup right guard. With his upside alone, plus what he's shown so far in the summer, Leary's chances of making this roster seem pretty good. He's even got an outside shot to start.